Title: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
Developer: Infinity Ward
Release Date: October 25, 2019
Reviewed On: PC
I still remember the day the original Modern Warfare came out. I had just gotten out of my Middle School after a long day of not paying attention in class and feverish talks during recess about how we were all going to stay up and play the game all night. My mom came to pick me up from school, but not before stopping at Gamestop to pick up Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. You see, I’d been playing Medal of Honor: Airborne ever since I got my Xbox 360, and the multiplayer for this game looked like nothing I’d ever seen before. I still remember the featured image on the back of the box of Soap and Price in All Ghillied Up.
Back in 2007, I didn’t know that the game I was playing from the moment I got off the bus to the third time I got yelled at for cursing at strangers on the internet was as influential as it was––I took it for granted. But this game would be my gold standard for the amount of fun I was meant to have in all multiplayer games. Showing off your Red Tiger camos and the golden guns you’d unlocked made you notably cooler when you were back in the classroom. Tense Search and Destroy matches taught me what adrenaline was.
More than ten years later, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is hoping to be revered in the same way. Naming the game after the progenitor of modern multiplayer FPS games sets the bar extremely high. Sadly, the game doesn’t meet that standard, nor do I think any game could when stacked up against so much nostalgia. But it’s decisively better than most Call of Duty games since.
With a campaign that’s meant to transport you back to when Call of Duty campaigns was about actual warfare and a multiplayer redesign that frees the game from its cyclical pattern of unlocks and prestiges. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare gets a good amount right. But some trespasses are harder to forgive.
To begin, the title card when you start up the game shows you just how serious the game wants you to take it. While it wasn’t the unadulterated and overly serious story that media made it out to be, the game has emotionally weighty moments that create a more realistic depiction of the horrors of war.
After the cut to black and the title card, the game’s first mission immediately made me feel like an actual operator. Yes–the U.S. has insane air strike capabilities, and yes, they like to blow shit up. This presentation was the first sign that the game was beyond any shooter I’d played before in terms of graphics. If you can play this game in 4K with RTX enabled on PC. You need to. It’s frighteningly realistic, hands-down the most graphically realistic shooter that I’ve ever seen.
In later missions, like the one that was shown at preview events where you’re storming a townhouse in the UK that is housing terrorists, it’s clear that your side is the more well-funded one. From Night Vision goggles and infra-red lasers, to drone strikes and tanks, you feel like the side with the bigger gun throughout the campaign.
When you’re operating in that military gray area, where you’re not supposed to be at war with another country, your access to these resources is limited. All this is to say that Modern Warfare is far removed from the previous arcadey entries in the series.
At one point, a soldier in the story warns his comrades, “The good guys look like bad guys here.” The game will even not send you to a fail state if you kill a civilian as it used to in the other three Modern Warfare games. The game is trying, and succeeds to some degree, to be “woke.” But while it initially inhibits a moral gray area, it starts to paint in broader strokes as the story goes on.
Moments from the original are echoed, but not carbon copied. For instance, the aforementioned All Ghillied Up mission, which is heralded as one of the best shooter missions of all time, is called to memory. Still, this time, you’re hiding among dead bodies in a mass grave instead of a bush in Chernobyl.
As with Modern Warfare’s “No Russian,” there’s a similarly horrifying display in the game’s second mission. It’s brutal. It’s terrifying, and I think it’s the closest anyone would ever want to get to be a part of a mass-casualty terrorist attack. My mouth was agape almost the entire time.
Yes, Captain Price is back, and yes––the middle schooler in me fanboys whenever he is on screen. I feared he was only being brought back to harvest our nostalgia, but he’s there for more than that. He’s revered amongst all the characters in the way that we’ve revered him for over ten years. He’s become this series’ Master Chief.
The campaign tapers off in the third act, but despite my interest in the story taking a hit, the singleplayer map design is shown the entire time. It felt challenging on every difficulty, not because the enemies could see you through walls, but because the level design was amazing. The final mission of the game stood out especially. There are a few missions in the middle that make you feel like you’re fighting through an ocean of tan bricks and enemies that continue to pull up in vehicles and walk out of spawn points, but for the most part, the campaign they’ve crafted hits its mark.
This excellent level design is sadly absent from the game’s multiplayer. Seriously, some of these maps are so bad that I’d instead take the loss and quit out than play them. Piccadilly and Euphrates Bridge often devolve into such one-sided fights that I’d rather not be a part of them. For whatever reasons, spawns are humorously bad on some maps, and in a series as old as Call of Duty, I cannot understand how they haven’t refined how players spawn in 2019.
And some maps are just as bad in specific game modes. Search and Destroy on St. Petrograd seems like it wasn’t even playtested. Attackers can plant the bomb at the A site before defenders can also arrive. These multiplayer map mishaps often leave me either quietly frustrated in my Discord chat, or audibly angered.
It’s sad too because the gunplay itself feels like a new standard for the series. Guns have more than 50 attachments each, and you can equip five on every weapon, making custom loadouts feel personal and exciting. I’ve devoted a lot of time to leveling up weapons, that I previously considered underwhelming, to find out that they have attachments that make them incredibly sturdy and viable.
I love what Infinity Ward has done with the gunplay in this game. There are some quirks: the M4A1 has the best accuracy in its class to a fault in what seems to be an overlooked bug. This means you literally cannot play a single round without finding half the enemy team using them. Or you’re just using it yourself. Other guns, like the Bizon, state they have the best damage in their class statistically, but in practical use, it’s weaker than everything else. These are the kind of issues I know can be addressed in balance patches and updates, but the same can’t be said for the maps on which I’m playing. The longer I play these maps, the less fun I have each time––for a game that’s meant to be a multiplayer fixture for at least a year, I can’t imagine I’ll be playing these maps in 3 months, but hopefully, I’m still playing Gunfight.
The simple two-versus-two mode is a golden idea that I find myself playing with friends every day since the game has been out. The same can’t be said for Spec Ops, which fills that “horde mode” hole in our hearts with the absence of zombies. It continues the story from the singleplayer mode, but it can’t hold a real candle. Ground War, the series take on Battlefield’s Conquest, is there, and some people may like it, but I’d rather play the real thing. But with Battlefield V’s recent failings, perhaps more will flock to the 32 versus 32 player mode.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is a game you should buy just for the single-player alone. The multiplayer mechanics feel amazing, like someone hit the refresh button for the franchise. But it’s employing these mechanics on a less-than-perfect pool of maps that will likely not last you the year. Thankfully we can expect free DLC drops to make this pool easier to swim in. Perhaps the developers should even take a note out of Ubisfof’s book with Rainbow Six: Siege and rework maps to make them more palatable.
I’m in my 20’s now and work a full-time job, but I think this game understands that. The original’s secret formula has yet to be deciphered, but what they’ve ended up with here still feels like the best Call of Duty game I’ve played for the better half of the past decade.
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