Back in the dark days of 2007 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare launched and became one of the most important games in history, it’s great singleplayer and addictive multiplayer laying the foundations on which the shooter genre would build itself upon for years to come. Whether or not you think the industry’s fascination with Modern Warfare was a good thing or a bad thing is obviously up for debate, but the point was Modern Warfare was special.
So, now we can jump back to modern day and Activision have decided to delve into their own history by rebooting Modern Warfare. Captain Price is back, battle royal is out and there’s not a wall-run in sight. The confusingly titled Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019) has a gritty campaign with a few scenes which have sent social-justice-warrior journalists running for the hills while screaming incomprehensibly, and a multiplayer which slows down the pace and teaches you to fear those fucking claymores.
I’ve skipped the last three or four CoD games, but the idea of trying to re-capture some of the spirit of the Original Modern Warfare has brought me back into the fold.
But before we delve into the review proper, here’s a PSA: given the recent antics in the news it feels worth point out that if you disagree with Blizzard over the banning of a Hearthstone player who showed support for the current situation in Hong Kong then you also have a baked in issue with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. While Blizzard have come under fire for their decision it is easy to forget that the full company title is actually Activision Blizzard, and thus if you have joined the boycott on Blizzard products it would be somewhat difficult to not include Modern Warfare. With that said, I’m not going to be taking that into account in the review; how you feel about the situation is up to you and you alone.
Right, on with the review.
The action kicks off with CIA operative Alex taking part in a covert operation to recover dangerous chemical weapons heading for the fictional country of Urzikstan – a name that sounded so real I actually had to double check – but he and the marines accompanying him are ambushed and the deadly gas is stolen. With dangerous chemicals on the loose and growing tensions with Russia the plot jumps around several perspectives, including that of the returning Captain Price and Urzikstan freedom fighter Farah.
Farah is the most developed of the bunch but that’s hardly saying very much. The Call of Duty franchise has never exactly been known for its strong and interesting characters. It’s a shame because the cutscenes look jaw-dropping in their detail. Faces look absolutely amazing, the animation/motion capture is stunning and the acting is top-notch. But without any characters to connect with several of the story’s main plot points don’t have the impact that they need. Plot twists and brave sacrifices don’t mean much when the only defining charactertic in the entire game is Captain Price’s epic facial hair.
In short, I’d describe the narrative as fairly bog-standard Call of Duty fare, being mostly forgettable but still enjoyable enough while you’re in the midst of it all. It’s like watching season two of Jack Ryan and then realising that you can’t remember half of the character’s names but you do know you had a good time.
The Campaign Gameplay
There are several exceptional missions throughout the campaign that stand amongst the best the series has ever offered. An early firefight occurs on the streets of London with crowds of people standing between you and the enemy who are difficult to discern from the civilians just trying to stay alive. The incredibly immersive graphics and stellar audio make this sequence feel visceral and real, the screams of people just trying to stay alive genuinely making me stop and take stock for a moment.
That’s followed up by a tense house raid using night-vision where you’re gently nudging open doors. All of the typical bombastic Call of Duty action is gone as you slowly make your way through the tight rooms and corridors. The lack of music coupled with the boom of your gun and the plink of shell casings hitting the floor make the whole sequence feel intense and real. There aren’t legions of bad guys to gun down, rather it’s just a few targets, all of whom pose a genuine threat, especially as they’ll sometimes hide under beds or behind doors. It got my heart-beat going up in a way that standard Call of Duty missions never manage.
Perhaps the biggest standout mission is called Going Dark which has you trying to locate an individual in quite a large area by Call of Duty standards. There are a few objectives and you can tackle them in whichever order you like. You can disable the power to buildings then proceed to shoot out all the lights before donning night vision goggles, because darkness in Modern Warfare is properly dark, as in you can’t see a fucking thing and thus night vision googles are a requirement. It’s a tense and immersive mission that deviates from the typical Call of Duty formula.
The downside to these terrific missions is that they make returning to the standard Call of Duty template all the more jarring. You know the sort of things I’m talking about, like where you have to amble along behind other characters or the game demands you do very specific things or even when you just happen to wander a little of course and wind up being instantly killed as a punishment for your agency. While this new Modern Warfare is content to hold your hand a little less, it’s still mostly a linear rollercoaster that you strap yourself into.
