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Review | Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II

Having not played a Call of Duty since Call of Duty: WWII back in 2017 and having missed out on 2019’s Modern Warfare reboot, I figured it was time to give the franchise another shot. I have found the series to be mostly stale since Advanced Warfare. After the rave reviews and long-term praise, the Modern Warfare reboot received, it seemed like the franchise might be getting back on track, at least under the stewardship of its original creator, Infinity Ward.

Being that the campaign was available before everything else, that is where we’ll start. Modern Warfare II’s campaign kicks off with the man, the myth, the legend, Ghost, on a mission to assassinate an enemy general. This opening mission, while brief, kicks things off with a bang and a classic “I can’t believe I got to do that” moment. Despite this strong opening, the campaign takes a few missions to really get rolling, though that’s historically how I feel about most campaigns in this franchise. They hit you with the wow right up front and then bring you back to the reality that not every mission can be a climactic, over-the-top action sequence. I do feel that this campaign starts a bit slower than most, but that is because of a bit of change in philosophy. 

Many of the early missions task you with handling small numbers of enemies at a time, rather than fighting on the frontlines of war. I was initially a tad disappointed with this as I usually come to COD to joyfully run and gun my way across the battlefield, but these encounters felt more intimate and more meaningful. The difficulty also struck me right away, quite literally, as I died in one of the first encounters of the second mission. Normal difficulty is much more challenging than in previous entries and that’s something you’ll need to take heed of if you’re just here for the story. Each engagement truly feels like life or death and my habits developed from the older games or from my time with shooters like Destiny led to repeated deaths. It was frustrating but I gradually adapted.

I enjoyed many of the throwbacks to the original Modern Warfare trilogy, familiar names, classic lines delivered in new ways, etc. In many ways, Modern Warfare II’s campaign feels like the greatest hits of those games, borrowing many popular elements from the past and giving them a fresh coat of paint. By the end, I thought they were laying on the throwbacks a little thick. Yeah, it’s still cool, but how many times are you going to jab me in the chest with another “eh, remember this? Wasn’t this cool back in the original games?” A greater emphasis on stealth is exciting for those who want a little more tactical espionage to go along with their military shooter, but I often found myself accidentally breaking or intentionally breaking stealth to keep the action moving at a more brisk pace. The patient among us will likely enjoy not having to gun your way through every encounter, but I know what I like and Call of Duty still provides some satisfying gunplay.

What I did find very frustrating in my time with the campaign was how the enemy A.I. reacts to the player. “Player Awareness” is a well-known concept, especially in COD, and is a big issue in some of my least favorite entries in the series. Modern Warfare II is among the most egregiously offensive among them. Enemies are clearly tracking you through walls, prepared to fire the instant you become visible. Enemies engaged with your allies will quickly snap to you when you poke out to take a few shots, and it never feels fun. To make matters worse, sometimes enemies will simply walk through covering fire to blast you in the back of the head when you believed you were safe in cover. This is made all the more annoying when you take into account the fact that your allies are generally much better at supporting you overall as they hold their own and are not afraid to get their hands dirty.

There are also moments where the game will bark an order at you without explaining what exactly to do or how to do it, leading to some awkward trial-and-error moments. Maybe it’s just me, but shouting “You need a new vehicle” while in a high-speed chase doesn’t help me realize I can go full action movie and jump from rooftop to rooftop of cars and just hijack them. At one point I stopped to grab a car on the side of the road, seemingly placed there for just such an occasion, only to fail the mission because the enemy got away. Another time, I was told to follow someone through a doorway I hadn’t even reached yet, and I quickly “lost” them, sending me back to the last checkpoint. This all being a stark contrast to a mission where Captain Price carefully taught me the finer points of sniping in a way no other game ever had before, making me feel like a goddamn professional. All in all, I enjoyed the campaign, but I came away a little less jazzed about the experience than I was expecting. It’s a good time, but if all you care about is playing the story then the price of entry is just too steep for such a familiar and at times frustrating feeling campaign.

The multiplayer suite is your classic Call of Duty experience. Modes like Ground War return along with the likes of TDM. If you’re a long-time fan, this is what you came for. If you’re like me and haven’t kept up over the years, you’re in for an oppressive experience. I had some fun in a few matches but rarely felt like I was contributing to the team. To its credit, there is nothing else quite like it and I do want to see how I feel about things after really working on my guns and loadouts. I’m still in the discovery phase trying to figure out what I like and how I want to play, and COD offers plenty of variety in gameplay styles. If you can get past the rough first few matches, you start to see the reason why this game has been the de facto multiplayer game of the last 15+ years. The best-in-class shooting does shine through and when you do finally get some kill streaks you start to feel like you’re the run running the lobby. Oh, and unless you are a fan of the lobby chat that comes along with COD, I’d highly recommend disabling lobby voice, especially if you’re streaming.

Modern Warfare II builds upon the engine upgrades found in the 2019 reboot and the game looks fantastic. The HDR implementation is especially nice and is the ideal way to take in the whole experience if you have a compatible display. PC options include the gamut of supersampling options like DLSS and FSR, almost guaranteeing high framerates. Running at maxed settings with DLSS 2 enabled I rarely had drops below 100 FPS, though there were a few drops into the mid-70s at strange times, possibly due to some background asset streaming or checkpointing I didn’t notice. On the whole I had no complaints with the game’s performance other than some nagging screen tearing, especially in multiplayer, that forced me to turn on V-Sync. I was a fan of the music and voice acting, both of which have that Hollywood blockbuster, highly produced vibe to them, but I thought weapons and other sound effects were just okay. Everything sounded a little samey. Maybe that’s just me, but I wasn’t overly impressed with the sound design.

Modern Warfare II is another solid, if safe entry at a time when the series is coming off a few duds. After Infinity Ward pushed the envelope back in 2019 and saw huge success, it is surprising to see them play it so safe this time around. The series is still in need of a refreshed identity and reliving the series’ heyday through a new filter can only do so much to fend off the feeling of staleness. I am enjoying my time with the game, but as someone who hasn’t played in quite some time. Your mileage may vary. Here’s hoping Warzone 2 pushes things more forward than this given the quality foundation.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II: Despite going big, Modern Warfare II plays it safe, for better or worse Chris

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