Call of Duty Modern Warfare review: Welcome back, soldier

Another reboot worth jumping into.

Oscar Gonzalez Former staff reporter
Oscar Gonzalez is a Texas native who covered video games, conspiracy theories, misinformation and cryptocurrency.
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Oscar Gonzalez
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Call of Duty Modern Waffare

You in? 

Infinity Ward

In 2007, developer Infinity Ward changed the video game industry with the release of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. It turned a great World War II series, making millions of dollars and building toward a military franchise worth billions. In recent years, however, the series has lost a bit of its shine and fans are simply not as excited for new games as they used to be. This year, Call of Duty goes back to its "modern" roots with a reboot of what may be the series' finest moment. 

Call of Duty is a military first-person shooter that continues to be one of the biggest franchises in gaming . Publisher Activision annually releases a new entry developed by different studios, and it's always one of the top-selling games for that year. 

It's these yearly releases, however, that led me and other gamers to developer franchise fatigue. I stopped bothering with the series with 2014's Advanced Warfare because it was becoming too much. What I can say is that Modern Warfare did its job of making me interested in the series again. While I won't be playing this game until the wee hours of the night, I can say it felt good to be back in the arms of the popular shooter. 

Make my campaign extra gritty

Last year's Call of Duty: Back Ops 4 did away with the single-player campaign and focused solely on multiplayer, and received a surprising amount of criticism for doing so, despite having a core fanbase obsessed with online multiplayer. This year, Infinity Ward is turning back the clock with a new focus on its single-player campaign.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's single-player mode focuses on the actions of the CIA and SAS operatives trying to thwart both Russian meddling in a fictional country called Urzikstan and terrorist operations conducted by a group called Al-Qatala. Players control CIA officer Alex, SAS Sergeant Kyle Garrick and occasionally, Urzikstan rebel leader Farah Karim. Although you don't play as him, SAS Captain John Price, the fan favorite character from the original series, returns to once again play a pivotal role.

Captain Price is particularly striking during the cinematics, where his glorious mustache gets to shine. Infinity Ward went all out with the campaign cut scenes. The cast play their roles on par with any quality TV show, and the visuals are just amazing. 

Call of Duty Modern Warfare

The gang's all here. 

Infinity Ward

As in previous games, players partake in various missions with a clear objective that, of course, never go as planned. Some are standard fare for a Call of Duty game, requiring players to go in and kill the bad guy by themselves, but many missions are designed to remind you that war isn't fun. 

"Clean House" is the fifth mission in the campaign and, like others, it's based on a real event. In this case, it's the nighttime tactical takedown of a target within a compound similar to how Navy SEALs killed Osama Bin Laden in 2011. What makes this mission so memorable is the deliberately slow pace. You have to move within a multistory house and clear several rooms of any threats. However, the home is also occupied by women and children. It's a tense mission that will leave most players pensive. 

Call of Duty Modern Warfare

Night missions rack up the tension during the campaign. 

Infinity Ward

One of the missions in the campaign has Alex working with rebels to take down an enemy convoy on a roadway called the "Highway of Death." This mission is based on a real-life incident from the Gulf War when US forces fired upon both the retreating Iraqi military and civilians who were also escaping the convoy. The result was a hundreds of casualties and a graveyard of destroyed cars. Some have criticized Infinity Ward for taking a real event that the US was involved in and saying the Russians were responsible. Narrative director Taylor Kurosaki defended the developer's decision on Nov. 1, saying they weren't rewriting history but rather drawing from it. 

I felt relief upon completing Modern Warfare's campaign, which is something I haven't felt with the previous games. Most of those campaigns culminated in a Hollywood action-film set piece played up to give players an explosive or melodramatic ending. In Modern Warfare, I felt relieved that I was done with all the tense moments and decisions I had to make. 

What I took away from the campaign was that Infinity Ward wanted to remind players that "modern warfare" isn't black-and-white as it was in earlier Call of Duty games focusing on the heroes of World War II. Neither the enemy nor the "good guys" tend to play fair. War is ugly and messy, and Modern Warfare is an attempt to replicate that. It refuses to gloss over the horrors of war and glorify it in the same way as previous Call of Duty games.

Multiple multiplayer options

Competitive multiplayer in Modern Warfare remains largely the same as in previous games. The action is fast as bullets fly everywhere, but gets intense in matches such as Search and Destroy, in which players only have one life per round, making a slow, tactical approach key to winning. But as always, there are issues. 

One big issue I had was the constant talking on the field, and I don't mean my teammates. Throughout the match, your team's announcer relays important details such as whether you're winning or losing, how much time is left and when to move on to another objective. But there are automated callouts that trigger when players see an enemy in their gun sights, resulting in a confusing mashup of different voices talking on top of each other. Also, the opposing team can hear these callouts, giving them an idea of where you're located. 

Another issue CoD has had for years is players who stick to a spot throughout the match, called campers, and this game gives them plenty of options. There are also Claymores, explosives planted into the ground that detonate when someone passes nearby. Players have to gain enough levels to unlock them, but it doesn't take long. Once unlocked, they can be an easy way to get a kill in the game. But some matches have Claymores around every corner, making it difficult to traverse the map without triggering one.

The other problem is the 725 shotgun. Basically, it's a shotgun that is accurate at long distances.That makes for a deadly combination that's overpowered in competitive play. Infinity Ward has acknowledged the problems and is rolling out a fix

Spec Ops is a fun co-op mode with friends, but a real chore with a pickup group. Infinity Ward promoted this four player co-op mode as an extension to the campaign storyline, but it doesn't feel like that. Your group will face wave after wave of enemies who come from all directions as you try to complete objectives. As your squad progresses, they will also come out with bigger weapons, decked out in armor and riding in attack vehicles. Specs Ops is tough and simply not that rewarding now, but Infinity Ward does plan to release more content postlaunch. 

Gunfight, a 2-vs-2 match, is a nice addition for more competitive players. All players have the same equipment and play on small maps, making for balanced matches. The team that works the best together will win. 

Another new option for this year that could be a big hit, or miss, is the Battle Pass. As in other games like Fortnite and Apex Legends, players pay for the pass in order to unlock more in-game cosmetics. The specifics of what can be unlocked and how much the Battle Pass will cost are still unknown, but it's expected to launch sometime in December. 

Modern Warfare hits on all the important aspects of a great Call of Duty game. It has a campaign storyline that's compelling and what could be a great multiplayer mode that's in need of some quick balance changes. While it's not a revolutionary game like the original, it's good enough to bring back fans who'd grown tired of the franchise.

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