We’re just about 12 years removed from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, one of the most popular and critically acclaimed video games of all time. In 2019, after two sequels to the Modern Warfare sub-series and plenty of other annual entries, the top-selling shooter is back. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare reboots the franchise’s most popular series in the hopes of returning the series to its roots, re-imagining a world-class shooter experience from the ground up.
Game Name: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
Platform(s): PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC (Reviewed)
Developer(s): Infinity Ward, Raven Software, Beenox, High Moon Studios
Release Date: October 25, 2019
In the lead up to the game’s release, Geoffrey Smith (multiplayer design director at Infinity Ward) described the development philosophy of the game as curating an experience that’s “fresh but familiar.” That ideology is pervasive throughout the entire experience of 2019’s Modern Warfare; the game melds together a unique combination of core mechanics and new ideas into a satisfyingly new experience, whilst still injecting nostalgia from Call of Duty’s DNA throughout the game.
Movement and gun-play have been drastically improved to create a more fluid and free-flowing player experience. Presentation is perhaps visually the best the franchise has ever been. The campaign introduces an unexpected variety of ideas in gameplay to create one of the most memorable single-player stories in the franchise period. With plenty of new and returning modes, expanded loadout/weapon customization, and streamlined character progression, the multiplayer benefits greatly from the overhauled gameplay while still retaining some of its patented replayability. Unfortunately, Spec Ops coop is easily the weakest link due to its unbalanced difficulty very quickly becoming the opposite of fun to play, regardless of who you’re playing with.
Other than that, Modern Warfare improves upon previous games in the series in meaningful ways. While other entries in the franchise have consistently iterated on the same base system with little deviation, Modern Warfare does feel like it’s attempting to craft the base game for what could become the next generation of the Call of Duty franchise.
Before diving into the three main modes, there’s a lot to discuss regarding how the game looks and operates. Controlling your virtual soldier in Modern Warfare has never looked or felt as satisfying as it does in 2019. Any mechanical elements that could’ve made movement feel stiff or awkward have been near-perfected to create realistically balanced control over the player’s character.
It’s clear Infinity Ward prioritized improving how players interact with the world around them: climbing functions in a smooth and less disjointed fashion, the ability to sprint endlessly and super-sprint in short bursts actually makes your soldier seem like they’re actually in shape for combat, players can also aim and reload firearms at the same time in order to maintain a specific sightline, and players are able to mount on walls and objects for greater recoil control while sacrificing movement. Call of Duty has never been the most strategy-oriented tactical shooter, but these quality 0f life improvements do create an overall improved experience for players interacting with the world.
Which is perfect because the world of Modern Warfare is honestly beautiful. It’s been a long time since I’ve looked at a Call of Duty game and thought it looks amazing, but this year’s entry steps up the level of visual fidelity. The game plays with lighting elements often and expertly, as several different maps and missions happen at different times of day and night. Paired with the grounded environmental design, each scene evokes an amazing level of detail and realism in Modern Warfare‘s aesthetic that most people don’t expect from the series.
Even the more subtle style choices further emphasize attention to detail, such as the sound design. Firearms have always sounded naturally stunning in Call of Duty, and this also holds true for Modern Warfare. Not just the quality of the weapons’ sounds, but the thought put into the landscape around you and how weapon noise interacts with that world is also impressive. In tight spaces, gunshots and footsteps reverberate around walls and can be very disorienting. In larger open spaces, sniper and mortar fire will echo and bend around surrounding mountains to create a sense of sheer scale on the battlefield. There’s a clear focus of immersion in Modern Warfare’s world design that doesn’t deserve to be glossed over, even though it’s not the main focus of the experience.
