Reviews

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019) Review

In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Activision have tasked Infinity Ward with the unenviable duty of managing to fill in the boots of a series that, across three titles, was lauded for strong new storytelling methods within first person shooters of its age and solid multiplayer that built up the sizeable following that Call of Duty as a franchise enjoys today. While the single player may have stumbled in living up to some of the expectations that they themselves placed upon it, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare manages to keep in the spirit of its inspiration while giving enough of a refresh of its tried and tested multiplayer (with a lot of lessons learnt from the Black Ops branch) to definitely come as a recommended game for any fans of the series, current, lapsed, or newly intrigued.

With the announcement of the soft reboot of the Modern Warfare series came the promise of a more mature look into the fog of war that surrounds modern conflicts and an all-round push for shades of grey on all sides than an out and out black and white conflict. While the writers have given their best go at achieving this, the frenetic pace of Modern Warfare unfortunately leaves much of the punch of many of these moments to not land with the potency required to really get one thinking.

While there are stand out sections during the campaign that really made one feel awkward (in a good, thought-provoking way, with a contrasting pair of interrogations where you play as both interrogatee and later interrogator standing out in particular) other moments that would have had a lot more weight if given time to be built up to, like in a long-running series covering similar content matter like Homefront, end up feeling like being there for the sake of it and not to help drive a point across.

Perhaps the largest, but most hard to avoid, issue to be had with reaching this goal of showing multiple sides to a conflict is that, while you can paint certain factions and characters in those shades of grey for there to be a narrative that drives forward at the pace needed in a first-person shooter, you require that one big bad that we can all get behind taking down. In Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, this position is taken by a Russian General named Barkov, who is used as a constant threat throughout to drive the actions of the various protagonists against. Unfortunately, with this comes a great villainizing of the Russian troops below him and it is only in the epilogue, which plays out in the game’s spec ops mode, (and the exception of one old familiar face) that we get to see Russian troops in any different light than the “big bads” TM. This stands in contrast to the remaining cast for which many internal motivations and beliefs are explored.

Each of these characters has a different theatre of war that they operate within, and while their backing and weapons are similar, the approaches of their missions vary widely.

The campaign sees the player mainly switching between two military men from different walks of life as they deal with the looming threat of chemical weapons falling into the wrong hands following a major terrorist attack in London. Each of these characters has a different theatre of war that they operate within, and while their backing and weapons are similar, the approaches of their missions vary widely.

It’s these missions that really do manage to pull things together for the single-player in a way that is all too familiar to players of the original trilogy. Yes, previous haters of the corridor shooting nature of the Modern Warfare series you will still have to contend with, packed with linear progress to achieve your mission in many sections of the game. Those same old AI companions are there, but don’t really make as much of a difference as you will have to the success of the mission. While these sections are more present than others, care has been taken to make sure that flanking paths and clever use of your weapons will see you win out the day more effectively than just standing and delivering (though that is still an option for those inclined).

Where Call of Duty: Modern Warfare shines, however, are in the missions that borrow just the right amount from some of the great flash points of the former trilogy. There may have been a lack of helter skelter vehicle chases, but that age-old sniper mission adjusting your range and accustomizing yourself before waves of enemies are encountered is there. So too is the frantic chase through the bustling streets of a city as your prey seeks to get away from you – but my favourite of all has to be the Price assisted stealth mission which is only as difficult as you decide to make it for yourself as you make use of shadows and silenced weapons to achieve your goals.

Something that fans of the series will also be familiar with are the flashbacks and tales seen from the eyes of non-combatants or soldiers on other sides of the engagement. These missions take the form of seeing into the past of the female protagonist Farah, who we get the most exposed plot as to why she fights for what she does. While some scenes in these flashbacks are perhaps a bit over laden with symbology and great character-defining moments, I don’t think you’d be able to extend that kind of exposition out well given the usual frantic basing of a Call of Duty game, which is a pity as these things deserve to have more weight assigned to them as the writers clearly wanted for the character and plot as a whole.

Where Call of Duty: Modern Warfare shines, however, are in the missions that borrow just the right amount from some of the great flash points of the former trilogy.

This all said, the campaign flies by at a break-neck speed that I found kept me excited and wanting to get back into things as soon as I could to see what was going to happen next. For experienced first-person shooter players and fans of the series, this experience could last as short as one very dedicated evening of play, but should take those of us with leaner time budgets for games at least a few evenings worth of play (which may help to make the impact of certain actions better as you have time to digest them before plunging on).

But what of the multiplayer, I hear you cry out? And rightly you should be, considering that most players will spend much more time here than in the single-player campaign. Well, having played in the betas leading into the release and finding some small time for more play in the lead-up to the release, I have to say that it felt very authentic to the original Modern Warfare’s way of doing multiplayer when it comes to the traditional competitive scene.

All of your old favourites are still here (though some don’t perform nearly as well, here’s looking at you AK47), old kill streaks and perks all in place with that very familiar design a class interface. However, with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Infinity Ward are trying something a little different with how they unlock better attachments and perks. Welcome to the gunsmith system, which sees you unlock more and more mechanical customizations for your weapon as you make more use of it. In this way, if you find a particular gun you enjoy, you can quickly start levelling better attachments, sights, and now perks for that given weapon all by just equipping that weapon in any of the multiplayer modes.

I felt this made for a smoother transition into familiarizing yourself with a newly unlocked gun as well as making it more rewarding to play the way that you wanted to play. Time will have to tell how cosmetic updates to your weapons are handled, with in-game purchases always looming large over the series, especially after many a debacle during the life of Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. That said, with a new battle pass system (which this writer does not approve of for a full price release, but hey, baby steps) being put in place, a promise that no loot boxes will be implemented and overall more eyes being kept on this facet of the game, we should hopefully see a much more balanced and maintained ecosystem than we have in recent memory.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare brings back an old fan favourite in Special Ops, which will be familiar to Modern Warfare 2 players though should have more than enough new car smell to entice others over after completing the single-player campaign. As where the campaign leaves off, Special Ops picks up. Being joined by up to 3 other players, you’ll be set on a particular task within an occupied city as part of a coalition force to do some damage or aid in recapturing the city and seeing a familiar enemy off.

Overall, I really enjoyed my time with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. I intend on giving the campaign another run through at a more deliberate pace on PC soon enough, and really need to find a good crew to give more of the Special Ops part of the game a go. While we may not have received as compelling a story in the single-player as we hoped, you can definitely see the efforts made by the writers to explore it within the constraints of a rapid campaign. Time will tell if the health of the multiplayer overall will be maintained through better business practices that should aim to reduce player turnover from badly balanced monetary bought items. But for now, lets’s just enjoy a solid return for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019)
8.5/10

Summary

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare succeeds on the strengths of its riveting gameplay, action-packed campaign, and great homages to the series, making for a fulfilling and worthy reboot.

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