The Modern Warfare subseries ushered in a new era of war’s representation in gaming. It marked a huge migration from World War 2 focused shooters into modern-day conflicts that were so close to home that they felt unsettling. It was a bold new direction for the FPS genre to take, but it was one that was sorely needed within a stale and sterile landscape. Since then, we’ve been saturated by these shooters to the point where they became repetitive and the Call of Duty franchise was no stranger to stagnation itself.
Each Call of Duty has the same spectre that follows its release. Will they do something to change up the formula, how is the newest offering going to differentiate itself from its predecessor and how hard are they going to push the envelope this time. Outside of some noteworthy standouts, most Call of Duty games fall within the realm of familiarity, choosing to rather refine than innovate. So with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare being a reboot of the game that ushered in this great shift, how does it stack up within the pantheon of one of the FPS genre’s longest mainstays? Let’s get it into it, shall we?
That’s Captain Price to you, buddy
We see a return to a traditional campaign in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare and its absence was definitely felt in last year’s multiplayer-only offering. The story follows a diverse team of soldiers as they try to take down various terrorist organizations that are causing turmoil in civilized society as well as fighting within impoverished countries that have been plagued by constant war. The themes and events depicted during the campaign have very clear parallels to real-world events and threats we still face today which lends an almost uncanny feel to the whole experience.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare‘s campaign is bold, dark and it has already garnered its fair share of controversy for what was represented within the game’s story since some of it can be genuinely shocking. The lines of morality are often blurred and you question whether you’re really saviours or just tools of utter destruction. It’s been a long time since a Call of Duty game has stirred up such wild emotions within me and it’s helped by just how well the game is paced.
Missions flow into each other with such graceful ease and everything is done with an express purpose and message behind just the superficial act of shooting the bad guys. For example, in one of the early missions, you get dropped in London while a terrorist attack has just happened and you need to watch out for civilians as you’re gunning down those responsible. The game plays with your emotions like this many times during the campaign and each moment manages to carry its own weight.
There was a palpable feeling of tension within some of the slower missions with some brutally realistic depictions and scenarios that are bound to stick with you. The characters you interact with and play as all develop their own personalities through these adversities and the days of just being a nameless soldier are over. You get placed directly into the shoes of these people and their origins and the reasons why they fight are often not as cut and dry as you think.
It’s an extremely action-packed journey that left me flustered by the end of it. The dark themes, the plays on morality and the fantastic character development made it that this was one of my favourite campaigns in a Call of Duty game yet which says a lot because I have completed almost all of them. So much of it felt fresh, interesting and, most importantly, purposeful. The act of playing it was a blast too since the game constantly kept you on your toes with new mechanics, weapons and unique scenarios to break up the action into manageable chunks that could be slowly digested to get as much impact out of them as possible.
However, I must admit that the campaign’s later missions didn’t feel as consistent as some of the other highlights. They went with much safer routes than I would have liked and it caused the campaign to almost feel rushed at its conclusion with many things that were established not having any real impact. While not a dealbreaker in any way, I can’t help but think that some revision could have made this campaign one of the greats. What we got was more than sufficient though.
War on all fronts
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare runs on a brand new engine and you can definitely feel it in the gameplay. The action is slower than previous games while still retaining that classic Call of Duty feel. Guns have more impact to them and everything feels heavier which means you have to relearn some muscle memory from previous games which I quickly found out when I jumped into the game’s multiplayer offerings.
The multiplayer on offer tries to take some new directions, but a lot of it is familiar to anyone who has ever played a Call of Duty game before. Your standard assortment of modes are available such as Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, Domination and so forth with some slight detours being taken with the game’s realism mode which was quite the different experience. The realism mode makes use of the game’s beautiful night vision setting and makes battles much more intimate and close, which was a breath of fresh air.
The new Ground War mode also seeks to shake up the formula by providing something similar to Battlefield‘s conquest mode. Huge battles across two giant maps where you can also get around using vehicles and try to take as many points as you can. Playing this mode within the context of a Call of Duty game was exciting and the feeling of a full-scale war was something that was missing from the franchise’s other multiplayer offerings. It’s sometimes tough to get to come to grips with this new style of play, but you’ll find yourself easing into it very quickly.
I felt the familiar sense of a Call of Duty game rush over me once more.
The game also has much more customization options for weapons which can make for some very unique combinations that compliment your playstyle. The new Weaponsmith feature allows you to customize all areas of your weapon including sights, underbarrel attachments, mags, muzzles and so on which creates endless possibilities. The other aspects of the progression system are still relatively normal with your standard assortment of perks, but the Field Upgrades allow you to be more strategic with rechargeable equipment such as sensor drones or bullets that deal more damage. While not essential, the Field Upgrades do allow for some more strategy to your play.
As I sampled all the modes, I felt the familiar sense of a Call of Duty game rush over me once more. The new additions did a good job of keeping things fresh at first, but it soon turned into something that I’ve done so many times before. This is a tough thing to evaluate because they need to have some uniformity to the game and couldn’t really go too crazy in terms of ambition, but I felt like there could have been a lot more innovation on offer. Call of Duty fans will find a lot to like in the multiplayer offerings and a lot of time can be spent getting your loadouts just how you like them and get your favourite playlist of modes to run through. But don’t expect to have your mind blown.
The Spec-Ops mode allows for some fantastic co-op focused gameplay through the mode’s various Operations on offer. The 4-player mode allows for you can your team to take any approach you want within a given scenario and how things shake out is completely up to you. It combines the strengths of singleplayer-like scenarios with the teamwork of multiplayer which can make for a grand old time. It’s not as extensive as a zombie mode or a full co-op campaign, but it’s definitely something to try out especially if you have some friends to back you up in a firefight.
The game really does need to be commended on just how beautiful it looks. The massive download size wasn’t just for show as this is possibly the most visually rich Call of Duty yet. Environments spring to life with the game’s improved lighting and the attention to detail is jaw-dropping at times. The game’s nightvision mode creates this uncanny realism that almost unsettles you just by how striking it looks. The guns also feel like they have real weight and impact to them and it almost comes close to how some military sims handle weapons.
The game’s realistic-looking cutscenes put some real emotion into the fantastic acting performances while the stellar sound design puts a big cherry on top of this visually impressive cake. The new engine did wonders to bring the war as close to real as it can get without you picking up an AK47 yourself and joining the revolution.
On the right track
I found a lot to love in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. The campaign did a stellar job to stir up something in me that has been lying dormant for a long time. Most FPS games these days don’t shock and entertain me quite like this campaign did with all of its bold themes and ideas that were executed so flawlessly and with intent and purpose. You might be excused to wave the campaign off as “just another Call of Duty” but this one had the balls to be daring, to be exciting and to do a damn good job of representing it.
The multiplayer has just enough to differentiate itself from its predecessors while still holding that familiarity that we’ve come to expect from the franchise. While I wished for even more innovation on this front, the multiplayer still remains hopelessly addictive, challenging and worth it, especially to those who play the games as a habit.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare dared to venture into unknown grounds while keeping one foot nestled in familiar territory. It’s not the game that will spark another renaissance quite like its legendary predecessors, but it is a compelling package filled with ambition that will satiate even those cynical of the franchise.