Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II delivers exactly what was expected, and while the game is technically impressive and feature-heavy, its multitude of components each fail to truly inspire. Innovation isn’t necessarily expected when it comes to Call of Duty, a series which has been a pillar since its inception, and an undeniable juggernaut in the multiplayer first-person shooter space since the original Modern Warfare released in 2007. While Modern Warfare 2 is an exceptional Call of Duty, there are numerous avenues in which it doesn’t reach its potential, languishing in familiarity rather than fully embracing its more enticing game mechanics.
Call of Duty‘s latest follows its 2019 predecessor as a reboot and quasi-sequel to the original trilogy Infinity Ward released from 2007 to 2011, with all of modern gaming’s bells and whistles, including MW2‘s disc containing almost none of the game. The key members of Task Force 141 – Captain John Price, Johnny “Soap” MacTavish, Simon “Ghost” Riley, and Kyle “Gaz” Garrick – return with similar dispositions to their original incarnations. Price’s iconic “Ghillies in the Mist” mission to assassinate Russian Ultranationalist Imran Zakhaev has canonically occurred in the reboot timeline, and the members of TF141 were suggested to have a history at the end of MW2019, but for all intents and purposes, Modern Warfare 2 has no connection to the events of its 2009 counterpart.
The campaign could be adequately categorized as cheap entertainment if it weren’t for Modern Warfare 2‘s $70 price tag. Each mission has some shade of atmospheric, tactical operation or bombastic set piece – and frequently both. When the narrative isn’t busy thrusting Modern Warfare 2‘s characters into committing war crimes, which the game has already been rightfully lampooned for, it tries to build a high-stakes conflict in which TF141 hunts down Major Hassan Zyani, an Iranian Quds Force member with close ties to a terrorist organization called Al Qatala. Hassan and Al Qatala employ the support of the Las Almas Mexican drug cartel, which has worldwide smuggling networks put to good use for the terrorists’ most valuable cargo: missiles somehow seized from the United States.
Players control Soap, Gaz, and various other characters throughout the campaign as Task Force 141 attempts to locate and recover the missiles under the purview of the CIA’s Kate Laswell and US Army General Shepherd. Aside from a couple crashes, the campaign is a good technical showcase, taking players through nearly photorealistic locales like Modern Warfare 2‘s Amsterdam, and giving them a satisfying variety of weapons and scenarios in which to use them. From tense, night-vision assisted building sweeps, to high-octane car chases, MW2‘s campaign can be quite fun to play. The experience is unfortunately undermined by a telegraphed plot. Without getting into details, it’s safe to say those familiar with the original MW2‘s story will not be the least bit surprised by the big reveal.
Like its 2019 predecessor, the most promising missions of the campaign are those where the player is left to their own devices. “Recon by Fire” plays up its similarities to “Ghillies in the Mist,” but is a refrain of “Going Dark” from MW2019. The player as Gaz is sent to complete objectives while Price provides overwatch. The subtle guiding that normally leads the player to their destination is gone, and 2022’s biggest FPS release trusts them with a variety of tools to approach situations as they see fit. Such mechanics are taken a step further in “Alone,” where MW2 introduces crafting mechanics reminiscent of The Last of Us. The unceremonious shift to guerrilla warfare in “Alone” is surprisingly effective and refreshingly different, but when these mechanics reappear later, it’s during a pressing narrative moment that doesn’t necessarily gel with the methodical, cautious gameplay of sneaking and gathering resources.
Sans Warzone 2.0, which is expected in mid-November alongside Modern Warfare 2‘s first in-game season, the series’ staple multiplayer is the main attraction. Those who have played Call of Duty before know what to expect. All the regular game modes – Team Deathmatch, Domination, Search and Destroy, etc. – return, bolstered by the gameplay improvements introduced in MW2019. As was confirmed by the preview of Modern Warfare 2 its beta afforded, the more visceral and tactile gunplay remains a highlight of modern Call of Duty. Combined with a smooth frame rate on PlayStation 5 and deep progression systems tied to the Gunsmith mechanics, it’s easy to get sucked into Modern Warfare 2‘s multiplayer.
The Quick Play modes rarely offer the competitive edge that Warzone and other prominent FPS games provide, Headquarters, Hardpoint, and Search and Destroy the most common exceptions. Modern Warfare 2 can hardly be faulted, though, for continuing Call of Duty‘s arcade traditions. Perhaps the biggest missed opportunities come courtesy of the larger game modes, Ground War and Invasion. The former imitates Battlefield‘s cornerstone Conquest mode, while the latter is essentially TDM on a grand scale with fixed spawn bases to create a dynamic front.
Invasion’s 20-player teams are also supplemented by AI bots worth one-fifth the points of a player kill and inconsequential toward earning Modern Warfare 2‘s killstreaks. Their measly point payout feels adequate, since the AI is effectively brain-dead (an issue that is noticeable in the campaign as well). The bots ultimately feel like an afterthought in Invasion, prompting the idea that maybe larger teams of actual players would have benefited the game mode.
Ground War is impressive, taking Call of Duty‘s traditional gameplay and grafting it onto large maps with five objectives and plenty of drivable vehicles. The tactile nature of Modern Warfare 2‘s gunplay works well in long-range firefights, and being able to freely walk around inside a moving transport helicopter is a notable facet compared to the fixed seats of Battlefield‘s choppers. Compared to Battlefield‘s Conquest on the whole, though, MW2‘s Ground War is a hollow caricature. MW2‘s Ground War could’ve been a Battlefield killer, taking advantage of 2042‘s floundering, but without equipment like defibrillators and repair tools, the teamwork that can separate a loss from a victory in Battlefield just isn’t present.
Pointed criticisms of lost potential aside, Modern Warfare 2 makes it abundantly clear why Call of Duty is a perennial smash hit. The campaign is a fun romp with a decent length, and the multiplayer has so many options it makes a convincing argument for monopolization of players’ time. The production value is incredibly high across the board, with Call of Duty still gaming’s closest equivalent to a summer blockbuster. Modern Warfare 2 being the first to ditch Call of Duty‘s yearly release cycle is readily apparent, with quality textures, consistent frame rate, and relatively few bugs. Though its platform-restricted, the game also makes liberal use of the PS5’s DualSense controller through precise haptic feedback and clacking adaptive triggers that simulate recoil.
If nothing else, Modern Warfare 2 and its return to the revamped gunplay of its predecessor is an assurance that Call of Duty is firmly within a new era. The relaunch of Warzone will undoubtedly only benefit the already solid package, one which deftly navigates the burgeoning crossplay scene with a slew of network features. Alongside such implementations, though, is a platform primed for its inevitable deep dive into live service monetization, which looks to begin in earnest upon the release date of Warzone 2 and the start of Season 1. The game will surely evolve over the next year or more, but at launch, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II is a well-made entry in one of gaming’s largest franchises, where innovation isn’t necessarily expected, but would have certainly been welcome.
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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II is available now. Screen Rant was provided with a PlayStation 5 code for the purpose of this review.