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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Review – One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Review – One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is finally here. Here’s how the sequel holds up to 2019’s entry.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 on PS5

After years of flipping through history channels and reused settings, 2019’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare saw the long-standing franchise experience a revitalization like no other. Who knew that a return to a modern setting, a re-imagination of a previously completed story ark injected with the most militaristic gameplay the franchise has ever seen, and a free-to-play battle royal experience would suddenly wipe away the franchise fatigue fans have been experiencing since the same game released back in 2007?

It’s safe to say there’s a palpable amount of hype surrounding this title. 2020 brought us to the Cold War era with Call of Duty: Black Ops – Cold War, and 2021 brought us back to the World War setting for the millionth time, with the latter performing rather abysmally across the board. Couple that with the looming Microsoft acquisition, the sequel to 2019’s smash hit has a fair amount of weight on its shoulders. 

This is a rather hefty introduction, yet it’s necessary to set the tone as with everything I just mentioned, this is the first time a Call of Duty game will see support for a two-year cycle. No new title will release next year unless plans change, and if this game drops the ball, Activision will most certainly be facing many questions as they head into a possible acquisition. So, does Modern Warfare 2 live up to those expectations?

CoD MW2 Valeria
Image Source: Infinity Ward

**This next part will feature a minor spoiler about the end of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. If you have not played and completed the story yet, please come back when you do.**

Let’s start with the basics, the campaign. MW2 kicks off three years after the conclusion of the previous game. Task Force 141 is now an official group, comprised of familiar names like Lieutenant Simon “Ghost” Riley, SAS Captain John Price, and Sergeant John “Soap” MacTavish, whose goal is to protect the world from threats that arise. Task Force 141 is working under the command of General Sheppard, and the group soon discovers a threat against the world after an assassination of a foreign leader sees an even more severe threat take control. It unfolds into something greater as you progress through the story, but no spoilers will be discussed.

The story is what you’ve come to expect from the series at this point, but this time around, it’s a bit more unique and actually enjoyable. There’s plenty to appreciate here whether you’ve experienced the original Modern Warfare trilogy or are a newcomer to this iteration of Modern Warfare. As a part of the former crowd, seeing familiar names receive expanded roles and get their moments to shine is incredible. I grew up in the period where these characters wouldn’t talk when you played as them, and now they’re fully voiced over, giving their backstories and sharing light-hearted moments in the face of peril. That type of evolution brought a smile to my face.

From a gameplay perspective, this is arguably the most unique the campaign portion of the franchise has ever been, aside from what Treyarch has done in its version of Call of Duty. Many moments capture the brutal moments of the war, while others allow you to choose your talk track when being spoken to. There are some well-done parts; one mission, in particular, has you behind enemy lines crafting equipment from local materials to survive. It’s a very light version of something you’d expect in a survival title like The Last of Us, but I was pleasantly surprised despite how random it felt to see this system get thrown in.

It’s all very cinematic, with plenty of Uncharted and Michael Bay moments, which is what we’ve come to expect from Infinity Ward after the team’s latest entry. I will say, by the campaign’s conclusion, the uniqueness starts to wear off a bit as the end game results in a combo of all the systems I highlighted, but it did not work in the game’s favor at all. Be sure to complete the campaign, as you’ll receive plenty of rewards that carry over into the multiplayer setting. Also, stick around for the end credits, as there’s more to see.

Speaking of cinematic, it helps that this game looks superb. You might’ve already seen it circulating, but the Amsterdam level caught traction on social media for how absurdly detailed Infinity Ward recreated a section of the city. Side note: a user recreated the Amsterdam level in the PS5 title, Dreams, with incredible results. Aside from Amsterdam, nighttime levels introduce an added layer of tension as you execute plans in the dark, and all of the beautiful lighting makes every character look believably real. Production and sound design is incredible as always as guns pack meaty weight to them across all of the three modes in MW2.

