More than a decade since it originally launched and rewrote the rulebook on video game entertainment, Activision’s annual action experience that is Call of Duty has become the benchmark for success. Love it or hate it, there’s no denying that each Call of Duty released has been a cinematic slobber-knocker of high stakes blockbuster action and an online component with enough meat on its bones to last long enough until the next game in the series arrives.
In many ways then, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2019 is an honest attempt to get back to the roots of the game that changed not only a genre, but an entire industry. The production values clearly reflect the investment that a billion-dollar franchise is afforded each year, the setpieces are meticulously designed the story is aiming down far more serious crosshairs than ever before.
It’s a story that doesn’t hold back, with the first hour alone featuring a stealth assault on an East European army base gone awry, terrorist bombings in the heart of London’s Piccadilly Circus and even a convenient rewriting of history that has not gone over well with the Russians. Whether that story is actually effective, is up for debate. There’s no denying that each location, story beat and the acting between corridor shootouts are brilliantly executed, even if the end result lacks some punch.
Multiple perspectives flash out the tale of an eclectic group of soldiers and rebels hunting down rogue elements, but without a truly satisfying face to pursue, the weekend popcorn action feels like a paint by numbers experience despite the likable cast flexing their incredible acting chops. That’s not to say that those numbers don’t have some substance though, as Modern Warfare is still brilliant at creating opportunities to stretch your skills in wild new directions, whether it be from a gunship chopper cockpit or adjusting for wind in a tense sniper scenario.
What’s really different here though, is the tone. Modern Warfare is a slower game, one where every step taken and bullet fired actually matters. This isn’t the type of game that rewards gung-ho gameplay, but instead favours a more methodical and surgical attack where you check corners and make the most of your environment. Being able to mount a wall and peek around a corner without being shredded by gunfire is a welcome new addition, while this new take on gameplay is truly felt during more tense operations where hard decisions need to be made in the heat of combat.
Being able to engage in such tense missions are a highlight of note, one that only occurs in a mere handful of scenarios such as a London safehouse where discretion, tactics and ambushes under the cover of darkness work to your advantage. Collectibles are out of the equation in Modern Warfare, although the amount of collateral damage that players dish out is tracked and tallied up by the end to yield various rewards.
Slower, scripted and still able to create white-knuckle moments that’ll have your adrenaline flowing at terminal velocity, Modern Warfare’s single-player may not tell the most exhilarating tale but its gameplay more than makes up for that snafu.
Paradoxically, the multiplayer side of Modern Warfare is as over the top as always, but one that still brings with it years of polish and refinement to its spectacle. Reloading while keeping your line of sight intact and the new mount feature means that playing defensively is a natural fit for several modes, while slowly opening doors to check your corners and utilising a super-sprint means that players have a wider range of subtle options available to them.
As of launch, multiplayer currently has a dozen maps, with more on the way via free updates in the future. Modes on offer range from the standard team deathmatch to free-for-all options and the armpit-moistening Gunfight that condenses Call of Duty to its absolute core best: Two on two fights with a minimum amount of time per round in a claustrophobic map, forcing players to act fast and decisively across several matches.
Realism mode adds an extra dose of value to how you play these matches, with the game removing all HUD elements and forcing you to rely on a more realistic approach to warfare. There was a night-time option for this mode, but it was removed before launch with a promise that it would be back in the near future. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s Ground War, a gargantuan 64-player mode that is attempting to remove Battlefield from its lofty perch as king of this specific massively multiplayer action mode.
Is it successful? According to Battlefield players not exactly, but Ground War still has a lot to offer. Maps are filled with vehicles, chokepoints and vantage points from which to push your team score further, and for now it’ll be interesting to see how developer Infinity Ward builds on their biggest offering as Modern Warfare continues its tour of duty.
Beyond that and several other modes, you’re still able to level up with every match and earn new rewards for your character and loadout, the Gunsmith allows you to build a weapon which play to your strengths and the temptation of completing challenges for rewards is always an addictive pursuit that’ll have you racking up new cosmetic additions to your arsenal.
The final tally on the multiplayer side of Call of Duty is a promising one. With enough variety to keep things interesting in the grand scheme of things, Killstreaks which can be used to dominate a game and fascinating maps to explore, this year’s incarnation is one that feels familiar but in the best way possible.
Zombies may be out of the Call of Duty equation this year, but the walking dead have found a suitable replacement in the form of Spec Ops. A collection of co-operative missions, the design is simple enough: Large open-ended maps with goals to pursue, a ton of enemies in your way and an eye on players coordinating their loadouts so that they can survive long enough against ever increasing odds that aren’t in their favour.
There’s a certain layer of cheapness to how Modern Warfare throws instant enemy spawns at players while the difficulty of said objectives ramp up, but actually completing those tasks with a well-oiled war machine makes for an exciting experience with only a few rough edges to deal with.
On a technical level, Modern Warfare is a feast for the eyes. Everything about the game simply oozes quality on both an audio and a visual level. Gunfire pops, ricochets and whistles past you in a manner that begs for you to invest in a proper sound or headset system, while the graphical offerings are once again scraping at the uncanny valley door and ready to kick it down.
Special mention must be given to the lighting design, with flickers of sunlight and lens flares playing an important part in how you approach the game. Whether it’s the odd beauty of how light falls on a ravaged desert village or the complete absence of it in the pitch-black darkness before you switch to night vision goggles, Call of Duty Modern Warfare simply looks impossibly good no matter which platform you play it on thanks to its atmospheric design.
A stacked package of single-player and multiplayer offerings, Call of Duty Modern Warfare may not hit every mark that it fires but this ballsy reinvention of the franchise is still the blockbuster benchmark that is thrilling, thoughtful and terrific.
Last Updated: October 29, 2019