Infinity Ward is back with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, which attempts to find a happy medium between nostalgia and revitalization but stumbles along the way.
The Call of Duty series has been in a weird spot since Ghosts. It’s like the series had lost its identity as new shooters started to emerge, with the competition bringing more interesting gameplay mechanics than the tried and true Call of Duty formula. When the series tried to adapt with futuristic changes, it felt more like they were playing catch-up rather than revolutionizing the genre as it was with earlier titles. The confusingly named Call of Duty: Modern Warfare reboot attempts to recreate the magic from those earlier titles while revitalizing the series as a whole. In some ways, it does succeed, but it’s a far cry from being revolutionary.
Returning from a year hiatus, the Call of Duty campaign mode is back giving players a single-player experience to enjoy. Up to this point, the marketing for the campaign promised a gritty story that would show awful realities of war. There are moments that do exemplify that, but it’s still more in line with a Michael Bay action movie than it is a dark military tale.
A lot of the problems with the campaign stems from its boring cast of characters. Alex and Kyle Garrick, two of the main characters you play as in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, are essentially avatars for the player. They have speaking lines and opinions throughout the story, but there was never anything that made me feel for them. That isn’t to say that Chad Michael Collins (Alex) and Elliot Knight (Kyle) did poor jobs in their respective roles; both of them do a pretty great job in portraying their characters. The writing for these two, and even Captain Price (played by Barry Sloane) is just incredibly dull.
The only characters that have any sort of intrigue are Farah Karim and her brother Hadir. Each mission that put the spotlight on the freedom fighters from Urzikstan, the idea behind it was always great and portrays Farah as this badass female lead. But so much of the Campaign is tied to Alex and Kyle, you don’t get these moments too often.
Also, the conclusion to Farah’s story is so anticlimactic. The missions that do showcase Farah do a good job of telling you her backstory and why she is fighting in this war. Without spoiling anything, I’ll just say by the time you get to one of the later missions, you want her to win and get revenge. And when she finally does, it plays out more like a corny action blockbuster which was kind of a bummer. As far as character arcs in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Farah’s is the best, and even hers is lackluster.
Characters aside, the story itself is rather forgettable. The basic gist of it is that you’re trying to stop terrorists from getting their hands on Russian-made chemical weapons. And also, Russians are in a fictional Middle Eastern country named Urzikstan for some reason, and you have to shoot them because they’re bad. I keep running through this story in my head and the more I think of it, the worse it gets for me in terms of the actual story Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is trying to tell.
It doesn’t help that the pacing of the story is kind of a mess. After you complete a mission, it almost instantly goes right into the next cutscene and into the next mission not giving you any time to think about what even happened during that mission. It never feels like Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is ever telling a cohesive story. Rather, it is 14 separate missions that Infinity Ward decided to weave a tale through. You could play each of these missions without knowing a single thing about the story and probably enjoy it more.
With that being said, the act of playing the missions is quite fun. Some missions, I would even say are really great and stand out as some of the best in Call of Duty’s long history. Piccadilly, the second mission in the game, is a great way to start things off, as it gives you a taste of the more open level design. Rather than pushing you through a hallway, you are in this open square in London where you are tasked to stop all the enemy forces. You can approach the mission in a number of ways since you are free to roam around the map as you like. It isn’t the best example of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s open level design, but it was a good way to introduce it.
Then there are missions, like Clean House, that legitimately push you through tiny hallways to eliminate all the enemies on each floor of a townhouse in London. It is one of the more tense missions Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has to offer as you are traversing through pitch-black hallways, using night vision to aid you in identifying and eliminating your targets. It is really one of the best missions I have played in a Call of Duty campaign, and the only one I think exemplifies Infinity Ward’s gritty claims.
The best and most unique mission by a country mile in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has to be Going Dark. Similar to the Piccadilly mission, you are free to tackle the mission however you like. However, you are tasked to infiltrate a small town during the night and use stealth in order to gather intel and progress through the mission. It essentially takes all the new, exciting features Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has to offer and puts them all in one mission. Honestly, it took me by surprise how well it was designed. It is genuinely one of the more unique experiences I have ever had in a Call of Duty game. The campaign is full of really great missions like this and in total lasts about six to seven hours. It’s just a shame the story sucks eggs.
