Last year Call of Duty made a triumphant return through Treyarch’s Black Ops 4 after a string of mediocre releases beforehand. Comprised entirely of multiplayer modes, Black Ops 4 was split up between a traditional multiplayer deathmatch, a cooperative zombies slaughter fest, and lastly an excellent 100-player Battle Royale called Blackout. Missing from Black Ops 4 though, was the staple single-player campaign we’ve come to expect. And although its absence was greatly missed, the overall packaged experience was still one of the best Call of Duty titles in a very long time.
For this year’s annual release, however, the developers at Infinity Ward are not only bringing back a campaign, they’re doing it by reimagining what is generally considered the greatest in the series – Modern Warfare (or, Call of Duty 4). With a stacked to the brim line-up of content consisting of single-player, co-op and multiplayer, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare backs up what Black Ops 4 did 12 months ago.
There’s always been an over-the-top ‘style’ to Call of Duty’s campaign -- almost as if the developers were asking the question: “what would Michael Bay do?”, then going ahead trying to top that. For Modern Warfare though, it feels a bit more grounded in reality, seemingly having drawn inspiration from films like Sicario, The Hurt Locker, American Sniper, and Zero Dark Thirty.
"Like previous entries you’ll play a selection of different characters as the narrative unfolds..."
The story takes place in present day where a terrorist organisation has stolen a cache of chemical weapons. They unleash a deadly attack in London and this sets off a series of missions where you’ll attempt to find out who is behind the violent strike and bring those perpetrators to justice. Like previous entries you’ll play a selection of different characters as the narrative unfolds, and along the way, be guided by the familiar Captain John Price -- a fan favourite from the Call of Duty franchise.
The opening mission thrusts you into a CIA operation where you loudly infiltrate an armed base housing a chemical gas. Infinity Ward’s new game engine immediately pops as your character rappels from a helicopter. Landing in a thick, highly detailed forest, moonlight beams through trees and shrub, while bouncing off the ground in a dance of light and haze. And as you’re presented with a first look and feel at that smooth 60fps gameplay Call of Duty series is known for on consoles, the game immediately feels fresh and familiar, all at once.
From here you begin to be whisked off to various locations as you progress through the story. These early missions are fantastic and not only set the tone for what is to come, but also how different the pace will be. For instance, when chaos erupts in Piccadilly, London, the environment is structured more like a small hub where you can engage insurgents in pocket firefights throughout the road junction. As civilians are frantically trying to escape, each corner has its own little thing going on and can take you multiple playthroughs to see all the set pieces playing out across this one area.
Later on you and your SAS anti-terror squad end up clearing out a multi-level house in a residential district of London. It’s a slower encounter where you equip your night vision goggles and clear each room -- one at a time -- while avoiding civilian casualties. You can partially open closed doors and peak inside before making entry, and this gives the mission a more tactical feel to it. I ended up replaying this scenario a few times just because of how awesome it felt trying to get through the entirety of the level without making any mistakes. It really reminded me of those classic moments you would have in Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six or SWAT 3 from the late 90s.
"Most noticeably is the move to back to a kill streak reward system. And in doing so I also feel this is a step back in progress..."
There are definitely still some ridiculously outlandish moments in Modern Warfare, like flying RC planes strapped with explosives into fortified insurgent structures. But those moments are mostly sprinkled in between what is generally a grounded story.
Over in Modern Warfare’s multiplayer Infinity Ward has some big changes for this year. Most noticeably is the move to back to a kill streak reward system. And in doing so I also feel this is a step back in progress for the series. While a lot of the deathmatch playlists have usually been about playing selfishly, in that mindset being rewarding for kills worked fine. However, with the numerous team-based modes this change doesn’t encourage playing as a team, or even playing the objective for that matter. Despite this, there is a still a lot to like about the multiplayer in Modern Warfare and it’s absolutely fantastic to play.
Gunfight is one of the standout additions to Modern Warfare, which is a round-based two vs two close-quarters matchup. Each round all four players start off with the same weapon loadout as they attempt to eliminate their opponents. One of the other variants of Gunfight is OSP. With this mode the maps are mirrored but you start off without any weapons, instead you’ll need to find them spread throughout the environment. Both of these Gunfight modes are fast-paced and are an immense amount of fun.
Ground War is another one of the new modes being added into Modern Warfare that does something a bit different. This is a 64-player clash where opposing teams try to capture control points on a large scale map. It definitely seems like Infinity Ward is going after the Battlefield audience with this new addition, as land and air vehicles play a big role in maneuvering between and assaulting the objectives.
"Between Gunfight and Ground War these two are great additions in offering even more types of variety..."
There are three maps being released with Ground War at launch. Those being Palace, Quarry, and District –- with District being the largest of the three, and feeling closest to the Battlefield formula. Between Gunfight and Ground War these two are great additions in offering even more types of variety of modes for players to dive into.
Aside from the campaign and multiplayer, Modern Warfare’s third pillar is Co-op –- specifically called Special Ops. The main focus here is a selection of four-player multi-objective missions where your team will have to fight through a large number of enemies to complete your given tasks. The idea behind Special Ops is one that sounds entertaining, especially when getting a group of friends together to power through missions.
However, in its current form Special Ops is poorly executed and is just frustrating to play. The main cause of this is the way enemies are constantly thrown at your squad. They’ll spawn out of thin air, sometimes within meters of where you’re currently standing and in areas you’ve just cleared seconds ago. It feels extremely janky, and also disappointing considering how well all the other aspects of Modern Warfare have been handled.
Outside of gameplay, a key new change is the way in which Infinity Ward will be handling its season pass for this release – in that there isn’t one. Instead it is opting for a "Battle Pass" that only affects the game's cosmetics, allowing you to customise the look of your multiplayer characters, weapons and a lot more. This will stop the problems which occurred in the past where season passes end up segregating the community; often killing off entire playlists because some people didn’t purchase them. Alternatively, maps and other additional gameplay content will be free moving forward.
"And although Call of Duty: Modern Warfare doesn’t quite reach those same heights, it’s still a very enjoyable game..."
Another way that Infinity Ward hopes that some of the less popular playlists will be given rejuvenated life over time is by enabling cross-play between consoles and PC. This can be a toggled option on consoles though, so that those not wanting to go up against a mouse and keyboard setup aren’t forced to do so. Black Ops 4 had queue issues with modes like Blackout, especially in lower population regions such as Australia. So with cross-play enabled hopefully this alleviates some of those issues seen in the past.
Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 was excellent, and although Call of Duty: Modern Warfare doesn’t quite reach those same heights, it’s still a very enjoyable game. Its biggest downfall is the broken state of Special Ops in its current iteration, while the move back to kill streaks in multiplayer is a strange change of direction. The return of a campaign is welcomed for players like me who look forward to playing them every year. It’s brilliantly executed and is by far one of the best in a very long time. Overall Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is another terrific multiplayer experience with a fresh take on the campaign that is greatly satisfying.
Stay tuned for more coverage of the PC version of the game running on max settings as we give this new game-engine a serious runthrough.
What we liked
Excellent campaign which is more grounded than previous years.
New engine with updated graphics and sound - still 60 fps on consoles.
No more season pass.
Wide range of multiplayer modes to suit different styles of play
Large scale 64 player battles with Ground War
What we didn't like
Special Ops mode is frustrating with the enemy spawning system.
Moving from pointstreaks to killstreaks is a step backwards.