Almost entirely abandoning predatory business practices and unruly hero-shooter-esque abilities, Infinity Ward is finally back on their game in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. It’s been a while since a CoD game has been this good.

 

With Infinity Ward’s past two entries in the annual Call of Duty franchise, Ghosts and Infinite Warfare, falling way behind the franchise’s usual bar for quality, it’s exciting to see the studio back at full steam with their newest effort. Much like how the original 2006 Modern Warfare revitalised both its franchise and its genre, this 2019 sub-series reboot impresses in a similar way.

Unlike last year’s decent-but-lacking Black Ops 4, this year’s offering feels like the Call of Duty of old. It’s instantly familiar: the modern setting, the reintroduction of Spec Ops, a seven-hour campaign. Everything the franchise used to be is back! Battle Royale has been thrown away; Call of Duty: Mobile’s inclusion of last year’s Blackout will recoup that loss.

What we have here is a simple Call of Duty title, albeit with enough current-gen spit and polish sealing the edges and smoothing out the hinges. If you’ve played a CoD game from around 2006 to 2011, you’ll know exactly what to expect here. It feels like going home after summer vacation, only a mysterious gremlin has broken into your house and slightly rearranged your furniture. Oh, and they fixed that hideous paint-job!

Fortunately, praise the lord, Modern Warfare’s trifecta of modes offer an enjoyable albeit tonally disingenuous breadth of options for players to sink into. We’ll start with the campaign.

Modern Warfare Campaign:

 

It’s interesting to see a Call of Duty game with actual heart again. Grounded back in the modern world without the need of sci-fi gadgets and waves of nanobot massacres, Infinity Ward has carefully crafted a narrative that isn’t just explosions, dudebro “definitely platonic” relationships and horrendously evil caricature baddies. It definitely doesn’t completely shy away from any of this though.

Initially starting off as an impressive-looking (and great feeling!) fourth stab at preventing World War 3 alongside Captain Price, its actual narrative is much smaller in scope and also much more heartfelt. Instead of a globetrotting adventure to stop nukes or the like, Modern Warfare’s campaign mostly focuses on the liberation of the fictional country of Urkistan and resistance leaders Farah and Hadir.

There are other characters: most of the campaign will have you switching between playable protagonists Kyle Garrick and CIA operative Alex. Each character, outside of the familiar Captain Price, do experience actual growth within their short stories. It’s refreshing: while Modern Warfare still doesn’t know exactly where to draw the line between depicting war and its effects as a horrific reality and when it can express the series’ adoration for badassery.

It leads to a muddling message: one moment you’re playing as a child witnessing a foreign attack on their village, the next you’re sniping enemies at a real-life locale who’s history has been purposefully remodelled for its own narrative purposes. Are we supposed to care about war tragedies or just retrofit them for our own merit? Infinity Ward isn’t quite sure.

Outside of its confusing and insulting political meandering, Infinity Ward has crafted a damn fine shooting experience. There’s variety here: emotional stealth sections, long-form tactical night-time takedowns and the traditional set-piece action levels all mould together for a campaign that never feels dull. It’s feature complete and paced remarkably well. For the first time since Black Ops, I’ve cared about a CoD narrative and its characters.

Multilayer:

Ever since 2007’s Call of Duty 4, the series has become increasingly focused on providing players with an enjoyable multiplayer mode that can offer customers at least one year of twenty-minute dopamine rushes.

This year’s offering is strong, but not perfect. Split across numerous modes, Modern Warfare technically includes 18 maps for players to run around in. With most of these maps being split towards modes that are better constructed for their individual mechanics designs, players who stick exclusively to TDM or free-for-all will not see every map available within the game.

That’s not to say all of these maps are flawlessly designed. While many of the newly designed maps thankfully shy away from the regurgitated three-lane design, the ones that do adhear to CoD’s traditional way of designing battlefields are woefully unpolished. Euphrates Bridge, in particular, fails to incorporate its simplistic three-lane structure into a thoughtfully polished combat arena. With two three-lane sides centring on a bridge, every game sees one team taking the landmark and simply sniping the enemy team as they spawn.

With this title finally giving in to the wonders of cross-play functionality, those who enjoy more team-based tactical modes will hopefully not be left behind with empty lobbies. It’s a solidly done example of cross-play done right: with dedicated servers funnelling games through Activision’s service, players enjoying cross-play functionality can expect flawless games that connect quickly and very rarely fail to finish.

By far the best feature of this year’s Call of Duty is its ability to let players enjoy the game they’ve purchased. Gun unlocks, attachments, weapon skins and player appearances aren’t hidden behind predatory loot boxes or additional microtransactions. While a post-launch battle pass has been announced, CoD’s current reversion back to being a proper video game is refreshing. With players able to quickly redesign their loadouts mid-game to try out fresh unlocks, Modern Warfare has finally gotten gun unlocks right. It just took them a decade after they already did it.

Spec Ops:

Taking place after the campaign, Modern Warfare’s Spec Ops mode is disappointingly its most unfinished. Offering four long-form PvE four-player co-op missions, Spec Ops at first appears to be a great addition to the game.

However, it doesn’t take long for the additional component to fall apart completely and devolve into a bug-ridden mess. Well, that’s if you can even get into the mode in the first place as many users are currently suffering from constant crashes.

In our experience, Spec Ops fails to provide a solid experience only due to its menagerie of technical shortcomings. In just one match during our first attempt at the mode’s first level saw us spawn without the ability to fire our gun, being unable to switch weapons, unable to interact with items and unable to use the variety of gadgets that the mode offers.

It’s a shame: while most of the missions within this mode are far from the best CoD has to offer, they are fun when they aren’t forced into a broken unplayable mess. With this game’s flawless shooting mechanics and intense firefights combining with some truly difficult missions, Spec Ops should be a fantastic addition. Instead, it’s a great blueprint.

Conclusion:

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare attempts to provide everything a CoD fan could want, albeit to mixed results. Its campaign is easily the best seven-hour experience the series has ever crafted, even if it’s political meddling of true events is particularly insulting. Combined with a solid multiplayer mode that has a mostly polished set of maps and a gun unlock system free from disgusting loot boxes or microtransactions and it should be an amazing title. Unfortunately, Spec Ops is broken and lets the game down.

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