Updated: Jul 28
An old dog with new tricks
Anyone who has played Infinity Ward’s 2019 remaster of Modern Warfare, or even any Call of Duty since the original Modern Warfare 15 years ago, will know roughly what to expect from the campaign of Modern Warfare II. It is very much another one of those. It’s a highly cinematic, globe-trotting action-movie-esq shooter. Historically though, they haven’t always hit consistent heights in terms of quality. The past two entries, Vanguard and Black Ops Cold War, whilst both enjoyable enough entries in their own right, didn’t feel like they pushed on and developed upon the success of the 2019 reboot. With this new entry however, Infinity Ward has cemented the Modern Warfare lineage as the best iterations in the COD franchise.
Callbacks to the original games are prevalent throughout the approximately 5-7 hour campaign. The developers lean heavily into the fact these are a new take on the original trilogy. At times maybe a bit too heavily, almost like they got a collection of COD: Greatest hits and pressed shuffle. However, they take these very familiar ideas and twist them in new directions, making for some unique and effective mission designs.
For example, about halfway through the story, there is a mission that at first glance appears to be a recreation of, perhaps the series’ most iconic level of all, All Ghillied Up. It has you following Price through heavy grass, sniper in hand, trying to remain undetected and pausing as guards pass you by. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. But then, following a tactical sniping sequence which involves positioning yourself for taking out two enemies with one bullet, the mission transforms into an open-ended base infiltration. It’s more akin to something you would see out of Metal Gear Solid 5, with multiple approaches you can take for dealing with the situation and a variety of tools in your arsenal to complete it. The route I took involved getting onto a rooftop and throwing tear gas down a vent, pressuring the enemies out in the open for Price to help clear them out.
Another, even more ambitious level, adds in crafting mechanics. You have to scavenge the area for scraps to build tools for opening locked doors, makeshift bombs, and bottles for distracting guards. There are even some safes you can find around containing helpful items but you need to solve environmental puzzles to figure out the code.
These are just a couple of examples but there are new takes on many of the usual staples, along with some of the best innovations from MWI. Realistic house raids that we saw introduced in 2019 return and are used just as effectively. Going through the corridors with your squad with your night vision goggles on, checking the corners and behind doors for enemies waiting to pounce, still gives a compelling amount of tension. Initially, I feared these were going to be overused as they are pretty frequent in the early stages but they don’t overstay their welcome. I won’t reveal everything as the discovery is a big part of the enjoyment but you can safely know that it hits all the marks you expect and does enough with each of them to make it still feel fresh again.
It all comes together well. The variety of missions keeps things engaging and for the most part, the pacing is spot on and keeps things moving at a breakneck speed. The stealthier missions that slow things down and let you catch your breath, perhaps go on a bit longer than they need to. But on the whole, the balance is good and it has the sense of momentum you would find from a blockbuster action movie.
Visually it’s just as spectacular and big-budget too. The craft and manpower that went into it is clear to see. The graphics are beautiful and some of the effects really increase immersion such as the fluid scope transitions and high-fidelity smoke effects that you’ll be seeing a lot of as you blow your way through the campaign. It brings the eclectic collection of locations you see in the game to life. From cliffside descents in mountain ranges to illuminated cityscapes, it’s a feast for the eyes and all makes for a cohesive cinematic experience.
Performance is also very impressive. For displays that support it, the game offers a 120fps mode and this is how I played through the game. It maintains the high frame rates well and gives a smooth experience that compliments the already excellent feel of the shooting which the series is known for. I played it on the PS5 so I was also able to test out support for the dual sense haptics features. The resistance in the triggers and all the rumbles react well to the environment and they do a good job of using it to enhance the gameplay.
Despite the highly polished look, it’s not all roses and there is a fair amount of jank present. I didn’t have anything game-breaking but it was enough to disrupt the flow of the game. Some issues were more minor like enemies having delayed reactions to hits and going down a couple of seconds late. The more frustrating glitches were those which prevented the objectives from triggering correctly onto the next section. In one sequence you need to clear all the enemies from the area before you can move on, but one stubborn enemy was hiding silently somewhere with nothing to indicate where they could be. I had to swim back and forth for 5 mins trying to locate them before eventually, the game put an objective marker on them. The issues are small but for a game that’s at its best when it’s moving at a quick pace, these small interruptions really disrupt the flow.
More than any of the game mechanics, what surprised me the most was that I started to care about each character. Behind all the military jargon there is actually a really good amount of camaraderie and the interactions between all the members of the team make you buy into their bond. The sense of team spirit is a big driving force in the narrative and it needs that connection for you to care about the characters and care about what’s happening to them.
The overall narrative is nothing groundbreaking. The setup has you and your team discovering a missile threat by a villain called Hassan and you have to follow the breadcrumb trail to find out what his plan is and how to stop him. The mission design through which you unravel the story and the investment into the characters are what carry you along and maintain your interest much more than the plot itself. Fortunately, those two aspects are so well done that they should keep you engaged in completing the mission right through to the end.
Some aspects of the story could well bring some controversy with it, especially the more true-to-life aspects which will undoubtedly draw attention. There is also already a viral clip online of a mission in which you must point your gun at civilians to ‘de-escalate’ the situation. It's a bit jarring, especially taken out of context, but in the scenarios themselves, I found it to be contextualised and justified enough that it fits in with what you’re doing whilst providing enough reasoning that it doesn’t feel as morally questionable as it could have done. Even if politically it uses all the subtlety of a sledgehammer.
If you’re not a fan of Call of Duty campaigns from the past then nothing here will change your mind. But if you’ve ever enjoyed them then this is one of the best campaigns they have produced and I highly recommend checking it out. The satisfying gameplay, impressive cinematic visuals and creative mission design all make for a high-octane thriller. Most importantly it’s just a lot of fun. This is only the campaign as the multiplayer is not yet released at the time of writing, but if the early impressions from the multiplayer beta are anything to go by then that’s likely to be just as much fun. If it is, then MWII will make for a great FPS package. However even if you are the kind of person who plays Call of Duty primarily for the campaign, then I don’t think you will be disappointed with this one.