I’ve spent a week since launch putting together our CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE review. I’ve played the game on public servers, ranking up alongside the common gamer with the latest patch installed. Now, after having completed the campaign, grinding through a big chunk of multiplayer, and experiencing what’s currently available in co-op, I’m finally ready to share and justify my thoughts.
Modern Warfare Review | An audiovisual masterclass
Every Call of Duty game has looked good, but Modern Warfare pushes things further than ever before. The jump up in quality from last year’s Black Ops 4 is incredible to witness, especially on console where 60 FPS is achieved, despite the wild explosions and other effects smashing together onscreen.
Audio is a treat, too, with gunfights roaring at my ears. As shots whizz past my head, I find myself feeling genuine fear as I dive for cover. This is peak immersion and is often almost terrifyingly realistic — Modern Warfare has set a standard in this department for other Call of Duty games, and shooters in general, to follow.
Tools of War
The guns in Modern Warfare are incredible to handle. Each weapon feels powerful in its own unique way. I found myself having to relearn how to shoot when I first picked up a new weapon, as different rates of fire, recoil patterns, sights, and other attachments can make one weapon feel a lot different from another.
With Modern Warfare, it seems like developer Infinity Ward has gone the extra mile in perfecting weapon animations and carefully considering the way a gun should act, while still being fun to use in a video game.
Modern Warfare Review | The Price is right
Captain Price is back and, in my opinion, better than before. Actor Barry Sloane delivers a fantastic performance, adding a new dimension to the fan-favorite character. The supporting cast is great, too, with believable voice acting that never distracts.
Missions are well-paced and I never got bored during the 5-6 hour campaign. However, I will admit that I died a handful of times on the Regular difficulty, with enemies punishing me for not thoroughly checking corners.
No mission matches up to the legendary “All Ghillied Up” from the original Modern Warfare, but some come close. I found the embassy mission especially satisfying, despite the bit with the cameras (no spoilers, but you’ll know what I mean if you play it).
This isn’t my first rodeo
Call of Duty campaigns always have a moment or two which attempt to shock the player. Modern Warfare 2‘s airport mission is perhaps the most controversial and memorable, with players able to shoot down crowds of innocent people. I don’t think gamers had seen anything like that from a mainstream video game before.
Modern Warfare looks to go even further, never ceasing its attempts to shock. Something horrific happens in almost every level. This leads to much of the impact being lost, as there is no real break from it all.
Following Infinite Warfare, which had a stupendous and underrated campaign, I feel like Modern Warfare focuses a little too much on just how many war crimes it can squeeze in. There are small moments where levity offers downtime, but then you dive back into the killing of innocents.
Between the liberties taken by Infinity Ward for the “Highway of Death” setting, and the occasional tip saying “You were killed by a suicide bomber. Aim for the head,” to the multiple counts where children are murdered, it just feels like maybe someone should have stepped in during development and dialed things back a little. Yeah, there’s a warning that the campaign has “mature themes,” but I think any semblance of maturity is lost after the first few missions, with violence often coming across as needlessly gratuitous.
Not my Special Ops
Spec Ops is the most unpolished part of the Modern Warfare package. Four “Operations,” one “Classic Special Ops” mission, and the PS4-exclusive “Survival” horde mode await players who select the Co-op option from the main menu.
If you, like me, were expecting something similar to the awesome missions found in Modern Warfare 2 and 3, then you will be sorely disappointed. Instead of being tackled as a solo or pair, players are grouped into four-man squads. Then, for most of the co-op levels, you’re dropped into a big open map to carry out tedious objectives. These objectives are made more challenging by the constant waves of enemies that continue to attack from all angles.
This mode is difficult but in all the wrong ways, and the XP reward for finally completing these missions feels insulting when you consider the time invested.
The new Special Ops missions may be able to save co-op, but they aren’t scheduled to arrive until November. Here’s hoping that they are worth the wait.
On the bright side, if you’re on Xbox One or PC, you can feel a bit better about missing out on the PS4-exclusive Survival mode, as it quickly becomes boring.
