Twelve years ago, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare didn’t just rock the entire first person shooter genre, it led an online gaming revolution for console players. Infinity Ward’s masterpiece was deployed just as Xbox Live and PlayStation Network began to take off and although we’ve seen some ups and downs over the years (as well as no shortage of competitors) Call of Duty is still an unshakeable presence within the industry.
Following the reception of their past two games in the franchise, it’s easy to see why Infinity Ward might want to reboot Modern Warfare, though such a move is pretty ballsy. While this new take on the beloved sub-series will never match Call of Duty 4 in terms of impact or innovation, it has some genuinely fresh ideas to pep up that familiar template we’ve returned to annually for more than a decade now.
First up we have the singleplayer campaign. Where games in the original Modern Warfare trilogy could be likened to an explosive Michael Bay movie blockbuster, 2019’s reboot goes for more of a Kathryn Bigelow approach. There’s a lot less “Ooh Rah” in favour of a more intimate, character-focused story that explores the uncomfortable realities of terror attacks, rebel militias, and foreign intervention.
The campaign has you swapping between a core cast of characters, including a CIA operative embedded within a rebel army, helping to drive Russian oppressors from the fictional state of Urzikstan. He’s joined by their leader, Farah, as well as SAS sergeant Kyle Garrick and everyone’s favourite mutton-chopped marksman, Captain Price.
Despite a more serious shift in tone, Modern Warfare’s campaign is still a thrill ride. Levels will occasionally open up and there’s a nice spread of mini-games and other diversions with Infinity Ward maintaining pace throughout, funnelling players from one set piece into the next.
Their push for realism extends beyond the story they’re trying to tell. Modern Warfare feels slightly different from past games in the series in that there’s slightly more heft and sway when it comes to weapon handling. Features such as a “mounting” cover system help create more tactile environments, dialling up that sense of immersion.
Infinity Ward has dropped these slightly altered mechanics into this year’s online multiplayer as well. We’ve already talked about this part of the game at length but here are a few key takeaways.
You favourite modes from past Call of Duty games are mostly here, including Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, Domination, Headquarters, and so on, but there are some major new additions. Gunfight is staged across a series of nail-biting showdowns, with two pairs of players will be given prescribed loadouts, a small arena, and a countdown timer. There’s also the Battlefield-esque 64 player Ground War, showcasing Call of Duty’s biggest maps to date –discounting last year’s Blackout, of course).
Speaking of maps, Modern Warfare’s latest crop of virtual arenas is proving rather divisive. Overall, this year’s entry in the franchise favours more defensive playstyles, and the sheer depth and openness of its maps make this an even more tense and punishing spin on the series blueprint. There’s a harsh learning curve and while many may immediately bounce off this year’s multiplayer, for others it will mark a step in the right direction. It’s one that’s paired with free post-launch updates, ending Activison’s long-running love affair with premium map packs.
The third pillar in this year’s Call of Duty care package sees the return of Spec Ops, though there’s much more of a co-op focus this time around. Right now there are four available scenarios that have you completing objectives and pushing through incoming enemy hordes while working together as a squad. Exclusive for PS4, there’s also a more traditional survival mode too, though unless you’re playing with friends you can probably give all of this a miss. It’s unimaginative and doesn’t challenge players in a way that feels rewarding, constantly overwhelming players with incoming fire from all sides. We’d have taken a handful of classic solo Spec Ops missions over this tacked on mode any day.
What binds this all together is Modern Warfare’s top class presentation, from the stunning environments and atmospheric lighting to sound design so good you’d be justified in upgrading your surround sound setup. There’s a surprising richness to the game’s explosive soundscape and at times you’ll forget there’s a controller in your hands and not an actual gun.