For many Call of Duty fans, 2019's Modern Warfare reboot can be said to be a major turning point in the franchise's history of shooters, one where it finally broke free from the “sameness” that had plagued its past few titles. Offering a stellar narrative loaded with creative gameplay concepts and an intense, diverse Multiplayer experience, the reimagined “Task Force 141”, so to speak, certainly had all the tools it needed to hype players up for the sequel.
At the time of writing, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 has been out for just over a month now, and though the community generally appears to have accepted the game as a whole, there are still a fair number of gaps keeping it from that perfect 10. We'll get into all that in due time, but first, let's do a quick stock take.
If looks could kill
As far as aesthetics are concerned, I've always found Call of Duty's presentation impressive, and that opinion certainly hasn't changed with MW2. First and foremost, I appreciate that Infinity Ward doesn't just employ a diverse number of locales in the game to spice up all the globetrotting you do, but that they make them pretty gorgeous to look at too.
From the streets and slums of Mexico to the neon-lit cityscapes of Chicago, and even the tranquil harbours of Amsterdam, every mission provides a new and enthralling feast for the eyes, and it's nice to do the occasional reconnaissance (read: sightseeing) when you're not mowing down baddies. Meanwhile, the gunplay delivers too – it's really solid and feels satisfyingly punchy, especially in dedicated sniper missions where you'll have the opportunity to line up headshots from afar.
Still, perhaps what really brings the aesthetics aspect together are the cutscenes, which look absolutely amazing. Character visuals and speech have been rendered to a T, and at times it's almost like you're watching a live-action movie. The reimagined Task Force 141 might not have a very different job description compared to their original selves, but hey, at least they look a heck of a lot better now.
The Campaign is surprisingly solid
Speaking of Task Force 141, let's move on to the gameplay, and as odd as it might sound to credit a Call of Duty game as such, I personally found the Campaign experience refreshingly unique. I mean this in the sense that Infinity Ward didn't just copy-paste the conventional CoD formula into every level and call it a day. They've been surprisingly creative when it comes to level and objective design, though it goes without saying that there are still stages when you'll be spraying lead at enemies as normal.
Between raining down hell from a gunship or sneaking past armed soldiers with nothing more than several pieces of scrap metal and duct tape, the inherent variety as well as the seemingly increased difficulty of the Campaign really lets you feel like you earned your victory, rather than simply having it dropped into your lap.
In fact, it is the latter type of mission that I'm particularly impressed with (and enjoyed), because it puts players right on the proverbial spot, throwing them headfirst into situations where they feel they actually have to avoid being caught in order to survive. For the benefit of the reader, I won't detail any specifics about these missions, but what I will say is that they will test your resourcefulness.
Such experiences are intense, pulse-pounding and they really put a player's survival instincts to the test, and they really capture the essence of “doing whatever it takes” to keep yourself alive and get the job done. This foray off the beaten path makes them a refreshing change from the usual “point, shoot, kill” formula that shooter titles are known for, and that's a big win in my book for MW2.
Special Ops ain't all it's cracked up to be
Yet, in spite of all the sunshine and rainbows above, the game's Special Ops and Multiplayer aspects are where the cracks in MW2 start to show. I'll be blunt; over the course of five Modern Warfare titles – namely the three original titles as well as the two we have from the reboot, Special Ops as a mode has never managed to appeal to me, and it remains quite uncompelling here as well.
For the most part, I understand that it's meant to be a co-op experience that you and your best buddies (or other players online) can take on as a group. There's nothing wrong with that, but at the very least, I'd like to have a proper incentive before I actually try getting work done here. Don't get me wrong; I love playing matches with my friends as much as the next CoD fan, but Special Ops never seems interesting enough for us to want to play it over Multiplayer.
It doesn't actually help that the mode remains as linear as it has always been, though one of the few differences in this iteration, for what it's worth, lies in the role selection at the start of each match, where players enjoy certain upgradeable perks and bonuses depending on their choice of Assault, Recon or Medic.
But even that is but a salve – the mode just lacks the necessary “character” that its Zombies counterpart has in spades, making it rather difficult for the developers to do anything really constructive with Special Ops. So, for lack of a better analogy, with every passing instalment that comes, the mode feels less and less compelling as a co-op offering and more like that one delinquent teenage child the developers aren't quite sure what to do with.
Bread, butter, and a bunch of awkward menus
As for Multiplayer, which is arguably Call of Duty's bread-and-butter aspect, the changes and overall sentiment here are more divisive than flawed per se. Putting aside the performance issues that are par for the course at launch, the community seems to be quite concerned with the UI as well as Gunsmith 2.0 – the all-new gun customisation interface. Now, both of those discussions share one common denominator, and that's whether the developers have actually made these elements too detailed for their own good.
Pertaining to Gunsmith 2.0, many players (myself included) felt that in their pursuit of trying to come up with a unique style of customisation, the developers might have made tweaking your gun far more complex than it has to be. Case in point, this new interface and system replaces the familiar “Pick 10” customisation format that many players have gotten used to over the past few titles, and suffice to say that the community is split down the middle about whether it was actually needed.
Basically, instead of just having the usual medley of attachments to slap on, Gunsmith 2.0 introduces receivers as well, which are basically frames broken down into different independent groups, or “families”. These receivers offer “cross-progression” between classes, and according to the developers, this removes the need for players to repeatedly unlock the same attachments every time they level up a new weapon.
I personally don't think it's a bad change, though I do feel that the Pick 10 system was much easier to understand. Maybe folks just need some time to familiarise themselves with Gunsmith 2.0, but that isn't the only reason I'm okay with trying to work my head around it. After all, Pick 10 did cause the metagame to suffer from poor build diversity, because every gun would just use the same set of attachments if they could. This particular issue is mitigated by receivers splitting up the available pool of attachments, and in so doing, it helps to encourage more diverse gun builds in games.
If nothing else, enjoy the Campaign
Apart from that, it's probably business as usual over in the Multiplayer aspect, though I admit that the game's Campaign is still the one doing the bulk of the work. Given the wide variety of approaches in some missions, I'm impressed to say that Modern Warfare 2 offers much greater replayability than you might expect. Sure, the narrative can be a little cliche at some points, but between excellent cinematics and refreshing gameplay, I think it's still worth coming along just because the game scores so well in this area. Stay frosty, lads – it's going to be a wild ride.