There are some names in the Call of Duty mythos that are legendary. So much so that even someone like me, who has hardly played any of its entries, knows about them by sheer hearsay. One such name is Price. The newest Call of Duty, once again called Modern Warfare — the same moniker as 2007’s Call of Duty 4 — doesn’t revolve around Captain Price’s figure, but boy, does he leave an impression during that single player campaign.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare seems like a reboot of sorts to the franchise, or at least a reorganizing of the convoluted timeline that’s been loosely connecting each game since CoD 4. Before that, the series was a pastiche of World War 2 scenarios, and having only played the very first game, the original Call of Duty, I can certainly say it was influential to the first-person shooter genre. It introduced concepts that are still in vogue to this day, and as the franchise grew to the size that it is now, it set the norm of how both single and multiplayer content should be put together, there’s no denying that.
More than a decade later, Activision and Infinity Ward have steered Call of Duty back to its blockbuster roots after last year’s experimentation with delivering an exclusively multiplayer experience in Call of Duty: Black Ops IV, and to their credit, they have brought back the epic feeling of basically playing through a balls-to-the-wall action movie in videogame form. Keeping with tradition, Modern Warfare jumps around a handful of real to not-to-real world locations as you sneak, snipe, barrel through, and utterly destroy the opposition in a surprisingly engaging campaign that sees Captain Price and other figures who are really good at shooting go after a cargo of stolen nerve gas.
Keep in mind that they’re the ones who are supposed to be skillful at shooting. I, on the other hand, am not, and even playing through the game on normal, it took me well over ten hours to beat. The new Call of Duty’s single player portion is quite hard for the average player, and even though there are plenty of checkpoints along the way, you’ll be put to the test. The gameplay approach to the series is frankly pretty different from what I’m used to in an FPS, and while I can’t say I absolutely love it and that I want to keep playing through every one of these from now now annually, it would be a lie if I claimed that I didn’t mostly have a blast with it, for as utterly dumb as it can get.
The thing that you have to keep in mind when jumping into CoD is that although it tries its best to seem realistic, be it via its incredible visuals — the whole shebang, with lighting, characters, environments and all sort of detail that leaves nothing to be desired — or the with the sheer amount of weapons and gear that it presents, it plays like a run and gun action romp. You regain health when standing in cover, for once. Enemies love to flank you if you stand still for too long trying to pick them off slowly. And true to its videogame mindset, your named pals can stand a lot of heat you yourself otherwise can’t.
Through the campaign, as it’s modern Call of Duty’s tradition, you jump around different characters. This time, you get to control Alex and Kyle, a CIA spec ops badass and a British SAS counter-intelligence agent respectively, as they are thrust into the thick of it during the whole chemical weapon fiasco in the fictional country of Urzikstan, where they meet Farah, a local guerilla faction leader who’s also a playable character and plays one of the game’s best roles. It’s neat having the chance to do different things in these peoples’ shoes, be it sneaking around as Kyle along Price in night missions, fighting off the Russian army with Alex, or living through Farah’s traumatic childhood during the occupation of her country with her brother.
There are also some of the pull-away moments that CoD’s known for, like getting to pilot a bomber for a few moments as it lays waste to encroaching enemy troops. Some levels have their own gimmick too, like the one that’s bound to be the game’s most infamous mission, the Highway of Death — which borrows its name from an actual event perpetrated by the coalition forces in the region between Iraq and Kuwait during the first Gulf War — where you get to shoot a high-powered sniper rifle while compensating for the strong gusts as enemy troops ride into an abandoned village in the desert.
That said, I have to admit that the campaign started wearing thin towards the last few missions. I started liking it a whole lot due to its initial set of mostly scripted levels that didn’t take too long to get through and provided plenty of epic moments, but as Modern Warfare settled in for the landing, it relied a little too much on chaotic gunfights where I was mostly overwhelmed and without much help from the secondary characters who were supposedly along for the ride. And since it’s pretty easy to get picked off and killed during these, I had to reload saves a bunch before finally reaching the end. Call of Duty’s intense in that way, but I would’ve preferred to have been challenged by having to think more than merely outshoot the competition. Then again, I should have tempered my expectations knowing what CoD is all about, after all.
That also extends to its multiplayer, which is where the main meat of the Call of Duty experience lies. Dubbed a continuation of the story, a direct sequel to the events in the main campaign, the Spec Ops mode seemed like the perfect extension to my playing the game. It gives a few missions set after the events of Modern Warfare, tasking you with creating your character and being part of Price’s special forces with the mission of keeping the peace around the Middle East, mainly taking down a new warlord who’s attempting to fill in the void left by the events of the story. Four players join in and are put to complete a set of objectives, which in the case of the level I attempted to play had us take down a landlord with ties to the enemy, but not before using a bunch of trackers scattered around the map.
Unsurprisingly, this mode demands that your team is in on the idea of playing as a group as the firefights prove to be even more intense than the ones in single player, considering that there are four living players. The game doesn’t let up at all until you make keep making progress towards the objectives. Seriously, it felt like we were fighting against an infinite number of soldiers up until we finally hit the last blip. I wasn’t particularly fond of the shooting in the main game, so having an even more intense session of it in multi didn’t really appeal to me. I get that it’s the meat of the game here, but even cooperatively it really didn’t sit with me.
The same can be said about the rest of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s multiplayer suite. It brings in a lot of varied modes for you to shoot your way through, and it’s all tied together to a progression system that if you’ve been playing CoD all along, you’ll know by heart, with a host of different gear and cosmetic unlocks along the way. It’s what will keep you playing this game for dozens of hours, and for the bits that I partook in it, it seems perfectly fine.
As I grow into an older player, I’m getting further and further away from the idea of spending my time playing by getting through countless deathmatches, but hell, Call of Duty’s are probably the closest I’ll ever get to being active in that front online. It feels solid, and it’s not a shock to see people flocking to it as the next best thing. Activision’s been revolving developers around for years in order to keep their multiplayer machine going, and from the games that I’ve played and/or observed for years now, this new Modern Warfare is pure distilled action. It’s what people wanted after the apparent disappointment that was Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare’s take on the future, so now they’re back to current times where the series seems to best belong.
Modern Warfare is an absolute spectacle of a game in all departments. The pre-rendered cutscenes are some of the best animated that you’re likely to see in a game this year, and the overall presentation of the game is top notch. I played this on a base PlayStation 4, and for as sometimes stark jump from visual cohesion that occurs between pre-rendered and real-time, I felt immersed throughout the entire campaign. The sound design is also to be commended, making great use of the surround feature during gunfights, not to mention the pretty darn good voice acting by Price especially. Coupled with his impeccably kept ‘stash and facial animation, it was neat to see him in action after years of hearing about his exploits in the many CoDs he’s been a star of.
As a whole, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is a well-rounded package. If you are only in it for the single player story, it’s sure to provide you with the thrills and chills you’re expecting, for as dumb as it can get towards the end. I for one am happy with having played through it and am totally fine putting the game down for now in order to focus on other titles coming out at the tail end of the year. However, if you need more to your game than simply playing through the story, it will more than satisfy your needs with a robust set of multiplayer options that really feel like extensions of what you get to mess around by yourself. This is Infinity Ward doing what they’re best at, bombastically delivering what the fans want: plenty of war, chaos, and most importantly, a reason to keep coming back to it time and time again.