Like clockwork, Call of Duty is back for another year, this time with Infinity Ward behind the wheel returning with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II. The Modern Warfare (2019) reboot was a hugely successful remake that didn’t just rely on the name and the nostalgia it evoked, but with a very tight-knit ensemble cast, it managed to become one of the best titles in the series in a decade. A sequel was pretty much inevitable, but it remains to be seen if Infinity Ward will go for two-for-two, creating a remake worthy of the name and legacy of the original title.
After Vanguard, which, as evidenced by its commercial performance and dip in sales, didn’t satisfy many people, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II had a lot to prove. It had to regain lost ground from last year’s entry and live up to the high expectations of the community as the successor to Modern Warfare 2019. So does Modern Warfare II, the new annual chapter in the long-running series, succeed? The short answer: Yes.
Task Force 141, Ready to Deploy
The first thing I was concerned with when I opened the game was the main campaign. I should mention that that’s what this review is mostly based on. We’re dealing with an indirect sequel to the 2019 reboot, which is obviously inspired by the original Modern Warfare 2, but without telling the same story. The central protagonists are Gaz, Ghost and Soap, the agents of Captain Price’s multinational special operations unit. Alongside them will be Alejandro Vargas, a colonel in the Mexican special forces, a character I personally loved both for Alain Mesa’s performance and for his writing and dialogue.
At first, the term remake is used loosely, since, in terms of story and scenario, there is very little that resembles the story of Modern Warfare II (2009), apart from the main characters. The story picks up where it left off at the conclusion of Modern Warfare, with Captain Price forming Task Force 141, and its adventures taking its members to all corners of the world, chasing the launch of stolen missiles and bringing to light a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top. The single-player campaign tries to break away from the standard forms and shooting galleries, this time using missions with a bit more variety, and classic, Hollywood-style backdrops and set pieces. Over the course of the roughly 6-7 hour campaign, the title holds players by the hand, for the most part, directing them exactly where it wants them to go, to do what it wants them to do, the way it wants them to do it. Sure, the story being told is interesting, but most of the missions could literally be on rails.
In the character and dialogue department, Modern Warfare II excels. It has a roster we’ve grown to love over the years, from the iconic Captain Price to the badass Ghost, with the mysterious aura that comes with the mask that never comes off. All the characters have their place in the story and are well written, with the back and forth between them being enjoyable. From the way they communicate as a well-crafted unit to the well-placed jokes and jabs they will make at each other; I truly enjoyed every moment with Task Force 141
The script itself is slightly clichéd and predictable, but I think it serves its purpose without ruining the experience as a whole. Yes, the twist about halfway through the narrative wasn’t the most original, but it’s well-executed. What you are called upon to do as Task Force 141 is to take out a terrorist who has managed to acquire and intends to use three American missiles. But into the equation comes the Mexican Las Almas cartel, the Shadow Company, a private mercenary firm that goes where the money is, and the US government/CIA trying to hide their mistake.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II’s Multiplayer is a blast
What the campaign actually accomplishes is to familiarize players with the shooting and movement mechanics, and to prepare players for the online multiplayer where the heart of Call of Duty beats. The gunplay remains satisfying, with the necessary weight on the weapons, and generally, the feeling one would expect. Understandable, to a large extent, given that guns and their behaviour have been one of the series’ strengths for years, and the development teams have now almost managed to perfect this area. Following a negative tradition that has begun to build in recent years, this year’s offering comes in relatively bare-bones compared to the past, at least for now. To be more specific, the launch of the title lacks things like Barracks where players can see their general stats, challenges, leaderboards, Ranked Play, Hardcore mode and generally a whole host of information and features that should normally be there.
Sure, a lot of the above will be integrated soon and especially with the arrival of the first season, but it’s still inexcusable that basic things like stats, or even time counters for double XP tokens, are missing. Thankfully the title comes with a plethora of modes to choose from, though not all are equally interesting. The classic TDM, Domination, Search & Destroy, Search & Destroy and Free-for-all are available, while the same goes for Ground War, with additions such as Invasion, Knockout and Prisoner Rescue. The former follows in the footsteps of Ground War, but with both teams practically left free to roam the large maps and points collected through kills and equipment destruction, while the action is complemented by bots that are deployed at regular intervals. Knockout and Prisoner Rescue are essentially variants of Search & Destroy with revives and faster action, though they are not expected to remain on the playlists for future titles.
