The Call of Duty franchise has experienced an identity crisis in recent years. From adventures in space, returning to a WWII setting, and shifting its focus to battle royale, the series has strayed far from what made it an excellent first-person shooter franchise. Though Call of Duty games still dominate sales, publisher Activision and developer Infinity Ward felt the need to relive the series’ Modern Warfare glory days with a reboot of the seminal 2007 title. The new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has the action-packed single-player and robust multiplayer modes one expects from the series. It successfully strips all superfluous elements and delivers an experience even non-shooter fans can enjoy.
Modern Warfare’s campaign focuses on the American CIA, British SAS, and freedom fighters uniting to oppose Russian forces that have invaded the fictional country of Urzikstan. As the narrative unfolds, you jump between three playable characters: CIA officer Alex (no last name), SAS Sergeant Kyle Garrick, and rebel leader Farah Karim. Though ultimately united by a singular goal, each character provides different viewpoints of the war. This multi-character structure also keeps the story and gameplay from becoming repetitive.
Call of Duty stories are notorious for their Michael Bay-like emphasis on over-the-top action. While Modern Warfare has its fair share of bombastic setpieces, the story is decidedly subdued when compared to those of previous game installments. It’s clear Infinity Ward wanted a more realistic representation of modern war; you not only contend with terrorists and soldiers, but must do so without killing civilians. Often, the story presents players with tough moral dilemmas that don’t have clear-cut solutions. The emphasis on realism makes the narrative a truly harrowing and engaging experience.
In the Trenches
Though a first-person shooter, Modern Warfare contains a surprising amount of gameplay variety. One mission sees your character controlling security cameras for the purpose of directing a hostage to safety. In another mission, you play as a child who must sneak past enemy soldiers. There are points when you must plant explosives, navigate through burning structures, or use satellite-controlled missiles to take out air vehicles. The game never lets you get too comfortable and always keeps you on your toes.
One of the new gameplay features is the ability to mount weapons to objects like door frames, walls, and crates. Mounting helps steady your shots and makes it easier to pick off enemies. It’s also an excellent way of creating cover during particularly nasty shootouts. Very few FPS titles have a cover system, so it’s good to see Call of Duty have its own take on it, even if mounting doesn’t always guarantee your safety.
The single-player campaign is one of the strongest in Call of Duty’s history, but the game contains many multiplayer modes, too. While the multiplayer modes all boil down to shooting enemies before they shoot you, their variety ensures you’ll return for more action.
Modes like Team Deathmatch, Free-for-All, Headquarters, Search and Destroy (now known as Cyber Attack) and Domination are largely unchanged from their previous iterations. If you’re a longtime player who wants the video game equivalent of comfort food, these modes provide familiar thrills.
Things get interesting when you dip into the new multiplayer modes. Gunfight eschews the large arenas and frantic gunplay for something decidedly more strategic. This 2 vs. 2 mode places two teams into a relatively small arena. There is no health regeneration or respawning. Furthermore, your loadout changes every 40 seconds, forcing you to adjust to the new circumstances. A similar mode called Gunfight OSP sees you scouring the map for weapons. This is akin to the way most matches start in battle royale games like Fortnite or PUBG. In fact, it isn’t unfair to call Gunfight a stripped down battle royale mode.
Speaking of elements from other shooters, the new Ground War is reminiscent of the Battlefield series’ sprawling multiplayer matches. Here, two teams consisting of 32 players fight to secure different sectors of a large city. Like in the Battlefield games, Modern Warfare’s Ground War lets you control vehicles, such as tanks and jets. Ground War is in many ways Domination on a massive scale. Though it’s thrilling to fight on such a gargantuan map, Ground War doesn’t satisfy the way Battlefield does. This is mainly due to the map’s labyrinthine nature. With so many buildings and alleys, it makes driving vehicles and getting shots on enemies difficult. Running across the map can also get tedious because of its size. Still, the inclusion of Ground War is not unwelcome.
Those who want a true multiplayer challenge need look no further than NVG. Here, every map is engulfed in darkness, forcing you to use night-vision goggles (hence the name of the mode). To make things more challenging, “realism” rules apply. This means there’s no UI letting you know if your shots connected or killed foes. Weapons deal more damage, too. NVG mode is truly for the hardcore player.
Spec Ops is a four-player PvE, co-op mode that supplements the main story by providing a different perspective on events spoken of in passing. You must complete objectives while under constant assault from AI-controlled enemies. The relentless enemy barrage forces players to truly work as a team if they wish to survive. It’s a fun mode that is best played with friends.
Note that Modern Warfare on PC lacks the PlayStation 4-exclusive Survival mode. Since we reviewed the PC version of the game, we can’t comment on this horde-like mode in any detail. Suffice it to say that it is disappointing PC and Xbox One gamers can’t partake in Survival.
As in previous Call of Duty games, Modern Warfare lets you unlock new weapons, perks, and killstreaks as you level up. Even if you aren’t good at multiplayer, you’ll always gain experience. One of the better additions is how your weapons level up the more you use them in multiplayer. Each weapon gets attachments like muzzles, scopes, and clips with each new level attained. This incentivizes you to continue using your favorite weapons to get the most out of them.
Crossplay is becoming a common feature in multiplayer games, so it’s no surprise to see that Modern Warfare has it. Granted, this doesn’t change much in terms of how you actually engage with the multiplayer since everyone is essentially equal. The novelty of seeing PlayStation and Xbox icons next to player names in the lobby doesn’t last long. Still, it’s good to see the game embrace a feature that expands the play base.
Graphics and Hardware
Modern Warfare is an absolute stunner in the visual department. Each locale—from sun-scorched deserts to dense forests, congested urban centers, and hidden underground bunkers—comes to life in stunning detail. Character models receive as much attention as the environments. Even incidental characters look great.
You’ll need a hefty rig to get the most out of Modern Warfare. The devs recommend an Intel Core i5-2500K central processing unit, an Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 graphics card, 12GB of RAM, 175GB of storage, and the Windows 10 operating system. If you want to enable ray tracing, your PC needs 16GB of RAM and an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2060 GPU (along with an Intel Core i5-2500k or AMD R5 1600x CPU).
My gaming desktop—featuring an Intel i7 4790 CPU and Nvidia GeForce GTX 1080 GPU—runs Modern Warfare at 1080p resolution with a frame rate that hovers between 130-160 frames per second at max settings (the frame rate is uncapped). The only notable flaw was some choppiness during video cinematics. In-game cutscenes run perfectly fine.
There are a number of different graphics settings in options. This includes the ability to enable or disable post-processing effects like anti-aliasing, depth of field, and motion blur. You can enable DirectX raytracing, tessellation, and ambient occlusion or add graphical tweaks like bullet holes on surfaces.
You cannot purchase the $59.99 Modern Warfare via Steam, but you can buy it from Battle.net.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is the course correction the series needed. Infinity Ward wisely chose to return to the series to its “boots on the ground” roots. This immediately distinguishes the game from current popular shooters like Fortnite and Overwatch. Though it faces stiffer competition compared to its 2007 counterpart, the rebooted Modern Warfare’s engaging campaign and rich multiplayer modes should help it survive in the modern shooter landscape. Whether you’re a veteran or newcomer, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare offers many fun and exciting moments.
Bottom Line: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is the fresh start that the series desperately needed. This reboot of a modern classic has everything folks once loved about the CoD franchise, and lays an exciting foundation for the series moving forward.