Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Review
Thought provoking story meets expansive multiplayer
While the Call of Duty series has been around since 2003, the franchise reshaped itself and the shooter landscape with the release of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in 2007. Since then the series has gone forward and backward in time, but always atop the framework of that seminal title. Now it seems like that base requires some touching up with Activision and Infinity Ward going all the way back to those beginnings for a soft reboot of the entire franchise. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is the result. And while the multiplayer plays out as a refined expansion on what’s come before, the campaign has been promised as a darker, grittier, and more realistic take. This dual philosophy leads to some truly shining moments, while delivering on fan expectations in most regards.
Note: This review is based on gameplay from an event for which Activision paid for my travel and hotel.
Following a botched black ops mission, terrorists have gained control of chemical weapons with the potential for massive consequences around the world. Players will bounce between two main stories; one set mostly in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Urzikstan and the other shifting across the globe alongside the iconic Captain Price. Acting as a reboot for the Modern Warfare series, players will see familiar faces and experience missions and story beats that take inspiration from old favorites as well as real world events, but the campaign is all new in all the right ways.
The team behind Call of Duty: Modern Warfare promised something edgy and thought-provoking and they delivered that. Moments within this campaign not only echo reality but have even shown themselves to be prescient in regards to current events unfolding at this very moment. Missions themselves serve as a way for players to experience “modern warfare” through events as impactful as the Benghazi attack, the Osama Bin Laden raid, and the current situation in Syria. Other games, even within this series have attempted this before and while some handled it better, it’s admirable to see how well Infinity Ward managed it here.
There are many moments of genuine heart mixed in among the chaos and violence. With the story jumping from one point of view to another, the player always has a fresh perspective on the events that are unfolding. Each character receives their own moments of significance, though more could have been done to develop some of them beyond the default Soldier personality. However, when the game does focus in on specifics it does so with care and what feels like a true feeling of how important these events can be in the real world. One character in particular receives flashbacks that are truly stunning and offer drama and story on par with the best in the genre, including the venerable Spec-Ops: The Line.
The team behind Call of Duty: Modern Warfare promised something edgy and thought-provoking
However, the old Michael Bay style action and love of the extreme does show its face here and there. For longtime fans this will likely seem like a plus, but for those who were looking for the “thought provoking” story that was promised, and often delivered, it can be jarring. This is all the more apparent as you shift from topics as serious as torture and the killing of innocents to running and gunning down the street as explosions are set off and cars crash all around you. Variety is great, but when the game leans into its more excessive nature it feels like it cheapens some of the other parts. Especially near the end of the game when it feels like the team wanted to end with a bang, while a more somber approach could have been more appropriate. Still, as someone who found the more explosive parts of previous campaigns to be off putting, Modern Warfare is a breath of fresh air for the franchise.
The character of Farrah and her insurgent forces are the real stars of the game. Presenting heart and true understanding of the consequences of war, the only complaint with her character and story is that there isn’t more of it. Everything about the more serious mentality behind Modern Warfare’s story comes together exceptionally well here and I could have played another 2-3 missions simply focused on her and her fighters. There’s enough focus placed on her as it stands, but with a campaign that ends after roughly 5-6 hours, it feels like some added heft would have done wonders.
Still, the campaign is quite well made even if it dabbles into the extremes that the series seemed to be attempting to move past. And for fans who have delved into the surprisingly deep lore behind the Call of Duty series, there’s some cool callbacks and Easter Eggs to discover. There’s of course the return of Captain Price who steals the scene every single time, but beyond that this reboot works to reset the series in a way that allows for much more growth going forward. Which direction that’ll be going is the big question.
Standard, but Expansive Multiplayer
As different as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s campaign feels, its multiplayer is the same old tried-and-true formula as before, just with more of it. If you thought there’d be some connection between the more serious elements of the single player experience and the multiplayer, just let that go. Shifting to multiplayer might give you whiplash if you don’t, but who really cares given that most players will dump hundreds more hours into the multiplayer.
What Call of Duty: Modern Warfare does in regards to its multiplayer is expand the options. There’s the standard Team Deathmatch mode along with other returning favorites like Domination, but what’s clear is that Call of Duty is trying to become the hub for all types of shooter gameplay. TDM works exactly how you expect and has a decent map variety even if no new favorites stood out during the review. Beyond that there’s new varieties of gameplay that seem to take inspiration from Battlefield, Rainbow Six: Siege, and Counter-Strike, among others.
Starting off, there’s Ground War which is a clear attempt to take the best parts of rival series Battlefield and layer COD on top. That’s exactly what it ends up being, though the results might not be as solid as that sounds. Huge maps are filled with between 32 and 64 players with a few vehicles sprinkled near the main spawn areas. Teams secure objective points in an attempt to either dominate the map or earn enough points to win. Familiar stuff, and the core gameplay is familiar as well with not much changing outside of the vehicles and map size, but that alone can really reshape the game.
