‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’ review in progress
Yes, the new Call of Duty is upon us, with this year’s iteration being the sequel to 2019’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. There’s a lot here, with Modern Warfare 2 being split into its campaign, the multiplayer and even the co-op Spec Ops mode so here’s our review in progress, where we’ll put our thoughts on the game as parts, under headings, so you can save time and just read the bits you’re keen on.
Call of Duty’s campaign released early, so to start with we’ll be covering our thoughts on this while we wait for the multiplayer and Spec Ops portions of the game to release. Later in the month, we’ll run a separate review on Warzone 2, too. With this much Call of Duty in the air, it’s just a couple of santa hat cosmetics away from being Christmas for shooter fans.
Modern Warfare 2 feels like a huge step up for Call of Duty campaigns. The campaign comprises of about six hours of hectic blasting, with several short missions that focus on a single set piece: you’ll infiltrate a dock in Amsterdam, shoot your way through a Mexican prison and rain down fire from above using an AC-130 gunship, but rarely are you ever in a mission for long enough to get bored of its core conceit.
Some of these land better than most: the mission ‘Alone’ has you playing a lone operative after a situation has gone sideways, which works better narratively than mechanically and never quite comes together. Meanwhile, one mission where you chase a target across the Mexican border and into smalltown America feels like a pulse-pounding scene straight out of Sicario, despite some icky politics. The big difference from previous Call of Duty games is that you’re now given a lot more control: a sniper mission recalls series classic All Ghillied Up, but actually works better as you’re given more freedom on how and when to shoot enemies, and able to move without triggering some invisible flag that will make your life that much harder.
If the campaign has one big selling point over previous years, it’s that now you’re making the big calls as the player, rather than merely doing what you’re told by a series of shouty NPCs. The NPCs still shout, but you’re allowed to use your own intelligence a little bit and the game is all the better for it.
Honestly, a lot of the campaign feels more like it’s training you to be good at the forthcoming Warzone sequel. Heavily armoured enemies can be “broken” with the same icon and sound as you see in Activision’s battle royale game, while later levels see you inserting armour plates and scavenging for supplies, core parts of the Warzone experience. This isn’t necessarily a negative, although the armoured enemies grate a little bit as you pump an entire magazine of low-caliber submachine gun fire into them with no effect.
The low point of the whole thing is a boss fight that has an enemy sat in a tank, chatting nonsense to you and driving in a lazy circle as you try to stick C4 to it, all while waves of heavily armoured enemies meander in – more as distractions than any real threat. However, most of the game’s big set pieces land, backed up by strong performances from the game’s core cast. It’s not well written, but the tone is spot on, a team of soldiers that genuinely care for each other, delivering every line of dialogue like an epitaph as they chew up enemies and scenery alike.
These relationships are one of the more exciting parts of the whole thing. It’s been three years since the events of Modern Warfare, which lead to the founding of Task Force 141 off-screen. In the time since we’ve last seen them, these soldiers have bonded, and they seem to have different relationships with each other, with CIA agent Laswell seeming to share genuine friendship and respect with Captain Price, while the more junior Gaz spends most of his conversations gently needling her. The only character that doesn’t really work for me is the return of fan-favourite Ghost, who still delivers a top-notch performance but feels out of place in this new, more realistic Modern Warfare universe as he appears at all times in a full-face skull mask and gloves, like a 14-year-old playing soldier in the coolest outfit he can think of.
Supporting turns from several characters come across well, too, and one interrogation scene with drug lord El Sin Nombre feels more like something out of a film than a game. An after-credits scene firmly establishes that cinema feel, but also hints at what’s next for the franchise with a lovely bit of fan service.
The campaign may feel like a selection box of FPS moments with a side helping of Warzone tutorial, but there’s no denying how amazing the little details can be. During a scene in which one character betrays you, their name changes from blue in the subtitles to red, a tiny detail that’s an absolute masterstroke. It’s easy to miss, but paired with the delivery in the cutscene itself it’s another indicator that your former ally is a dickhead now, and also a sign that the developers really care about making things sit together.
That’s the opinion I’ve come away from the campaign with in general, too. I think the storyline is a little weaker than Modern Warfare’s although the set pieces here are much stronger and as a result I’ve felt more of a pull to go back and play through the campaign again. I’m not sure if I ever expect a Call of Duty to really discuss its own gross politics, but it does seem to be poking at the American military-industrial complex a little here, warning of the dangers while also glorifying it with extrajudicial killings and a scene where you deescalate a confrontation with civilians by pointing guns at them until they get scared and back off.
In this way, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the same as it’s ever been, but the campaign is an absolute blast and a great way to build excitement for the launch of the main event on October 28.
This review will be updated with our thoughts on Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer and Spec Ops game modes, along with a final score.
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