Ladies and gentlemen, it’s that time again. The holiday season is approaching, and you know what that means. Obligatory annual releases.
You know the usual suspects, your Maddens, your FIFAs, usually an Assassin’s Creed, and of course, you can’t ring in the new year without another Call of Duty title to add to the ever-growing pile.
Now, cynicism aside, I’m a fan of the Call of Duty series, or at least I was in my youth, and I still hold games like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Call of Duty: World at War in high regard.
However, I feel like the last decade or more for the series has been spent chasing those highs, and consistently falling short of the mark to varying degrees. The closest attempts were the Black Ops series and the Modern Warfare reboot, and the lowest of the low being Advanced warfare. I mean, what even was that?
For Call of Duty fans, it has been quite a rollercoaster, but every year I hope for the best and pray that Activision and its subsidiaries can put their laundry list of lawsuits to one side and produce something special like they have done in the past.
Considering they couldn’t shift Bobby Kotick as CEO, that could be a tough ask, but we live in hope. Well, their latest attempt comes in the form of Modern Warfare 2, a follow-on from the Modern Warfare reboot of 2019.
This game aims to offer a classic campaign filled with high-octane gunplay, intense stealth and espionage, and plenty of fanfare that will cater to older fans of the MW series. All the while offering the same tight and addictive multiplayer setup that the series has built its success upon.
However, the question remains if this game is just another COD to throw on the pile, or if this title can shine brighter than what has come before and show fans that COD still has a lot of new ideas, and will remain the FPS champ for years to come.
For the answers, join me as we jump into this Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 review. Enjoy!
Let’s kick things off with the overall presentation of MW2. I had wondered how Infinity Ward would handle the step up in hardware, and if they could use these new resources to push the series forward visually, and to their credit, they have done it with aplomb.
MW2 is staggeringly beautiful, and thanks to this, the player immediately feels like they are part of the action; from the densely populated streets of Mexico, to the beautifully crafted Red Light District of Amsterdam, the game does a great job of placing players in a true to life recreation of different global settings.
I myself have walked that same street in Amsterdam, and while it’s not 100% accurate, the level of detail and fidelity captures the chill, laid-back vibe of the city, from the ‘coffeeshops’ to the serene canals decorated with bikes on every railing.
Modern Warfare 2 does a great job of settling that craving for militant wanderlust, but it also has to be praised for its cinematic presentation within the campaign. Unlike previous entries in the series, the game doesn’t have hard load screens or sharp cutaways between missions.
Instead, the action flows from event to event through special ops B-roll, and clever camera work, which pops in and out of the perspectives of playable characters. It makes for a much more immersive and cohesive experience that flows from one mission to the next.
All Filler, No Killer
I would love to say that the campaign’s storyline matched the level of graphical splendor for quality, but that is far from the case.
I asked myself a few times throughout the campaign’s run, how can a game filled with non-stop-action, guns aplenty, global espionage, a collection of beloved characters, and intense stealth seem to plod along at a snail’s pace with no real stakes, and no real twists or turns that you can’t see a mile away.
Well, if you want my take, it’s because the campaign leans far too heavily on the series’ past glory. It has very few new ideas, and the ones they have are poorly conceived.
In terms of the borrowed ideas, the game’s missions feel like 2nd rate recreations of more successful outings, like the developers looked at their portfolio and went, ‘hey, this worked before, let’s just do it again.’
Which led to missions like Close Air, Recon of Fire, Violence and Timing, and a few others that feel like they have been lifted from COD4, and then tweaked ever slightly to fit into the context of this new campaign.
In theory, this would maybe work if the missions were well crafted, but often they feel like the player is being funneled through repetitive areas, or let loose in an open area that is way too big, leading to lots of dull, lifeless moments.
The saving grace could have been the select few missions that are unmistakably new and fresh. However, the problem is that these big swings are, at best foul balls, and, at worst, big misses. The best example is perhaps one of the opening missions ‘Wetwork’.
This mission has you swim around the Amsterdam docks, using the water as cover as you pick off enemies in boats and on land.
This, in theory, is a good concept, but due to fidgety takedown mechanics, and a shortage of throwing knives, it inevitably ends up with the player jumping up topside, stealing a weapon, and unleashing hell, killing the need for stealth entirely.
Then to add more fuel to the fire, the checkpoint system is seriously flawed, and this is much more apparent as you up the difficulty. These checkpoints will often lock you into scenarios where you have no chance of recovering, leading to a need to give up on stealth through no fault of your own, or worse, instant death.
A quick save feature would have easily solved this issue, but instead, you’ll have to exercise military precision or leave your progression up to the RNG gods.
