I was both excited and apprehensive when it was announced that Call of Duty would be reviving the Modern Warfare series with a ‘soft reboot’. On the one hand, I have been longing for Call of Duty to take a step backwards from all of the over the top nonsense for years, and the Modern Warfare series has always been my favourite Call of Duty sub-franchise, but on the other hand I’ve been bitten by this before – Call of Duty: WWII was sold to me as a return to the series glory days, but what I ultimately found was practically a World War 2 reskin of any Call of Duty that had preceded it. Would I be similarly disappointed with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare? I’m pleased to report that the answer is a resounding “no”, but it does have its drawbacks.
A single-player campaign was notable by its absence in last years Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, and although it ultimately wasn’t really missed, campaign returns in Modern Warfare in such a way that it lays a claim for why campaign should never be left out again. Modern Warfare’s campaign is fantastic, but it’s also heavy going and controversial at times.
Throughout the campaigns 14 missions and sub-10 hour play time, you take control of a handful of different characters as you try to track down a stolen shipment of chemical weapons which are heading for the fictional middle-eastern country of Urzikstan. These characters include CIA Officer Alex and SAS Sergeant Kyle Garrick—both of which are guided at different times by returning series favourite Captain John Price—and Farah Karim, an Urzikstan rebel who is fighting the Russian forces which occupy her country.
Missions are varied, with some featuring large-scale battles and others forcing you to take a more stealth-based approach. While the more action-packed missions—which include an exhilarating assault on an enemy-occupied hospital and a fast-paced pursuit through the streets of St. Petersburg—are still very enjoyable, the campaign undoubtedly shines brightest when it slows down the pace and, rather ironically, turns off the lights. There are a few very memorable missions which plunge you into darkness, forcing you to put on your night vision goggles and proceed with caution. A late-night infiltration of an inner-city London townhouse is the highlight of these, providing a tense and gripping experience as you search the house and cautiously go from room to room in a hunt for terrorist intel. An assault on an estate in Moldova provides a similar experience on a larger scale later on in the game, and it’s equally tense and memorable. Playing these missions brought back the same kind of feelings that I had when playing ‘All Ghillied Up’ on Call of Duty 4 all those years ago, and I’m sure that these missions will be similarly fondly remembered for years to come.
Despite the numerous things that the campaign undeniably does tremendously well, there are some contentious issues which will definitely divide opinion. Throughout your time with the story, you’ll witness atrocity after atrocity after atrocity; chemical attacks, public executions, torture, the murder of children, a terrorist attack in London. There can be an argument that these are designed to be impactful and to drive home what you’re fighting for, but the sheer volume of their usage can’t help but make me feel like some of them are used purely for shock value, to stir up discussion of the game rather than for any narrative reasons. The atrocities portrayed are very real and sensitive issues in the modern world, and their over-usage here feels a bit exploitative. There’s no denying that they are impactful and they do help to drive the characters, but it will cause mixed opinions with players.
There’s also a particularly controversial mission surrounding a ‘Highway of Death’ in Urzikstan, which has a striking resemblance to the actual Highway of Death in Kuwait, the location of a war crime by US-led forces during the Persian Gulf War. Modern Warfare’s Highway of Death, which apparently is entirely fictional, is the result of a similar war crime, but this one was perpetrated by Russia. This has led to the game being pulled from sale in Russia following Russian denunciation of the game as an attempt to rewrite history and as a piece of American propaganda. Despite Infinity Ward’s protests to the contrary and their insistence that this is a pure piece of fiction and is in no way related to actual world events, the resemblance is so clear and the evidence so strong that it’s hard to disagree with Russia’s stance in any way.
If you can look past the campaigns somewhat uncomfortable overuse of harrowing incidents and political controversies, then you’ll have an absolute blast in the single-player portion of Modern Warfare. This is the best campaign that the franchise has had since the original Black Ops, and it’s a worthy return for the Modern Warfare name. Brilliantly animated cutscenes and fantastic voice acting take us through a blistering story which sets the game up perfectly for a sequel, and I can’t wait to see where the rebooted Modern Warfare series goes next.
