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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019)

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019)

Written by Nicholas Leon on 11/12/2019 for PS4  
More On: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019)

The biggest bug that’s itched me about Call of Duty is its refusal to change. Over the years it’s found its groove and settled into it. Bombastic set pieces, faster-than-light multiplayer, and more have molded it into a shape that’s hard to chisel out of. Well, with Modern Warfare, that’s changed, sort of. It packs a brief but robust single-player campaign and a great, layered multiplayer experience, both of which make for an astounding game that is at once brilliant and frustrating.

A reboot of the 2007 classic that well and truly put Call of Duty on the pedestal it is today, Modern Warfare offers a diluted and remixed version of the West’s conflicts in the Middle East. Gone are the factions like Hamas, IDF, Spetsnaz, and Army Rangers in multiplayer. Instead, we have factions like Coalition and Allegiance: two faceless organizations that the player can only tell apart by the accents of their respective operators. For the campaign, it’s an intense action movie, filled with bombast, but also some nuance, choosing to show a fiction version of the Middle East where all the United States’ conflicts are dropped into a single country.

Almost all of the original characters are back from the dead in the story: Staff Sgt. Griggs, Captain Price, and even Nikolai. It’s safe to say that the game acts as a hard reboot and a prequel to the original 2007 entry, setting up the characters and conflict in a new light.

What I admire about the campaign’s writing is its ability to challenge the notion of good and bad in today’s warfare. Protagonists sometimes do things that most people might be shocked to see—say, abandoning someone strapped into a suicide vest because there’s not enough time to save them, and because saving them would result in the deaths of even more civilians and soldiers.

That intensity is something Call of Duty excels at—but it also comes at the cost of substance, of what Modern Warfare truly means. If you, like me, consider yourself a foreign policy bug, then the events in the game will evoke strong familiarity. Missions include defending an American embassy under attack (See Benghazi, Libya); a level called Highway of Death (See: the Gulf War); and Russians invading a Middle Eastern country (Afghanistan) and using chemical weapons against the population (Syria).

This notion that the game can have it both ways when it comes to exploring modern battlefields is confusing. Call of Duty has been to Berlin, Stalingrad, and Peleliu. Why can’t it go to these other places that play out only in allusion? Perhaps the wounds are too fresh. I understand that to portray actual wars is to portray the deaths of real soldiers and civilians, but if the game is willing to show Captain Price pushing a civilian to his death, or an ally deploy chemical weapons against enemy soldiers, then what’s stopping it from alluding to real war crimes like what happened at Abu Ghraib prison or the massacre committed by Staff Sergeant Robert Bales? There’s a good reason for portraying Russia as the cartoon villain: it is. The crimes it commits in the game mirror those the country helps enforce in Syria right this very moment.

This is what makes the campaign both brilliant and frustrating—its willingness to portray the real cost of war, but only in veiled references to real conflicts.

But if there is a silver lining, it’s the characters and their personal stories. Call of Duty has gotten more cinematic over the years, trying to tell stories in visceral detail with a quality almost equating the filmic medium—and the tradition continues here. Players control Gerrick, an SAS recruit; Alex, a CIA officer; and Farah, a rebel in Urzikstan (the game’s fictional Middle Eastern country where most of the conflict takes place) fighting against Russians and a terrorist group called Al-Qatala (more allusions). Garrick and Alex are wholly uninteresting soldiers with paper-thin personalities. They’re good guys thrust into situations where their morals are tested, but in the end, they don’t really do anything bad.

Farah, on the other hand, is where the heart of the story lies. She has been fighting against Russian rule of her country since they invaded 20 years prior to the game’s modern timeline. The events depicted in her life are heart-wrenching, and endear the player to her struggle in a way that hasn’t been done since the original Modern Warfare (remember that ending and how much you cried?). But aside from the three or so missions in which players control Farah, the rest are left up to Alex and Gerrick, who make up for their lack in character with missions that feel like adult playgrounds filled with tension and explosives.

Alex’s missions are bombastic from beginning to end. Sabotaging Russian attack helicopters, raiding air bases, and tearing enemies apart with a heavy sniper rifle comprise most of this missions. This sort of gameplay is classic Call of Duty, but it’s measured: the stakes more up close and personal, rather than world-ending.

The same can be said for Gerrick’s missions, except the first half of is much more subtly paced. An SAS recruit in the anti-terror unit, his missions are necessarily a little slower than Alex’s—but no less intense. Starting with a terrorist attack on London, Gerrick goes on missions with a recast Captain Price, rooting out terrorists in London flats, then slowly making their way to Urzikstan to meet up with Alex and Farah.

Most missions are a mix of open-ended and linear areas. The former group aren’t huge sprawling maps like in Halo, but areas in which players can complete objectives at their own pace, accomplishing them in a variety of ways. These missions are fun, but I beat the whole game in roughly six to eight hours. The length of a campaign isn’t what concerns me, but rather the impact. In the end, it’s a mixed bag. The game packs good character, but its half-baked approach to modern conflict can be summed up by Staff Sgt. Griggs: “Good guys look like bad guys around here, s*** is f***** up.” Conventionally true, but lacking any substance or thought.

A note on Captain Price: his voice actor is different, and where newcomer Barry Sloane tries to offer cool, he loses the original Billy Murray’s professional smolder. It doesn’t impact my review, but it is noticeable.

