Our review of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is in progress and contains no score as we’re waiting to see if Activision add microtransactions post-launch as they have done in the past. Once/if they’ve been added, we’ll update this review and add a score. For more information, have a read of our news post about it.
It’s Call of Duty season once again, and Activision have decided for the first time in the series to create a soft reboot in the form of Modern Warfare. Turns out the past is actually the present, but the past was also necessary. A return to Call of Duty’s roots is a welcome one after years of exo-suits, wall-running, operator abilities and god damn zombies, though it’s not without its drawbacks.
Modern Warfare takes Call of Duty back to a contemporary setting, with a present day setting pulling from real world events, sometimes in the wrong way. The soft reboot isn’t exactly a reinvention of what it means to be a Call of Duty game, not by a long shot, but it’s refreshing to see the franchise strip back a lot of its more unnecessary layers to focus on what attracted players to the series in the first place. It’s why it’ll be even more heartbreaking when Battle Passes and cosmetic microtransactions flood the in-game store in a few weeks.
The Campaign mode has made a comeback this year, following its noticeable omission from Black Ops 4, and it’s brilliant. Arguably, it’s one of the best of the series. The story isn’t breaking new ground, as a shipment of illegal chemical gas has fallen into the wrong hands and our heroes have to figure out what’s going on, but it’s the way the story is told that’s more impressive.
Missions like Clean House and The Wolf’s Den, which see you and your squad launch a tactical siege on an enemy hideout, offer incredible tension, making for some standout moments. Both levels consist of enemy and unknown combatants, so it’s on you to assess the situation as you breach from room to room, staying on your toes to make sure those unknown combatants don’t reach for the gun while your back is turned.
Meanwhile, levels like Highway of Death and Old Comrades pose the question of how far you’re willing to go in order to accomplish your goals. Do you pervert your beliefs by stooping to the enemy’s level, utilising their tactics against them? If you’re becoming the reason why “the enemy is scared of the dark”, and you start “drawing the line where you need it”, are you still a good guy?
It feels more refined and understated for the most part, dealing with the morality of war and how those caught up in it attempt to justify crossing lines for the purpose of completing their mission; a pursuit that often corrupts even the most noble. The latter half of the game certainly ends up as bombastic as you’d expect, but for the most part, the overall journey is downplayed and visceral by comparison, which is fantastic.
Unfortunately, it’s not without controversy. The Highway of Death mission and setting takes inspiration from a real life situation during the First Gulf War where US forces decimated Iraqi troops retreating from Kuwait via Highway 80, also known as the Highway of Death. During the campaign, a similar event is referenced, except it’s the Russians who are responsible. Many have considered this to be an attempt to rewrite history and gloss over American atrocities, even if the game focuses on a fictional country rather than a real one.
For a game that’s designed to highlight that war creates more villains than heroes, Modern Warfare isn’t exactly comfortable casting those aspersions on the Americans, which seems strange when the series’ most memorable villain was an American General that wanted to perpetuate war in order to drive up army recruitment rates. Modern Warfare has no issues portraying the SAS as the folks who’ll do the “dirty work”, yet the Americans come out looking squeaky clean. It just feels wrong.
If Modern Warfare stuck to the real life history, it would have acknowledged the actual tragedy it’s taken inspiration from while also creating a more nuanced story. The Urzikstani Militia start out as paranoid of America’s attempts to help in their war with Russia, and that shaky initial relationship would be given more foundation had their previous attempts led to the Highway of Death. The Russians in Modern Warfare, particularly General Barkov, are almost comically villainous, so this change in the current narrative would at least adjust the scales somewhat.
Either way, the campaign this year is an absolute success and well worth checking out. It’s clear that this Modern Warfare reboot will have sequels, as the last cutscene plays out like the Avengers assembling, but that’s fine. Another campaign like this is a welcome one. It’s the rest of the game that’s currently letting the rest of the package down, particularly the Spec Ops mode.
A continuation of the campaign mode, Spec Ops is a collection of co-op missions revolving around the city of Verdansk. You team up with three other players to take on a variety of objectives on larger, more open maps, which sounds like it could be a lot of fun, especially for those who are tired of the constant onslaught of Zombies.
Each one of the game’s missions throws an almost insurmountable amount of enemies at you and your squad with seemingly no end. Your team will be besieged on all sides by wave after wave of enemies and they don’t. Stop. Spawning. There’s no moment to rest, and it makes pushing forward, retreating or holding ground a bothersome task.