Captain Price MW2
Image Source: Infinity Ward

When the credits roll, you are free to experience the game’s wide variety of online settings. Modern Warfare 2 sees the return of Special Ops, AKA Spec Ops after two years of Zombies. The newest iteration of the two-player co-op experience puts players on moderately sized maps, tasking players to extract radioactive assets at night time, protect various sites in a survival-type mission, or destroy SAM turrets in a larger scale map.

Out of the three total missions, “Low Profile” and “Denied Area” were my favorites as they reminded me of the good old days of Splinter Cell co-op, although I did enjoy “Defender: Mt.Zaya” to a lesser extent. It’s a solid experience, but it’s very disappointing that this experience launched with only three missions out of the gate. Not to mention, none of the playable missions are anywhere close in design to what was designed to be an “asymmetrical experience” per the CoD: Next Showcase in September.

Now, the elephant in the room is the game’s multiplayer portion. I’m going to date myself a bit and maybe sound like a know-it-all, so forgive me when I say I’ve been playing this franchise since CoD: World at War. I’ve seen how the franchise has evolved over the years, and I’ve seen how three different development teams have made their version of what Call of Duty should be. Despite its various ups and downs, I’ve still found myself purchasing the games because they’re quick fun when you only have a short period of time to spend gaming.

That said, I did not like Infinity Ward’s last Call of Duty game. I’ve voiced my opinion before as to why, but to give you a summary, it was the furthest thing from a Call of Duty title I’ve ever played. Infinity Ward essentially took the arcade aspect out of the franchise by injecting it with the gameplay that you’d experience in games such as Escape From Tarkov, which rewarded a specific player base and alienated another, making it an absolute slog to play. Despite much fan feedback, the studio stood firmly in its decision to completely reinvent the wheel. I could go on for days, but after a personally rough beta experience that left me feeling upset just like MW 2019, I still went into this with an open mind.

For the unaware, Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer sees a lot of gameplay designs return from the last game albeit injected with a few new ideas. The Gunsmith returns, this time expanded into a unique “platform” system where guns in the same platform share universal attachments. For example, level up your M4, and you’ll eventually unlock the M16 which has its own attachments that can be shared between both guns. The Perk system has been redefined to become a “Perk Package” where you’ll find yourself earning Perks throughout a match rather than being granted them at the start.

CoD MW2 Perk Package
Image Source: Infinity Ward via Twinfinite

There is a bevy of new modes to play such as Prisoner Rescue and Third-Person modes, while series staples have returned like Team Deathmatch and Kill Confirmed. I will say that this feels more like CoD than MW 2019, and despite the absolute slew of crashes I experienced on day one, it kept me entertained when I played with my friends as we managed to dodge the hidden agenda of skill-based matchmaking. However, I have underlying concerns about this title and the design choices behind it.

Change is a part of the gaming industry as new technology and ideas lead to breakthroughs and evolution in previously designed methods. Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer experience feels like a double-edged sword; it feels like a game with changes made just so the team could claim change was made, not because an actual change was needed or genuinely fleshed out. It also feels like Infinity Ward took all of the feedback fans gave from the beta and the team’s previous title and swept it under the rug.

Firstly, the new Perk system is not good at all. To break it down a bit more, you start a match with two “Base” perks and will earn two more –a “Bonus” and an “Ultimate” perk– over the course of a match, with your in-game performance speeding up what would be an otherwise seven or eight minute period to earn the remaining two. If that sounds a bit familiar, it’s because there’s already a system in the game that does the same thing called Field Upgrades. Infinity Ward has essentially turned the Perk system into a glorified version of the Field Upgrades, and nobody asked for that.

You can create unique Perk Packages to fit your style of play, but I found myself baffled that the default packages had some of the best perks that are otherwise level-gated if I chose to make my own package. Perks are a franchise staple that are supposed to allow you to tailor your play style to your liking allowing for high levels of customization. This system feels like the most constricting system to date, and I hope that it does not return in future entries. If the idea is to keep the current system, it needs to be more rewarding than taking what was standard for the past 15 years and locking it behind a time gate. For example, keeping the old format of loading in with three Perks, but the new Perk Package evolves the Perks to pro versions with better benefits. Something of that nature would work way better than what is currently in the game.