There are also some missions which don’t hit the mark or are just kind of forgettable. But the game does have to be commended for sheer variety as it uses its multiple perspectives to let you jump from mission style to mission style. One minute you’re clearing a building in the dark, the next your adjusting for wind and distance with a sniper rifle and then you’re hitting a guard over the head with a concrete brick. Although some missions may be forgettable they are rarely ever dull, and there’s a nice mixture of set-piece moments to wow you on the first go through.
The presentation of the campaign is nothing short of outstanding. The audio deserves special mention because the low-down snarls and growls of guns and explosions will send a tingle down your spine. With a great pair of headphones on or good speakers this is a masterclass in sound design from start to finish. And by all of the facial hairs on Tony Stark’s perfectly groomed beard does it look good! While I don’t have the privelage of a graphics card capable of rendering the fancy new ray tracing technology I do have a GTX 1080ti that let me crank the settings up and let me tell you it looks face-meltingly good in places.
You might have read some previews or other reviews that have accused Call of Duty’s campaign of some pretty wild stuff in terms of what it depicts, words like “shock value” being thrown around like they are going out of fashion. To a degree it’s true: the campaign does home in on some tough stuff, dealing with subject matter like having to gun down a mother standing next to her child because she reached for a weapon. There’s a harrowing flash-back, too, that I found to be effective at punching me right in the feels. But none of these overstep any bounds and indeed are no more horrific than what has often been depicted in books, movies and real life. The blunt truth is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare shows what actual war against a terroist organization can be like, and should be commended for not shying away from the material. It presents it in a realistic fashion and with respect, and if you’re ever shocked then it’s done what it was trying to do.
I did encounter a couple of problems during the mere 6-8 hours it takes to complete the campaign, though. First, while the cutscenes are graphically outstanding they are also prone to horrendous framerate problems that can make then unwatchable. I had cutscenes freezing for 10-30 secods, audio would become unsynced and it became difficult to follow the narrative due to constant framerate drops making the whole thing look more a slideshow. If you go into the cinematics menu and watch the cutscenes there the problems vanish, thus I believe the problems might stem from the next level being loaded during the cutscenes.
The other problem I ran into like a brick wall that suddenly stepped out of an alley while I was jogging was the game crashing every time I attempted to load up a mid-mission save during Going Dark. The only way round this was to restart the mission entirely and complete it in one sitting. Hopefully this gets sorted out soon.
Finally, you could certainly argue that while the campaign is willing to depict the realities of war it doesn’t have much to actually say about it all, outside of the normal, “it’s bad.” At one point Captain Price comments on how if you take the gloves off your hands will get dirty. It’s a statement that certainly rings true about the nature of war and what must be done, but the best movies and books that focus on war at least try to present a different spin on the topic whereas Modern Warfare doesn’t have anything to for itself. This boils down to Activision’s statements earlier in the year that Modern Warfare somehow isn’t political, which is blatantly bullshit. They went on to say that they wanted to provide gamers with multiple perspectives without ever saying that one perspective is correct. I commend any developer for wanting to steer clear of political idealogy or concepts in their game, but in the case of something like Modern Warfare it’s like saying that I don’t want to advocate pizza as the best food while also trying to shove it down my friend’s throats.
Perhaps the best example I can give of this is how the campaign often uses civilians in the action to force you to be more careful with your trigger finger. You might encounter people being taken hostage or situations where you have to choose whether or not to open fire on someone who may or may not be reaching for a weapon. There’s a pretty good chance you’re going to wind up killing an innocent and in some cases that’ll be an instant failure, while in others the game simply carries on as though accepting that a stray bullet was inevitable when you’re in a pitched gunfight in the middle of a street attempting to save as many lives as possible. To me, at least, there is a message there: as horrible as it is, as horrendous as it might be, civilian casualties are always going to be a part of war, especially against an enemy that is all too willing to hide in crowds and fight amidst normal people. It isn’t right. It isn’t good. But it’s true.
But overall Call of Duty Modern Warfare’s campaign was a fantastic experience, albeit shorter than I’d like. The more grounded, gritty feel was a welcome change with some outstanding slow-paced missions that got the heart rate spiking a little. With some of the more traditional bombastic missions tossed into the mix it’s a wonderfully varied campaign.