Otherwise, there is a lot of variety in the maps, with certain maps only appearing in certain modes, in order to avoid the unpleasant situations that arise when trying to fit all modes into all levels. The problem is the design on several of them just isn’t good, at least when using the small versions of them for 6v6 matches. Add to that Infinity Ward’s choice to change the minimap system and the way opponents appear in it, and it doesn’t take long for the frustration to set in. More specifically, as we saw in the beta, now enemies on the map only appear with UAVs and under very specific circumstances, but no longer when they’re shooting. This in itself changes the whole philosophy behind each confrontation, as well as the way silencers, are used, as now the benefits and drawbacks change dynamics. It’s obvious that the goal here is to give players more freedom and potentially more time to stay alive on the map, with the focus being primarily on sound, and the role it plays on the battlefield. This would be acceptable, if there wasn’t a serious need to customize this, since as it stands, even with a headset the sound effect is inconsistent at best.
This year it feels like Modern Warfare II tries to do it all. With Ground War and Invasion, it becomes harder not to make the comparisons to Battlefield. Now you have players attempting to take over points on huge maps with vehicles, while modes like Prisoner Rescue becomes a take on Rainbow Six Siege, not missing of course the standard, fast and chaotic Team Deathmatch, Domination, Free-For-All etc. Does it succeed in all of these? In some yes and in others no.
There are some issues technical issues including clipping through levels
Prisoner Rescue and Knockout are clearly inspired by Rainbow Six Siege, and those modes I liked. Knockout especially is a mode I find myself returning to. In this one, the team that wins five rounds in total wins. The goal? Each team fights to keep a bag of money for a few seconds or to kill every opponent. There are no respawns unless a teammate picks you up. Infinity Ward has managed to combine the intensity, speed, and quick TTKs that characterize Call of Duty‘s multiplayer with the strategy and attention to detail that something like Rainbow Six Siege requires. Obviously, we’re not talking about something that tactical, but especially with a group of friends I had an amazing time playing this mode, with heated discussions at the end of each round about what went wrong or what to repeat. It’s nothing revolutionary as a concept, but definitely a welcome addition.
On the other hand, the larger modes have some lingering weaknesses. The driving and vehicles aren’t well balanced throughout the sandbox, and the addition of AI bots makes things a bit more chaotic than they should be, as the battlefield is filled with enemies that are too mindless and just disorienting.
Another factor that testifies to the change of role that Modern Warfare II is attempting is the way in which the various weapons are unlocked, upgraded and levelled up. Unlike what we were used to in the past, now weapons are not only unlocked when you reach a certain level, but most of them require levelling up on a specific weapon to make another one available, with the same being true for attachments. More specifically, weapons are now divided into different bases, and on top of each base, variants are built that can completely change their characteristics. For example, some SMGs become available when you level up to a weapon that will provide the “base”, and this can be a Battle Rifle, which will thereby unlock its variant to Assault Rifle, and by levelling that, it will unlock its variant to SMG. It sounds complicated, and in practice, it is, since, for example, you would have to level up to a shotgun to unlock a specific set of optics to be used in a Marksman Rifle. Again, the reasoning behind the way the mechanic is set up is for players to use all, or at least most, of the weapons that become available before settling on a particular loadout, offering a bit more variation before one finds the weapon that works for them, and just grind-it out to the end.
The perk system doesn’t escape the general shuffle either, no longer are killstreaks set into 3 categories, but are offered in a ready-made set of specific combinations, until players can level up and create their own sets, again with restrictions. Not all are available from the start of each match, but they start a base of two perks, and along the way, two more become available as time goes on. Once again, the intentions are obvious in how the development team is trying to level the playing field at least at the start of each match and give both teams practically equal opportunities to create their own footprint in the game, but limiting the units perhaps more than they should. Additionally, some perks now become field upgrades, meaning that using them goes from a passive bonus to an active option, which in turn also changes the face of the action and the way operators act and position themselves.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II offers the best iteration of the franchise in some time. However, it does have some lingering issues that can likely be addressed in the coming months. As it is now, the campaign offers a compelling but predictable narrative, but one that readies you for the multiplayer. With some more balancing and Infinity Ward being able to ward off cheaters on PC, I expect this to be one of the biggest years for the series thanks to its expansive multiplayer offerings and introduction of Warzone 2.0.
[A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.]