Few franchises command the same respect as the Modern Warfare subseries in Call of Duty. The original - also titled Call of Duty 4 - completely changed the first-person shooter landscape when it launched in 2007, and its second outing shocked the world with No Russian, a controversial mission set in an airport where players could participate in the slaughter of innocents.
However, even with immense success and acclaim coming from the original two titles in the franchise, developer Infinity Ward never managed to recapture the same heights with the third chapter, nor with its spiritual science-fiction successor, Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. 12 years after the first game, the creative team has gone back to the drawing board in an attempt to revitalise and re-revolutionise the first-person military shooter with a "reimagining" of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. Thus, the question remains: did they manage to recapture the same essence that made the first game so glorious?
When talking about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, it is difficult not to spend much time elaborating on the narrative. Unlike the previous instalments in the franchise, the focal point of this year's entry has undoubtedly been rethinking Call of Duty. In other words, Michael Bay-inspired explosions and action heroes are a thing of the past. The attention has shifted from blockbuster-action to a military-thriller dealing with issues and consequences of choice in modern warfare, primarily taking place in the war-torn land of Urzikstan - a sort of hybrid between the Afghanistan of the late-1980s or early-1990s and modern-day Syria.
Despite taking inspiration from two of recent memory's worst military conflicts, Urzikstan feels like a unique place on Earth, never being too similar to either conflict. As the narrative develops, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare explores the motif of being above and below the line in terms of morality and justice in warfare. Making your way towards the end of the game requires you to perform some questionably evil decisions for "the greater good", and it is riveting and well-written from start to finish.
During its five-hour runtime, we get to play as a variety of characters in the midst of the Urzikstani conflict, as well as short visits to London, Russia, and Georgia. Every setting the player visits feels vibrant and less static than other Call of Duty games, and besides some early areas in the narrative, you feel engaged in each setting, all with their own unique missions that constantly introduce new elements. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare abandons the typical 'kill everyone, move on, and kill everyone' routine in favour of experimentation and variety. One mission, for example, had us infiltrating a small house in London, while another required stealth and cunning to escape a prison cell with no weapons. A third was a Hitman-esque small open world set in the Russian countryside.
The variety is impressive, with each mission adding new elements, gimmicks, tactical challenges, and more. Notably, a unique mission taking place during a flashback to the Russian invasion of Urzikstan, 20 years prior to the main game, had us on the edge of our seat in awe of every little detail and each intense encounter. In short, Modern Warfare delivers one of the greatest campaigns in the series to date, easily beating Call of Duty: WWII and the second Modern Warfare entry.
With an abundance of memorable moments and impeccable quality, the final mission, unfortunately, disappoints by relying too much on action-hero tropes and a cavalcade of explosions. The campaign is still among the best first-person shooter narratives out there. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare had the chance to rival titles like The Last of Us or Bioshock, but it ends up squandering that potential with a mediocre closure, which is quite the shame given its immense potential. That shouldn't take away from the campaign as a whole, which impressed us time and again.
We could spend pages on pages rambling on about how great the campaign is, from the amazing characters Farah and Captain Price to the beautiful cutscenes, courtesy of Blur Studios. Still, the meat of every Call of Duty game will always be the multiplayer, and the 2019 entry doesn't fail to deliver on this front either.
The greatest new addition is the intense Gunfight matches, pitting four players in teams of two against each other in tight and confined maps. Time is sparse and every loadout is selected by the game itself. Just acquired a new amazing gun through multiplayer? Well too bad, since Gunfight makes all players compete on an equal level. Gunfight works especially well if you've had a busy day and just want to play for 20 minutes, since everything is fast, from the matches to loading times. It's a blast to play and fits perfectly within the Call of Duty identity of fast-paced and precise action, although Gunfight only represents one of several new modes.
Akin to Battlefield and last year's Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, the Modern Warfare reimagining likewise includes large scale conflict in Ground Wars, with enormous maps, capture points, and an array of vehicles. Unlike Conquest in Battlefield, however, Ground Wars doesn't feature the same destructibility and sense of environmental carnage. The tight and fast-paced gameplay seems misplaced at times and the lack of impact on the world leaves a lot to be desired. The quality of the Ground Wars maps is generally on the lower end of the spectrum, with bland environments and terrain repeating itself too much. That said, one level taking place in a huge open Russian city was a joy to experience, as it featured large buildings, open structures, and small detailed alleyways.
Spec Ops has been refreshed with this game as well, although it's still a four-player co-op experience continuing the narrative from the main campaign. Players explore large maps while completing a variety of missions and battling waves of enemies, and the difference between missions is staggering, from guiding the player through intense firefights on planes to skirmishes at a stadium, and there are even some nods to the original Modern Warfare games. The difficulty is off the charts, and teamwork is a requirement in order to succeed. After playing for several hours, we only managed to complete a single mission. It was a great challenge, yet whether the difficulty is a good or bad thing depends on the individual player.
While there are glimmers of brilliance hidden in the main multiplayer modes, the quality is a bit inconsistent, and while hardcore fans will find what they know and love, the more critical will perhaps see these new additions as a tad half-baked. Of course, veterans can simply choose to engage in their usual territories, and will find all the classic stables of Call of Duty multiplayer - now accompanied by night vision goggle deathmatches for those who want to fight exclusively in the dark. Luckily, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare still feels like Call of Duty should feel, and it's just as mechanically robust, offering as many customisation and personalisation choices as you'd expect, which should keep everyone engaged, newcomers and fans alike.
Besides a new take on the narrative, interesting multiplayer additions, and the new Spec Ops missions, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare offers some really tasty visuals. Players will notice from the beginning how the graphics engine has been overhauled extensively, featuring a ton of new environmental details and improved animations. Characters look photorealistic and the attention given to the design of every room during a raid mission is way above what is normally expected from your annual Call of Duty release.
The real kicker, though, is how every weapon sounds and feels during gameplay. Call of Duty is up there with the best in this field, as shooting a gun never gets old, and listening to each round of ammo leaving your rifle never stops being amazing. We recommend using the biggest machine guns you can find and just firing away with the speakers turned all the way up. In terms of sound design elsewhere, the soundtrack playing during the campaign fails to leave a lasting impression besides a few memorable moments here and there; it works fine with the storytelling but we thought it lacked originality.
So to circle back - does this year's game reignite the same magic as the original Modern Warfare did? In terms of sheer quality and gameplay value, Infinity Ward offers an enormous package with more modes and variations than almost any other game in its genre, with the added element of having a story that rivals some of the best in the business. But does this make for a paradigm shift for first-person shooters? No, but it's nothing short of spectacular nonetheless.
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