Let’s get this out of the way: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare isn’t your average Call of Duty. Things have changed dramatically across all modes of this years outing. Things still feel familiar, but don’t expect to run and gun your way through stages and maps like you did in previous years. The pace across multiplayer and the campaign has been changed, and as such the warzones are all a bit different here, but this isn’t all for the better.
In a lot of ways, this is the best Call of Duty in years. After skipping out on a campaign in Call of Duty: Black Ops 4, it’s excellent to see it return. At launch, I thought Black Ops 4 would be okay without a campaign, and would be able to stand on its own multiplayer merit. I originally awarded it an 8.8, but after a couple of months playing, I put it down and never picked it back up.
To be honest, the only Call of Duty title I’ve played from launch until the next game’s launch was Black Ops 3, and while I do have concerns about Modern Warfare’s staying power, as long as Infinity Ward remains committed to the title, I think it should do just fine. So where should you start?
It’s easy to say “jump into multiplayer!” In reality, the campaign is the best place to start here. It’s on the shorter side, but is so well-focused, it’s definitely worth checking out early on. At E3 earlier this year, we got a sneak peak at a house-raid stage, setting the tone for what I expected going into my campaign playthrough. Things are much darker this time around, and far more relatable to today’s headlines.
The grounded storyline help set Modern Warfare apart from Call of Duty’s from recent years, and is well worth playing, even if you generally stick to the multiplayer modes. Players take control of a CIA intelligence officer after a shipment of deadly chemicals are stolen by terrorists. Alex’s side of the story mostly takes place in and around Urzikstan, and around this time Kyle Garrick of the SAS is dealing with the aftermath of an attack on Picaddilly Circus. As this is a reboot of the fan-favorite Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Captain Price makes a return (because what Modern Warfare game would be complete without Captain Price), and accompanies Sergeant Garrick during the campaign.
I’m purposefully trying to avoid spoilers, because this is the best Call of Duty campaign in many years, and one that should be enjoyed going in with a clean slate. Early in the marketing campaign, Activision said that this year’s title would push the boundaries of morality in war. I agree that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s depiction of this is well done and impactful, but some of the darker moments don’t have quite the impact that I think Infinity Ward wanted it to. At the end of the day, this is a video game, and very few games that I have played truly blur the line between right and wrong.
I’m not saying these moments aren’t well done, I just think they lose a bit of the “oomph” that the developers were expecting them to have. In fact, I think these moments, and the rest of the campaign for that matter, were handled really well. Russia clearly doesn’t agree, as Modern Warfare has been prohibited from sale in their country, but in their defense, some moments do seem anti-Russian here. But hey, I’m not here to judge how I feel about different countries and how they interpret the content.
I am quite a big fan of how well paced Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is throughout the story as well. One mission requires mostly stealth and the use of a cinder block to navigate the stage, while another require tactical SWAT insertions into a location. The big Call of Duty set-pieces that players have come to love are still present, but instead are broken up by well-crafted slower stages that build up to the action. Additionally, stages start off shorter, (the first handful of missions can be completed in just a few minutes,) almost like a television show introducing characters and their motivations until the rest of the story starts to intertwine. It’s a smart way of story-telling, and one that suited the 5 hour campaign well.
I just wish that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was a bit more difficult. I played through my campaign run on Hardended mode, and didn’t encounter much of a challenge. I’ll play through again on Veteran and the highest difficulty later on, but I still recall feeling challenged on Hardened difficulty in previous titles.
Something that helps Modern Warfare feel so grounded and real are the visuals and aesthetic design choices in the world. Modern Warfare truly looks beautiful. Shadows dance in the environment while the wind shakes tree branches. The bright desert of Urzikstan blinds in some instances when moving from indoors to outdoors, and buildings have a decrepit and destroyed look to them. The realism here helps this feel like a true warzone, and Modern Warfare is better for it.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare on PC also supports real-time Ray Tracing, which enhanced the visuals even further giving shadows and lighting an even more realistic look. I played through on an RTX 2080, and while it did put my card through its paces (using 92% of my GPU VRAM), things ran incredibly smoothly, and I was almost always getting over 100 fps at 1440p.
It’s really nice to see the campaign return, and is part of the reason we’ve split this review up into two parts. Modern Warfare really feels like two distinct games, the divisive and precise campaign, and the loose and poorly-balanced multiplayer. Gunplay across all modes present is extremely precise, and Modern Warfare truly does have some incredible varied set pieces. I can heap praise on the campaign for hours, but a little extra difficulty would have been a good addition. Having a shorter campaign allowed Infinity Ward to double down on the moral dilemmas and be more focused, even if the morality issues are lost a little bit because of the medium. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s campaign is one of the best in years, and worth playing, even if you checked out of the Call of Duty series years ago.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is available now for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. This campaign review is based on a PC copy of the game provided by the publisher. Purchases are available here.