Certain things in life are guaranteed; death, taxes and the annual Call of Duty. Activision has been trying hard to give the dated series a reboot for a while now by taking things out and putting new things in. Last year’s Black Ops 4 release lacked a single-player campaign but had a great zombie mode, battle royale and PvP modes. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare while still missing the modes that made, say Black Ops 3 feel like such a great package, is a great step up from Black Op 4. We have the dedicated single-player campaign, the spec ops, the PvP mode and of course, the promise of a battle royale mode coming in early 2020.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has dialled things back when it comes to the campaign. What started out as a pretty copy-and-paste experience within the first few missions, was soon elevated to new heights not seen in the series since the original Modern Warfare release back in 2009. It forces the player to experience the uncomfortable side of a war. The deaths of children, the scary truths of arms dealing and the impending threat that is terrorism in the world today.
Sure, much of it is farfetched but a lot of what makes the single-player campaign so great is how it tugs on your insecurities of living in the modern-day world where religion, race and wealth are factors that we all take for granted. The plot has no doubt been crafted with inspiration from real-world issues in the Middle-East and its characters are all memorable bringing the narrative to life.
As a soldier of the US, you get caught up in a war between Russia and the fictional country of Urzikstan. The country plays host to a terrorist group known as the Al-Qatala who was founded by The Wolf. In short, the game’s plot revolves around the Russian forces trying to demolish Urzikstan after believing the people have been aiding The Wolf and his terrorist group Al-Qatala. The Urzikstand Liberation Force acts as the rebel uprising led by Farah Karim who rally supporters to stop both the Russians and the Al-Qatala with the help of the US Military and some familiar faces.
The story kicks off with you infiltrating a Russian stronghold in search for a deadly chlorine gas which has been used countless times by the Russians to wipe out villages in Urzikstan. Roman Barkov, the leader of the Russian forces takes no prisoners and is a ruthless SOB often creating a chilling setting for most of his time on screen. His goal is to pursue independence by removing all foreign occupiers from the country.
Many of you will remember Captain John Price from the original Modern Warfare back in 2007 and he reprises his role in the story mode too. He is by your side throughout the game acting as your commander and sharpshooter. It was great to see other familiar faces make an appearance throughout the campaign too which I won’t spoil for those die-hard Modern Warfare fans.
The game plays out in chapters often jumping from the past to the present. Pre-rendered CG cinematics are done extremely well as you sit back and enjoy them, get debriefed and prepare yourself for the next mission. Every mission made sure to touch on some sensitive topics and they were quite hard to witness indeed. From sneaking through a family’s house and assassinating them and leaving their baby crying in its crib, to interrogating a terror group leader and threatening him with his family.
All these moments captured the dark side of the game’s plot and many of them offer different options to choose from. None of these choices impacts the story but they hurt you in more ways than you know. I could choose to sit out of the brutal interrogation, or sit in on it and kill the family if I wished. It was hard to watch them cry and beg for mercy as we tried to get answers out of their husband and father. One press of a button and I could have ended their lives right there and then. It is dark and uncomfortable but it is all delivered in good taste with some high production values.
We then have the chapters that touch on the past of the two rebel leaders. These moments were tough to watch and play through as Russia gases the village and you watch it all happen and all the people die right in front of you. There are moments I wish I could forget from Modern Warfare, this was one of them.
The game manages to keep its pace throughout thanks to the combination of a fantastic story, these dark moments and of course, the great gunplay. Every now and then you are tasked at doing something differently like controlling an RC drone armed with explosives into an enemy helicopter. One of my most favourite moments was guiding an assistant through the embassy which was just invaded by ruthless terrorists. I had to move from camera to camera and tell her when to run and hide to avoid the enemy site. They walked up and down and simply shot all the hostages to make sure they were all dead. It was brutal but something I had never experienced before.
General gunplay is great and different mechanics are tossed into the pot to make sure the game is not just one-note. One mission saw me juggling between a flare which I had to shoot in order to light up a dark field so my comrades could shoot the hiding enemies, while I was trying to snipe them from a distance too. The game takes the boring run and shoot experience we are all used to in COD and mixes things up to deliver a refreshing new approach to gameplay. This is apparent in every mission from tossing a smoke grenade to conceal your position while you run across a sniper-infested road to sneaking through a mansion garden at night and shooting out the lights to hide in the dark.
The campaign is also tough. I played on regular and the developers have made sure you cannot just run and shoot everything and move onto the next mission. You need to take cover and be careful. The new “mount” feature lets you peek around corners and over cover with your gun. This came in handy more often than I thought especially when I got lazy and thought I could just run through the missions with ease. The game told me otherwise.
The Call of Duty: Modern Warfare campaign lasts around 8 hours if you take things slowly. It is a dark and uncomfortable blockbuster experience that puts it on top of all the past games for me. It really is the best campaign in a COD game to date and even surpasses Modern Warfare 2. You will probably only play through it once on regular and never go back. There’s no collectables to find or any reason other than to experience it on the hardest difficulty.
Included in this year’s COD is the Spec-Ops Mode. While I would have preferred a zombie mode of the awesome alien Extinction mode from Ghosts, this is what we get this year and it is a fantastic replacement.
Spec-Ops, not to be confused with the online “Special Operations” mode, pits you against a massive wave of enemies as you try to survive their onslaught. Each round rewards you with new killstreaks and weapons to use to up your arsenal. It is tough as the mode takes the same ruthless challenge from the campaign and puts it into this “survival-like” experience. The killstreaks and free weapon drops sets this mode aside from the other PS4-exclusive survival mode.
