Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Review – Back With a Bang

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Call of Duty is back, baby. It’s no secret that creators of Call of Duty, Infinity Ward has seen better days this generation regarding their corner of the Call of the Duty franchise. Ghosts, while solid, wasn’t quite up to the standards set by Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. While I personally maintain that Infinite Warfare had the best campaign of the franchise this generation up till now, others don’t seem to share that sentiment as it was so far removed from what people love about the franchise; boots on the ground, run and gun combat with some good old action movie spectacle thrown in for good measure. Well, Infinity Ward is here to reclaim their status as the A-team for Call of Duty, and as far as I’m concerned Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is the best game in the franchise since Modern Warfare 2.

War Is Hell

It all starts with the stellar campaign. Easily the best in the franchise since the original Modern Warfare, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare tells a great story with even better characters. While I think much of the “This is the darkest Call of Duty yet” from the media and marketing team seems to be hyperbole, the game can definitely get dark to the point that some may feel uncomfortable. Having been conditioned by other forms of media that portray similar events to those in Modern Warfare, I never found myself feeling this way. What Modern Warfare does is help me understand the stakes and the character motivations which is precisely why I think the story works so well. Every character is so well drawn and performed that I even felt pangs of sadness and sympathetic anger over the events of the campaign.

Infinity Ward didn’t just settle for telling a good story, they wanted a presentation to match. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has some of the best character models of the franchise, and the cut-scenes and in-game actions are so well animated and acted that I could easily see and feel every thought and emotion the characters were portraying. During the actual gameplay sections, the lighting, especially at night, would complement the characters and environment, giving them a photorealistic look. Often I would find myself stopping to take in the visuals as a big, dumb smile ran across my face. It’s clear that Infinity Ward put a lot of care into this campaign to make sure fans of the original Modern Warfare series got the most from it.

That’s not to say the campaign is flawless. It does have a couple of issues that kept it from being a perfect return to form. For starters, there is a stealth section towards the end of one of the missions that just isn’t that good and seems designed around getting a specific trophy as opposed to making it a compelling section of the game. Additionally, while the campaign is almost consistently excellent, the final mission isn’t as strong as the rest of the game and robs you of a truly emotional moment due to an odd storytelling decision. These minor issues aside, I can’t stress enough how excellent this campaign is, and I look forward to revisiting it like rewatching a favorite movie.

Beyond the story, there is the tried and true Call of Duty gameplay that many are familiar with. Physics feel smooth, despite being slower than previous entries, and the controls are easy to learn, especially for veteran FPS players. All the essentials are there, plus some added moments that have you going beyond the basic FPS gameplay. One particular highlight that I had involved using a laser pointer to call in drone strikes on entrenched enemies, vehicles and support helicopters. Just point, click the right trigger and watch the glorious explosions. An early mission set in London’s Piccadilly Circus is particularly chaotic and harrowing. Additionally there are also a couple of nighttime missions in which you’re tasked with clearing out buildings, in the dark, one floor at a time. These missions are easily the best and on higher difficulties make for some tense experiences.

Multiplayer Sweet, erm Suite

[Editorial note, we will be going over a more in-depth look at multiplayer later]

While the campaign is a series highlight, multiplayer is the real bread and butter of  Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and is where most people will be spending their time. It’s undoubtedly one of the most robust offerings in the franchise’s history, having something for just about everyone. Taking elements from all of the previous games while bringing in some new ones, multiplayer is really strong, if not as strong as it has been with past offerings from Infinity Ward. If you were a fan of the “three-lane” approach to Treyarch’s map design, that is all but gone here. If you’re unfamiliar with what “three-lane” map design means, it’s essential that every map has three main lanes where players can travel to get around the maps and reach objectives. This made the maps easier to control for good players, and teams and a miserable experience for less experienced players and teams of randoms. A good team will be able to pretty much keep a team spawn trapped and matches one-sided. For this iteration of Modern Warfare, there are still three identifiable lanes but the new wrinkle is that Infinity Ward has given all of these lanes alternate paths so you can no longer be sure where enemy players will be coming from.

There is a lot of verticality to the maps as well so enemies can travel above and in some cases, below the “main area” of the maps. This will definitely lead to being shot in the back many times. That said, it does keep the matches less one-sided and makes them far more competitive. At least for now, being a few days removed from the release. We’ll see how it pans out once players really get to know the minor details of every map.

As far as game modes go, the standards are here; Team Deathmatch (TDM), Domination, Search and Destroy, Free-for-all, Kill Confirmed, and Headquarters. The newest edition, Cyber Attack, is possibly my favorite mode. Not unlike Sabotage, players vie for one EMP device (a bomb in Sabotage) somewhere in the middle of the map. Once picked up the team should escort the carrier to the enemy base to plant the bomb. Players theoretically get one life per round unless a teammate can revive them. The round ends either when the device is successfully planted and goes off or when all of the players on one team have been completely eliminated. It’s a fast-paced mode with a lot of back and forth and strategy involved.

