Call of Duty is a cyclical franchise, and for many people it’s the triennial Infinity Ward games that are the true Call of Duty games. With many finding Black Ops Cold War a bit disappointing and Vanguard’s WW2 fare quite familiar, it’s 2019’s Modern Warfare that is most fondly remembered. It’s no surprise that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has been expected as the second coming, arriving to save the day and return some glory to this prestigious franchise.
Update 31/10: This is now our full and final review of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II.
Modern Warfare 2’s story picks up three years after Modern Warfare, with Captain Price’s Task Force 141 up and running, dealing with global threats. One of those is General Ghorbrani, the leader of Al-Qatala who (after the opening sequence) is quickly succeeded by a vengeful Hassan Zyani. He teams up with a drug cartel with a plot to use stolen missiles on the U.S.A. Of course, it’s down to the 141 to stop him.
The campaign is a good length, jumping between Mexico, Amsterdam, and fictional places such as Al Mazrah and Las Almas. One thing that I really enjoyed during my run of the campaign was the pacing. Missions feel very fluid, never outstaying their welcome, and there’s an expertly judged balance between the fast-paced action and slower moments in missions like ‘Recon By Fire’ and a tribute to the original Modern Warfare’s ‘All Ghillied Up’.
Mixed in with the familiar ground-pounding battles are more novel and interesting mechanics. One missions has you directing Ghost via CCTV, and there’s another call back to previous Modern Warfare games as you’re placed in an AC-130 giving cover to the rest of the 141. There’s even crafting in later levels, as you try to survive against extreme odds. Sure, there’s plenty that’s been done before, but there’s a lot of variety here.
The difficulty seems to have increased a touch, so while enemy soldiers are more easily downed, they will come for you in places you wouldn’t expect them to. In one mission, I snuck up on a guard and killed him, only to be tracked down moments later when another guard radioed in and got no response. Even full stealth action games overlook things like this. Elsewhere they can react to follow even the slightest glimpse of you, making some segments a tad frustrating to overcome when you get quite boxed in. You need to respect this enemy AI, instead of rushing ahead like in the older games.
In addition to the returning characters, I have to give a shout out to newcomer Alejandro Vargas, a Tier One member of the Mexican Special Forces who allies with Price’s 141 during the campaign. He’s a fantastic addition to the roster, instantly fitting in as a man willing to do the right thing, no matter the cost to his own wellbeing. The range and emotion his actor Alain Mesa brought to the role was great!
One thing I was slightly disappointed with, was the diminished role of Claudia Doumit’s Farah Karim. She played quite a large role in Modern Warfare 2019, so seeing her reduced to a bit appearance in one mission in the sequel, felt like a bit of a waste. She even had a significant role in some of the post launch story for Warzone, so this feels like a bit of a misfire, as she was a great character and has been underused here.
Otherwise, the other characters all return in full force, diving a little deeper into their personalities and developing some of their relationships. It was quite cool watching the friendship between Ghost and Soap blossom during a couple of the missions. There’s even dialogue options now when characters talk to each other. This has no impact on the story or missions, but it is cool that you can choose how to respond in certain situations.
Graphically, Modern Warfare 2 has no right looking as good as it does. My jaw hit the floor during the photorealistic cutscenes as they looked simply stunning, and some of the environments are sublime technical showpieces. Infinity Ward has clearly spared no expense at making Modern Warfare 2 look impeccable. I played the campaign on PS5 and had no issues whatsoever with frame rate or stuttering – It ran as smooth as silk.
Modern Warfare 2’s campaign, while not being as good or groundbreaking as its predecessor, is a seriously fun thrill ride from start to finish, and I’ll definitely be running through it again to experience the quite frankly excellent set pieces on offer.
Of course, the biggest part of the Call of Duty experience for the longest time has been its multiplayer, and while Modern Warfare 2 has done its best to build upon CoD’s previous iterations, it’s not without some flaws.
Modern Warfare 2 just feels a little bare bones at launch. There are basic things missing such as options to change operator skins and executions – things that were present in the last Modern Warfare – while the menu system has taken a clunky step back as well, often slowing the game down or just generally looking a little ropey – in particular when it freezes during matchmaking while loading. Even getting to other modes can throw you off as you have to scroll down to find them. Modern Warfare 2019 simply did it much better.
The way you unlock guns and attachments has also changed, with unlock conditions being tied behind certain weapons, and then wrapped up together on a progression track. I can see why this could be a good idea, pushing players to try a bit of everything. At the same time, players might not want to have to use weapons they don’t want to, just to access some of the better guns and attachments.
A new element has been added in the form of weapon tuning once at max level, which lets you make small adjustments to your weapon attachments, fine tuning that weapon’s areas of performance. One of the more interesting things here is how close the optic is to the screen when you aim down your sight. At time of writing, the feature has been disabled due to it causing crashes.
As for the actual moment to moment gameplay, Modern Warfare 2 feels similar to what you are used to, with a couple of changes. In a bid to add a little more realism to the combat, Infinity Ward has removed the ability to slide cancel. Sliding now makes your character do a dramatic front dive to the floor, stopping shortly after. Another change is in the way you mantle, with climbing now requiring two button presses. The first hangs you on the wall or whatever you are trying to climb on, and the second button press actually gets you up. It’s an odd change to make as more often than not, I found myself getting shot while climbing because I forgot it’s now two button presses. I’m sure I’ll get used to it in time, but right now it feels a little weird.
There’s also your standard suite of traditional CoD multiplayer modes on offer, from your standard Team Deathmatch, all the way up to Hardpoint, Domination and the larger scale Ground War modes. Two new modes have been added as well, the first being Knock Out which sees you and your team duke it out over bags of cash or until either side has been completely eliminated – revives are possible here. The second is Prisoner Rescue which is basically the same mode, but instead of cash, you are trying to rescue prisoners or prevent them from being rescued. Both these modes feel like alternate versions of Search and Destroy and in turn feel like they’re simply covering the same ground.
Again, at time of writing, hardcore modes are not in the game yet, but will be when Warzone 2.0 launches in November.
Finally, there are three co-op missions to sink your teeth into, which feels like an offshoot of the main campaign with Kate Laswell sending you and a friend on various missions to help with the war effort. You can choose a Kit – Medic, Assault or Recon – which has an assortment of Field Upgrades, Perks, and Killstreaks to use in the missions. The Medic, for instance, has access to a gun that instantly revives a downed team mates, but is only able to use two armour plates compared to the Assault’s ability to stack three.
The missions are generally fun, with high praise going to having checkpoints, so you’re not sent all the way back to the beginning if you both die. The first mission was fairly short which did not prepare me for how big the second mission would be, which saw us having to use vehicles just to get to the other side of the mission map. The third is closer to a horde mode as you defend against waves of enemies.
Sometime in future, this will be expanded with a three-player mission, taking inspiration from Destiny-like Raids to blend puzzle solving and pitched battles. They’re a welcome distraction from the intensity of the multiplayer, but still something you can do with your mates.