When you release a game franchise yearly, you run the risk of becoming stagnant in an ever increasing market. To stand out from the crowd, the series needs to adapt and evolve into today’s gaming climate. Call of Duty has teetered on the edge of becoming insignificant over the past few years, failing to propel itself forward. This year sees the release of Modern Warfare, a reimagining of the trilogy of the same name back on the Xbox 360. After years of lacklustre entries, Modern Warfare brings the series back to form with a deafening bang — showing that this military based shooter is still kicking.
Bolstering three game modes: campaign; multiplayer; and special ops, Modern Warfare brings a bulk of variety to the table.
Instead of following the original Modern Warfare storyline, developer Infinity Ward has chosen to soft reboot the franchise. Set within a civil war in a fictional middle-eastern country, everything is at stake as terrorists have claimed a consignment of chemical weapons. It’s a very real topic in our current climate, but laid out as a basic story — stop the bad guys and save the day. But what works for the five to six hour campaign is how everything is portrayed.
Much like previous entries, Modern Warfare sees you in control of multiple protagonists, each with their own plot strands that form to make the bigger picture. This is mashed up through the story’s 14 chapters which provide the most varied level design to date. Everything you would associate with a military shooter is here. A sniper level? Check. A stealth mission? Check. High-octane set pieces? Check. It’s all here and each element is presented with exceptional polish.
What works best for the campaign though are the moments in which the campaign slows down — which is fairly frequent. This runs the risk of losing its brisk pace, but is balanced perfectly. The world represented is a bleak one, and it’s in these moments where the story shines. Modern Warfare tries its best to comment on the ethical side of war, pushing you into morally grey areas that make you question if what you’re doing is ultimately right.
Many of the missions involve civilians, which rightly panic as the chaos ensues on-screen. How you choose to approach this is ultimately up to you as Modern Warfare allows you to harm civilians if needed. At the end of each mission, you can return to the level select screen which provides you with a ‘collateral damage’ rating, determined by the carnage you committed. Though this is a shocking inclusion, for all the right reasons, it does begin losing steam in the later hours, as the shock value fades from an overabundance of these moments.
One of the game’s earlier and best missions involves a raid on a residential house, set in the backdrop of an urban London landscape. This tight, claustrophobic experience has your team infiltrate and identify key targets to eliminate. As you scale floor-by-floor, enemies and civilians patrol the rooms and it’s up to your own instincts to determine whether the target is hostile. Occasionally, who you originally thought may be a civilian could turn out to be an enemy, as they dive for a nearby gun in an attempt to attack. You’re presented with the choice of either incapacitating all targets or waiting to make the right call on who’s hostile and who’s not.
Will you make the right call?
Modern Warfare doesn’t reload the checkpoint or kick you to the menu for these choices, but you must live with them and the decision which you determined. It’s a level of immersion that’s been missing from these campaigns. Call of Duty has prided itself on being an over-the-top thrill ride – the fact that Modern Warfare restrains itself substantially is a feat of its own.
Modern Warfare still sprinkles in those big-budget moments that fans come to expect, but the slower pace and darker tones the campaign holds are to be commended. Giving away any of the other moments the campaign has in store would spoil the experience. With throwbacks long term fans will love; a methodically paced, intense story; and a variety in mission objectives unseen in any other entry, this campaign is the best since Call of Duty: Black Ops.
What most players are here for however is the multiplayer, and Infinity Ward have subtly redefined the experience with influences from other multiplayer shooters. Familiar modes such as Team Deathmatch, Domination and Search and Destroy still remain, but new modes like Cyber Attack have been added, which involves teams retrieving an EMP to plant near the enemy base.
Call of Duty has always been about gaining a sense of momentum around the map, as you mow down enemies to increase your kill streak. Here we have a slightly slower and thoughtful approach in its map design and how you proceed.