The Illusion of Choice
I have seen a lot of publications heaping praise on this title for its open-ended level design, and the ability to make choices throughout encounters. This was something that had me questioning whether we played the same game.
At face value, yes, you can approach situations in different ways, such as your choice of vehicle, going in quiet, or all guns blazing. However, to say that this level design is as nuanced and open-ended as a truly emergent game like, say, Dishonored would be a travesty.
The game, in certain levels, gives the player some options, like through the out-of-place dialogue trees, through the use of stealth, and occasionally through the use of alternate paths.
All this is a small step in the right direction, but let’s call a spade a spade here; it’s basic. You are still in a funnel being shuffled through a generic level, and the choices all lead to the same conclusion. It’s not clever, it’s not groundbreaking, and it’s not worthy of praise.
This theme of including unrefined afterthoughts as a novelty persists throughout the campaign, with all enemies having armor plating, like in Warzone and the crafting sections, being prime examples.
Jumping The Shark
Then on the subject of the story itself, it just isn’t cohesive, it lacks believability, and plot holes are abundant throughout. These plot holes and the poor writing are probably due to the need to pivot to a new villain after concluding the story set in motion in Modern Warfare 2019 in limited Warzone events.
However, even with this need to adapt, there was no need to go and jump the shark. I thought Advanced Warfare was evidence enough for that.
It’s apparent that realism isn’t the aim of the day during the whole campaign, but in really over-the-top missions like Violence and Timing, you half expect your car to take off and start rattling off twin Gatling guns, while Vin Diesel sits beside you and explains how through the power of family this is all possible.
The original MW titles were genuine, true-to-life special ops campaigns that were emotion-evoking and had roots in reality. MW2 shamelessly fails to match that nuance.
This might sound like hyperbole, but I can’t name one mission or moment within the campaign that made me think, ah, that was genuinely great.
It feels like regurgitated, generic, repetitive content, and while it’s nice to take in the picturesque surroundings, and see the old band back together, it doesn’t come close to justifying the run-of-the-mill action.
So You Like Call of Duty, Huh?
I feel like Infinity Ward had a chat with Xzibit of Pimp My Ride fame before they started development on this one, because when it comes to fanfare, they lay it on thick. Also, if that 2000’s reference shows my age, then I apologize.
This iteration of COD really leans on past success, and that is true when it comes to the writing.
The game will have you play as a series of characters such as Soap, Gaz, Sgt Graves, and Rodolfo Parra, among others, while also consistently bringing others into the fold, like Ghost, Captain Price, Sheppard, Laswell, Farah, Nikolai.
You get the picture; the game wants you to engage that nostalgia muscle and love this game by proxy. However, this feels more like a cheap trick than smart, subtle fan service. Plus, due to this constant chopping and changing, you never really connect with your player character.
Which was what made characters like Roach or Paul Jackson so special by contrast. You can even see that the developers are aware of this problem by wedging in dialogue trees into missions via radio comms, but this, again, is a swing and a miss.
If It Ain’t Broke…
Before I jump into the multiplayer experience in particular, I thought I would give my views on the gameplay in general, and that view is a resounding ‘meh.’
The FPs genre is a hard one to break into, and it takes some outlandish mechanics or formats to rise above all the usual guff, with examples like Overwatch, DOOM, or SUPERHOT being prime examples of how to break the mold.
By contrast, MW2 is an example of how to conform to the mold rigidly, as the gameplay, while being mechanically tight and intuitive, remains largely the same as it has been for the last decade.
The phrase ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ seems to be the COD motto, and while it makes sense to stick to the formula and not take risks from a business perspective, it only sees the fans suffer.
There are moments where you see the devs trying in vain to inject some new mechanics into the game, but they feel like very strange, tone-deaf ideas.
The best example is probably the crafting system which sees players have to scour areas to find parts to create mines, knives, and other killing apparatus. In most genres, this would be a fine addition, but in an FPS, that’s a hard sell, and you’ll never sell it if you wedge it in as haphazardly as on this occasion.
The only new, or at least improved, feature that isn’t multiplayer affiliated that I can throw any praise at is the Spec-ops Co-op mode.
This allows players to work together to earn star ratings on certain missions, and while it’s still not as enjoyable as the version within the original MW2 title, it is much improved when compared to Modern Warfare 2019’s attempts.
I think COD suffers from bloating at times, and this is why the single-player aspects just don’t work. There are far too many moving parts within the multiplayer setting that the game tries to implement, and sadly due to the lack of time invested on this side of the game, it falls short of the mark at every turn.
Unpolished, Unfinished, Underwhelming
Now we move to the multiplayer aspect of this game, and immediately you can see that this is where all the resources were poured into.
