Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Review: A Modern Triumph

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, like most Call of Duty games, set out on a mission to be different from the series’ past. Or rather, it wanted to be more of the same, more of the good old days, if that was the type of Call of Duty you were most familiar with. Gone was the futuristic, arcade-style gameplay that’s now been replaced with a more grounded and realistic approach to a first-person shooter that’s been likened more to Battlefield with a Call of Duty sheen to it. The result of this remodeling of the series resulted in a triumphant success for the franchise that builds on a classic experience and offers the best Call of Duty game in a long time even if it does experience familiar stumbles at times.

The modes Modern Warfare offers are probably the best initial indicator of what the game offers in terms of gameplay and an overall experience. There’s a single-player campaign that many people sorely missed in Black Ops 4, there’s the ever present multiplayer mode that feels more lethal than ever before, and there’s Spec Ops which harkens back to the time of Modern Warfare 2 which was the game where many people’s Call of Duty experiences peaked. Each of these modes offers profoundly different experiences, though you can certainly get by with only the first two if you’re searching for the core experience.

Campaign (Spoilers Included)

It can’t be overstated how gorgeous the campaign looks and how well its characters are handled. Compared to the original appearances of the characters from over a decade ago, seeing iconic people like Captain Price return in all their modern glory felt like seeing an old friend you hadn’t seen in years. Details like the crow’s feet near Price’s eyes, the pained and determined expressions they make, and fluid movements make this campaign a cinematic spectacle even if it’s a bit shorter than one might’ve hoped.

Like a movie where explosions and twists are as central to the story as the characters themselves, Modern Warfare’s campaign is an extremely entertaining one even if it is a bit shallow at times. The “Piccadilly” mission looks to recreate the horror and shock of chapters like No Russian from Modern Warfare 2 and shows how chaotic this version of Modern Warfare can be while others like “The Embassy” depict equally tense moments. If someone said we’re only allowed to ever replay one mission from the campaign though, the clear winner would be “Clean House” each time. Engaging a house full of unwitting hostiles and civilians under the cover of night while you and your team tactfully and swiftly make your way through the compound while figures move around you almost feels more like a horror game than a shooter. It’s a rare moment that Call of Duty players will look back on in future campaigns.

And just as we’ll probably look back on that mission, Infinity Ward knew players would be stacking this campaign up against others and made sure to incorporate some fan-favorite moments in there. Remember when Price lifted your character up and said “On your feet soldier, we are leaving” in Call of Duty 4? That moment and others are back in Modern Warfare. Though as expected, they can’t always outdo the original even if they weren’t trying to. There’s of course a sniper mission here in Modern Warfare, but we’ll probably never see a mission of that kind that beats “All Ghillied Up.”

There’s also been a lot of talk about shock value and gruesomeness in Modern Warfare’s campaign. It’s got plenty of both, though it honestly doesn’t seem worse in those departments than past games. Where it can be faulted though is its depiction of the Russian forces versus the allied militaries and the Al-Qatala terrorist group.

There’s already been talks of rewriting war crimes and Russophobia, but even if one is willing to set Modern Warfare’s campaign apart in an isolated world free of outside influence, the character development for the Russians simply isn’t there. Infinity Ward spoke a lot about how war isn’t just black and white anymore, but it’s pretty black and white when it comes to the Russians. The allied forces and even the terrorist group have their own grey areas, but the Russians are painted as the antagonists at every stage. Other groups are given conflicting or redeeming qualities while that courtesy isn’t extended to the Russians. Only Nikolai is there to discount his oppressive leaders, but that’s not nearly enough. Call it propaganda if you will, but it’s clearly just a failure to build on those antagonists.

Multiplayer

If you’re like me, Modern Warfare’s multiplayer may come as a surprise when you first engage with it. Things have been slowed down to a brisk walk compared to the sprinting action that was in games like Modern Warfare 2 where players soared through the air and launched melee attacks from miles away. If you’re bringing your run-and-gun style to the game, Modern Warfare is prepared to say “we don’t do that here.”

Once you realize how you’re expected to play and align with Modern Warfare’s path, you’ll see how well it fulfills its promises of a more grounded multiplayer experience. Every weapon feels impactful regardless of which end you’re on, and while there are obviously some standout weapons that need nerfs, there seems to be a decent mix of loadouts being used.

The counterargument to this type of gameplay has already made itself evident though through one thing: Camping. If you don’t rank Modern Warfare at the top of any of its parts at first, you’ll rank it at No. 1 for camping after playing a few rounds of multiplayer. The snail’s pace combat and lethality of literally everything means there’s less incentive to move around especially if you’re in a game mode that prizes kills over objectives. Features like being able to mount a weapon on a surface be it a ledge or a corner are neat tactical improvements to Modern Warfare, but they only worsen the problem.

As for its various game modes, a rotation of the core games like Team Deathmatch, Domination, and Headquarters seems to yield the best and most diverse experience. Dip your toes into others like Gunfight and Cyber Attack if you’re looking for something slightly different, but even if the other modes were absent, we could get by on the core offerings.

call of duty modern warfare
(Photo: Activision)

While many Call of Duty players begin clamoring for new maps before the majority of the community even learns the nooks and crannies of the existing ones, Modern Warfare probably does need a refresher of current maps or an injection of new ones within the next month or so. There’s no shame in leaving the lobby if “Piccadilly” shows up as the next map, and if you’re playing Ground War in the “Tavorsk District” map, you’ll need a third eye on the sky at all times to make sure you don’t get sniped by a scope glinting in the heavens.

As for the progression system, Infinity Ward and Activision seem to have kept their promise so far of a fair, understandable way of unlocking what you want. Gun attachments and camos are unlocked relatively fast with some effort on the player’s part even if the game experienced the seemingly standard problems at launch that prevented some things from working. We’ve seen Call of Duty’s progression and loot systems go downhill after launch though, so hopefully this clarity and accessibility persists.

Spec Ops

Spec Ops by far warrants the least of a Modern Warfare player’s time, and the unfortunate part about that is that there’s nothing truly wrong with it. The story nuggets tucked away in there after you’ve beaten the campaign could be appealing to some, but there’s something profoundly off-putting about investing yourself into the characters, seeing their story through until what you think is the end, and then being asked to check out the rest of the adventures through another mode.

The missions are diverse enough to keep groups of players busy and can be quite challenging at times, but they’re less enjoyable for the solo player which becomes especially true when comparing them to the other game modes. View Spec Ops as you would the deleted scenes and special features of a Blu-Ray release – they’re fun to visit once or twice or to show to someone else, but don’t prioritize them over the main feature.

*****

It’s easy to pick apart these components when isolated, but where does Modern Warfare stand among other Call of Duty games as a whole? It’s certainly the best Call of Duty game we’ve received in years, but exactly where it falls will depend on how favorably you view the older games and how influenced you are by nostalgia. Its campaign is exemplary, and even if people have inevitable complaints and suggestions about the multiplayer mode, it feels like the culmination of what people have been asking for since the days of wall-running and questionable gadgets. One thing is clear though: Modern Warfare definitely has the potential to be people’s favorite Call of Duty game, but the games-as-a-service model will mean its up to Infinity Ward and Activision to make sure that potential is realized in the coming months.

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Rating: 4 out of 5

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is now available for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC platforms. The game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4 Pro with a review code provided by the publisher.