Every year Call of Duty tries to do something a little bit different with its online multiplayer, mainly due to the series constantly switching hands between Infinity Ward, Sledgehammer Games, and Treyarch Studios, each injecting the formula with their own twist.
Their individual approaches are constantly shifting as well. While Sledgehammer introduced the enhanced mobility of boost jumps in Advanced Warfare, before leading the series back to “boots on the ground” for WW2, Treyarch has continued to lean into other shooter sub-genres, with last year’s Black Ops 4 featuring its own battle royale mode. Infinity Ward’s most recent entries in the series – Ghosts and Infinite Warfare – are widely considered to have offered two of the weakest iterations on Call of Duty’s multiplayer blueprint.
Modern Warfare takes far more risks than its forebears and although it shares that same core DNA, it feels different in a lot of ways. For better or worse.
Up top we have the series’ buttery smooth shooting. It’s not quite as snappy as other Call of Duty games, but only by a narrow margin with slightly more sway and recoil on just about every weapon. Aside from the new mount mechanic that lets you prop up your guns on walls, the core controls and way in which you move about the battlefield is pretty much identical to those games that have come before.
There are several key differences however, including a new batch of maps that have split the Call of Duty community. We’ve seen developers experiment with map sizes and verticality in the past, these latest virtual battlegrounds feel more dense and dynamic. No matter where you’re standing there’s likely a handful of good vantage points where your enemies could be hiding.
It’s a far more perilous game as a result and one that will have you adopting a more cautious, defensive style of play. Modern Warfare’s weapons pack such a punch that it only take a split second to down a target, each of the maps having plenty of elevated areas, alcoves, and blind spots for campers to pitch their tents and wait for the kills to come rolling in. By adding doors which can be opened and closed, Infinity Ward gives you an extra tool to lock down your own little killzone.
And yes, you’ll want to rack up those kills. Call of Duty hasn’t forgotten about killstreaks and popping these off – whether a simple UAV, airstrike, or Juggernaut – significantly increase your team’s chance of winning. That’s especially true in Modern Warfare, so don’t be surprised to see post-match leaderboards dominated by top fraggers who barely engage with the objective as they boost their precious kill/death ratios.
Call of Duty has always allowed for a negative snowball effect to take hold, especially in bigger objective based matches. Killstreaks roll into bigger, more lethal killstreaks, frustrated players quit, and a skeleton crew is left in a hopeless situation. Then there are those unlucky players waiting in the matchmaking queue, tossed into these unwinnable massacres with only seconds left on the clock.
Put simply, unless you’re winning, Modern Warfare can be an absolutely miserable online experience – especially when you throw in some maps with dodgy spawn points. Combine this with the nerve-shredding moment to moment gameplay and you’ve got yourself one of the most divisive entries in this series to date.
There will be many who power through the initial learning curve, adapting to the game’s more realistic bent. That transition from other Call of Duty games isn’t easy however and we’ll likely see a sizeable number of franchise fans leap back into Black Ops 4 for their multiplayer fix.
Those who stick with it can expect a rich spread of customisation options to unlock, challenges to complete, and several interesting new game modes to sink into.
As always, your combat role is determined by a loadout comprised of two weapons, as well as extra gear, perks, killstreaks, and “Field Upgrades”. These are new to Call of Duty and act as a light version to the kinds of ultimate abilities found in other hero shooters. Tagged with a cooldown timer these include bonuses such as munitions boxes, recon drones, enhanced ammo clips, and even a temporary reduction in the noise your footsteps make. Field Upgrades are a neat idea that add a desired layer of complexity without being as sensationalised as the character abilities of Black Ops 3 and 4.
Levelling up the individual weapons in your arsenal is another key part of the Modern Warfare experience. There’s a surprising wealth of Gunsmith options to experiment with though unlocking all of them is a huge grind and one that will dissuade you from trying all the guns multiplayer has to offer. For those who intend to rack up hundreds of in-game hours, however, weapon ranks give you a continual sense of progression.
To end on a high, let’s talk about the new game modes. Infinity Ward has brought back the bare essentials such as Team Deathmatch, Domination, Search & Destroy etc. while also adding a fewo genuinely worthwhile additions.
Ground War has undergone a total makeover. Instead of being a name slapped on existing game modes with larger player counts, this is now essentially Call of Duty’s spin on Battlefield. Huge maps, a decent selection of vehicles, and five control points define this mode while also carrying over that core Modern Warfare feel. With 64 players pottering about and unleashing one killstreak salvo after the next, it’s a wild mess that’s pretty fun and at least has some kind of structure gluing all that bombass together.
At the complete opposite end of the scale we have Gunfight. Staged across multiple quickfire rounds, these matches are the most intimate we’ve ever seen in Call of Duty, pitting two pairs of players against each other. The maps here have been vastly shrunk down and the tension ratcheted all the way up. It’s Modern Warfare at its purest.
Realism mode is also worth a quick shout out, stripping out all HUD elements to dramatically dial up that sense of immersion. It’s well worth trying even if you have some reservations about riding into a match without any stabilisers.
Overall, Infinity Ward has taken a huge gamble here. This latest multiplayer offering is pretty darn comprehensive, sporting some fresh new ideas that cut through any accusations of Modern Warfare suffering from sequel fatigue. Still, the more tactical twist on gameplay, divisive map designs, and a push for realism won’t gel with everyone.