Review: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

The past few years have not been kind to Infinity Ward after the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Despite their best efforts, their next two entries to the Call of Duty franchise, Ghosts and Infinite Warfare, weren’t well-received by the community. After two prominent misfires, Infinity Ward has returned to what put the franchise on the map back in 2007, Modern Warfare. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare aims to recapture the magic of the series’ past, all while forging a path forward for the franchise. With a brand new modern campaign, a reworked multiplayer component and the return of Spec Ops, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has everything it needs to succeed on paper. Has Infinity Ward found their footing once again or should Modern Warfare go dark for good?

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare takes place in modern times, where the line between hero and villain is blurred. Following a botched mission to uncover a deadly chemical weapon and a devastating terrorist attack, players are forced into a set of covert operations as they attempt to uncover a conspiracy that takes them across Europe and the Middle-East. You take on the role of British Army officer Sergeant Kyle Garrick as he teams up with Captain Price to track down the Wolf. Meanwhile, CIA operative Alex partners with Middle-East freedom fighter Farah to uncover the location of the lost chemical weapon.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare serves as a reboot for the franchise with all continuity from the original trilogy wiped clean. For this new Modern Warfare universe, Infinity Ward aimed to push boundaries and tell an emotionally-resonate story. For the most part, they’re successful. The campaign regularly touches on sensitive topics, escalates tension through smart level design and humanizes aspects of modern conflict not commonly portrayed in today’s media. Call of Duty has never been known for its protagonists, but Modern Warfare makes a serious effort to characterize them. Both Kyle and Alex serve as windows into an evolving world. Kyle, a naïve officer, comes face to face with having to make cruel decisions in an unjust world, and Alex must forge alliances with unlikely allies.

Anchoring both sides of the campaign are Captain Price and Farah. Barry Sloane replaces Billy Murray as Price, and fans will immediately notice the difference. Though Price gets a lot more screen time and development, he loses much of the gruffness that so heavily defined his character. Farah, despite her overwhelming presence in the story, feels underutilized. It’s clear she’s meant to be the emotional center of the campaign, but with only two playable chapters, it’s challenging to get into her head. We only get to experience her struggles from an outsider’s perspective, which doesn’t provide enough context. Though portrayed beautifully by actress Claudia Doumit, Farah feels like a missed opportunity. Modern Warfare’s take on a modern and relevant story mostly works but is undercut by the cartoony villains. The central villain feels particularly out of place with his bombastic monologues and over-the-top actions. He’s a far cry from the manipulative Zakhaev in Call of Duty 4 and feels entirely out of place in the story told here.

The campaign comes to a close after six hours for a total of fourteen missions. For the most part, it’s an exhilarating ride that puts players in a variety of different gameplay situations. Along the way, you’ll participate in intense breaches, long-range sniping, stealth and classic all-out gunfights. The variety is excellent and keeps the story moving at a quick pace. Like the 2007 original, Modern Warfare’s campaign is a linear affair, which helps to keep the game focused. For the most part, the linearity stays out of the way and allows players to experiment with different weapons and pathways, but there are a few levels that feel too linear. For example, one mission tasks players with chasing down a terrorist running away on foot, and while it’s entirely possible to catch up and shoot him in the foot, the game forces you to play out the entire sequence. It’s similar to a mission in the much-maligned Medal of Honor: Warfighter and it’s surprising to see this style of linearity in a 2019 Call of Duty game. This is especially true after more recent entries like Black Ops III, Infinite Warfare and WWII provided a bit more freedom in how players interact with the campaign.

It isn’t the campaign that made Call of Duty famous. It was an intense multiplayer. The addicting gameplay loop, the thrill of leveling up and gunfights on intricately designed maps hooked gamers back in 2007 and has held them ever since. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare goes back to basics and either abandons or rethinks elements that have become common in more recent entries. In terms of basics, you still have your suite of classic game modes, including Team Deathmatch, Domination, Kill Confirmed and Headquarters. Players rank up to unlock new Assault Rifles, SMGs, LMGs, Sniper Rifles, Shotguns and Marksman Rifles, and can then further unlock new attachments, weapon perks and skins for each.

Modern Warfare
doesn’t come with a Battle Royale mode, but it does include some exciting new game modes. Infinity Ward has vastly expanded the player count to include new 10v10 Team Deathmatch and Domination modes, which fit naturally into the game. More exciting is the large scale Ground War mode that provides for player counts as high as 100. Ground War is a chaotic break from traditional modes. It will by no means replace 6v6 or 10v10, but it’s a fun mode to hop into now and again for some large-scale action. For those looking to ratchet up the tension, the new 2v2 Gunfight will keep you on your toes. Create-a-Class has seen the most significant overhaul with the removal of Pick 10 and the implementation of Gunsmith. Here, players can equip up to five different attachments and weapon perks per gun. It’s a fun addition with a ton of different possibilities. Outside of Gunsmith, customization works similar to previous Modern Warfare games. Players select three perks, a grenade and a piece of equipment.