All of these modes are available for 1-6 player teams (some larger maps make it 10 v 10) and can be accessed via Quick Play or can be filtered to remove game modes and keep the matches to whichever game mode or modes you prefer. For example, if you only want to play TDM and Domination you can un-check the other modes and you will only play those two modes. Of course, there is a hardcore playlist for those that want a little bit more realism in the game where everyone has less health, friendly fire and there are limited HUD elements.

Another addition to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is Gunfight, which is a 2v2 game mode broke up into rounds where every player starts with the same loadout that rotates every two rounds. The first team to win six rounds wins the game. Maps are small and you only have 40 seconds to eliminate the other team or, if time runs out, capture a flag that spawns in the middle. Gunfight is a fun diversion to play with a buddy while you’re waiting for the rest of your friends to get online but I got what I wanted from it in about six or so games. Then there is Ground War, which used to be Call of Duty’s “big” game mode with 9v9 matches, it has changed completely in Modern Warfare. Playing out on the largest maps and some maps exclusive to the mode, Ground War is 32v32 players and is pure chaos. Personally, I’m not a fan of these more massive skirmishes and don’t find them to be very (or any, really) fun but I know for fans of this mode, they will get a lot of mileage out of it.

On top of everything I’ve outlined, there are also night versions of every map for every mode which requires players to use their night vision goggles and the laser sights every gun has gives away your position when aiming. It makes a whole new kind of strategy that isn’t present in the daytime versions. However, at the time of this review, Infinity Ward has temporarily removed them from regular rotation due to fan feedback and will be bringing them back as their own playlist.

Last, but certainly not least there is “Realism” mode. This mode removes the HUD completely, with no bullet counters, killstreaks, weapons do more damage, there is no targeting reticle when not aiming down sights, and the damage is modified not unlike Hardcore mode. Unlike Hardcore, friendly fire is disabled (thankfully). Let me tell you, Realism is a hurdle to get over for someone like me who has been playing these games for 13 years. I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to lose my crutches of reticles and my HUD.

Express Yourself Through Weaponry (and some skins)

All of that is just the game modes and I haven’t even touched on the customization options you have at your disposal. First, there is the Gunsmith. Each gun in the game levels up separately from the player. By leveling up weapons you unlock attachment options, each with their pluses and sometimes minuses and you can only have five on at a time, including a perk (yes, now guns have perks unto themselves) such as FMJ (Full Metal Jacket) for better bullet penetration behind cover, Sleight of Hand, and basically anything that has to do specifically with how your weapon handles. Weapons are once again back to being unlocked via character leveling so you may have to wait to unlock your favorite gun, but you will spend so much time leveling up the weapons you do have and it’s so addicting that you might find yourself a new favorite.

As if all of this wasn’t enough Infinity Ward has brought in Operators to multiplayer to be unlocked through online progression. Operators are merely different skins for the player to use during multiplayer and this seems like the area that got the least attention insofar as there aren’t that many and each one only has three pre-selected variants so there isn’t much customization for these at launch. It’s possible that Activision and by proxy, Infinity Ward, will monetize more skins in the future but that’s merely speculation and really didn’t affect my enjoyment of multiplayer in the slightest.

The best thing out of these Operators? They’re skins only and do not have abilities like in Black Ops 4.

Oh, and Spec Ops Is a Thing

Spec Ops feels like something that was added much later into development and seems entirely perfunctory. Not only is it a separate download, but it’s also basically a big map that you and three other players run around on completing objectives while fighting off the occasional wave of enemies. It’s not that deep but I suppose it could offer some fun for people in the mood for it. There are other Spec Ops modes such as classic and if you’re on PlayStation 4, Survival, which is a watered-down version of Horde mode.

Infinity Ward has put in an exhaustive amount of content and care into their “reboot” of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and it shows. The campaign is a return to form, offering intense action sequences, moments of immersive stealth that had me holding my breath, and is anchored by the most likable cast in the history of the series. The multiplayer is going to be divisive for sure, as the larger, less controllable maps take some getting used to but the breadth of modes and Gunsmith options make the learning curve more enjoyable. It’s really only Spec Ops where the package is somewhat let down. It feels tacked on and entirely skippable but does little to bring the overall package down and it’s more content for those that want it. A minor mister in what I consider to be one of the best first-person shooter packages since Titanfall 2.

Don’t forget, we’ll have a separate in-depth look at multiplayer coming up on the site soon.

Overall score: 8.5

Pros:

  • The best campaign the series has offered this generation
  • Understandable and likable characters
  • Intense moments and missions
  • The same, standard-bearing shooting and movement mechanics
  • A robust multiplayer suite with just about something for everyone
  • Cyber Attack
  • Gunsmith is a tremendous and addictive addition

Cons:

  • The campaign doesn’t end as strong as the rest of the game
  • An odd character decision in the climax robs the ending of some of its impact
  • A brief section mid-game is needlessly frustrating
  • Multiplayer maps require some getting used to for fans of the previous Modern Warfare games…
  • ….which can lead to more camping than moment to moment action
  • Like getting shot in the back? No? Too bad
  • Spec Ops feels perfunctory and non-essential

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