Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Embraces Nostalgia, Mechanics to Reinvent Multiplayer

Ask anyone and they’ll likely tell you that it was Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare that turned the Call of Duty franchise into a household name. It’s hard to forget what made Modern Warfare and its sequel, Modern Warfare 2, such hits in the eyes of the community. Excellent map design, killstreaks, weapons, perks and an addictive gameplay loop made for some of the most rewarding multiplayer action last generation.

Since then, though, Infinity Ward has been in a rut. Modern Warfare 3 went through a painful development that saw duties split between the studio and Sledgehammer Games. Meanwhile, Ghosts and Infinite Warfare received little to no love from the community. In 2019, Infinity Ward hopes to turn that all around with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, a return to form that embraces what made the first two games special all while bringing new elements to the table. After spending hours playing the game’s multiplayer, Modern Warfare might be what the franchise needs.

Going into Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Infinity Ward faced a challenge. How do they create a game that embraces the nostalgia of the first two Modern Warfare games, but not alienate fans of the more recent titles? The answer was finding a middle ground, one that brought back some of the best elements of those older games and mixing it with some of the newer mechanics.

Many of the features fans loved about the older games are back. The weighty character movements from Call of Duty 4 and World at War return, a refreshing change after so many years of fast-paced combat. Scorestreaks are gone, replaced with the traditional Killstreak system. Meanwhile, old game modes that have disappeared over the years, like Headquarters, are back.

Modern Warfare’s embrace of nostalgia is admirable, mainly because most of it works. Fast-paced Call of Duty titles have dominated since the launch of the PS4 and Xbox One. Even Call of Duty: WWII, a game set in the past, featured speedy gameplay where soldiers could clamber up objects in a breeze. It’s also nice to see older game modes get some time in the spotlight. Replacing Scorestreaks with Killstreaks, however, could prove divisive depending on your playstyle.

That old-school feeling even cascades down into how the maps are designed. Pulling from real-world military conflicts, Infinity Ward designed the maps to feel as realistic and authentic as possible. To do this, Infinity Ward isn’t leaning as heavily on the three-lane map design Treyarch popularized in their Call of Duty titles. Now, that’s not to say there aren’t lanes in the maps. It’s just that Infinity Ward has done a lot of work to hide the lanes. For example, take Azhir Cave, a map that takes players through a cave, a village and the village outskirts. It has three lanes, but they’re hidden through well-placed connecting areas that allow players to seamlessly flow across the map. To enhance the flow, Infinity Ward has removed many of the game’s invisible walls to allow players to clamber all over the map. Only time will tell how successful they are, but what we got to play was encouraging.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s
maps are broken down into different tiers. Flash Maps are for the small game modes like Gunfight. Tactical Maps meanwhile are your traditional 6v6 maps used for modes like Team Deathmatch and Domination. Finally, we have Battle Maps, which facilitate large game modes. That’s right, thanks to the new engine, Call of Duty is finally getting large game modes for 10v10 and 20v20 matches. It’s been a long time coming, and while spawning still needs to be tweaked, it’s exhilarating to see in a Call of Duty title.

To keep things fresh, a host of new gameplay mechanics have been introduced. Players can now fully interact with doors, and not just by opening and closing them. Sprinting at a door automatically throws it open, approaching them while aiming-down-the-sights slowly opens the door and explosives can be used to breach them. Hit scan weapons are gone with a new physics system dictating bullet penetration and how far a bullet can go before it drops off. Meanwhile, guns can be mounted to chest-high cover and walls to increase stability.

The most talked-about change, however, is night vision. Infinity Ward is so proud of their night vision that they’re dedicating several night maps to it. When active, your gun emits an infrared beam that other players can see, which Infinity Ward hopes creates some cat and mouse gameplay. We got a chance to try out Azhir Cave at night in the ‘realism’ mode, which takes away all HUD elements. While neat, the map was so dark that night vision quickly became a crutch, unless you wanted to die. Previous Call of Duty games have had night maps too, but never to the extent that it was nearly impossible to make out enemies without night vision. Some additional visibility would be appreciated.

Despite the absence of Scorestreaks, Treyarch’s influence can still be felt in the Create-a-Class system. While Pick 10 doesn’t return, elements of it survive in the Gunsmith. Essentially, you have five slots on your primary and secondary to fill with various attachments and perks. There are a ton of different combinations players can customize their weapons with. In the build, there were already fifteen primary guns to choose from with more promised for launch.

Outside of the Gunsmith, Create-a-Class works identically to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s system. Pick your three perks, select three killstreaks, and select a lethal and tactical grenade. New Field Upgrades give players something special to use in battle, such as dropping an ammo crate for players or acquiring Stopping Power Rounds. It should be noted that Specialists are not in the game and these Field Upgrades are nothing like the special items found in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Nor are the game’s Operators anything more than cosmetic skins for your in-game model.

Call of Duty games aren’t well known for being beautiful works of art, but Call of Duty: Modern Warfare might change that. The new engine allows for highly-impressive lighting, modeling and texture work, particularly on the guns. Weaponry looks and feels powerful not only because of the enhanced graphics, but also thanks to improved animations and sound design. It’s an impressive display, though not perfect thanks to some texture streaming and skipping issues. There’s nothing that can’t be fixed before launch, though. Overall, this is the graphical overhaul the franchise sorely needed.

Finally, after years of fans asking, Infinity Ward is dropping the Season Pass. Maps, and presumably, Spec Ops missions won’t be held ransom by an outdated form of monetization. Infinity Ward promised that all future maps would be free for all players across all platforms. That, however, likely means that Modern Warfare will implement new ways to monetize the game. Unfortunately, microtransactions were not something Infinity Ward wanted to talk about, which is concerning considering what has happened to Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. We can only hope they’ll create a system that’s fair and doesn’t punish people strapped for time or cash. Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, to this date, offers the fairest model for earning new weapons with players only needing to complete a simple challenge. Hopefully, Infinity Ward implements a similar system to that.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 remain two of the most celebrated multiplayer shooters of our time. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare may not be a remaster, remake or sequel to these games, but their spirit lives on inside it. By bringing back old elements and mixing them with new, Infinity Ward has created an exciting beast. The slower-paced nature of the gameplay is welcome after so many years of fast-paced Call of Duty games, and the maps feel organic and seamless to run through. Visually, implementing a new graphics engine finally brings the franchise more in line with other competitors. There’s still a lot of questions, especially surrounding the amount of launch content and how monetization will be handled, but things are looking good so far. It looks like Infinity Ward has found its groove again.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is out October 25 on PS4, Xbox One and PC. The game features cross-play between all three platforms.