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It goes without question that Call of Duty is the biggest franchise that gaming has ever seen. Each annual release of a Call of Duty game is a seismic shift in that year’s gaming forecast, to the point where its release window is often conceded by competitors big and small. However, despite its monolithic rise, Call of Duty was once a franchise that came from humble beginnings. It was not until the release of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare that the franchise finally got its seat at the table with the gaming elites, and its follow up, Modern Warfare 2, building its throne.
Having spent the 13 years that preceded the original Modern Warfare 2 going from one war to the next, and even one planet to the next, the franchise has continued to grow. This growth however hasn’t been without its losses. Many people, myself included, had fallen off the Call of Duty roller coaster due to franchise fatigue and other factors. In fact, it was not until Activision went back to the well in 2019’s Call of Duty Modern Warfare, and its Warzone Battle Royale mode, that made me start to pay attention again. As the cycle begins to repeat itself the question remains if this year’s new Modern Warfare 2 can follow in the footsteps of the original king maker.
Modern Warfare 2’s campaign puts you in the shoes of various members of Task Force 141, featuring many returning names from the past entries of Modern Warfare as well as some new faces. While the story shares some continuity with previous Modern Warfare entries, this entry acts as a direct sequel to 2019’s Modern Warfare. I use the term “continuity” loosely though, as the connective tissue of this franchise has more in common with Sylvester Stallone’s Expendables than it does Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings. You are a part of a shadowy government agency attempting to covertly stop a threat posed by a warring enemy faction. There are nods and tidbits here and there that will pay off for long-time fans, but anyone can jump into the game and not feel lost.
While the plot may be somewhat derivative, the story shines a little bit brighter. The return of the likes of Price, Soap, Gaz, and Ghost are welcome sights. For me though it’s the additions to the cast that make the biggest impact. The gruff portrayal of Mexican army Colonel Alejandro Vargas by actor Alain Mesa, and the charming coyness of Shadow Company Commander Phillip Graves portrayed by Warren Kole are both standouts. Both of these actors also lent their likeness on top of their voice which helped them stand out even more. On top of this, the game offers more character moments in-between shootouts than usual which really emphasizes the story above previous entries.
Story and plot are not why we show up to play Call of Duty campaigns every year though. It’s the pulse pounding action thrill ride and to that end Modern Warfare 2 delivers in more ways than one. Yes, the action set pieces are here, and are a sight to be seen. I especially loved the mission “Violence and Timing”, which gives an unexpected nod to the Uncharted series. The fact that all of these can also be played at 120fps on next-gen console hardware really adds a lot to the spectacle as well.
Perhaps the biggest surprise for me, though, was that it wasn’t the big showpiece moments that left a lasting impression on me. Instead it was the inclusion of several quiet, stealthy, survival sections that really stood out. There are points in the game where you are without your squad and your arsenal of weaponry. Instead you are forced to scrounge for supplies and craft tools to sneak by or dispatch enemies.
Call of Duty as a franchise tends to implement new mechanics like these as “canaries in a coal mine” to see what works and what doesn’t. The successful things are kept around and fleshed-out further for future entries while the duds get washed away. This looting and crafting system is absolutely something I would love to see more of. Being that semblances of the Warzone Battle Royale mode make an appearance in the campaign, by way of the armor plate system, I can’t help but wonder if this looting and crafting experience could make an appearance in the up and coming Tarkov-like DMZ multiplayer mode.
Overall, the campaign was a short but well-paced experience that, despite some visual bugs, I had a great time blasting my way through. The fact that they didn’t rely too heavily on the bombastic, explosion filled set pieces, allowed for great changes in pace that kept each mission feeling fresh. The story is passable, and the characters, while they won’t win any awards, were well thought out enough to make me care about the plot’s outcome. I am a big fan of the direction that the Modern Warfare campaigns are taking, and I will be there day one for the next release.
It’s no mystery that the secret sauce to Call of Duty’s enormous success has been the Multiplayer component. While the pre-release marketing for Modern Warfare 2 touted it as a “revolution” of sorts, the final product is definitely more of an evolution. For anyone returning to the franchise after a long hiatus, the feeling of whoever sees who first, or camps the longest, will definitely creep into your head after your first few matches.
However, after sticking with it and getting re-acquainted with game’s mechanics, maps, and systems, I found myself having a great time. In fact, If you include time spent in the beta, I have spent more time in Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer than every other Call of Duty since the original Modern Warfare 2. The feedback loop that comes from the combination of the momentum-based movement system and snappy lethality of the game’s many guns just feels great. Once you get rolling, there are few things in gaming that are as satisfying as going on a kill-streak in Call of Duty.
The game launched with a respectable list of maps and modes to play as well as an optional third person perspective playlist which ended up being a lot more fun than I imagined it would be. One glaring omission, however, is the lack of a Hardcore mode – a mode that has launched with nearly every Call of Duty. Infinity Ward has said Hardcore is in the works though and will launch at the start of Season One on November 16th.
