The Call of Duty series has seen several changes and refinements throughout its annual releases. Individually, however, they haven’t boasted as broad a range of changes over previous iterations as the new Modern Warfare since the original release over a decade ago. It helps that this latest installment in the popular first-person shooter series is running on a brand new engine, which results in a much needed fresh look for it. With Infinity Ward back in charge of development, Modern Warfare looks to return to its roots and win back fans of the original, while laying the groundwork for the next generation of Call of Duty games.
Modern Warfare is divided into three chunks of content, namely the campaign, the multiplayer, and the Spec Ops coop component. The game’s campaign is largely a linear romp through a series of action-packed set-pieces, with some combat encounters being more grandiose and open-ended than others. Some of the campaign missions are among the most memorable the series has seen – the Clean House mission comes to mind – while others can vary from decent to forgettable.
The overarching plot is in line with previous entries. It’s a modern-day anti-terrorist struggle drenched in realism, spanning across several countries including a fictional Middle Eastern country called Urzikstan. You’re given the assignment of putting an end to a dangerous terrorist, nicknamed The Wolf, who has the firm intention of spreading terror across the globe. The characterization and writing are what truly set Modern Warfare’s campaign apart from prior entries. While there’s nothing here as blatant as the ‘No Russian’ sequence from Modern Warfare 2, there are instances where you’re pushed into feeling the weight of your – often unavoidable – actions. It’s a military shooter at the end of the day, but one that sends a clear message regarding the causality of war.
No Modern Warfare game is complete without Captain Price, a fan favorite military comrade and an iconic figure from the original series. You mainly assume the role of a rogue American soldier named Alex as well as Sgt. Kyle Garrick, who is of UK origin. Captain Price often accompanies you through your missions, and hearing his banter with his squad mates is among the campaign’s highlights. Another memorable character is Farah, the leader of a rebel militia who’s been a part of the conflict from an early age. She’ll also fight alongside you in several missions, and it’s here that you’ll get to know of her hardships and struggles.
The campaign does run a little short and can be finished within a span of five to six hours. Fortunately, the game’s cooperative mode, Spec Ops, does a good job of complementing the campaign. The Operations mode starts after the events of the campaign. You’re tasked with four special operations to lead up to four players online in a fight against AI enemies. In the pre-match lobby, each player gets to pick one of several specialist character classes, which gives them access to class-specific weapons, armor, ammunition, and tactical support. Completing objectives ramps up the difficulty, and it becomes increasingly important for all four players to stick together and support each other by utilizing their class-specific perks and abilities. A strategy is key here, as enemies are otherwise likely to trigger an alarm that spawns waves of reinforcements that end up making the mission next to impossible. Luckily, being shot down doesn’t mean game over as long as one of your teammates is still active and able to revive you before you bleed out. Failing to get revived will result in a cooldown period after which you’re able to respawn and join your comrades.
The Missions mode is more akin to the Spec Ops modes featured in the earlier games, where you’ll be completing mission objectives and be tested based on your proficiency with specific weapons, killstreaks, and other tools while dealing with non-stop waves of enemies. It’s designed to be re-playable, as your performance is rewarded with a ranking. However, neither of the Operations and Missions are particularly entertaining past the first playthrough. The Survival mode, on the other hand, is the mode you’re likely to return to frequently, as it’s the simplest and most engaging component of Spec Ops. Much like the Zombies mode features in Black Ops games, it pits you and your teammates against finite waves of enemies of increasing difficulty.
By far, the most crucial part of any Call of Duty game is its competitive multiplayer mode. Modern Warfare’s multiplayer component is a hit or miss depending on where you stand concerning some of its design choices. Most of the regular-sized maps actively encourage camping by design – Euphrates Bridge is by far the worst offender – and run-and-gun purists will therefore initially struggle to perform well. Killstreaks make a return in Modern Warfare, and they tend to be more rewarding for those who play it safe. The inclusion of a door breach system leaves you in momentary vulnerability that an opposing player on the other side can quickly take advantage of. While closed doors can also be opened more stealthily, it often doesn’t pay off in such a fast-paced environment in smaller sized maps. However, greater map awareness, penetrable weapon fire, and some of the unlockable perks do make it easier to counter campers. It doesn’t help, though, that the time-to-kill is the lowest seen in a Modern Warfare game. A stationary player is usually at an advantage when engaging a moving player, as it only takes a couple of hits to down an enemy.
Modern Warfare aims towards a more realistic experience, and therefore it’s easy to see where the aforementioned design choices are coming from. It rewards measured and deliberate play styles as opposed to more reckless ones. There’s even a ‘Realism’ mode that, as the name implies, goes the extra mile and disables most UI elements.
The game’s greatest strength comes in the form of its core mechanics. The movement and aiming are the best in its class. Weapons feel unique and great to handle, animate realistically, and carry the kind of audiovisual impact you’d expect from them. They can also be mounted onto walls to peek or lean around them. Doing so gives you greater control over your weapon. It’s a fantastic addition to the Call of Duty formula that’s likely to stick around in future entries. You’re able to unlock and apply mods to individual components of your weapons and alter their stats, giving further individuality to your loadouts. Another new addition comes in the form of Field Upgrades, which are essential abilities or support gear that you can activate during combat. The charge time for each of them depends on their utility in battle.
Another area where Modern Warfare’s multiplayer excels is in the diversity of its match types. The conventional match types are all covered, but there are also new additions, such as the NVG mode. Playing in night vision significantly alters the multiplayer dynamics. It’s difficult to spot enemies at a distance, and aiming down the sight gives away your location, as enemies can spot your laser sight. To complete with large-scale multiplayer shooters like Battlefield, Modern Warfare also features a 64 player Ground War mode, complete with vehicular combat. At present, there are only two maps available for Ground War, with one echoing similarities with Battlefield 4’s Siege of Shanghai. Vehicles are currently limited to buggies, tanks, and helicopters, so it’s not quite there yet in terms of variety when up against Battlefield’s Conquest mode. While the mode is currently pretty basic, it successfully manages to integrate the fast-paced twitch shooter experience of Call of Duty into a Battlefield-like large-scale environment, leaving plenty of opportunities for future DLC.
If large-scale war isn’t for you, Modern Warfare has you covered with its 2 vs 2 Gunfight mode. Both teams take on each other in a series of no-respawn rounds to determine the winner, with the weapon loadouts for each round being determined by the game. Another version of the mode has you starting with no weapon and having to rush towards preset weapon spawn locations. The latter variation is ideal for more competitive-oriented players. Regardless of the variation, Gunfight is by far the most nerve-racking multiplayer mode in Modern Warfare. It comes with its own smaller sized maps that emphasized mid-range to close-quarters combat play their part in building tension.
Crossplay is supported across the PS4, Xbox One, and PC player base in both the cooperative and competitive modes. To balance things out between PC and console players, keyboard and mouse support is natively supported on the latter. Crossplay matchmaking is said to be based on the input device being used, however, mouse/keyboard players are readily being pooled in with controller players as of writing. It’s likely a bug, but a rather game-breaking one that goes against the studio’s notion of maintaining a balance between PC and consoles, especially given that the feature currently can’t be disabled when playing Ground War.
It isn’t a perfect game by any means, but it’s a solid foundation for something special and has the potential to get there in the months to come with competent post-release multiplayer support. Given that there’s something here for everyone and that all downloadable content is said to be free, Modern Warfare is easy to recommend to FPS fans across the board.