As soon as the credits rolled, I hopped onto the multiplayer. My experience in the beta wasn’t that great: players glitched under the map, and pros destroyed me. But the experience in the proper game is a lot better. Boasting about 19 levels that are supported by most modes—the 2v2 Gunfight is supported by seven, 64-player Ground War is supported by two, and the last 10 support Team Deathmatch, Domination, Headquarters, Cyber Attack, and Realism. With all this, and the change of approach affected by the game’s new engine (which offers sleeker looks and slower movement), this is probably the best multiplayer the series has ever offered.

As I said earlier, factions are broken down between Allegiance and Coalition. Players can customize their operators with different color schemes on their default costumes. One of mine is a Russian guy in a purple tracksuit. It’s not good camo, but he goes down in style.

The amps are a huge improvement compared to the last entry I reviewed (the unoriginal and pathetic WWII) in that they feel like actual places, rather than levels designed top-down with the same navigation on each level.

What I find most interesting is the degree of verticality to each map, especially ones related to smaller gameplay modes. Maps like Azhir Cave, Hackney Yard, and St. Petrograd. No matter how hard a player tries, there is always some way for another to take them out. Players who have played the series for a long time will undoubtedly have a better time with the game at first. Even if the approach to multiplayer has slowed things down a bit, this is still Call of Duty. Players can drop like flies from drop shots or campers hiding across a section of map. It’s frustrating, but there’s always a way to pull through.

But the multiplayer does feel different, if only slightly. Players can still dash across maps, but it’s a bit more hazardous to do so. This new multiplayer seems to favor a more thoughtful approach in players, one I think is best summed up in my favorite mode: Realism.

No HUD whatsoever, no minimap, only the sight and sound of the player. Headshots deal a lot more damage. I’ve only played Realism on Hackney Yard, Azhir Cave, and Rammaza. There are also night versions of these maps, but I haven’t had the chance to check them out yet. I hope Realism continues to get support, and even branch out further than just hardcore Team Deathmatch.

This is the mode that I feel truly justifies Call of Duty’s fast pace. If you go into a place, guns blazing, chances are you won’t make it out all right. Whenever I play, I find the best teams to be the ones that approach the match tactically. We all enter a place backing each other up, keeping over watch on enemies should they cross our path. Although this mode is tough—hardcore under a slicker name—it provides a different approach that I strongly appreciate. When I’m sick of getting decked in Team Deathmatch or Ground War, I hop into Realism, and get to floor players who are used to the regular multiplayer. The pressure is still on, but in a heavier way. IF you don’t think about what you’re doing, you’re dead.

There are other modes, too: Domination, Headquarters, Free-For-All, Team Deathmatch; but among them are new modes such as Gunfight, Cyber Attack, and Ground War. Ground War is the mode that I’ve taken most interest in as a Battlefield player. Call of Duty copies that formula with mixed success. 

It’s a 64-player match covering two maps: Travorsk and Quarry, in which players try to capture and hold five objective areas. It’s Conquest, just without destructible buildings. And it’s that borrowing of a different franchise’s mojo that shows the defect of Call of Duty’s maps. Except in cases such as St. Petrograd, Azhir Cave, and Rammaza, the maps have such a gray palette that it’s quite hard to tell anyone apart. Trying to spot someone across the map is difficult, especially when someone already has the drop on you.

Luckily, there are plenty of ways that players can counter this. Patience, picking the right weapons, killstreaks, and perks, of which the multiplayer has aplenty. Players can have up to five customized loadouts, each with their own perk and weapon advancement and customization. It’s a complex system that’s easy to understand, and fun to play around with.

But what’s least fun is the game’s co-op mode. Either online or local, players team up to accomplish a series of objectives while fighting against waves of enemies that seem to be playing the game with an aimbot. The match that I played had my team and I wiped out at least three times, and that was before we completed all three objectives of hacking an identical scrambler while facing an onslaught of said enemies. It’s terrible and repetitive. What I would have appreciated is something more akin to the well-paced missions of the single-player campaign.

But Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is a triumph. The series has reinvented itself once again, but I’m concerned that it’s always been developer Infinity Ward who does it. How long will it take before the series loses steam and becomes stale again? Only time will tell, but for now, I’ll be enjoying this game.

Modern Warfare is the most astounding Call of Duty I've played since World at War. But they haven't gone as far they could, in the campaign especially. The multiplayer is outstanding, as always, with the slightest modifications eking out big results. But in the game's attempt to shock and awe, I don't think they're quite there yet.

Rating: 8.8 Class Leading

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company.

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About Author

I am Nicholas Leon. My nickname is Nick, and it all started when I fired up Super Mario 64. I then moved on to the Zelda series (I beat Wind Waker on my dad's old save file a couple years ago) and other Nintendo products. I then moved on to Microsoft products where I have played the majority of my games.

I got into first-person shooters in middle school, and although my interest in them has subsided over time, there are still plenty of interesting titles in that area. My first foray into online gaming happened in high school with Battlefield 3.

Now, I'm getting more into PC gaming, and I also just bought my first PS4. and own my very first Pokemon game in Moon. 

I love intelligent games. That doesn't mean they have to be smart, they just have to know what they are. Action, horror, RPGs, Wii Sports, you name it. I'm always down for new adventures. 

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