Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Review

It's been a while since we've seen a new Modern Warfare game - in fact, this is the first one to appear on this generation of consoles, the 2015 remaster of the original game notwithstanding. Modern Warfare is indeed modern in terms of the weapons and tech you'll use in the game in both multiplayer and the game's campaign. "Modern" as in roughly contemporary - there are none of the robotic warriors or AI-controlled drones or mechs that we've seen in Call of Duty in the time since we last had the chance to play a new Modern Warfare game. There's certainly some bleeding edge tech in the game, but it's nothing that you can't imagine is being deployed in the field by Special Operations forces as you read this review. The focus on modern warfare also means that the "boots on the ground" trend continues, with no wall runs or power slides to be seen anywhere.

This Modern Warfare being a first of sorts, comes sans numeral or subtitle, but if you play the campaign, you'll see that it is connected to its origins in more than name only. The campaign-less Black Ops 4 has proven to be a one-off instead of the beginning of a new Call of Duty trend in that Modern Warfare features a full-fledged, full-length single player campaign. My fellow Call of Duty campaigners can now join me in a collective sigh of relief. If you've played the campaigns in the original Modern Warfare trilogy, you'll see a very familiar face in one Captain Price, who plays a prominent role in the covert operations that form the bulk of the campaign. There's no need to have played all of the other Modern Warfare campaigns, or remember all of the details if you did play them years ago, as the campaign's storyline stands entirely on its own. If you did play them, you'll enjoy seeing a new chapter in an old friend's story. I won't spoil anything for you by telling you where this story sits in relation to the arc in the original trilogy, but there's a lot to be learned by waiting for what comes after the credits have rolled.

To ensure a spoiler-free synopsis of the campaign, I'll just let you know that it involves terrorism bred from a conflict between a fictional central Asian country and rogue elements of the Russian army. Which faction is the actual "bad guys" is not entirely clear as you traverse the globe playing as a CIA operative, a Special Forces soldier, and a freedom fighter trying to unravel the mystery of who was behind an attack on London's Piccadilly Square and how they came to have access to Russian chemical weapons. The story is middle of the road in terms of Call of Duty campaigns past, meaning that it's not entirely grounded in realism, but it doesn't go off into James Bond territory like some games such as Advanced Warfare and Ghosts did. It's certainly entertaining, like an action movie that requires a little suspension of disbelief but does not cross the line into complete implausibility.

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The missions in the campaign provide for a variety of gameplay, and there are plenty of different types of challenges to overcome from stealthy covert ops to larger scale battles. The mission areas are fairly open in general, often giving you some leeway as to how you approach your objectives, but you're still continuously working your way to trigger the next game event or cutscene. There are several memorable moments, some of which are completely chaotic and others that are tense and quiet, as you make your way through the campaign. Again, I don't want to spoil anything, but as I write this I can think of several missions and battles that are etched in my memory. I think that those of you who enjoy playing Call of Duty for the campaigns won't be disappointed. I do have to add the caveat that there are some disturbing moments in the campaign, more than I remember for a Call of Duty game in a while, so give a little thought to the warnings and opt-out moments that the game affords you before just forging ahead without heeding them. Your choices won't affect the course of the game, though, as the campaign's story is linear and leads to a single ending.

Modern Warfare's new game engine is put to use in multiple ways in the campaign. Approaching a door no longer necessarily means that you'll segue to a canned breach sequence, instead you'll be presented with the choice of kicking the door in or opening it slowly, with that choice determining how things will unfold when you enter the room. Or you could choose to go through another door, or fire through it, or even take a few steps to the side and fire through the wall in an attempt to drop any enemies waiting to ambush anyone coming through the doorway, the game's level design and new engine make all of those choices possible. The night missions no longer instruct you when to use your night vision goggles (NVG), leaving it to you to decide when to stick to the shadows and when to come out into the light. You can even control the lights and shadows by shooting out lights or turning off breaker panels, turning a well-lit street into a dark corridor or plunging a building into darkness so that you can move through the rooms picking off enemies one-by-one without ever being seen.

There are fourteen campaign missions in all, and completing the campaign will take you from six to eight hours depending on your playstyle and the difficulty level you select. Once you complete the campaign you can jump back into any mission, either to enjoy some of the missions that you really liked a second time or to try them at a higher difficulty level, or you can move on to the co-op Spec Ops mode. There are five Spec Ops missions, four completely new levels and one based on the classic Operation Safeguard level. These missions are all large-scale affairs, with multiple objectives set across enormous maps that include a variety of environments from open fields to large indoor spaces to dense clusters of small buildings. Each mission is quite challenging, and it will take both careful coordination and sound tactics to complete them. The environments are really open, so you'll have plenty of leeway as to how you approach each objective and if something isn't working for you there's always a new tact that you can try.

Spec Ops is played with up to four players, and each can choose their loadout in the same way as in multiplayer. Each player can also choose a specialty, which gives them access to a super that benefits the entire squad such as a group revive or armor boost. You can also carry up to four crates, each of which contains ammo, armor, or even a killstreak-style bonus strike. These crates can be found around the map and once used the whole team has access to their contents - except for the killstreak bonuses, those can only be used by the player deploying them.