The first thing I noticed is the slower overall pace. Despite having skipped the last few years it doesn’t take more than a glance at the Youtube videos to know that the multiplayer tends to be fast, but here the movement speed has been slowed down, as has the time it takes to aim down the sights. It’s a little more methodical and I like that.
On top of that there’s a new gameplay mechanic where you can mount weapons. No, I’m not saying you can leap on an Ak-47 and ride it around like an ammo-spewing dragon, instead you can mount weapons against corners or on top of walls in order to more accurately aim whilst staying in cover. You can also reload now while aiming down the sights, letting you keep your focus trained on a spot.
While both of those two gameplay tweaks effect both singleplayer and multiplayer, there’s also a change that’s specific to the online portion of the game: super sprint. By double-tapping the sprint key you can break into a faster run at the cost of being much slower to get your sights up. It isn’t going to radically alter the way the game plays, but it’s handy for running madly across open ground.
Probably the most exciting addition in my eyes is Ground War which feels like it takes heavy inspiration from the Battlefield series, pitting two teams of 32-players each against each other on large maps complete with vehicles. It’s certainly…um, chaotic? The faster pace of Call of Duty compared to Battlefield doesn’t meld with the larger scale action as well as I had hoped. Even with objectives to capture the mode doesn’t have the focus that the Battlefield games have with the action often awkwardly spread. Snipers also dominate heavily which can be frustrating at times.
Ground War also adds in vehicles to drive around with which is pretty fun at first, but it doesn’t feel like the developers really designed the maps around them. Firstly, they get taken out incredibly easy thanks to the abundance of explosives, and secondly they tend to be too damn big to get into objectives. In other words, vehicles really aren’t the focus and feel tacked on, at least at the moment. Down the line, who knows?
If you fancy something more intimate then there’s the new Gunfight where it’s just you and one other player facing off against two enemy players on small maps. It’s bloody tense stuff, mostly because you’re burdened with the knowledge that if you fuck up then you’ve messed everything up for your team-mate, too, which is why I’d recommended not playing with strangers. Matches tend to be fast, frantic and heaps of fun, so I found myself going back to Gunfight a lot more than I foresaw.
And of course there’s a raft of standard modes to play around in, too. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare does not skimp in this department, presumably because it wants to become like the all you can eat buffet of shooters – a little bit of everything, and the scathing judgement of the many people watching you shoveling food into your face like some sort of demented sumo wrestler.
Like always the map design will most likely be a source of contention among the community as the three-lane design has been tossed aside, and in its place are more complex layouts. They’re certainly interesting with plenty of nooks and crannies to discover, but on the other hand there’s so many routes and lines of sight that you’ll frequently die without ever having a chance to defend yourself, especially since the time to kill is very, very short. People on forums have already pointed out that camping is a stronger tactic than ever, especially on Ground War with its tall buildings which are just perfect for snipers. Of course, whether this is a problem will depend on how you personally feel about camping, or as it would be known in the military, ambushing the shit out of people.
It’s hard to even sneak up on campers, too, because the sound design in the multiplayer section of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is a little confusing. Footsteps are extremely loud but it’s hard to actually pinpoint the direction at times. Meanwhile, your character insists on yelling things like, “CONTACT!” when spotting an enemy, which is rather embarrassing when trying to sneak up on a sniper.
The upside to the more cluttered and busy map design is that they are just straight-up more interesting. You have to take the time to actually learn them and keep your eyes constantly scanning for the merest hint of incoming death from just about every possible angle.
Crossplay has been brought to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare so now PS4, Xbox One and PC players can all band together to insult each others mums. It’s fantastic to see crossplay enabled since it helps keep a stronger playerbase, although I was surprised to find that PC players can go up against the consoles. The mouse and keyboard offer a pretty big advantage in terms of speed and precision, and that’s not even taking into account that PC users can get smoother framerates, better response times and can whack up the graphical settings in order to help spot enemies at greater range. It’s worth keeping in mind, then, that you can hook up a mouse and keyboard to the Xbox One or PS4 if you’re worried.
Finally, future maps and other updates are apparently going to be absolutely free! It’s also promised that they’ll arrive on all platforms at the same time.