Circling back to the Gunsmith, I thought this system was a neat idea. Previous titles let players attach up to 10 attachments to their gun, but this year sees the total attachment count reduced to five, which is a good thing, in my opinion. However, the revamped “platform system” is even more confusing and overwhelming than the previous one.

Open up the M4 in the Gunsmith, and you’ll find a billion attachments you can’t use until you unlock the other variants of the same platform. For example, leveling up the M4 will unlock the FTAC Recon battle rifle, which will then unlock the FSS Hurricane once you hit a level with the previous weapon. Using the FTAC Recon will unlock attachments for the M4, but if you choose to not use it, you’ll have a ton of locked attachments. It feels like one step forward, two steps back, and is quite a bizarre design choice masked as an “upgrade”. One Reddit user discovered that it would take 34 different weapons to unlock every single attachment for the M4, and that’s absolutely absurd especially if you don’t have the time to grind.

CoD MW2 M4 Weapon Platform
Image Source: Infinity Ward via Twinfinite

In theory, it’s a cool idea, but it’s completely offset by the worst user interface I’ve ever experienced in a Call of Duty title. It took me an hour to figure out how to find and create a party for friends, and it’s only amplified when you’re scrolling through the game’s various menus to customize your equipment. I found myself scrolling through the menu like a headless chicken and felt an eerie sense of familiarity with its horrid design. Minor complaint, but all of the customization options, such as perks and weapon unlocks, aren’t properly organized based off of what level you unlock them.

One of the last things I want to point out is the insane amount of features absent at launch, which fans have been quick to take note of. We’re talking about features that range from basic components of CoD like leaderboards to hardcore game modes being absent. Some systems don’t even function like camo notifications upon completion or the lack of after-action reports detailing your performance when the match ends. This might be indicative of the industry as a whole with live-service becoming “king” as fixes will come through at some point, but for a franchise that’s been around for about two decades, this was very disappointing to see.

As CoD enters its 19th installment, I took the time to sit back and think about what we’ve had versus what we’re receiving. Things that seemed overly ambitious at the time, such as having leaderboards available day one or having a full fleshed out Spec-Op mode, were delivered with relative ease. The “golden period” of CoD saw Infinity Ward and Treyarch battling for top development team honors in back to back years with the original Modern Warfare trilogy and Black Ops, with those games were massive in size and scale yet consistently delivering great memories.

While Modern Warfare 2 feels like an improvement over the previous entry, with a solid campaign and small improvements to the overall multiplayer experience, I can’t help but feel like Infinity Ward wanted to deliver a massive project and stumbled quite a bit. Changing things that didn’t need change, ignoring valid feedback, Spec Ops being a cool experience despite it not even close to what it was described to be, reworking systems to become “more complex” only to lead to more confusion are just a few of the issues I have with this sequel. I didn’t even go over gameplay tenets Infinity Ward introduced in the team’s previous title that are still here that are a flashing indication of a product with a large identity crisis.

With Warzone 2.0 and the first season of content on pace to release on Nov. 16 that will most likely address many issues, this feels like a title that launched knowing all the issues could be ironed out over the course of two years. While I think this is better than 2019’s entry, charging $70-$100 for a game that’ll be good in a few months is not a gesture that I appreciate at all. If you can, I’d recommend waiting until massive changes come to flesh out this experience and iron out all the bugs. Right now, 2022’s version of Modern Warfare is bigger and slightly better, but going big without proper execution doesn’t translate to a winning formula.

Review Block

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

3.5
/ 5

Fair

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Critic Review
Reviewer: John Esposito

Pros

  • Campaign is the most unique to date with plenty of cool segments and features, as well as a great evolution of characters that were static in previous entries.
  • Multiplayer is still solid for a quick gaming session.
  • Production and sound design is superb.

Cons

  • A ton of missing features that have been present day one in previous entries.
  • User Interface is pretty bad.
  • Final product feels like it’s banking on future updates to smooth out the overall quality.
Release Date
Oct. 28, 2022
Developer
Infinity Ward
Publisher
Activision
Consoles
PS4, PS5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC
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