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The enemies you'll face can be relentless, so it's best to try a stealthy approach, taking out sentries and patrols before anyone can raise the alarm. This isn't as easy as it sounds, so you'll often find the situation going "hot" on you, meaning that you'll have to face waves of enemy reinforcements. The enemies are drawn from the factions that you face in the campaign, so you'll fight everything from terrorists with bomb vests and AK-47s to Russian paratroopers. Juggernauts and attack helicopters also have a habit of showing up at the worst possible times. Sticking together and pressing forward is important, as downed players can be revived by another player and you can respawn after bleeding out as long as there is one person on the team still standing. If all four players are downed, though, the mission ends. The Spec Ops missions are fun as well as intense, and while there may not be a zombies mode in Modern Warfare, Spec Ops is a more than worthy substitute.

Modern Warfare has a full multiplayer mode, of course, but in addition to the more familiar game modes there are two additional new modes, Gunfight and Ground War. There are also some big firsts for the franchise in that it supports platform cross-play and a unified progression system. You'll be playing in matches against players on PC, PS4, and Xbox One, which broadens the player base thereby ensuring that you can get into games faster and that you can play with friends no matter what system they own. The unified progression system means that if you're the kind of player that likes to play the campaign before switching over to multiplayer then you won't be left behind. You'll advance in level playing any of the game modes so you won't come into the multiplayer after everyone else has had a couple of days to level up.

The new Gunfight mode is two-on-two gameplay played on small maps. Matches are played as a series of rounds, and to win a round you need to eliminate the other team. To keep things moving at a fast clip, the matches are timed. If neither team has been eliminated by the time the timer expires, a flag appears on the map and the first team to capture it wins. Your weapon loadout is determined in one of two ways. The first randomly assigns each player the same primary and secondary weapon at the start of each round. The second places different weapons around the map and the players can choose which weapons that they want to, as long as they can get to them without being killed first. I like playing this mode, not so much so that I'll be playing it more than the other multiplayer modes, but it's great when you don't have a lot of time to play or when you want a tactical change of pace. When each round begins you'll have to quickly commit to a tactic, and often this will be driven by the type of weapon you're given. Do you try to get early shots in on the other team down a middle lane or do you rush to the outside of the map to try and flank the opposition? If your opening gambit doesn't pay off, what do you do from there? This mode is about making snap decisions, and the payoff or penalty for your choice will come to fruition quite quickly.

Ground War features large-scale battles both in terms of number of players and map size. This is a points-based mode in which teams score by capturing and holding objectives. This mode can be thought of as Call of Duty's take on Battlefield, complete with vehicles, squad-based spawns, and the aforementioned objective points. There are three maps for this mode, each providing for a very different battle experience. One has you fighting in a city center among a cluster of high-rises. This map supports full scale verticality, and you can reach the tops, or middle floors, of all of the buildings in an attempt to hold the high ground and make things miserable for the players on street level. There are many ways to reach the high points, from making your way up flight after flight of stairs to riding a helicopter to the top. The next map is set in a quarry, so you have none of the verticality, but instead must fight through open areas as well as the chaotic mix of cover provided by an industrial operation. The final map is set in a Middle Eastern style location featuring a temple complex at the center of the map surrounded by the small buildings of a village. The temple makes for a natural focal point of the fighting as control of the temple affords you with the best firing positions on the map as well as making for a natural fortification from which to fend off the other team. Ground War is just about the polar opposite of Gunfight in that it's the type of mode you'll want to play when you have a lot of time and that will give you more options and time in selecting the tactics that you want to employ.

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The more traditional multiplayer modes give you thirteen maps that support 6v6 and 10v10 gameplay. While the main multiplayer modes will provide the classic Call of Duty gameplay that you're familiar with, the new engine does bring a few changes in to the game. First of all, the doors on the map can be opened and closed, and when you open them you can go in gently or kick the door open. Closing a door behind you can make it harder for someone to sneak up behind you when you're taking position in a building, and each time you encounter a closed door you'll be faced with the decision of how to open it and filled with apprehension as to what lies beyond it. The game's vaulting system makes it easy to ascend crates or leap out of a window - the movement is so smooth and natural that you won't even notice how well implemented it is. Then there's the new lighting system, which allows the game to be played on some maps in night mode. I was a little disappointed to find that I couldn't shoot out lights in this mode, but the other aspects make it a different experience than the daylight maps. You'll need to use your NVG to make your way around the maps and try to see other players, but there are some consequences to NVG combat, and they go beyond being blinded by bright flashes of light and explosions. If you bring your weapon up to sights, then your targeting laser will be enabled. This laser will basically become a beacon pointing out your location to any other player wearing NVG, so you'll need to develop a different set of tactics on the night maps. Personally, I found some fun and success using a rocket launcher.

I really like the game's new gunsmith feature. As you level-up a weapon, new attachments become available. These attachments help to customize your weapon to your playstyle, but with each advantage an attachment gives your weapon there is a disadvantage to contend with as well. For example, you may gain extended range but it will come at the cost of taking longer to aim your weapon down the sights. This plus/minus system will make you think about which attachments that you really want to use instead of just being a simple matter of always choosing the newest attachment that you've unlocked because it will always be an improvement.

Modern Warfare features an overall enjoyable campaign with a good variety of mission types, although I could have done without witnessing its handful of disturbing moments. The Spec Op mode is challenging and I like that it gives you so many tactical options, but at times it can feel a little too much like a horde mode. Multiplayer is as solid as ever, and the new tech enabled by the new game engine brings the graphics and sounds of the game to a whole new level. Gunfight and Ground War are great new additions to the mix, and now you can easily find a mode that fits both your playstyle and the amount of time that you have available to play. The game is a worthy successor to the much-loved original Modern Warfare trilogy, and I'm looking forward to see where this newest installment of the series will take us in the future.

Final Rating: 90% - A worthy successor to the storied Modern Warfare series.


Note: A review code for this game was provided by the publisher.

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