For one, the larger maps means the typical hitscan style targeting doesn’t really work. Bullets need to have travel time, especially over long distance. The solution seems to be to default to hitscan when in close quarters and offer travel time and bullet drop over larger expanses. The degree to which this impacts things mostly depends on your play style, but overall its a somewhat more easily understood mechanic than what we’ve seen in other large scale combat games. Bullet penetration has also become a bigger thing for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and it’s use in Ground War is well handled, even if it doesn’t come into use all that often for most players.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has a lot of multiplayer options
What doesn’t quite work as well are the kill streaks and the overall feel of the match which devolves into loud, repetitive chaos as players rack up tons of power ups and use them often. The audio can get pretty jarring in larger matches, and the landscape will become a bit disjointed overall. Large stretches of the map can become fairly uninhabited, leading to wonky spawn mechanics as you search for an available spot. Vehicles aren’t all that useful in the end as they’re either taken out quickly via all the rocket launchers available to players, or can’t fit into the objective areas which can’t be opened up through destructible environments. In short, Ground War is nice to have, but if you already have Battlefield or a similar style of game it might serve you better.
The polar opposite to Ground War is Gunfight which takes the gameplay of COD and minimizes it. You can read more about it here but basically it’s a tight 2v2 match in a map that facilitates fast action. The default mode has players spawn with a pre-selected loadout, forcing quick thinking and ever-changing tactics. There’s also no respawns, so each life is key. If you die early, you’re lone teammate will need to eliminate two lethal foes to win. It’s fast, fun, and will surely become a new favorite in either this or the OSP version which has players start sans weapons, picking them up as quickly as possible on the map.
Beyond this there’s a random assortment of other modes, including the somewhat disappointing Special Operations Mode which has players complete a series of objectives as enemies swarm (there’s more to Spec Ops but we did not get to try it all). Cyber Attack is a sort of Counter-Strike style match where teams lack respawns and have to secure and detonate a bomb. You can revive teammates though making this have a lot of potential for more hardcore players. NVG matches also make a return offering some nice variety to the standard TDM fare. You should get the picture by now, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has a lot of multiplayer options and all are either great or middling, with scant few being true disappointments.
Underpinning all of this is the usual gunplay found in the series, only with some improvements under-the-hood. Recoil has been reworked to be more realistic, but still manageable. The aforementioned bullet penetration can be used to great effect if you plan your perks/upgrades right. Gunsmith also returns, allowing you to tailor any gun to fit your particular needs. Want to use an assault rifle more like a sniper, or a sniper as a quick-fire rifle? You can do it, once you unlock the requisite items. The new mount mechanic, where you can attach your weapon to any flat surface, allows for more placement strategy. There’s also a new Field Upgrade which is an additional ability you can choose separate from other perks. These include things like additional ammo, deployable cover, or setting a new spawn point. Kill Streaks also return with few changes to the core elements of the mechanic.
And of course, Modern Warfare introduces the highly anticipated crossplay feature. We tested it at the review event and it worked seamlessly. Players on both PC and PS4 could join parties and matches without any issue at all. The team also wisely handles matchmaking via peripheral and not platform, so there isn’t a huge concern of mouse and keyboard players simply dominating every match. There did seem to be an inherent imbalance at play in some matches, but nothing that would be overly concerning in the long run.
There’s been a lot of back and forth in terms of what works and what doesn’t in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, but the base tech is certainly sound. The game looks great and runs exceptionally well. The rock solid 60fps framerate was definitely appreciated as it kept the action flowing and enjoyable throughout. Everything felt snappy and responsive, no matter how much chaos was happening on screen. Some very minor glitches stood out, such as with the new and overall excellent animation system, but these notwithstanding the whole game is a tech showcase on PS4 Pro.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare reboots the franchise with solid success throughout. The campaign takes a more serious tone and nails it in some truly admirable ways, though it could have used a few extra missions or story beats. It resets the plot for the MW series and offers a lot of potential for the future. The multiplayer doesn’t hold a lot of surprise, but it certainly expands players’ options. If you want straight-up action, hardcore tactics, or massive battles you’ll find it here. It may not be the best version of that type of game, but it’s there to play and all with classic COD gunplay at the core.
- This article was updated on:October 24th, 2019
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
- Available On: PS4, Xbox One, PC
- Published By: Activision
- Developed By: Infinity Ward
- Genre: First-person shooter
- US Release Date: October 25th, 2019
- Reviewed On: PS4
- Quote: "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare reboots the franchise with solid success throughout."