Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare reels the series back to its heyday. You are no longer strapped to the teeth with advanced weaponry, fitted in an exo-suit and jumping from wall to wall. With boots on the ground, the action comes at a slower, more methodical pace. This approach not only brings the high-octane summer blockbuster moments down to a more realistic level but places those moments in an unsettling narrative that looks to strike a chord with players.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare doesn’t have you playing as a great American hero. In many cases throughout the campaign, you’ll feel like you could have done more to help those around you. A feeling of hopelessness and anxiety is commonplace as you filter between playing as CIA officer Alex and Sergeant Kyle Garrick. Infinity Ward has hit the restart button on the sub-series that many would argue build Call of Duty’s claim to fame. Captain Price, the cigar-smoking face of the series returns and is the only true touchstone. Small nods and mention of existing Modern Warfare characters and lore are sprinkled throughout the story, but it is a reboot of the franchise from start to finish.
The campaign opens and begins to set up a story in which Price and company must stop Russian and terrorist forces from igniting WWIII. Those expectations are quickly dismissed as it pivots into a more personal revenge plot. As much as I love to see Price make quips while kicking ass, it’s Farah Karim, a rebel leader of Urzikstan that steals the show. Her motivation and drive as the Urzikstan Liberation Force leader was easily the most enthralling piece from the campaign. While you can still expect the usual longer, more climactic firefights, elegant mission structures break those fast-paced moments up for a more thoughtful approach to the story. You’ll find yourself drawing arms on a small fleet of soldiers and mercenaries on a very regular basis but those are always broken up by more intimate character interactions and missions.
The Modern Warfare series has always offered memorable snippets of gameplay. “All Ghillied Up” stands as one of the most iconic missions in FPS history. An early mission aptly titled “Clean House” stands out because of how unique it is to Call of Duty. Price, Kyle, and a selection of other soldiers infiltrate a small residential building, taking out Al-Qatala terrorist members. The entire mission is stress-inducing as you don your silenced firearms and night vision goggles. As you inch from one closed door to the next, you’ll never know who or what is awaiting you as you take out your targets. The game wants you to think twice before pulling the trigger each time. Is that shouting woman running to grab her child, or is she running for a weapon? What do you do? It’s those moments when the game pushes the breaks on the action and forces you to slow down that stood out for me. Another mission, “Going Dark” follows a similar structure, but in a non-linear way. It forces you out of feeling like you’re playing an on-rails spectacle. Standards and expectations have evolved since the original Modern Warfare released. Many of the game’s missions feel like a natural progression. It takes what worked from previous games, polished it, and put a new spin on it for players.
It’s clear Call of Duty: Modern Warfare wants to make you feel something, for better or worse. The infamously controversial “No Russian” mission of Modern Warfare 2 set out to do something similar. There are many gut-check moments throughout the campaign. As strong as some of the moments can be, the themes laid out in the campaign are quickly thrown to the wayside when swapping to the multiplayer components. On one side, you come face to face with horrific acts of war and witness mass-shootings and hangings. On the other side, you’re rewarded with air-strikes and chemical bombings for completing objectives with your team. It’s an unfortunate loss of tone but is expected as the game transitions from the serious into the arcadey.
Revving A New Engine
Not only has the story been overhauled, but Infinity Ward and Activision have also revamped the entire engine which is made apparent from the game’s first cutscene. Playing on the Xbox One X, the cinematics is impeccable. The facial animations of each character can be recognized, which amplifies the emotional distress each of our protagonists is going through. The sound engineering makes every bullet echo in the air. The audio clarity and impact are especially useful during multiplayer when tracking footsteps and the direction of gunfire can determine your success during a match. The improved graphical fidelity and audio design are followed only by the improved controls. Gunplay is quicker and tighter. The game allows you to mount your weapon on corners as a way to stabilize yourself and peak with simplistic functions. The controls are top-tier, which is par for the course for Infinity Ward and the Call of Duty franchise. Aiming your weapon and moving from side to side, or crouching to prone is fluid. Very few studios can master the art of gunplay mechanics the way Infinity Ward has. Somehow, the development team has outdone themselves this time around.