The map design also deviates from what has become the standard three-lane design. Maps in Modern Warfare come in a range of designs that make different playstyles viable. The maps have a natural flow to them that encourages firefights, though it’ll be interesting to see how the competitive community embraces them. None of the maps have the convoluted structure present in Ghosts, nor the strict adherence to three-lane design as seen in Infinite Warfare. They’re a vast improvement.

It’s hard to discuss Call of Duty without bringing up monetization, which has become a growing issue over the past few entries. Modern Warfare will implement a Battle Pass system, though it won’t be available at launch. The Variant system that made Infinite Warfare’s multiplayer so controversial, however, is nowhere to be seen. There are unique versions of different guns that only change the look of the weapon. The game launches with an in-depth challenge system that allows players to earn these cosmetics by simply completing challenges. It’s too early to say how Modern Warfare’s monetization system will turn out. Still, it already employs systems that weren’t available in Black Ops 4 at launch and has removed the most controversial aspect of Infinite Warfare.

Rounding out the Modern Warfare experience is Spec Ops, which replaces Zombies. As great as Zombies is, the mode needed a break and Spec Ops mostly provides a reliable alternative for co-op action. Additionally, Spec Ops adds some additional layers to the story. Spec Ops is split into two different modes, Classic Spec Ops and Operations. A third mode, Survival, is cruelly only available on PS4 for an entire year. Classic Spec Ops aim to test your proficiency with various weapons, killstreaks and other tools. They’re quick, carefully curated missions that serve as a test to see how well you’ve mastered the game. Those who enjoyed the Spec Ops missions from Modern Warfare 2 and Modern Warfare 3 will be right at home with Classic Spec Ops. The only downside is that, at launch, there’s only mission. Additional missions, however, will be added shortly after launch at no additional cost.

Operations is an entirely different beast that puts up to four-players into an open-world map with multi-stage objectives. It’s a tactical mode that test player’s ability to cooperate and adapt to different situations. In many ways, Operations are akin to Raids in Destiny. Operations are brutal, and only a well-positioned team of coordinated players will stand a chance. It’s a cool idea, though it may be too brutal in its current state, though. Once alerted to your presence, the enemy unleashes all hell against you, including RPGs, helicopters and juggernauts. When you and your teammates gel together, Operations offers a co-op experience unlike anything seen in a Call of Duty title before. For solo or duo players though, this isn’t the best mode.

For over a decade, all Call of Duty games have been built on some form of the IW Engine. For Modern Warfare, Infinity Ward developed a brand new engine to deliver the best-looking Call of Duty game ever and they have overwhelmingly succeeded. Whether wide open or confined, environmental detail is stellar. Small details like the swaying of vegetation and some environmental destruction sell the authenticity of the world. That level of detail extends to the weapon models, which were created using photogrammetry. Each gun is highly detailed and fully customizable. The new Gunsmith feature puts every gun front and center, allowing players a good look at every impressive aspect of the model.

Modern Warfare also sounds great thanks to stellar sound mixing for all the weapons and explosions, and a soundtrack that helps escalate much of the tension. Likewise, the game’s cast does a fantastic job, particularly Claudia Doumit (Farah), conveying a wide range of emotions under extreme circumstances. That’s not to say the presentation is flawless. Texture pop-in remains a recurring problem across the whole experience. It’s also clear that the game loses detail when playing on bigger maps. This is especially noticeable when playing Ground War, where models and textures don’t look nearly as good as on the smaller maps. Still, these blemishes do little to diminish the considerable leap in graphics, something that players have wanted for years. Call of Duty’s presentation needed a makeover and Modern Warfare provides just that.

Closing Comments:

The classic Call of Duty: Modern Warfare trilogy remains one of the best trilogies in gaming history. To reboot it after only eight years was a risk, but Infinity Ward has done their series proud. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare takes the classic formula and gives it a modern-day spin that not only brings the gameplay and design up to today’s standards but also respects the past. The campaign successfully hones in on uncomfortable topics to tell a modern war story. Well developed characters help convey uncomfortable truths, though cartoonish villains hinder some of that impact. Multiplayer is an excellent blend of new and old thanks to a revamped customization system, intricate map design and plenty of launch day content. The new engine finally gives Call of Duty a much-needed face lift with enhanced environmental, texture and model detail with the only hiccup being texture pop-in. Spec Ops mode is fine, but the brutality of Operations and the lack of multiple Classic Spec Ops missions makes the feel like an afterthought compared to campaign and multiplayer. Still, fans have asked for years for a Call of Duty title that hearkened back to the pre-Ghosts days and this is it. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare delivers a fantastic package of content that does the Modern Warfare name proud. Infinity Ward is back in action and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare delivers on nearly every front.

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