Gathering inspiration from games such as Rainbow Six: Siege, maps on Modern Warfare are far more interactive and able to be played defensively. Buildings now have doors which can be opened and shut, allowing tactical advantage on the battlefield. Want to build a trap? Set a claymore behind a closed door and listen to the subtle, satisfying click as your enemies explode into a mirage of guts and organs. However, this additional degree to the multiplayer is fundamentally also its downfall. Matches now see a substantial amount more camping and less of the run-and-gun action the franchise is known for.
What is a massive change for the series, and extremely welcomed, is the update to the popular Ground War mode. Ground War has two teams of 24 pitted against each other in large scale battlegrounds, creating some of the most chaotic and explosive multiplayer that Infinity Ward has helmed. Though there are comparisons to Battlefield to be made, it plays more akin to Call of Duty 3’s multiplayer, but to a much bigger scope. Cars, tanks and helicopters dominate the map, as players have a wealth of options on how to approach their targets. Teams are broken down into squads, again, much like Battlefield, but this allows you to return to the action quickly after death and immerse yourself instantly in the chaotic madness that unfolds.
Levelling is similar to past entries, with more weapons and gadgets unlocked the further you advance your career. Weapons have their own system, as gaining kills and completing challenges furthers your weapon-specific level. By accessing more levels, you are granted a plethora of weapon attachments and perks to create the gun of your choice. This amount of customisation allows you to precisely craft your loadouts to your play style. The options can become overwhelming, but depending on how much time you pour in defines how well you will fare in the multiplayer modes.
How multiplayer will maintain its following down the road is determined by how Infinity Ward plan to support it. Ground War is a fantastic update to the online component, but other modes suffer from the same tropes that have stagnated the series the past few entries. Camping is prominent; teams who are being dominated become cannon fodder to the adjacent; and the servers have seen a rocky experience since launch, with inconsistent lag and disconnects. Infinity Ward has revealed that all future map packs will be free and a battle pass will be featured, allowing players to gain cosmetic upgrades.
Gone is the popular Zombies mode and instead we have Special Ops, which takes place after the main campaign. Primarily focused on multiplayer, Special Ops takes place over a variety of challenging missions which require constant teamwork and communication.
A completely different levelling up system to the multiplayer takes hold here and loadouts play a vital component to battles. Having the right set of guns and skills can mean life or death for you and your squad, as different levels produce different situations for you to tackle as a team. Enemy vehicles can make quick waste to you and your team if none of you have any anti-vehicle weapons to counter, or having a stealth loadout can gain your team the advantage as you work together to clear the map, before going loud and fighting a smaller wave of enemies.
Each player has a role to play in the fights too, whether that be as a medic, who can revive and assist teammates; heavy troopers, who have access to additional heavy ammo, useful against vehicles; or recons, who can use their drones to scout the battlefield. There are a variety of roles, and utilising experimentation is the key to creating a successful team.
These missions can become gruelling gauntlets of attrition against what seems like a never ending onslaught of enemies. It can seem impossible, demanding and tough, but sharp reactions, quick decision making and a strong team can provide the necessary means to emerge victorious. The longevity behind it all depends on whether new maps or scenarios will be added. As it stands, Special Ops can often be an overall challenging experience that doesn’t quite reach the same heights that Zombies does, but it’s a decent distraction from the other modes.
On a graphical level, Modern Warfare boasts some of the most stunning visuals to be seen on the Xbox One. With a wealth of upgrades on the Xbox One X, including HDR, this package makes for one of the most beautiful games of the year. Dynamic lighting systems are improved from past entries, night-vision creates some of the most photo realistic visuals to grace the screen, and character models add a top-tier level of immersion. The campaign makes the most of these upgrades, but other modes also manage to hold their own. During the campaign, minor technical hiccups arise such as screen tearing and performance lag, but always rectify themselves on their own accord.
Slower, bolder and more confident, Modern Warfare on Xbox One is a substantial step forward for the series. Though the multiplayer is still essentially stuck in its ways, it still retains a solid framework and enough new innovations to bring some life. The single player is a stand out however, with its exceptionally bleak but thought-provoking and resonating campaign, and it is this which means Modern Warfare proves the franchise still has life in its bones and is the best Call of Duty game of this generation.