Multiplayer or as many would consider the star of the Call of Duty show, is pleasantly varied. You’d be forgiven for being a bit overwhelmed when first clicking on the multiplayer menu. There is a welcomed mix of old and new modes available. Of course, you still have your Team Deathmatch, Free For All, Search & Destroy, etc. Infinity Ward has brought back these classics while adding a breadth of new modes. My favourite out of the bunch is Realism. It’s very close to what Hardcore Team Deathmatch has been in the past with a stripped-down HUB and faster time-to-kill, equating to a much slower-paced match. Due to the lack of onscreen support, Realism utilizes those early Killstreaks like UAV to locate enemy locations. The limitations in vision urge players to communicate and strategize. How often that’ll happen is up for debate. If you’re running with a group of friends or a clan, you’ll be at a clear advantage. The same can be said for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s new Gunfight mode. The 2v2 skirmish which features smaller maps and a rotating weapon selection is a fine example of how communication between players goes a long way. The rounds are quick and because both teams have the same loadout, wins boil down to strategy and capability. Ground War is back and the slight tweaks have improved the pacing and balance of the mode. While it’s certainly not on the level of scale as last year’s Blackout mode, the increase of players when compared to the other modes is a nice change of pace. The vehicles such as tanks, helicopters, and ATVs all handle fairly well. Having one at your disposal never feels like you’re at a distinct advantage, which I believe would otherwise compromise the enjoyment found in Ground War.
The cracks in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s multiplayer lie directly in the design of the maps. There are 10 core maps available, four of which received the night treatment (which is excellent for night vision gameplay). Of those 10 maps, many have become prime real estate for campers and snipers. As it currently stands, the gameplay favours those with advanced sniper prowess. Euphrates Bridge, for instance, has a slightly more open, and vast design. With a bridge spanning the middle of the map, the first team to dig their heels in and overtake it has the advantage. After that, it becomes a chore to continuously pick off campers perched up top, a sniper rifle in hand. That’s not to say that scenario spans all 10 maps. Rammaza, on the other hand, is more balanced and allows players to feel more comfortable with either close or long-range weapons.
For many iterations, Call of Duty has gone back and forth in how player progression and unlocks are handles. Modern Warfare boils everything down in a more traditional sense. Attachments unlock as you level up your weapons. Killstreaks, new weapons and equipment unlock as you progress as well. The UI in the loadout menus is simplistic, which had been a big detractor for me in previous years. New to the multiplayer are Field Upgrades which serve as a mix of perks and equipment you’d find in previous games such as the Trophy System, Dead Silence, Deployable Cover, etc. Each one has a varied recharge rate. Instead of making alterations to your loadout, these are found in a different menu and lets you select one for use. When customization comes into play, it’s always been Call of Duty’s strong suit. The level of selection in attachments and equipment gives you the freedom to choose a playstyle you’re comfortable with and stick to it. Unfortunately, the gameplay is heavily favouring long-range as of now, but metas and weapon balancing can always change in the future.
You will also find a Spec-Ops menu on the home screen. This co-op game mode takes the place of Call of Duty’s zombies and offers a new avenue for a PvE experience. While Xbox One users will have to wait a year for the Survival mode, Classic Spec-Ops and Operations are available. Both modes are very much objective-based with some loose ties to the campaign. They urge you to choose the role of the four available and set you off to either kill a high-priority target and sabotage the enemy’s munitions. Spec-Ops is a very tactile-focused experience and is a fantastic opportunity to get your friends together and into the roles of your preference. You’ll be dealing with many enemies along the way, which can prove to be fairly challenging. The gratification never really pays off the way it does after winning a Ground War match.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has some of the best gameplay moments to date. Infinity Ward was wise to spread their resources into every bucket that speaks to the Call of Duty audience. You’ll find a campaign that tells an impactful, memorable story that single-handedly became one of the best the series has offered. While the core-multiplayer map design doesn’t quite speak to my playstyle, the amount of other modes available is a great alternative. The new additions bring a unique freshness that has been holding my attention match after match. Multiplayer progression is rewarding and keeps me engaged as the next unlock always feels like it’s just around the corner. Although the balance is questionable, the return of boots on the ground gameplay is welcomed and packs a serious punch. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare offers the best controls the series has seen. The new engine begs to be experienced by long-time fans, newcomers, and everybody in between.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]