COD MW2 continues the theme seen in the last two major outings, as the gameplay overall has a much more tactical and slow-paced feel to it, mirroring the larger scale, more methodical gameplay of competitors like Battlefield.
Players can take part in large-scale Ground Wars of 32v32 players, or on the flip side, players can jump into 3v3 player raids for an uber-tactical affair. It’s a decision that will please some and aggravate others. I personally always preferred the more fast-paced, arcade-style matches that older COD games offered.
However, while they aren’t catering to me personally anymore, I can see the appeal of these more tactical, balanced affairs.
The standouts of all these slower, tactical modes are Knock Out and Prisoner Rescue, which take the permadeath high-stakes of Search and Destroy and add more flavor.
However, if you are just looking for mindless fun, you still have free-for-alls, team deathmatches, and a ton of other simpler games to play around with. In short, there is something for everyone. Although, it’s a shame that we have lost more silly games like Prop Hunt or Gun Game.
As for the maps, I could be a little snippy with the larger maps and say that they are just repurposed Warzone assets, but in truth, they serve their purpose, and that’s all they have to do, so I’m fine with it. It’s the smaller maps that really matter anyway.
There are a few decent maps, and a few lackluster maps on the roster of ten at launch, but as a whole, it’s a fine batch of options, and while there aren’t any marquee options akin to Highrise, Shipment, Rust, or others of this ilk, you’ll find a map that works to your particular skill set.
In short, not instantly forgettable, but no hall-of-famers are to be found here.
The praise ends there, though, I’m afraid, because even with this tried and tested formula, there are issues.
The Split-screen mode at the time of writing is unplayable, there are quite a few bugs that persist within the multiplayer mode, leading to balance issues and making Ranked matches a bit of a gamble, and the new Gunsmith feature that allows for more weapon variability is also bugged.
Oh, but wait, there’s more. The game’s matchmaking is unbelievably harsh, moving you into much more difficult lobbies off the back of one strong performance.
There are frame rates issues that occurred in just about every single match that I took part in; a lot of weapons are unbalanced, rendering entire weapon classes just plain useless, and the AI elements of the multiplayer might as well not exist because it offers zero challenge to the player.
Just when you think that they can’t go wrong with this glorified copy-and-paste job, they inexplicably find a way.
If you found a way to enjoy this COD greatest hits rendition and you want something that offers similar gunplay, campaigns, or multiplayer features, then you might want to check out these close alternatives:
- Battlefield 2042
- Spec Ops: The Line
- Medal of Honor
- Halo Infinite
- Apex Legends
Answer: This will depend a lot on your familiarity with the series, the difficulty setting that you choose, and your luck when it comes to temperamental checkpoints.
However, in general, players should expect to wrap up this campaign in around 10-15 hours, with veteran Call of Duty players probably looking at something more like 8-12 hours.
Answer: Yes, in the original MW titles, this character was played by Billy Murray, and in the newer MW titles, Captain Price is voice acted by Barry Sloane. It is also said that Sloane wanted to put his own spin on the character and play him Scouse, but this was vetoed in favor of preserving the legacy of this character.
Answer: Seeing as the campaign of MW2 feels like one big advert for Warzone 2, it’s only appropriate we tell you when it’s coming. Warzone 2 is set to launch on the 16th of November, 2022.
Overall, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare feels more like a vanity project that an attempt to make a poignant FPS shooter within the series. While I cannot fault the visuals or the presentation throughout the campaign, I can’t really heap praise on this game in any other department.
The campaign is poorly paced, missions overstay their welcome, the player never feels emotionally invested in any of the characters, and if you aren’t aware of the returning cast, the game isn’t about to fill you in.
The story is a typical generic modern warfare scenario stretched out across 10-15 hours, which essentially boils down to catching the baddie.
Plus, each mission feels like a poorly reimagined version of an old favorite. Recon by Fire is a bad version of All Ghillied Up; violence and Timing is a shoddy recreation of Charlie Don’t Surf. Close Air is just Death From Above. The list goes on.
The fanfare is nauseatingly heaped on with a trowel, alienating any new fans to the series, and I would love to say that their main asset, the multiplayer makes up for all of the shortcomings of the campaign, but in truth, it’s exactly what you would expect with very few additions and refinements from the last COD outing.
Plus, even with that in mind, it feels unfinished. It’s not a bad game by any means, and if you religiously buy COD every year for that routine fix of shooty, shooty, fun time, then this will be fine.
However, from a holistic perspective of the avid gamer and FPS fan, this is another unremarkable game in the series, and one of the most desperate attempts to capture lighting in a bottle again, as they did over a decade ago. We get it; your old ideas were great, revolutionary even, but how about some new ones? Maybe next year.