If you’ve followed this blog (or any of my socials) for any amount of time, you know that I have a long, storied history of healthy skepticism regarding the Call of Duty series. I have played these games since Call of Duty: Finest Hour on the GameCube, so I like to think that my perspective is important when it comes time to take the series, it’s fanbase, and it’s creators down a peg.
I like Call of Duty, really I do! I just try not to miss any opportunities when it comes to pointing out how silly the CoD community can be sometimes.
All of that being said, Modern Warfare II is here and it’s already the best selling Call of Duty in franchise history. It’s on pace to crack $1 billion in sales, and over a billion matches have been played. The game is everywhere. Mountain Dews, Little Caesars, commercials, Twitch, Twitter, you name it. Activision has never been a company you can accuse of under-advertising their games, and Modern Warfare II absolutely was destined from its announcement date to be one of – if not the biggest and most important – title in Activision’s history. They’ve even gone balls to the wall in advertising the campaign, rewarding pre-order customers with early access to their annual blockbuster single-player mode.
But… Is it any good? Warning: This review contains mild campaign spoilers.
Call of Duty’s campaigns are typically solid, fun, action-packed 5-6 hour romps reminiscent of a Michael Bay flick. You know what you’re getting from CoD’s single player: a group of ultra-badass, multi-national special ops commandos are teaming up to thwart the evil plans of a mish-mash of villains with comically destructive plans for the planet. You’ll shoot lots and lots of henchmen, travel the globe, and bask in some gorgeous cutscenes along the way. It’s typically a pretty good time!
Modern Warfare II is no different. We’re once again in the combat boots and ghillie suits of Captain Price, Gaz, Soap, Ghost, and even a couple of new characters as a not-so-covert global conspiracy unravels. The campaign is almost double the length of Call of Duty: Vanguard, clocking in at 17 missions (compared to last year’s nine), so players are going to want to strap the fuck in for this one.
One nice thing about CoD’s campaign this time around, is that bonuses from single player carry over to multiplayer (which is, undoubtedly, the main event every year). Players will exit the single player campaign with a handful of new Operators for Multiplayer and probably a half dozen Double XP tokens (not to mention some Calling Cards and Player Icons) all-in-all, and completing the final mission awards a pretty awesome M4 blueprint to get you a leg up in the game’s marquee modes. It’s a tight, rewarding experience, and anyone who purchases the game should absolutely play it.
Old Players, New Game
As you no doubt already know, Modern Warfare II is the second installment in a soft reboot for Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007) and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009). I actually didn’t get a chance to play 2019’s Modern Warfare reboot, but I still had a good idea of what I was getting with this game. Sadly, there are some predictable plot points that come along with these familiar faces, but I’m happy to report that this campaign isn’t even close to a copy-and-paste clone of 2009’s original MW2.
Modern Warfare II’s shared DNA with its pre-boot (if that’s not a word yet, it is now), pretty much starts and ends at the characters and their personalities. You know their names, histories, and demeanors. Ghost is a terrifying and heartless masked soldier. Price is a complete badass. General Shepard is still corrupt. -Gaz and Soap are the guys we play as and don’t say as much, but have much more focused and dedicated story beats and lines than they did as the original POV characters in the first Modern Warfare trilogy. This was extremely fun to hear, and the entire voice cast does a stellar job of bringing these characters to life in new ways.
Theaters of Pain
Make no mistake about it, Modern Warfare II’s campaign is fucking dark. It’s probably the most grim, violent, and in some moments unsettling campaign since Call of Duty: World at War. MW2 does not shy away from the more questionable aspects of global conflict, and there were certain moments that definitely sent my eyebrows flying to the top of my head and had me whispering “oof” under my breath.
All of the world’s most publicized and vilified groups are on display here. Russian extremists, “Al Qatal” insurgents, and even Mexican cartel members join forces in a borderline-comical Legion of Doom-esque villainous alliance, and their plot is made even more possible thanks to catastrophic mistakes and oversights by our very own U.S. government. The villains that our heroes are sent across the globe to fight are scary, there’s no doubt about that – but they pale in comparison to the scheming and remorseless powers-that-be on our own home soil.
MW2 is definitely a blast to play, but be advised that there are very few – if any – uplifting moments. Some of the bleaker moments border on exhausting at times, but the action that picks up in the game’s second half is enough to propel you across the explosive finish line. Modern Warfare 2 inherits the mantle from its original predecessors in getting super close to actually saying something about the state of the world and the conflicts that occur on it – but its message never truly sticks its landing.
War Never Changes
There is no doubt in my mind that fans of the original Modern Warfare titles will find tons to love here. There’s an AC-130 mission, a mission on a rainy, dark cargo ship, a mission involving vehicles, and plenty of other callbacks to the original titles and some of their most iconic moments to keep longtime fans happy.
The two missions that stood out to me the most, however, were the ones that completely diverged from the typical Call of Duty formula and played out more like a survival mode within the campaign. I won’t go into spoiler territory here, but two missions in the campaign require your POV character – who is unarmed and being actively hunted down by the enemy – to forage for crafting materials to create improvised explosives, traps, lockpicks, and other tools in order to survive. The first time these mechanics are introduced, it’s extremely jarring but begins to feel familiar very quickly. It results in some of the best character dialogue in the game, but comes very late in the campaign. We see these mechanics pop up just one more time at the back half of a different mission, and it left me wanting lots – lots more.
I’m not sure if these mechanics will carry over at all into future Special Ops missions or even CoD’s mysterious new “DMZ” mode, but I truly hope they don’t abandon these ideas. I thought it was super interesting, tense, and exciting to explore these new types of missions, and I was disappointed that Infinity Ward didn’t give these elements more room to properly breathe.
All in all, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II’s campaign serves up one of the better cinematic experiences in recent series memory. I really enjoyed Vanguard’s campaign, and this definitely felt a little predictable since I’m already familiar with the characters and plots of the original trilogy, but there were enough unique and exciting moments to propel this gritty war story all the way through to the end.
The Good: Gorgeous setpieces and impeccable sound design bring players to some of the darkest corners and moments of a sprawling global conspiracy. Survival mechanics are a welcome and criminally underused addition.
The Bad: The story can be almost too dark at times, and borders on predictable at others. Certain “quick time” mechanics and moments flat out don’t work sometimes, which can be very frustrating.
The Verdict: An exciting, explosive campaign that offers a handful of multiplayer rewards as well. Visuals that demand to be experienced on a next-gen console or solid PC. Some ideas fall flat or aren’t given enough time to breathe, while nostalgic mission structure takes center stage.
The Score: 3.5/5
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