It’s hard to say whether Call of Duty has truly matured since its 2007 heyday, but this year’s instalment feels a lot more serious. Infinity Ward is going for a much smarter, less bombastic approach with Modern Warfare’s campaign. It’s still jam-packed with over the top firefights, yet there’s a keener focus on characters and how they navigate the grey area that surrounds military intervention in countries far beyond their own borders.
There are still some constants at work here though. Call of Duty – especially the Modern Warfare series – has you unspooling the story through multiple perspectives and timelines that gradually mesh together before that climactic rush into the finale. 2019’s Modern Warfare is no different, alternating between Alex, a CIA agent embedded within the fictional Urzikstan’s rebel army, their leader Farah, and SAS Sergeant Kyle Garrick who becomes Captain Price’s wingman.
Oh yeah. Price is back, glorious mutton chops and all.
What these campaigns have always done best is constantly funnelling you from one set piece to the next, sewing these moments together with gun battles (whether out in the open or marching through dense interiors) spliced with the occasional mini game. Infinity Ward has actually altered very little to its enduring template, though the tone of this latest entry is definitely a change in direction and not an entirely comfortable one.
In order to create an immediate response to the game’s antagonists, Modern Warfare kicks off with a terrorist attack in London. This opening is surprisingly visceral, even for a series that gave us the controversial “No Russian” level back in 2009. It’s as gruesome as it is captivating though there will be plenty who express concern over Infinity Ward’s ripping from the headlines, reattributing real historical acts of war in a way that raises a few eyebrows. It’s something given the developer’s insistence that the game has no political message whatsoever.
What makes it so visceral is a doubling down in terms of visuals and audio. The lighting techniques at play, combined with photogrammetry, creates incredibly detailed backdrops and character models, helping to justify the many gigabytes of hard drive space that Modern Warfare eats up.
Realism is the name of the game and there are some segments that showcase this approach better than others, though every part of the game benefits from the top class sound design. Even though I have high end surround sound headphones within arm’s reach, few games make me feel like I need to hook them up. With Modern Warfare I felt almost naked without them.
That push for realism also spills into how the game plays. There was no chance of this reboot shifting lanes to ride alongside ARMA, Insurgency, or Post Scriptum – instead fans should expect subtle changes to how the shooting feels with a few tactical revisions.
Weapons have a little more sway and feedback to them, though you’ll still be able to consistently pop off headshots, cutting down enemies with relative ease. One new feature some CoD veterans may warm to is the ability to mount your gun on flat surfaces. Think of this as a light cover system; though your head is still vulnerable, less of your body is exposed and your aiming becomes more accurate.
What underlines this campaign as one of the franchise’s best is the amount of variety throughout. Even on Veteran difficulty it should take no longer than eight hours to complete and it’s only right at the end – as Infinity Ward attempts to briskly wrap everything up – that Modern Warfare loses steam. Even so, you’ll definitely want to stick around for those final cutscenes.
When stacked up against previous Call of Duty campaigns, Modern Warfare is definitely up there. It doesn’t always hit the mark and won’t give you quite those same thrills you got from the 2007 original, but still manages to successfully reboot that storyline with a more nuanced, character-centric approach. Whether your a complete newcomer or a returning series veteran, you should definitely try and find the time to play it from start to finish before dipping into the game’s swathe of online modes.