Of course, a large number of players will be here purely for multiplayer. The original Modern Warfare series (particularly the first two) were the pinnacle of Call of Duty multiplayer for me, but their general feel and style have been lost through years of fast-paced, run and gun, streak-heavy madness in recent entries in the franchise. Modern Warfare takes its more realistic approach into multiplayer and dials back heavily on all of those aspects, and once again, it will divide opinion.
Modern Warfare’s multiplayer is slow. Very slow. Some players have labelled it as “tactical”, while others are calling it “campy”. The truth is that both opinions are correct. Camping is rife in Modern Warfare’s multiplayer – people sit in windows, hide around corners, hold down positions. Running around the map like a mad man (à la Black Ops 4) simply isn’t a viable option if you want to be successful. Running across open ground will cause you to die in seconds, sticking your head out for a look when you know a sniper is watching will get your head blown off, and carelessly running around a corner or through a door is likely to get you killed by a claymore. Instead, you need to slowly move between cover, waiting for your moment between engagements, always check possible camping spots, and venture through doorways with caution. It’s a significant change of pace from recent entries and it has already divided opinion, but I’m a big fan of it. I’ve found myself increasingly frustrated with the fast-paced Call of Duty’s in recent years—they often boil down to twitch shooting and matches can devolve into streak-heavy stomps where you get stuck in a loop of spawning and dying instantly—so a slower game which forces me to think more before acting is a bit more up my alley.
Let’s say I want to move across a street from building to building. In recent entries, I’d just hold the sprint button down and go for it. In Modern Warfare, I have to think about where enemies could be laying in wait before I go. Can I safely scope the area out for enemies first? Or could just sticking my head out for a look get me killed anyway? If I think the answer is the latter, then maybe I need to take my chances by popping a smoke grenade and making a mad dash for it, or perhaps I can take a safer route around behind cover and flank them. That’s how you have to play Modern Warfare, and the result of that are much slower-paced games. There are less kills, and therefore less killstreaks, which I find makes it a much less frustrating game to play. If I die in Modern Warfare—and I do die, a lot—I usually feel like it’s down to my own mistake; I got careless, I didn’t check my corners, I missed my shot. Some people will enjoy the change of pace and some will absolutely hate it. If you want an example of just how camp-heavy the game can be at times, then check out my clip below and decide for yourself whether this would wind you up or not – a frustrating death for sure, but I should have checked my corners.
This slower pace is, of course, more akin to the original Modern Warfare games (although it is even slower than those), which was also rife with people camping and claymore’s going off at every turn. The big difference here, however, is that the original Modern Warfare games were full to the brim with some of the greatest maps that the Call of Duty franchise has ever created, but this Modern Warfare absolutely is not. The maps are underwhelming to say the least, with not one holding any potential to be a classic map in the series. The traditional three lane structure is gone, which I do think makes maps a lot more interesting, but there are way too many sight lines and means of access on all of them, which makes you feel like you need to be keeping an eye on all directions at all times, which just isn’t possible. On top of that, some of the maps have balance issues; when playing Domination on Piccadilly, for example, the C and B flags are insanely close to each other, while the A flag is a fair distance away. This gives the team that spawns at C an immediate advantage and control of the map. This would be okay if half-time and a spawn flip still happened when one team reaches 100 points, but Infinity Ward don’t include that in their entries, so the imbalance affects the entire match. More maps are coming of course—Modern Warfare doesn’t have a season pass, with all new content being given to all players for free at the same time, and at this moment in time there isn’t a microtransaction in sight, a major plus point for sure (if it stays that way)—and a number of classic maps from the Modern Warfare series are sure to be included, but it’s a shame that Infinity Ward couldn’t recreate that same standard. Thankfully, although the maps are ‘just okay’, they still don’t spoil the enjoyable gameplay.
As much as Modern Warfare’s slower pace and its map rotation will be polarizing, one thing that can’t be argued is that the gunplay is absolutely fantastic. There are a great selection of weapons to choose from, and the majority of them are all useful and viable in the right situation. Shotguns are lethal up close, Sniper Rifles deadly from range, and Assault Rifles perfect for mid-range confrontations. SMG’s are possibly the only selection of weapons which could do with a buff, as they often get outclassed even at short range. All weapons are customisable with the usual plethora of attachments, but you can only equip up to five at once and they all come with a negative effect as well as a positive. This forces you to think about which attachments to use to cater to your own distinct playstyle, and it allows you to create distinctly unique weapons. You still have a special skill which charges up over time, but they’re nowhere near as powerful as Black Ops 4’s – gone are grenade launchers, flamethrowers, and attack dogs; in are silent footsteps and a small deployable shield which can provide you the perfect few seconds of cover while you capture a point.