Modern Warfare Review | Diamond in the rough
From the worst mode to the best mode, let’s talk Gunfight. I can’t stress how much fun I’ve been having with this game type. Pitting two players against two players, all with the same randomized loadout, on a small map, is just genius. It takes the potential that the Modern Warfare 3 Face Off game mode had and realizes it completely. Grab a friend who you can communicate with on the mic, and it truly is a blast!
If I need a break from the chaos that is Ground War (more on that in a moment), I can hop into Gunfight to cool off, as when I die in a 2v2 with matched loadouts, I know it’s entirely down to my own skill and being outplayed. The rounds are less than a minute each, meaning players are encouraged to quickly find a favorable position and force an engagement.
Gunfight is superbly crafted, and it’s clear that careful thought went into how this mode plays out, with the end-of-round flag and visible health bar adding another layer of strategy.
“How’d a muppet like you pass selection?”
Then, there’s the rest of multiplayer. I don’t think I’ve ever been one to harp on about “camping” in Call of Duty, but this time it’s different. This isn’t just an issue with the players preferring to play more passively with a focus on defense, as I’m mostly cool with that. No, this is about the developer encouraging camping with the loadout choices, the maps, and the reverting to rewarding kills over objective-based play, all the while punishing aggression.
It’s as though the Infinity Ward devs not only rebooted Modern Warfare, but also rebooted their own experience with the multiplayer side of these games. For every new feature that is well-implemented, something bad has returned to rear its ugly head.
During my first evening of Team Deathmatch, as I was relearning the ropes following the game’s alpha and beta tests, I started to notice that rounds were ending due to time running out, instead of the kill limit being reached. This wasn’t just a day one issue, either, as TDM games still regularly finish without either team reaching the cap. Most players are afraid of running out to get a kill, meaning that camping is often the fast-track to success.
I headed into Domination to try and play with objective-focused players, but again, the battles for the B flag were practically non-existent. I think part of the blame is on the “Quick Play” option which defaults to every mode, meaning some players are in Domination, despite not specifically searching for it. I’m also blaming the change from scorestreaks to killstreaks. While scorestreaks add value to playing the objective, offering a reward to more aggressive plays, killstreaks effectively do the opposite, rewarding players for avoiding risks and therefore ducking out of dangerous pushes for flags.
The game pats you on the back for choosing a room to camp in, planting a claymore to protect your rear, using the mounting system to keep you in place and your recoil reduced, while punishing players who run out to push for a capture. Not only this, but a camping playstyle is further encouraged by buffs and nerfs to certain perks. Ghost now seems to work without the player needing to move in order to activate it, while Dead Silence is on a cooldown.
What’s more, claymores can be replenished and Tactical Insertions allow for an instant respawn in the same location. The new radar and compass also promote camping, making it tricky to pinpoint enemies that are firing from a fixed position. In the past, firing and giving away your location meant having to move to somewhere else. I’m not sure why the developers felt the need to change this. Oh, and prone is still an issue, as nothing brave or impressive is ever achieved by laying on one’s belly.
The fast time-to-kill also excuses inconsistent aim and makes it difficult for a player to quickly turn on enemies waiting in ambush. In addition to this, spawns seem to be worse than usual, sometimes refusing to flip despite enemies being within spitting distance. I’ll mention the audio here, too, as while it sounds great, it is a little overbearing and difficult to make sense of during intense firefights. Separating “Gun Sounds” from the “Effects” slider in audio settings would help.
At the moment, I feel like Modern Warfare is a game won by the most stubborn of campers. It’s tragic that a defensive playstyle like this relies on the enemy team being aggressive. If everyone played defensively with an “If you can’t beat them, join them” mentality, no one would leave their building, and it would be the most boring thing ever. I love me some hyper-tactical Search and Destroy (and the new Cyber Attack game type), but a painfully slow and methodical approach shouldn’t be the only way to play this game!
Since I don’t feel like fighting campfire with campfire, my current loadouts make use of several hard counters, which act as defenses against the more obnoxious equipment in the game. The E.O.D. perk allows me to tank Claymore damage, Cold-Blooded shields me from thermal optics, Ghost hides me from UAVs, and Battle Hardened reduces the strength of enemy tactical grenades. In order to reduce the level of annoyance you experience, the game forces you to give up the more exciting perks. Oh, and smoke grenades are pretty much mandatory for crossing any open areas, but you’ll have to forgo a lethal option for the privilege.