The PS4 exclusive mode is basically the zombie mode but without zombies. You just need to survive an endless wave of enemies, rack up credits to buy new items and rinse and repeat. The mode feels shallow compared to a zombie mode but if you enjoy creating the best class and focusing on a specific build, then you are golden.
The Roles and Munitions in Modern Warfare allow for some breathing room when it comes to customizing how you enter these modes. You can choose a different Role to begin with ranging from a Medic that can heal your teammate, to an Engineer that focuses on gadgets and deployable hardware. I guess if you are playing with friends then this new feature makes for a great way to approach a well-formed team.
The Munitions are the items you will begin the game with. When you start out, it is limited to a specific range of things like grenades, an ammo crate and grenade crate but as you rack up points, you will be able to purchase new ones which offer better damage types. The systems give you a great variety of customization and also a nice way to keep you going as you fight to unlock that one attachment and munition you have been eyeing out.
The Gunsmith feature has seen a revamp and it works very well. The system lets you modify and equip you loadout and fully customize each weapon to your liking. Each gun can have up to five attachments scattered across the nine available slots. This means you cannot have every slot filled but only five of the available slots.
Attachments allow you to customize the weapons you will take with you into combat and instead of trying to figure out what the stats mean by looking at the bar, they give you a list of pros and cons. Each attachment comes with its good and bad like the compensator that lowers your stabilization but helps increase the recoil control. This is all explained in nice detail which helps you understand what you are equipping and why.
Special Operations (Special-Ops) is a brand new game mode in the COD series. It sees you take on four missions with a group of three online players as you are dropped into a giant map with a series of objectives. It has its own progression system, loadouts and Roles to rank up as you complete the objectives. It is hard, I played seven missions and they all take a good 30-45 minutes to complete.
Enemies are ruthless and the challenge presented to the player has to be carefully approached in order to succeed. Teamwork is key as often the random players went off and did their own thing leaving me to face the hordes of enemies that approached from every corner of the map. The objectives in the mode are simple. Hack this, kill this guy, steal this box or destroy this vehicle but the excitement comes from firstly, it being co-op and secondly, the various ways to approach the giant map and objective with the build you have crafted.
It will be the game mode I sink most of my time into while unlocking new munitions, ranking up weapons and completing the objectives. However, there is a catch here. The game mode is extremely difficult to somewhat impossible to complete. Enemy spawns are broken with an infinite amount of them spawning throughout the mission never giving you a break. Enemies are also extremely accurate and never miss. It lacks balance and polish and once fixed, could be a great way to spend your time. For now, it is just a mess.
Special-Ops is then partnered by the PS4-exclusive mode Survival and the mode available to everyone, Classic Special-Ops. Both of these modes felt much like the same thing with the classic mode excluding kill streaks, dropped weapons and the more tactical side of the experience. While these modes are great, I have never been a fan of the survival modes in COD. I play the zombie mode because, well zombies and now that these modes are lacking the supernatural aspect, I found them quite shallow and dull.
There’s very little to discover and the experience feels very one-note. It could be something to play with friends as you fight through endless waves of enemies picking up new weapons and perks, and setting up your defences. The game modes also feature the same progression system as the other modes so you can progress through it all no matter what mode you are playing.
Lastly, we have the multiplayer mode which is, unfortunately very much the same as all past years with the addition of new maps and game modes. The new additional missions that see you tasked at completing a set number of objectives in order to unlock a specific gun, skin and sticker, are a nice added feature to the game. However, these force you into objectives which you would usually not take on. I never use smoke grenades and was told to smog 20 enemies with it. It was more a chore than anything else.
If you want to do these missions, then you can, but the game’s unbalanced gameplay makes it a little hard. The “meta” is back with full force and everyone is one-shotting you with a sniper body shot, running around with a shotgun that has infinite range and placing claymores around the map. It is hard to not get frustrated at the unbalanced weapons that everyone is using to cheese their way to the top of the log. This meta especially gets frustrating on smaller maps where the broken damage from specific guns takes its toll on the flow of the game.
If you are not a douche and decide to actually use skill to play the game, then the weapons will make you happy. I found an assault rifle that just felt great for me. Kitted it out in the great new Gunsmith feature and used that most of the time along with rocket launcher to shoot down UAVs and any ariel threat. Gun progression works the same way as the missions. You can level up the weapon’s rank with XP earned in matches, and unlock skins by performing a set objective. I just shot the gun and enjoyed the matches without worrying about getting upset over not killing enemies while they were blind from a flashbang.
Modern Warfare features some new game modes too. The new 20v20 team deathmatch takes you to larger maps than the rest and delivers a longer and more tactical approach. We then have Ground War which is a 64v64 Battlefield-like game mode where you need to take objectives and hold them across a large map. It is great and a load of fun in a giant group. You dominate if you run with your squad and communicate over who is driving the tank and who is taking what point.
The multiplayer is fun in short bursts. It is held back by the game’s broken and unbalanced weapons which take away from the experience. However, if you can look past this then you will have a great time levelling up, unlocking new weapons and using them to earn skins and much more.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has a stellar campaign and is the best story delivered in the series to date. Its multiplayer modes, however, are lacking the spit and polish seen in past games. Sure, the new Ground War mode is an explosive and fun experience but it is all held back by its broken weapons. As for the Special Ops, it is unplayable at the moment due to its sheer frustrating difficulty. It needs balance and a complete rehaul in terms of gameplay and objectives. As a package, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is just another COD. After to wipe away its “mysterious” gameplay changes, there’s nothing new here other than a few game modes and skins.
This Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Review is based on a PS4 Pro copy of the game provided to us by Activision – Check out our Call of Duty: Modern Warfare review-in-progress here.
Available On: PS4, Xbox One, PC | Reviewed On: PS4 Pro | Release Date: 25 October 2019 | Price: R1,085