What is old is new as Activision and Infinity Ward is going back to one of the most beloved titles in the Call of Duty franchise and giving it a reboot. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is a gritty new take on special operations in a world caught up in terrorism and proxy wars. Players will traverse morally vague areas through the single player campaign before continuing the story in the cooperative Special Operations mode. The multiplayer component of the game is also getting an overhaul with the new 64 player Ground War mode and a revamped perk system.
It has been 12 years since the release of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Back then, the United States was two years deep into the War on Terror in Afghanistan and the Iraq War was in its early days. Since then, the world has changed a lot. Terrorism in Europe and North America is a more common occurrence. Proxy wars are back on the menu as superpowers jostle for control. The writers have opted to completely revamp the Modern Warfare lore to reflect our modern-day world while slotting in familiar faces into new roles.
The writers promised a grittier, more mature story compared to previous titles in the series. While the story will not join the ranks of works that will be debated academically for years to come, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare still manages to add a some plot points that will encourage gamers to think about war and their actions, such as civilian casualties and the line between freedom fighter and terrorist. On the other hand, the game still has plenty of shallow action-movie moments. Creating the more mature and thoughtful approach to conflict was a good start, but I would have liked to see the writers go all the way with the approach.
It’s worth noting the inherent contradiction in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. On one hand, the writers deliver a hard-hitting message about the horrors of chemical weapons in their single player campaign. On the other hand, white phosphorus is treated casually as a kill streak reward. Incendiary devices are banned under international law when civilians could be hit. Some military organizations like the US Army Command and General Staff School explicitly ban the use on humans, military and civilian. Sure, the use of white phosphorous is just another entry in the long list of immoral and unethical behaviour in the Call of Duty franchise lore. Yes, the developers are absolutely correct when they argue multiplayer isn’t realistic so the use of white phosphorous shouldn’t be taken seriously. The real problem is the consistency in the message. The writers want the player to be horrified at the use of chemical weapons in single player and then expect players to promptly ignore that message when another chemical weapon is flung around as a kill streak reward for ten kills. Infinity Ward can’t have it both ways. The developers are much better off committing to one message or the other.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare goes back to the traditional layout of a single player campaign, multiplayer, and some sort of cooperative mode. The return of the single player campaign is a nice feeling after Black Ops 4 unceremoniously dropped the mode last year. Modern Warfare’s campaign goes back to basics with a straightforward campaign without many of the frills the series has experimented with over the years. It is not a long campaign, but the developers maintain a good pace that keeps the action going. The campaign is mostly the intense infantry combat the franchise is known for, but the action is occasionally broken up with some decent stealth and vehicle sections. My only complaint is the length of the campaign. It’s short enough to tackle in one marathon session. This is not a game for players who only plan on enjoying the solo content.
The cooperative Special Ops mode serves as an extension to the singleplayer campaign. Groups of up to four players tackle the multimap missions together. Special Ops is incredibly punishing. Stealth is an option, but usually players will have to get into an all-out assault at some point. The enemy spawn rates are intense once bullets start flying in both directions. Groups need to be very coordinated in their actions to succeed. I personally had a hard time finding public groups in matchmaking that could complete missions based on the difficulty. It’s an incredibly challenging experience, but success tastes so sweet.
I like that Spec Ops and multiplayer progression is tied together with some minor modifications specific to their mode. It makes switching between the two very easy as players are never losing any progression by choosing one activity or the other. Weapon loadouts and perks remain the same between modes which is a bit restrictive with the six base loadout slots. The loadouts used in multiplayer are not always the loadout players will want to take into Spec Ops. While certain Spec Ops maps offer free suppressors during the prep phase, players will often use the weapons lockers to tweak their loadouts if they spent any time in multiplayer before jumping to Spec Ops. I believe separate loadout slots would have been a more efficient alternative.
Multiplayer offers all the traditional modes we’ve come to love in a Call of Duty title. The fact these modes have barely changed over the years is a testament to their solid design. This year, the Ground War title has been moved to a new combined arms mode for 64 players. It doesn’t seek to replicate the full-blown combined arms experience found in Battlefield or ArmA titles. Instead, Infinity Ward tries to focus more on the infantry combat experience that Call of Duty is known for by augmenting it with lighter vehicles like scout helicopters and APCs. Ground War strikes the right balance by making vehicles deadly enough to be a priority without being so overpowered they dominate. The map design helps a lot in this regard as the large maps have plenty of tight turns and indoor areas that allow infantry to get the upper hand on the vehicles.
