Why Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3’s All or Nothing was the best game mode ever

It is so easy to play a shooter and then bail on it. There have been dozens upon dozens of online multiplayer shooters in the past decade, and the experiences, save for a few standouts, all tend to blur into one. Running across a snowy landscape hiding against rocks to cover from aerial fire could equally be from either Battlefield 5 or Star Wars: Battlefront. Very few shooters offer up game modes unique enough to make them stand out in a saturated market, and even fewer of those remain memorable long after playing like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3‘s All or Nothing mode.

It is easy to dunk on the Call of Duty franchise now. The campaigns have become so rote and linear that they wrote them out of Black Ops 4. See how easy that dunk was? But it is the franchise that influenced and spawned the FPS craze we saw since the launch of the original Modern Warfare. Now, aiming down sights in an FPS is a standard feature, but only after Modern Warfare made it popular. Shooters as we know them now, including Apex Legends, wouldn’t be where they are without Call of Duty, so it’s only natural that it would be the franchise with some of the best game modes.

Level playing field

Modern Warfare 2 Campaign Remastered

Modern Warfare 3 was where Infinity Ward decided to get interesting with game mode types, and the smaller, less populated playlists were where the most fun was to be found. All or Nothing was one such mode in that playlist before making it into its own. Just as the title implies, it was the game mode where you either had it all or nothing.

You start with a pistol with no ammo and a throwing knife, in addition to your standard melee. This starting class was given to everyone, leveling the playing field out from the start. Each time someone dies, they drop an ammo pouch, allowing the killer to suddenly have an advantage over other players. The pistol isn’t the sharpest shooter in the armory, but when against squads of enemies trying to melee attack you, it was more than enough. The game ends either when the timer ends, or a player achieves 20 kills.

That standard starting class can’t be overstated. When playing so many online shooters, you can easily blame the enemy’s weapon when you die. They had an advantage at that range or had a better fire rate, etc. By taking all players back to basics in All or Nothing, the winner could only be the player better skilled for the job, not simply the one who managed to drop in the right loot zone, or who has grinded for the best gear. It feels almost like a fighting game in this way, where no player has an explicit advantage; just their controller and their abilities.

Cream of the crop

The combination of the bare-bones equipment and level playing field makes All or Nothing one of the most exciting game modes possible. That first kill you hit with your throwing knife will always be ridiculously satisfying, as will nailing someone with it while they shoot bullets your way. But the true chaos begins when you have a decent supply of ammo, and no one else does.

Every moment of an All or Nothing match is intense. Instead of staying hidden to avoid bullet fire, you’ll be charging around the map, for standing still is just inviting a knife to the back. From your first kill to your final pistol shot, the game forces you to stay on the move, be aware of where enemies are spawning from, and collecting all of the ammo and throwing knives you can.

Suddenly you can stand at the center of the map, strafing between knives being hurled your way, while feverishly flicking the triggers on your controller to lay waste to waves of enemies. When players miss their throwing knife, they more often than not charge at you with a melee attack. If you come at the king, you best not miss. Here, removed from all of the killstreak rewards, fancy weapons, and dynamic movement systems, Call of Duty peaked by forcing players to truly master the most basic loadout in the game. Stripping it down to its essential showed how great Call of Duty was at its core, which is something that other shooters lose among the wealth of perks, loadouts, and RPG mechanics.

All or Nothing did return in Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare but slightly modified. A Specialist Strike Package gives players additional perks as they kill more enemies, but Infinite Warfare‘s space-age wall-running and double jumping is what makes this mode feel out of place here. Unlike in Modern Warfare 3 where players were grounded and their routes towards you could be predicted, Infinite Warfare‘s movement could be much more erratic, making the game a cluster of thrusters and throwing knives as players fly around one another, instead of the elegant bullet ballet seen in Modern Warfare 3.

Call of Duty may not be at the heights of its popularity anymore, but it remains a quality shooter franchise with a great legacy. And if Activision wants to remaster the other Modern Warfare titles, it would be an excellent reminder of what an amazing game mode All or Nothing was and continues to be. It proved that simplicity, at the end of the day, can be better than complex loadouts and tons of gear.