In terms of game modes, Modern Warfare offers the usual slew of modes—TDM, Domination, Search & Destroy, Headquarters—as well as a new mode called Cyber Attack which is very similar in style to S&D, and there are also 10v10 variants of TDM and Domination on dedicated maps which ramp the action up and make things a bit more hectic. The new 2v2 mode, Gunfight, is a first-to-six elimination affair on small maps where all players are given the same random weapon and equipment at the start of each round. It’s different, tense, skill-driven, and a great inclusion from Infinity Ward, but I still can’t see it taking much focus away from the standard multiplayer modes. The big new mode that is sure to gain a lot of attention, however, is Ground War. Modern Warfare’s Ground War is radically different from the old 9v9 mode that we all loved so much. The player count has jumped up to 32v32, the maps are massive and exclusive to the playlist (there’s only two of them at the minute, mind you), and vehicles can be used to gain a tactical advantage as you aim to control a set number of flags at different points throughout the map. Sound familiar? That’s because it’s a complete rip off of Battlefield. Ground War is basically BF Conquest. It’s still a completely new way to play Call of Duty and it’s great fun, but it’s also pure imitation over innovation. I remember a time when every first-person shooter was trying to be like Call of Duty, but in recent years it feels like every “new” feature in Call of Duty is something stolen from another franchise. This is only a minor criticism, because the mode is still tremendous fun, but it needs a mention.
For players who prefer to play their multiplayer games cooperatively rather than competitively, then Spec Ops is included to satisfy your needs. The four-player missions are a decent distraction if you can get a group of friends together (communication is key), but this portion of the game is definitely the weakest aspect. The handful of missions are nowhere near as good as the likes experienced back in Modern Warfare 2, and they’re also extremely difficult, if not borderline unfair. It feels as though enemies constantly stream towards you from all angles, seemingly out of nowhere. It provides a challenge for a squad of players for sure, but it can be a very frustrating experience. It certainly struggled to keep my attention for prolonged amounts of time, and I continually found myself desperate to head back to the standard multiplayer mode. There is also the controversial subject of the Survival portion of Spec Ops being exclusive to PS4 players for an entire year – this is fundamentally bad for gaming, and I cannot support it.
Over all of the multiplayer modes, another thing that needs mentioning is the flawless implementation of cross-play functionality. This is the first time that cross-play has been available in a Call of Duty title and it works without issue. Are you an Xbox player but your buddy is a PS4 player? No problem, simply add them to your Activision friends list through the game and you can play Modern Warfare together, complete with voice chat. That barrier is completely gone, and it’s a big step for both the franchise and for gaming itself. Not only that, but the addition of cross-play means that lobbies fill up at lightning speed, and you’ll never wait more than a minute to find a match. Another clear area for praise is the games sound design and visuals; the new game engine has provided us with stunning graphics and lighting effects, making this the best-looking Call of Duty game ever produced. The sound is also excellent yet again, with bullets impacting surfaces or enemy players with a thudding resonance. Guns look, sound, and feel incredibly hard-hitting and realistic, and the reload animations are absolutely fantastic. Infinity Ward deserves tremendous credit for it.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare slows the franchise down and is better for it, but it’s not without its flaws or opinion-splitting features. A tremendous campaign is hampered by political issues and an over-reliance on throwing atrocities in your face, and Spec Ops offers co-op fun for four-players but doesn’t play entirely fair, often leaving the player frustrated. Multiplayer, however, is a real throwback to the glory days of Modern Warfare 1 and 2, but to enjoy that throwback you have to accept the game for what it is – slower, more methodical, more tactical, and yes, more campy. If you prefer your Call of Duty games slower and more realistic then Modern Warfare may well be the game to get you back into the franchise, but it certainly won’t be for everybody. Then again, what game ever is?