The biggest issue with the introduction of vehicles and large maps is the number of snipers who take helicopters on one-way trips to the highest points of the map. These snipers are often a pain to dislodge due to their high angle and the fact they often end up hogging helicopters. Sorting out the issues is likely best done through map design by having more covered routes to attack these high sniper nests.
The multiplayer map design is good but falls short of greatness. Infinity Ward is almost completely dedicated to the three-lane map design for traditional multiplayer. The real difference between maps lays in the side routes available and the actual size of the maps. While the three-lane design works well for balance, the maps also become rather predictable. The maps are generally larger in size in Modern Warfare, focusing more on long engagement ranges. There are a few maps designed for closer engagement distances, but most favour rifle ranges. It’s a shame because the smaller, more intense maps often become the iconic ones in the Call of Duty franchise.
This year’s perk system feels great. Each loadout equips three perks, plus the player’s field upgrades and weapon perks. The field upgrades are active abilities that can be triggered on a cooldown. These abilities aren’t enough to turn the tide of an entire battle in the player’s favour, but they are usually enough to give them a slight edge. The field upgrades are a mix of old Call of Duty standards like trophy systems and new abilities like weapon drops.
Gunplay hasn’t changed much in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. It is still the arcade-action FPS we’ve all come to know and love. I like the ability to change loadouts within the game. While field upgrades can only be changed in the lobby, being able to tweak loadouts on the fly cuts down the need to back out of games to change loadouts and allows players to deal with niche builds that may be causing headaches. It’s one of those subtle quality of life changes that I hope never goes away. Balancing is always a work in progress for a competitive FPS, but Modern Warfare came out of the gate at a playable state. Since launch, Infinity Ward has been firing off a series of balancing patches to smooth things out.
The PC port is one of the better ports in the series. Infinity Ward offers a solid set of graphical and control options that PC gamers expect from their games. Past titles have always felt a little clumsy with the default mouse and keyboard controls due to the killstreak bindings, but the default layout feels like one of the best so far. The menus are laid out well and works perfectly with the mouse. My only complaint is accessing armory blueprints in the loadout menu isn’t explicitly clear. A slight change to the UI to indicate which button to press to access the armory would be appreciated.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare looks excellent. The artists have done an great job recreating different hot spots around the world for their maps. The character design is spot on, closely replicating the equipment of special operations and their local counterparts while still offering some individual flair.
The audio experience is generally good, though some work needs to be done for multiplayer balancing. The voice acting is excellent as expected from a major Call of Duty release. Most of the actors are fresh faces to the franchise, but Infinity Ward has found actors with plenty of experience in film and television. The soundtrack is excellent. The music does not stray too far from the traditional video game music style but does a great job of matching the moody and intense atmosphere of the game. The sound effects are terrific, with a good variety of explosions and gunfire that create a chaotic atmosphere.
The technical execution is where Call of Duty: Modern Warfare struggles. I applaud the developers for adding multiple audio mixes to suit a variety of playstyles and audio set ups. Competitive players with headphones will likely opt for the more compressed Boost mixes while PVE gamers looking for the full cinematic experience can use the dynamic home theatre mode. On the other hand, footsteps in multiplayer needs serious work. Tracking approaching enemies using headphones is a long time honoured tradition for the franchise. Currently, footsteps are incredibly loud, especially crouch walking. It’s extremely difficult to flank on quieter modes like Gun Fight when players can hear incoming enemies with such ease. Infinity Ward has already pushed out some patches to make footsteps quieter, but plenty of work still needs to be done to hit the right balance.
Rebooting one of the most beloved titles in the Call of Duty franchise is a big task. Modern Warfare has its flaws. The writers haven’t quite decided if they are going for a gritty, thought provoking title or a summer blockbuster-type thrill ride. The footstep volume still needs to be balanced, and the map design feels like they are churned out from the same blueprint these days. On the other hand, the single player campaign delivers a solid cinematic experience and the multiplayer is as fun as ever. Ground War and Special Ops is the sort of modernization that the franchise needs so dearly to stay fresh and relevant. While the reboot hasn’t quite surpassed the original, the new Modern Warfare meets the challenge of filling those big shoes with gusto.
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