Currently you can play traditional 6v6, Invasion, or jump into 32v32 battles in Ground War. What’s really interesting, though, is that some of the smaller 6v6 maps can be found in their entirety within the bigger Ground War maps. It is the maps themselves that are the standout for me as they are all very well designed. The very obvious three-lane design convention that, in my opinion, plagued previous entries is at best gone completely or at worst well-disguised. Even the Sicario inspired “Santa Sena Border Crossing” map, which has drawn the ire of some fans, is fun to play on.
There is also the return of the Spec Ops co-op mode which allows you and a friend to go up against hordes of NPC enemies. The total co-op package is limited to just three missions, but there will be more arriving post-launch. These missions take place on the giant Al Mazrah map which will also be the map used in Warzone 2. These missions far more open then the original spec-ops mode and are quite fun to play.
There is also the newly added Kits system which effectively act as character classes. Before deploying on a mission, you will select either an Assault, Medic, or Recon kit, which then levels as you play. Leveling-up a class unlocks new perks that provide much needed buffs for the higher difficulty modes. Activision has also stated that Kits will be utilized in the upcoming “Raid” modes which are said to be three player co-op modes with a mix of combat and puzzles.
Spec-ops is a great change of pace from the hectic multiplayer mayhem and a good preview for whats to come with Warzone 2. I wish there was room for more players, though, as I often found myself leaving co-op for traditional multiplayer as more friends signed in to play.
In terms of player progression there are peaks and valleys. The way you go about unlocking and upgrading weapons has been completely changed. The new Gunsmith system has you unlock weapon attachments by leveling up a specific weapon platform. Progressing a weapon platform requires you to use a specific receiver or variant of a gun in that platform which unlocks attachments and the various slots to fit attachments into. Eventually a new branch of that platform will unlock thus providing access to new receivers and variants that you can customize.
The receivers effectively unlock new weapons as changing the receiver will completely change how the weapon performs. While you will still need to progress each new receiver to unlock the attachment slots, every previously unlocked compatible attachment will be available to use once you do so.
While this eliminates the grind of having to constantly unlock the same attachments over and over again for each gun, it also creates interesting scenarios where you may upgrade a shotgun to unlock an optical sight that you want to use on your M4 assault rifle. It also makes it very beneficial to try out new weapons as, even if you don’t normally use certain guns, you may still unlock something useful for a weapon you use more regularly. Giving clear progression paths for players to take, with precisely targeted rewards, perfectly encapsulates how progression within a service based game should work. It is an addicting addition to the Call of Duty sandbox.
Where the progression system underwhelms, however, is on the cosmetic side of things. There are but a few character skins to select from at launch and they are mostly plucked from the campaign. The only interesting ones are offered as paid DLC via the game’s “Vault Edition.”
Weapons don’t fare much better either with many of the standard camos that we have seen in many prior games in the franchise. While there are a lot of challenges to complete to unlock these camos, the rewards feel underwhelming out of the gate.
It is worth noting though that this review was written before Season 1 has officially started and the contents of the game’s first battle pass have not yet been revealed. History shows us that Call of Duty is keen to do some pretty wild and fun stuff with its cosmetics, but out of the gate it falls flat here. There also seems to be a surprisingly scarce amount of emblems and calling cards to customize your profile with.
The game’s campaign has been live for over two weeks at the time of writing and the multiplayer portion is over a week old and there are still wide-spread problems worth mentioning. Weapon load outs seem to reset off and on as the servers try to stay in sync with your customized load outs. Ping functionality was disabled shortly after launch as along with it came a game-breaking bug causing pinged players to be “pinged” for the entire match.
Also, the weapon tuning feature that allows you to fine tune the stats on fully upgraded guns was disabled because it too caused rampant game crashes. In my experience playing with a group was difficult as someone constantly got kicked every other game and overall it has been kind of a mess. I fully expect these issues to get cleaned up and am seeing improvements every day. However the fact that its been nearly two weeks since launch I felt it was worth noting them here.
Overall Modern Warfare 2 has managed to recapture a lot of what made the original Modern Warfare 2 such a smash hit. The campaign can be held up among the series’ best and the multiplayer feels like a refined version of the core Call of Duty experience that helped create this juggernaut of a franchise way back in 2009. This is a very solid base from which to build, which has me excited for what’s to come.
At the same time, though, I can’t help but feel the weight of what’s missing. Warzone has become synonymous with Call of Duty since it was released and the long-awaited DMZ mode has been at the forefront of everyone’s mind since it was originally rumored. The ranked mode isn’t coming until next year, and the battle pass, extended cosmetics, and the co-op Raid mode we are still waiting on. I can’t help but feel like this is just the opening shot with the real Modern Warfare 2 barrage still in the chamber.