When the original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare launched back in 2007, it’s fair to say it revolutionised not only the first-person shooter genre but gaming as a whole. The single-player campaign was filled with memorable moments – the ghillie suit mission, the finale, that nuclear blast – but it was the multiplayer that truly shone. Modern Warfare defined an entire generation of gaming and dictated the direction the entire seventh generation would take, so following it up was always going to be a tough act.
Activision have done just that several times with varying degrees of success. It’s generally agreed that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is pretty solid, but the third game suffers from diminishing returns. If you consider 2008’s World at War to be Modern Warfare’s successor, things are a little more clear-cut; World at War is fine, but it’s certainly not as groundbreaking as its predecessor was. We’d have to wait until this year for a true followup to everyone’s favourite military FPS.
Fastforward to 2019, then, and we now have Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (rather frustratingly, it doesn’t add any numbers or subtitles to the name). The clean title suggests a clean break, an intention to reboot the franchise and return to what made it successful after Black Ops 4’s experimental no-single-player approach. Modern Warfare arrives fully formed, sporting its very own single-player campaign and suite of multiplayer gameplay options.
In many ways, that title – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare – speaks to what this new Call of Duty is. It’s a return to form, a callback to 2007’s slightly simpler time for first-person shooters. Modern Warfare dispenses with the Zombies mode that’s been a stalwart inclusion in the series since 2008’s World at War; in its place is Modern Warfare 2’s much-feted Spec Ops mode, which pits you and a friend against a series of co-operative challenges.
If you’re a Modern Warfare fan, it’s hard not to recommend this game to you right off the bat. Everything you loved from 2007’s instalment is here, prettied up and ready for the modern console generation. The PlayStation 4 version of Modern Warfare also comes complete with a Survival mode, which brings a Gears of War-style Horde mode to the game’s Spec Ops feature. For our money, the PS4 is the console to play Modern Warfare on, not least if you’ve got a PS4 Pro.
Since there’s a single-player campaign now, it stands to reason that Modern Warfare should stand up to its forebears in this regard, and it...mostly does. A couple of returning faces from the original Modern Warfare make things exciting – Captain Price makes a return, which should bring a smile to the face of any Modern Warfare fan – but it’s hard not to feel like the game’s narrative is going through the motions a little. Call of Duty is still treading water despite a few token innovations in single-player.
Those innovations do help to make things feel a little more fresh, though. Modern Warfare features a few open-ended maps with non-linear objective challenges, which makes a welcome change from the usual guided-by-the-nose sightseeing tour feel of the main single-player modes in these games. There’s also a bit of branching dialogue depending on choices you make, which is nice but doesn’t really impact the feel of the overall story.
Of course, that’s not what you’re here for if you’re a Modern Warfare nut. The shooting in Infinity Ward’s newest offering is fantastic. It’s tight, focused, and full of satisfying, tense feedback. Every shot rings through your controller like you’re actually firing. The game’s slightly iffy politics and semi-linear campaign don’t matter a whit when you’re pumping enemies full of lead, because the moment to moment gameplay loop of Modern Warfare represents the best the series has been arguably since Modern Warfare 2.
Unfortunately, there are a couple of blips on Modern Warfare’s radar, and they mostly present themselves in the multiplayer. For years, this franchise has been crying out for a less twitchy and aggressive multiplayer approach, in which Modern Warfare is patently uninterested. Instead, the game’s multiplayer mode is the standard “spawn-die-repeat” formula that the series has adhered to for years. Don’t expect to get good at Modern Warfare until you pour in some time and unlock some perks.
That said, the multiplayer has had a couple of fresh coats of paint. The new Gunfight mode is spectacular; it pits teams of two against one another in tense, drawn-out gun battles that often see minutes go by without any bullets being fired. This break from tradition is exactly where Call of Duty should be going, and it’s encouraging to see Infinity Ward experimenting with slowing down the mechanics of the game to beneficial effect.
The other new mode is Ground War, and the results as far as that mode is concerned are decidedly more mixed. On the surface, you’d be forgiven for thinking this is Modern Warfare’s answer to a battle royale mode, and you’d be largely right; Ground War supports around 64 players per map, so it’s clearly gunning for Black Ops 4’s battle royale crown. In reality, though, it’s more akin to an old-school big multiplayer fracas like MAG.
Ground War doesn’t work quite as well as Infinity Ward wants it to. That’s largely because the scale kind of dwarfs the action. Modern Warfare works best in its campaign’s quieter moments (of which there are a surprisingly large amount), when the tension is high and the gunplay is like a coiled spring. Ground War kind of moots that and just throws players together to battle it out in a chaotic and unfocused mess of a mode. Stick to standard multiplayer or the excellent Spec Ops mode.
In the final analysis, it’s amazing how much Modern Warfare really feels like 2007’s seminal shooter prettied up for the modern era. Many of the truly great additions to the series, including Spec Ops, are present here, and the only thing that really feels like it’s significantly advanced is the excellent gunplay. If you loved Modern Warfare before, you’ll love it now. If you’ve never had any love for the Call of Duty series, this probably won’t convert you, but it’s an excellent shooter and one we’ll likely be playing for many months to come.