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Modern Warfare III Multiplayer Is A Helluva Nostalgia Trip

Say what you will about Modern Warfare III—it was developed in a confusing rush, hence why its campaign mostly sucks, and it’s currently the worst-rated Call of Duty game in the franchise’s 20-year history—but god damn, does its multiplayer make me feel like I’m in college again.

This Modern Warfare 3 Gameplay Feature Spices Up A Weak Campaign

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The latest game in the series (which confusingly reboots the Modern Warfare subseries) offers every single map from 2009’s Modern Warfare 2 remade for current-gen graphics. Yes, that means Rust, Terminal, and Scrapyard are here in all their cramped glory, along with the maps that don’t get as much attention like Karachi and Rundown. Though MWIII’s multiplayer is technically vastly different from MW2 (with new killstreaks, far more gun customization, and faster movement mechanics), the moment I boot up my Xbox Series S and jump into the latest CoD, I am yanked back to 2009 so swiftly I nearly get whiplash.

MWIII multiplayer: Thanks for the memories…

It’s December 2009 in upstate New York, and it’s freezing. The five of us are all wearing jackets inside the frat house (not mine, but a boyfriend’s), as the living room is the coldest spot in the place. We’re here to complete our nightly ritual: a communal “salad,” whereby we all offer up some of our individual bags of weed to mix together in one bowl pack. A thin trail of smoke lazily drifts upwards from the giant glass bong resting on the scratched and stained coffee table, but the contents of the bowl are burnt and black, indicating that the ritual is complete.

“Let’s go boys,” I yell, slapping one of them between the shoulder blades. We peel off into separate rooms, shedding our layers to prepare for the warmth of the space heaters in every bedroom. We’ll be playing Modern Warfare 2 for the next six to eight hours, screaming so loud we hear our voices doubled; both in our headsets and down the halls.

I spent an entire year of college doing this ritual, so when I get my hands on MWIII this weekend, I decide to try my best to recreate that environment from 14 years ago. I buy a pre-rolled joint and spark it up while waiting for the massive game to finish downloading. By the time it’s ready for me to play, I worry I’ve lapsed into the coma portion of my high, but I soldier on. I button-smash past the CoD launcher that pulls together all the games in the franchise under one confusing menu, make sure my Nicki Minaj operator skin is equipped, and fire up a search for a Team Deathmatch lobby.

I’m immediately placed in one and given the option to vote for two maps: Scrapyard or Sub Base. The details of Sub Base escape me, so I vote Scrapyard (which I remember clearly), but the lobby decides otherwise. I watch the opening cinematic of my squad arriving on the map, squinting as I try to find something familiar, but the grayness of it all befuddles me. This isn’t a map I know! I spawn, run out into the open, and immediately die not once, not twice, but three times. I curse loudly and tighten my grip on the controller. This is going to be a long night.

But then, recollection hits me harder than all of those bullets, and I sink into what I can only describe as a trance—muscle memory kicks in, and I vividly recall my favorite paths to run along on this map. I loop around the back of one of two buildings, smash the door in on the ground floor, zip up the stairs into what looks like a server room, and blow the glass out of the windows with a few quick bursts. I pick off two enemies on the catwalks across the way, then peer down into the lower part of the submarine base and wipe another two. Sensing they’ll come up the steps behind me, I dart outside and run across to the other building, snaking down and around so that I’m behind them instead. It’s been well over a decade since I’ve seen this map, and yet within minutes it feels like I never stopped playing it. I end the match on top of the scoreboard, my kill/death ratio at 3.15.

This happens over and over again with each new round of TDM—I load onto a map, run around confused for a few moments, then snap into a level of consciousness that feels otherworldly. Nostalgia is a helluva drug, and the potent mix of marijuana and memory keep me plugged in for hours.

…Even though they weren’t so great

Sometimes, Modern Warfare III multiplayer feels a bit too much like 2009’s entry. Those annoying camping spots on Highrise are still there, and players will still spend an entire match parked in them, sniping you over and over again until you feel the pull to the Dark Side (rage-quitting). There’s plenty of cheap ways to get lots of kills on maps like Rust and Scrapyard, and it can definitely get frustrating fast—even with MWIII’s time-to-kill reportedly slower than in previous CoD titles.

There’s also, as is my experience with any MW game, the toxic voice chat. A rough match where I can’t get out of the camper death cycle is met with mean-spirited reminders of my gender, and slurs are thrown around with reckless abandon. This isn’t new for multiplayer games, especially not Call of Duty ones, but when combined with the same map selection we had in 2009, it does feel like we’ve not made any progress when it comes to combating toxic gamer culture. Activision has made strides in flagging and weeding out bad actors, but their persistent prevalence is a harsh reminder that there’s still a long way to go.

Then there are the spawns, which are so bad on maps like Quarry and Rust that players have taken to Reddit to point out their flaws, and Activision had to remove four maps from the Hardpoint playlist because of those “unfavorable spawns.” When playing maps that are as tiny and intense as Rust or Scrapyard, spawning directly in front of an enemy over and over again feels like repeatedly stepping on a rake. When those enemies are screeching slurs in your ear, it’s like stepping on a rake with Make America Great Again painted on the handle.

Despite its flaws, MWIII is entrancing and satisfying, equal parts nostalgia trip and solid multiplayer experience. Should it have been made under allegedly shitty conditions? No. Will it break ground in the shooter space? Definitely not. But if a near 15-year gap is any reminder, Call of Duty is a great game to play very, very high for an entire weekend. And for that, I’m grateful.

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