With the return of Call of Duty’s campaign, Infinity Ward spared no expense. Modern Warfare‘s singleplayer foray is a wonderfully unique experience full of fresh ideas that (mostly) don’t stick out like a sore thumb. It’s a perfectly paced campaign; not too long, not too short, and does well to balance segments of gameplay variety alongside Call of Duty‘s brand of skirmishes and typical pomp and circumstance. While it doesn’t necessarily reach as far into the politically controversial rabbit hole as promised or advertised, segments of violence or shock and awe largely align with the story progression and feel reminiscent of an old-school Call of Duty campaign. Despite a few low points and odd tonal shifts throughout the campaign, this is easily one of the most concise and entertaining single-player experiences to play in a Call of Duty game as well as first-person-shooters as a whole.
Players take on the roles of several different protagonists that make up the sort-of “A-Team” conglomerate in Modern Warfare’s campaign: There’s everyone’s favorite SAS mainstay Captain Price, paired with London police sergeant and new SAS recruit Kyle Garrick, a CIA operative turned freedom fighter who’s name is simply “Alex,” who fights alongside Farah Karim who is the leader of the Urzikstan (a fictional middle-eastern country) rebel group.
What’s most impressive from Call of Duty’s campaign is the focus put into the story’s characters. Rather than inserting base/bland personality archetypes or silent protagonists, Modern Warfare focuses on crafting a core squad with members that each represent different operatives in war. There are moments of banter spread throughout the narrative that highlights these characters’ mutual bonds, whether that’s sharing each other’s backstories or coping with the effects of war. Standout moments are when Alex disobeys direct orders from the US military to withdraw in favor of Farah’s rebel cause, and when Garrick confides in Price about where to draw the moral line in combat.
The protagonists eventually come together through their inter-weaving story-lines to create an international crew of soldiers uniting against common enemies. These villains, unfortunately, don’t receive the same treatment. Sadly the lesser villains are just generic terrorist templates used as gateways to the “true” villain. It’s so laughably generic that they even have vague and uninspiring nicknames such as “The Wolf” and “The Butcher” that are barely justified other than they kill innocent people and that’s clearly bad. Even General Barkov, the main villain only receives the limelight in flashback sequences, while the rest of his story fleshed out circumstantially.
Plot gripes aside, why Modern Warfare’s campaign truly shines is its several instances where it steers away from the Call of Duty gameplay formula. The campaign, even in its five or six-hour run-time, finds plenty of time to make the player do something they’ve never done in a Call of Duty game before. There’s tense, claustrophobic sections in complete darkness that reward caution and patience instead of running and gunning. There’s an interrogation sequence that presents the player with multiple dialogues options to choose how they’d like to respond (though admittedly it doesn’t impact the outcome of the story at all). There’s a moment where Garrick guides a secretary out of an enemy-occupied embassy by using security cameras and voice commands to guide her outside of the building without being captured. The wildest sequence happens in a flashback, where a younger Farah fights a horror-inspired mini-boss battle in the form of a Russian soldier.
Even though Modern Warfare’s typical set-pieces and firefights are still just as good as they usually are, the subverting of expectations spread throughout the campaign that truly makes the singleplayer story one of the most unique in the franchise’s history.
The next iteration of Call of Duty multiplayer has arrived, bringing with it that ever-addicting gameplay loop players have come to love. Player agency has been tangibly improved in Modern Warfare multiplayer, it feels like there’s true flexibility in what playstyle you can choose.
Call of Duty multiplayer has always been characterized by its fast-paced gameplay modes that reward aggression without much strategic thought. As long as you had the proper firepower and a few guys with you, squads could easily take a point or plant a bomb as long as they move fast and have good guns. While in some applications this still rings true, the truth is Modern Warfare’s multiplayer balance does well to introduce elements of counterplay that can genuinely prevent rushdown approaches quite well.
Along with the overall changes like cover mounting weapons, there’s new Field Upgrades that can be used in a variety of different situations. Equipment like the Deployable Cover or the Trophy System can be used to fortify a position well and keep invaders at a disadvantage. On the flip side, there are other Field Upgrade items like Dead Silence, Tactical Insertion or EMP Drone that can be used to dismantle strong defenses as well. Many have pointed out camping as their main complaint towards Modern Warfare’s multiplayer, but honestly, well-defending players can be overtaken with the proper equipment and/or strategy.