Modern Warfare Review | Misery in numbers
Everything I’ve complained about so far is exacerbated in Ground War. 32v32 may sound like a fantastic idea, and it has worked well for franchises like Battlefield, but the fact that a lot of the community is treating it as “Sniper Deathmatch” completely ruins it. Again, this isn’t just down to the players, as the developers are encouraging this strategy with the tools that they have provided.
I don’t blame those who sit on a rooftop with a scoped weapon, picking off players from range and building towards a high killstreak reward, at it beats being on the ground and getting shot at from above. With the sheer number of players running about on a map, spawning on one another using the squad system, it’s much easier to simply sit in a spot and wait for foolish enemies to try and play the objective.
With no limits to the number of snipers on a team (which is a solution implemented by some Battlefield server admins), and many players aiming for the coveted auto-win 30-kill nuke, Ground War just feels confused.
If this is supposed to be the alternative to a battle royale mode, then I’m disappointed. Whereas Black Ops 4‘s Blackout kept players moving with an ever-shrinking zone, Ground War just allows players to snipe on top of a 15-story building for the entire match, replenishing ammo and having squadmates respawn on top of them.
Night maps have also been pulled at the last minute, to be introduced to public playlists at a later date. They looked cool in the pre-release trailer, but aren’t yet available to try out.
Modern Warfare Review | Platform wars
Ground War also forces players to enable cross-play. This means that PC, PS4, and Xbox One players are all mixed in together which allows friends to play across different platforms. The catch here is that playing Ground War has you competing against keyboard and mouse users, as well as those with higher-end PCs capable of running the game at 144+ FPS. There is currently no way of playing Ground War with cross-play disabled.
The console versions of Modern Warfare also support keyboard and mouse inputs, which work surprisingly well, so the option is there if you can find a comfortable way to play.
Cross-play for other modes is optional, which is obviously ideal, and little symbols next to a player’s name indicate what platform and type of input they are using. (This appears to be hidden for Ground War.)
Cross-progression is also a big new addition, with the game allowing users to sign into their Activision Account and synchronize progression across multiple versions of the game. Of course, you’ll need to buy Modern Warfare multiple times to enjoy this feature, but it is a nice move.
Modern Warfare Review | The future is brighter
I concluded my Black Ops 4 review with a warning about microtransactions potentially infesting the game. Lo and behold, that is exactly what happened, with the game vomiting out a season pass, battle pass with purchasable tiers, an item store with rotating bundles, and loot boxes. After players had spent $60+ on the game, and after reviews had been published, the game was hit with multiple updates to monetize it in new ways.
For Modern Warfare, Infinity Ward and Activision have been much more transparent, promising players that there won’t be any loot boxes or paid-for unique weapons. Instead, there will be a battle pass and item store for cosmetic items, similar to that of Fortnite. Here’s hoping they keep their word.
In addition to the more ethically sound microtransactions, Modern Warfare players will also be enjoying free maps and other content, which is a huge win for the community.
Modern Warfare Review | Getting your money’s worth
Despite my many complaints, I still think it’s easy to get 100+ hours out of this game. For me, that earns the $60 price tag. The campaign is a guaranteed 5-6 hours of visually-satisfying chaos, which may deserve a replay on the hardest difficulty. The co-op’s existing content is fine for those looking to shoot an unrelenting horde of bots with friends, and may get better with future updates. As for the multiplayer, it still feels like Call of Duty and is addicting in a “maybe this round won’t be so bad” kind of way, and the chase to unlock camos and complete challenges make for nice consolation prizes after particularly awful rounds. Just stick to the better modes and you’ll be okay!
I feel like this Call of Duty could evolve to become one of the best ever, as there is certainly a solid foundation to build upon. With a number of balancing patches, some new (or classic!) maps, and constant communication with the community, I think Modern Warfare will get better. For now, though, you can find me in Gunfight, which separates the brilliant from the BS.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was reviewed on a PS4 Pro with code provided by the publisher. The game is also available on PC and Xbox One.