The most noticeable and notable change is in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s gameplay. It is by no means a vast deviation from the core Call of Duty gameplay; it still maintains that pick-up-and-play quality the series is known for. However, player movement speed is decreased rather substantially changing the pace of combat. No longer are you just running and gunning through a literal army. It feels more deliberate, with every action requiring a little bit more thought than the twitchy nature of previous Call of Duty entries.
I do want to elaborate on the difference between slow and strategic. Just because you put a little more thought into your attacks, I wouldn’t call Call of Duty: Modern Warfare strategic. It’s not like you are playing a shooter like Rainbow Six Siege. There is still running and gunning through your enemies. Sometimes, you’ll just take a break, squat at a point, and mow down a few enemies from afar. It is still a Call of Duty game through and through. It’s still the fast-paced shooter you expect, which is why one particular multiplayer mode is a bit of a drag to play.
I’m referring to the revamped Ground War mode which pins two groups of 32 players against each other with the Domination ruleset. You can also pilot tanks, helicopters, and other vehicles within much larger maps to aid you in taking over each of the five different flagged positions. Basically, it’s Battlefield with Call of Duty gameplay.
There was never a single moment where I thought I was having fun with Ground War. Most of my frustration derives from spawning. Out of any multiplayer game mode, the spawn killing problems from the beta were most prevalent here. Whether I spawned on one of the five points or with one of my teammates, I would die within ten seconds of spawning fairly frequently.
Despite Ground War being a stain on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s multiplayer suite, I’ve had a positive time with the rest of the modes. As I mentioned, the changes in gameplay aren’t so different that it feels completely foreign, but it does slightly change how you approach any given match. I’ve been favoring classic modes like team deathmatch and domination, as well as the new Cyber Attack mode.
Initially, I was worried about killstreaks coming back, especially since I personally favor the scorestreaks system, but I’ve found it just as rewarding. Since there are some pretty useful killstreak rewards between three to five kills, including UAV and Cluster Strike, I never felt I was at a disadvantage because I couldn’t consistently get eight to ten kills in a row to get a Chopper Gunner or a VTOL Jet. I always felt like I was aiding my team and myself to get more kills.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s multiplayer maps are by no means the best set of maps in a Call of Duty game, but there are some solid additions. Hackney Yard is probably the best map in the game, with great design in terms of layout and color coating for easy callouts. Personally, I like Piccadilly, especially for Domination. Having that fountain in the middle as point B, forcing everyone to go out in the open in those beginning seconds is a wild time. There is also some verticality with numerous buildings to shoot from. It also has a great layout that makes it easy to understand what part of the map you are at.
Besides those two, the maps are subpar. The one map I absolutely despise is Azhir Cave. It is way too complex for being so small. Despite all the clutter which makes it hard to really make out anything in front of you, it feels like you are always out in the open since there are entryways at just about every direction in any given position. With it being such a small map, Azhir Cave has also been one of the few standard maps that have had some spawning issues.
Both Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s Campaign and Multiplayer may have some issues, but generally, I had a good time with each mode. I cannot say the same for Spec Ops. When you beat the Campaign, there is a big title card that says the story continues in Spec Ops. That would have been really cool if that were true.
From the one mission I’ve played, which I think is the only one that currently exists (as of this writing), it begins with your helicopter crashing onto the map from the poorly named Highway of Death mission. From there, it just seems you and another three players fight through waves of enemies forever. First, what is this story that this Special Operation is trying to tell? Second, why are none of the features like the ranking system available right now? It’s baffling that this mode even shipped. Black Ops 4 shipped without a Campaign, and people were fine with that. I’m sure if Call of Duty: Modern Warfare would have shipped without Spec Ops, especially with this version of the mode, people would be fine with that as well.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is such an interesting entry for the beloved franchise. On one hand, it excels in really mixing up the gameplay in a way that is both familiar yet different. The mission design overall provides a lot of fun and unique moments that can only be found here. It also brings back old features, like killstreaks and Campaign mode, and brings them into a modern shooter in a satisfying way. It also just looks great both during cutscenes and in-game. On the other hand, it’s kind of a disappointment. The Campaign’s story stumbles from beginning to end, the revamped Ground War is dissatisfying, the multiplayer maps all-around are subpar, and Spec Ops is kind of a dumpster fire. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t having a good time playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, but it doesn’t live up to its name. Rather, it’s a step in the right direction moving forward.