The mode is also quite glitchy, with vegetation spawning inside of buildings or the UI glitching to make it look like you’re spectating yourself while you’re still alive. Wrap your head around that one. The munitions system allows you to call in various assets that you find during the level that’ll turn the tide in your favour, but during one mission attempt, the system glitched and wouldn’t let me call in airstrikes or place ammo boxes, hamstringing the whole squad.
Modern Warfare is aiming to be a live service game, with more Spec Ops missions coming over the year, so it’s clear that the mode will be refined and touched up at some point, but right now it’s the worst part of the game by a country mile. Unless you’ve got three friends and you’re looking for an excuse to put your fist through a wall, Spec Ops currently has nothing worth your attention.
As for the multiplayer, it’s your standard Call of Duty affair, with new weapons, perks, equipment and killstreaks drip-fed to you as you progress through the levels. For any returning player, Modern Warfare should feel immediately familiar, until you hit Rank 55 and start levelling up your Officer Rank instead of hitting a new Prestige. That’s a weird one.
Instead of prestiging, the main progression system in Modern Warfare concerns your weapons as you level up your guns to unlock dozens of new attachments. Players can add 5 attachments to their guns, from new sights to stocks, ammo and perks, allowing players to truly customise guns to their specifications. Honestly, the amount of attachments might be a bit excessive, but it’s a great way of constantly dangling that carrot of new unlocks in front of you.
The ability to peek around corners easily slows down the pace somewhat, as players are more easily able to lock down sight lines and lanes effectively. That said, you can still run and gun like you would in any other Call of Duty game, and the new Tactical Sprint feature means you can traverse the maps quicker than other “boots on the ground” Call of Duty games.
Currently, the playlists on offer aren’t as complete as other Call of Duty games, or even what was initially promised. Modes like Capture the Flag, or fun diversions like Gun Game, One in the Chamber and Prop Hunt are absent, while Kill Confirmed and Hardpoint are resigned to a custom match type.
Furthermore, the much hyped night time mode playlist isn’t currently available, though Infinity Ward have confirmed that the playlist will be available at some point. The maps are still available for custom games, but that’s useless for the majority of the player base, so why bother having them in the game right now? This will inevitably get fixed as the weeks and months go on, but it’s quite barebones right now.
As for the new modes that are currently available, the 10 v 10 and Ground War modes aren’t personally as enjoyable as “vanilla” Call of Duty. The maps are too large and open to sustain the traditional run and gun gameplay the series is known for, instead promoting long distance sniping engagements. Meanwhile, flanking an opponent takes forever because of the map size and there’s so many more places to get shot from, making the experience more frustrating than enjoyable.
Some people might prefer the large scale battle that Ground War offers more than regular Call of Duty, so your mileage may vary here, but for my tastes, if I wanted to play a massive multiplayer shooter filled with vehicles and carnage, I’d play Battlefield, or even Star Wars: Battlefront. In Call of Duty, it just seems a little out of place.
Gunfight, Modern Warfare’s 2v2 cage match style mode, is a revelation. A round-based affair, both teams are given the same randomised loadout and must wipe out the other team. It’s simple, but effective, making for an experience where you’re constantly on edge and victory is far from certain. One botched play can turn a 2v1 advantage into a defeat screen in no time flat. Sure, Gunfight brings out the drop-shotting, jump-around-corner tryhards, but iron sharpens iron after all.
The new Realism playlist isn’t utilised in the best way possible. Essentially, the game’s HUD is completely disabled, sort of like how Hardcore works, except with no hit markers, XP notifications or kill feeds. Oh, and enemies soak bullets normally, instead of taking increased damage a la Hardcore. It’s just a confusing addition to the game, especially when Hardcore offers a similar experience that’s more user friendly.
The mode also highlights how essential hit markers have become to the online multiplayer experience as they’re a fantastic way of providing immediate feedback when shooting an enemy. Once they’re removed, you start feeling more unsure about whether you’re actually doing damage. Hell, I even missed them in the Campaign.
Already, Modern Warfare has become one of the most successful entries in the series, though the overall package right now isn’t indicative of that. While the campaign is top-notch, the multiplayer isn’t the best and the Spec Ops mode leaves a lot to be desired. Further updates are needed, though with microtransactions and battle passes looming over the horizon, I’m almost dreading what these future updates will entail.