Along with the proper equipment, having the right gun also obviously makes a great difference in multiplayer, but not in the traditional sense. Modern Warfare introduces an all-new gun customization suite called “Gunsmith” that allows players to tweak guns with a maximum of five attachments to exactly how they like. Upgrades include new sights, longer/shorter barrels, grips and grenade launchers, laser sights, and even some perks. As long as the player puts the time in to unlock the attachments for their weapons, guns can (for the most part) be tailored to player preference instead of ditching early-unlock guns just because you got a newer one.
And just like past Call of Duty games, players can also add three perks and whatever lethal/non-lethal equipment they want to their custom classes. Other than some perks being shifted around, much of this functionality remains the same as in past entries. Altogether players can truly craft classes for whatever scenario they want to.
More so, it’s important to note that as many of the multiplayer’s best objective-based modes (other than Team Deathmatch or Free For All) cater towards their respective goals. Just running around attempting to get kills for guns isn’t going to result in a win unless you’re playing TDM or FFA, especially in Domination or Headquarters where a proper defense can truly turn the tide of battle. Cyber Attack, one of Modern Warfare’s newest modes, is like a hybrid between Search and Destroy and Headquarters, where players have no re-spawns but can revive each other and they have to plant the bomb in the enemy base. Cyber Attack is honestly a nice twist on Search and Destroy and feels less volatile.
Then there’s the newly revamped Ground War, a big team battle mode with huge maps and several capture points, that essentially functions like a larger scale Domination. Sort of like a Battlefield-lite gameplay mode, players traverse a large engagement area on foot or in vehicles to capture a total of five flags and hold their positions until they win. I don’t want to say it’s a clear rip-off the aforementioned game it’s inspired by, but the similarities are hard not to notice. That being said, without the highly destructive environments and the sheer scale of Battlefield maps, the mode still feels like an upscaled Call of Duty.
Overall Modern Warfare’s multiplayer experience is just as good as it’s ever been, allowing true customization of how you want to play without sacrificing too much gameplay variety.
Unfortunately, the same can’t be said of Modern Warfare’s Spec Ops mode. The cooperative missions are nowhere near as polished as the aforementioned modes, making it practically impossible to play. In concept, the scenarios that are presented to the player in each “Operation” would be fun little mini-campaigns that you can play with friends. In reality, Spec Ops turns into an absurdly difficult game mode even the most masochistic could not enjoy.
Objectives are presented to members of the fireteam as they begin each Operation, such as eliminating enemy lieutenants or infiltrating a military base. These open-ended operations are initially free-flowing but eventually devolve into marathons of firing into enemies that are quite literally bullet sponges. Players are forced to cower in corners since enemy density spikes so rapidly that it’s impossible to move out of cover for extended periods. It doesn’t help that several Juggernaut bosses and enemy tanks appear seemingly out of nowhere and eat up munitions like candy.
None of these aspects contribute any actual depth to the gameplay, it’s just an endurance test of patience that lasts way too long and doesn’t highlight any of Modern Warfare’s core strengths. Which is unfortunate, because the previous version of Spec Ops we saw from Modern Warfare 2 was way more balanced and enjoyable in comparison. This iteration is just a barely cobbled together mess of a mode that isn’t worth the player’s time. That’s without even mentioning that PS4 has an exclusive Spec Ops horde mode mission (because, of course, it does) that quite literally does the same thing that regularly Spec Ops does to you, but on purpose.
Modern Warfare truly is an awesome attempt at revitalizing the Call of Duty franchise, especially just ahead of the next console generation. The game is a solid foundation for the future of the franchise, and if you’ve been burnt out on the franchise until now, it’s worth it to hop back in for 2019. Just don’t bother with Spec Ops and you’ll have a great time with the rest of the game.
- Beautiful presentation
- Much improved movement capability
- Unique single-player campaign full of variety
- Highly customizable multiplayer experience
- Spec Ops mode is entirely unbalanced and unenjoyable
- Lame-duck villains in campaign