Modern Warfare 3's remastered maps are great, but something’s missing

Modern Warfare 3
(Image credit: Activision)

Nothing beats a hearty dose of nostalgia, or at least that seems to be the rationale behind the multiplayer maps bundled in with Modern Warfare 3 at launch. Rather than the usual raft of new locations, this latest entry in the blockbuster first-person shooter (FPS) series Call of Duty contains a throwback roster of 16 remastered maps ripped right from the launch of the original Modern Warfare 2 back in 2009.

This means the long-awaited return of some truly iconic locales like Terminal, which takes the battle to a lavishly detailed airport departure lounge filled with alternate paths and superb opportunities for sniping, and Rust, a thrilling compact map set around an oil refinery that devolves into complete carnage in a matter of seconds. It’s no surprise that these tried-and-tested layouts still feel fantastic to play all these years later, making their inclusion a real treat for both returning fans and complete newcomers.

As there are only returning maps, however, it’s certainly not the most inspired selection that we’ve ever seen in a new game. Even so, this is a major step up from some of the all-new creations found in the previous entry, Modern Warfare 2 (2022). Although that game's roster contained a handful of highlights like the long-range action of Embassy or the more frantic fights of Farm 18, these gems were somewhat overshadowed by a handful of complete stinkers. Chief among them was the now infamous Santa Seña Border Crossing, a map that contained a single stretch of road jam-packed with annoying exploding vehicles that were, more often than not, going to kill you again and again.

Uncanny Valley

Modern Warfare 3

(Image credit: Activision Blizzard)

While all of the maps on offer this year are, mercifully, nowhere near that rough, it’s hard to shake the sense that some of them feel slightly worse than their original counterparts. After managing to hit the current max level in multiplayer, which saw me spend an alarmingly high number of hours exploring these environments since launch, I think I have finally managed to put my finger on part of the problem.

A lot of it comes down to the pacing of matches or, more accurately, the occasional lack of it when you’re playing on a handful of the larger maps. In the original Modern Warfare 2 (2009), lobbies ranged in size from two teams of six players in traditional Team Deathmatch mode to two teams of nine in the much busier Ground War mode. Almost all of the modes in this year’s Modern Warfare 3, on the other hand, use that smaller 6v6 format which leads to many of the environments feeling a little empty.

This was most noticeable in one particular match on Rundown, which is a large open map featuring the surroundings of a decrepit Brazilian village, where I managed to go almost three whole minutes without even seeing so much as a bullet trail from an enemy. This wasn’t thanks to a lack of awareness on my part either, as occasional glances at the minimap (which features red dots whenever a nearby enemy is making noise) confirmed that there was simply nobody around. This experience was then replicated a little later in a subsequent match in Quarry, where everywhere bar the very center of the map felt absolutely deserted.

The result of this are matches that lack any consistent sense of pace, veering between lightning-fast firefights in big groups and prolonged periods where absolutely nothing is happening. It’s especially strange when you consider that the dramatically increased movement speed in Modern Warfare 3 seems like a very conscious attempt to facilitate more exciting moments.

Best of both worlds

Modern Warfare 3

(Image credit: Activision)

Obviously, having no enemies around to bother you does have some genuine advantages. While it’s not my cup of tea, it’s safe to say that some might prefer the opportunity to engage in more elaborate flanking routes. The quietness also gives newer players the chance to get to grips with the layout of the map without constantly running into danger. Rather than a catch-all increase in team size, which could alienate these players, I, therefore, think the ideal solution to this problem lies in a return to how matches played out in a previous game.

No, I’m not talking about the original Modern Warfare 2 (2009) here, but rather the more recent Call of Duty: Vanguard. Although I wasn’t particularly happy with how that game handled many of its mechanics, like the frankly absurd ten-slot weapon attachment system, it did introduce the rather innovative Combat Pacing feature. Presenting three alternate options when queuing for your favorite modes, Combat Pacing effectively lets you pick team sizes based on your personal preference. 

This ranged from the slow “Tactical” mode, which offered traditional 6v6 action, to the faster 10v10 “Assault” setting. Best of all was the third option, however, “Blitz” mode, which dropped you into a chaotic lobby with up to 14 players per team. Playing like this was an exhilarating experience that almost felt like a welcome return to the incredible speed of arcade shooters like Quake that really kickstarted the entire FPS genre

Unfortunately, no Call of Duty game since Vanguard has included its own version of Combat Pacing - a real shame as it seems like it would be the perfect fit for Modern Warfare 3. Here’s hoping that the feature makes its return as part of an update or, failing that, a future entry.

For more on Modern Warfare 3, see our detailed Modern Warfare 3 review or consult our Modern Warfare 3 Zombies Guide for handy tips to help you survive against the undead. 

Dashiell Wood
Hardware Writer

Dash is TechRadar Gaming's Hardware Writer. Before joining TechRadar, he was a print journalist writing articles for some of the UK's biggest gaming magazines including PLAY, Edge, PC Gamer, and SFX. Now, when he's not getting his greasy little mitts on the newest hardware or gaming gadget, he can be found feverishly devouring the latest Nintendo Switch otome.