So, what’s the actual cost of these free updates? Well, that’s complicated, largely because the details are being very deliberately obscured. Activision have announced that some form of Battlepass will be arriving down the line, but exactly how it works is difficult to discern. Right now you can spend real cash to buy cosmetic gear and Activision are claiming that anything which effects the gameplay will remain entirely free. The Battlepass, though, mentions things like “streams” of “free” and “premium” content and a bunch of other PR-speak which is hard to decipher into English.
But to wrap it up the multiplayer is a pretty slick package with plenty of modes and fun gameplay provided the slower pacer sounds good to you. The night versions of certain maps are the highlight of the whole package, forcing players to creep around with their night vision goggles on, while aiming down the sights gives your position away thanks to the aiming laser.
Basically each individual weapon is leveled up through continued usage, and by visiting the gunsmith menu you can swap out the scope, barrel, muzzle, stock, magazine and much more in order to really customise your gun. Sadly you’re limited to just five attachments, but even that gives you a superb amount of room to radically alter the feel and performance of a gun, turning a simple AK-47 into a compact little machinegun or into a bullet-spewing beast, for example.
The guns in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare already feel glorious to use, packing the kind of bang that could make you have an orgasm, so by the time you throw the fantastic customisation on top of it you have one hell of a system.
You’ve also got the returning Killstreaks which are personally still an issue for me, just because so many matches can become a clusterfuck of Killstreaks. During some matches I would spend a solid few minutes spawning, walking out of a doom and immediately getting blown up by a bombing run or some other nonsense that I could do nothing against. But I also have to confess that being the person unleashing Killstreaks is pretty satisfying, even if you are aware that you’re being awarded for dominating others by being given even more tools to dominate them with.
All of this gets cobbled together in the create-a-class system where you pick out some perks, grab a weapon and then jump into a match. It’s solid stuff with new things coming along at a pleasing rate, and I quickly found myself feeling possessive of my guns and the way I had set them up.
If you aren’t too big on going head to head against other people then there’s always Spec Ops, a co-op mode that carries on from the singleplayer campaign. Basically it’s like a horde mode with A.I. enemies constantly assaulting you and three other players while you run around completing objectives. Some vehicles even get tossed into mix.
You can also delve into the missions, playing either solo or with up to three other people to complete smaller, tighter levels where you get scored based on your performance at the end.
Before you jump into spec ops you have to choose a “role” which dictates your guns and gear, so team composition has some effect on the action. Killstreaks are also available.
Honestly, I didn’t spend a lot of time with the special ops modes, largely because they weren’t very interesting. But if you can get a few people together they’re worth a playthrough or two.
But one thing to keep in mind is that the spec ops mode known as “Survival” is a PS4 exclusive for an entire year, meaning PC and Xbox users won’t be able to play it until the next Call of Duty (Modern Warfare 2? Er, Again?) is actually out. It’s a decision that has angered many people, and rightfully so.
The Big Verdict
Having skipped out on the Call of Duty franchise since it ventured into the realms of futuristic tech, wallrunning and battle royales I wasn’t sure exactly what to expect delving back into it all. But I’m pleased to say that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is rather excellent, even if I’m honestly still baffled as to why it had to be called Modern Warfare.
Although I wish it was longer the campaign is a great experience that does a good job with its more grizzled approach. Sure, the whole plot is forgettable stuff but the actual mission design is frequently superb with multiple memorable sequences and one horrible level I hope to never suffer again. It involves CCTV cameras. It’s terrible.
As for the multiplayer it’s still not something which matches my own personal tastes so I can’t imagine myself hanging around too long, but it’s still well put together, offers plenty of modes and the slower pace might help draw in fans of some of the older CoD games. The fact that people hiding around corners, the ever-present threat of snipers and the abundance of claymores forces you to be a bit more careful makes the whole thing more…methodical. Which isn’t to say you can’t still run around like a rabbit that’s taken waaaay too much speed, just that if you do opt for the constant sprinting style of play you might get your head blown off a lot.
Overall, this year’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare doesn’t manage to have the same impact on the gaming industry as its namesake did, but then, how could it? The original Modern Warfare came at the right time in history and helped shape shooters for years to come, regardless of whether you think that shape was a good one or not. But it is a damn fine shooter with a solid campaign and an expansive multiplayer, even if you do have to buy the game on PS4 to get all the modes. Dick move there, Activision.
4 out of 5