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‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’ review: Just like the good old days

Published Nov 5th, 2019 2:16PM EST
call of duty modern warfare review
Image: Activision

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Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

(2007) was one of the most popular shooters of all time, and it made Call of Duty a household name. When you reboot a game like that, you’re playing with fire, and it’s clear from the start that developer Infinity Ward knew how important this entry was not just for longtime fans, but for the future of the franchise.

One of the things that made Call of Duty 4 so great was the campaign. At the time, it was rare for a game to dabble in the complexities of present-day world politics and the bloodshed that can result. The game didn’t shy away from depicting the grim realities of terrorism and the human toll of armed conflicts. Modern Warfare — the 2019 version — follows the same thread, but things are a lot different now than they were in 2007.

As in many other games in the franchise, the story mode sticks you in the boots of a number of different good guys, even if they don’t always seem all that likable. The characters you play as and those you interact with are so often faced with difficult decisions that it can be hard to determine what “good” really means in the context of war.

The terrorists spraying bullets into a crowd of innocent civilians are bad guys. This much seems obvious. But to stop them, you’ll find yourself firing wildly in their direction with little regard for where those rounds might land, even with those same civilians blocking your shot. The game doesn’t really punish you unless you’re really obnoxious about hitting a bystander, which is a wise choice from a gameplay perspective, but it does leave you wondering how your character sleeps at night.

By the time the campaign credits roll, you’ll have hopped around a good chunk of the globe and the missions feel different enough that I never felt like I was retreading the same ground. Still, once you get brought up to speed for each mission, there’s usually only one thing to do (read: kill stuff), so if you’re looking for any kind of serious commentary on the morality of war, you’re probably not going to find it here. This isn’t a good thing or a bad thing, it’s just… a thing, and you’ll want to manage your expectations accordingly.

The story is fine and mostly fun, but it’s always been the multiplayer mode that keeps Call of Duty fans coming back for more, and I’m pleased — no, elated might be a better word — to say that Modern Warfare is easily one of the best competitive online first-person shooters I’ve ever played.

I’ll admit right now that a Call of Duty game hasn’t really roped me into the multiplayer grind since Black Ops 2. I played them all, of course, but games like Ghosts, Advanced Warfare, and even Black Ops III really didn’t grab me the same way as the older titles did. More recently, I spent a good amount of time with WWII, which was a very, very good game, but Modern Warfare has reminded me what it’s like to lose hours and hours in a game without even realizing it.

If you’ve ever played a Call of Duty game online, you already know most of what to expect, including modes like Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, Domination, Search & Destroy and (!) Headquarters. The map selection is meager at the moment, and that’s a shame, but the maps that are here are interesting enough that I could see playing them for a long while without losing interest.

On the flip side, the weapon selection is simply insane. Weapon customization was one of the big focuses this year, and Infinity Ward teased its gunsmithing feature for months. It’s easy to see why, as there are a huge number of real-world guns and a seriously shocking number of accessories available for each.

As you level up each individual weapon, you unlock new grips, stocks, barrels, sights, and other modifications to help you cater each weapon to your specific playstyle. I’m not talking about one or two of each type of accessory here. There are dozens and dozens of mods to unlock for each weapon, and the customization tool does a great job of explaining how each one will affect the weapon both positively and negatively.

Each weapon also has a wealth of aesthetic tweaks you can choose in the form of camo patterns. Some are unlocked via kills alone, while others demand you collect headshots or hipfire kills. Put simply, it’s going to take you forever to unlock everything for even a single weapon, much less all of the 30+ firearms. It’s fantastic.

Killstreaks and perks are back as well, and you can also customize your operator based on a number of presets and unlockable outfits. You can definitely see the foundation being laid here for microtransactions later on, but those are currently absent from the game.

One of the really fantastic surprises is Ground War mode. Call of Duty veterans might remember the old Ground War mode from games like Call of Duty: World at War, and it’s more or less back in its original form here. The mode is played with massive teams on huge maps with a variety of vehicles including tanks and helicopters. It’s incredibly enjoyable, and it’s a lovely way to break up a long play session if Team Deathmatch and Search & Destroy start feeling a bit monotonous.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was, in many ways, a huge gamble for the franchise. Following the mixed reaction to Black Ops 4, this reboot of one of the most popular games in the history of the FPS genre needed to be close to perfect. The campaign might not shake you to your core the way Call of Duty 4 did, but that’s really its only significant shortcoming. It’s a stellar return to form that should be a blueprint for the future of the franchise.

Activision provided BGR with a copy of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare on PS4 for the purposes of this review.

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