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Not So MMO: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Review: A Return to Form

By Christopher Coke on October 29, 2019 | Columns | Comments

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Review: A Return to Form

Few games over the last several years have arrived with as much anticipation as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. A re-invention. Bringing a franchise back to its roots. What Call of Duty should have been all along. The nail in Battlefield’s coffin. These are big claims, but with a new engine, complete campaign with fan-favorite characters, and re-imagined multiplayer, could the hype be real? Join us and find out.

This is our review of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.


The Call of Duty franchise has seen its share of ups and downs. Despite always being a gargantuan seller, longtime fans have been clamoring for years for a return to the fundamentals of what made Call of Duty great. Indeed, as Activision and its stable CoD studios tried new things, like taking the franchise into the future and back to World War 2, the refrain from veteran players was the same: we want more Modern Warfare. From another perspective, that could easily come off as fans getting older and looking back through rose-colored glasses at a franchise they once loved.

Modern Warfare (2019) is a test. Pop quiz, hotshot: are you tired of new Call of Duty, the one that puts booster jets on your back and gets rid of single-player campaigns, or are you tired or Call of Duty period? Or maybe, you’re not tired at all, in which case a new CoD is reason enough to be excited. It’s the former that seems to be the target audience for this game, though, and Activision isn’t about to quickscope it.

The Return of Captain Pri -- Campaign Mode

Modern Warfare is the first real reboot Call of Duty has seen. Taking players back to the franchise that propelled a phenomenon, you’ll see the familiar face of Captain Price, but this isn’t a retelling of the original story. Modern Warfare weaves its own yarn, complete with the intense, Jerry Bruckheimer movie moments you’ve come to expect.

It goes deeper than that, though. Over the campaign’s six hours, you’ll trod situations that are repeatedly morally gray and steeped in tension. We’re not at Spec Ops: The Line level here; if you’re coming to Call of Duty looking for introspection on the nature of war, you’ll get a taste but only that much. I didn’t expect what I was given, so was pleasantly surprised to find these touches of depth. At the same time, it leaves me to wonder what would happen if the writers were free to explore these themes.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: insurgents have evil plot to kill countless innocent civilians. In this case, chemical weapons play heavily, which makes it extra evil. So while you do have moments where you question your righteousness, yeah, you’re pretty unquestionably the good guys in this story.

What it lacks in originality of premise, Modern Warfare makes up in variety. I loved how missions would only feel familiar for so long before Infinity Ward would change pace and throw something new into the mix. Close-quarters, night-vision shoot-outs. Drone attacks. Infiltrations. Tense-as-hell escort missions. Modern Warfare isn’t so much an all-new vision for the series’ campaign legacy as it is a refinement and re-stirring of the essential ingredients with a few shots of new mixer for flavor. Put another way, it’s a lot of what I loved about Call of Duty but done anew and with a good amount of surprises and twists along the way. It’s pretty great.

It also helps that the game is gorgeous and plays better than ever before. Modern Warfare is built on a new engine - I know, something else we’ve heard before, but this time you really can tell the difference. The biggest improvement comes in the game’s lighting system but the texture work is absolutely outstanding too. I played the game on my PS4 Pro on my 4K screen and on my 3440x1440 ultrawide and it’s stunning on both. The PC version expectedly offers the best visuals, along with well-optimized performance, but both versions are a treat for the eyes and especially so if you have HDR.

Competitive Multiplayer: Jack of All Trades?

Multiplayer is again the real star of the show, offering the same leveling system that’s kept players so addicted in the past. Gone is the Pick 10 system and it’s various permutations over the years, replaced with something much more straightforward. You can choose a primary, secondary, lethal, and non-lethal grenade, as well as several perks. I love it; it does away with the needless complications the prior systems used and brings it back to basics. It works well.

The new system is Gunsmith and ties in with the game’s weapon leveling system. Like prior games, the more kills you rack up, the more XP you earn with your weapon and new attachments become available. This system is much deeper than prior games with dozens of attachments for every weapon. There’s also gun perks this time around too that will take the place of an attachment and further allow you to narrow in on exactly the kind of loadout you want to run. It’s entirely possible for two people to be running the same class loadout and play entirely differently thanks to Gunsmith.

The guns are also the best of any Call of Duty game ever. Infinity Ward has gone with a much more realistic approach than past games. Every gun has a unique and powerful feel to it. Guns thump and crack more than ever before and are frankly louder in the audio mix. Weapons have weights that feel finely tuned to match their size and caliber. They feel like death dealers and, I’ve got to say: morbid as it sounds, blasting a guy with a sniper rifle from across the map and seeing the blood spray on the wall is damned satisfying.

There’s a good selection of modes, including fan favorites like Team Deathmatch and Demolition. They’re joined by series newcomers Cyber Attack and Ground War. In Cyber Attack, players try to plant an EMP at the opposing team’s data center. You’re able to revive teammates and fight with the EMP, which makes the mode a bit more strategic.

The most exciting is Ground War which places the Battlefield franchise directly in its sights. Ground War places 64-players on a big map to capture and hold points, complete with drivable vehicles and squad spawns. Sadly, a Battlefield killer this is not. It’s a fun change of pace but it’s not quite there yet. The lower TTK leads to battles that are much more chaotic. Vehicles honestly just feel slow and unrefined. Worse, though, the community just isn’t primed to play well in squads. The Call of Duty franchise has been a lone-wolf affair for so long that the jump to pivotal team play has proved to be too much in literally every match I’ve played through matchmaking.

That said, the core modes are a blast. The maps are largely well-designed with multiple lanes of approach. There’s also an impressive amount of verticality. I will always be a Team Deathmatch die-hard and following the initial learning curve, which was longer because the maps are larger and more complex than past games, that depth leads to games that were less chaotic and more strategic. The downside to the larger, more complex design is that it leads to occasional bouts of running about looking for a fight in lower-count servers.

Conclusion

Small quibbles aside, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is the best Call of Duty game we’ve had in years. It’s far from a wholesale reinvention but the shift toward more realistic, strategic, and grounded play leads to an experience that feels fresh and familiar at the same time. If, like me, you’ve been off the Call of Duty bandwagon, you owe it to yourself to hop back on and give it a try.

Score: 8.5/10

Pros

  • Huge improvements to textures and lighting
  • New engine makes weapons feel better than ever before
  • Varied, exciting campaign
  • Gunsmith adds huge depth to weapon customization

Cons

  • Ground War is only so-so
  • Larger maps can lead to lulls in the action
Christopher Coke / Chris cut his teeth on MMOs in the late 90s with text-based MUDs. He’s written about video games for many different sites but has made MMORPG his home since 2013. Today, he acts as Hardware and Technology Editor, lead tech reviewer, and continues to love and write about games every chance he gets. Follow him on Twitter: @GameByNight