Following the release of 2018’s Black Ops 4, I was convinced that the Call of Duty series was dying — and I don’t think I was alone in thinking that. The omission of a single-player campaign felt like a major step in the wrong direction, multiplayer was becoming stagnant, and Activision was really pushing the limits with intrusive microtransactions. Therefore, I approached Call of Duty: Modern Warfare with a healthy dose of skepticism… and I was absolutely blown away.
Modern Warfare perfectly captures the charm of its namesake and more, introducing countless technical improvements that have me glued to my monitor as I promise myself, “just one more match!” Modern Warfare gets a lot right.
A welcome return
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare tells the story of four soldiers who unknowingly find themselves at the center of an international dispute between Russia and terrorist organization Al-Qatala. Series mainstay Captain John Price and newbie Sergeant Kyle Garrick represent the British SAS as they attempt to track down a stolen shipment of Russian chemical weapons. This lands them in the company of Farah Karim, the fearless leader of the Urzikstan Liberation Force. Farah is joined by an American sniper named Alex, a member of a group of Marines known as the “Demon Dogs” who were placed by the U.S. government to help in defeating Al-Qatala. Although each character has a unique objective, they must all join forces in neutralizing the conflict before it becomes a global disaster.
Modern Warfare‘s campaign is a refreshingly dark and mature contribution to a series founded on its over-the-top set pieces. Sure, Captain Price will find himself inches from death amidst massive explosions, helicopter crashes, and last-second bomb defusals — but Modern Warfare doesn’t place action at the forefront. Instead, as you battle through residential areas still teeming with civilians — particularly children — you’ll start to second-guess whether war is really worth the cost. Captain Price says it best, “There’s a fine line between right and wrong,” and ultimately it’s up to you to draw that line. There are segments where the line becomes extremely blurry, and the player will have to make tense judgment calls regarding torture and persecution that will make you contemplate if you’re really any better than the enemy.
Although the only playable characters are typically Alex and Kyle, there are various flashback sequences that allow you to live through Farah’s difficult childhood growing up in Urzikstan. One specific mission has the player take the role of a 7-year-old Farah as she struggles to escape from a Russian gas attack on her home city. These sections are emotional and thought-provoking as you play the role of a helpless victim rather than a bulletproof soldier, and they act as a well-deserved reprieve from the rest of Modern Warfare‘s action.
This gritty depiction of war is bolstered by incredible graphics, particularly in the cut scenes. Every animation — down to the lip-syncing — is perfectly executed, and cinematics seamlessly transition into gameplay in a way that will leave you in awe. Each character is not only dynamic and full of personality, but also excellently voiced acted.
In terms of Call of Duty campaigns, this one rivals Black Ops as the best in the series. I only wish it took me longer than 6 hours to complete.
Controlled chaos in multiplayer
Let’s be honest — the real reason people purchase Call of Duty titles is for the multiplayer, and Modern Warfare doesn’t disappoint, delivering the same fast-paced chaos that we’ve come to love alongside a plethora of new modes and features.
The slick movement and responsive controls of Modern Warfare make moving around the map extremely satisfying. You can slide into cover, peek through cracks in doors, and mantle over just about everything to gain an advantage over your enemy. Infinity Ward made it clear that it wanted to remove the classic “three-lane” structure to maps, instead opting to consolidate gunfights in specific buildings. The results of this are maps that aren’t tailored to a specific play style, especially since indoor conflict nerfs killstreaks quite a bit. Each map is solid, although the spawn system needs a bit of tweaking to prevent spawn camping in the larger modes.
Perhaps the most innovative new feature to Modern Warfare is cross-platform play between PlayStation, Xbox, and PC. Call of Duty titles almost always suffer from a waning PC player base after the first few months, making matchmaking a chore. The introduction of cross-play alleviates this issue, as the player base is widened substantially. The result is an instantaneous matchmaking experience regardless of the game mode — which is important considering how many modes Modern Warfare has.
Classic modes like Team Deathmatch, Domination, Search and Destroy, Hardpoint, Free-for-All, and Headquarters are joined by newcomers Cyber Attack, large-scale Ground War, and my personal favorite — 2v2 Gunfight (several more modes are coming post-launch as well).
Gunfight is Call of Duty‘s play on CS:GO‘s Wingman mode, where teams of two players are pit against each other in a minuscule battlefield. Every two rounds each team is randomly assigned a new loadout, making each match unique and interesting. There is one map that just straight up stinks (Pine), but overall the Gunfight-exclusive maps feel well balanced. A friend and I spent one night playing exclusively Gunfight from midnight until 11 a.m. — it’s that addictive.
On the other hand, Modern Warfare has done its best to capture the same large-scale chaos seen in the Battlefield series with their improved Ground War game mode — featuring 10v10, 20v20, and even 32v32 player battles. Ground war is heavily inspired by Battlefield 3, but with the refined infantry combat of Call of Duty. Stringing together killstreaks in Ground War is exhilarating, with relentless waves of enemy infantrymen and vehicles for you to mow down. The best word to describe the mode is “chaotic”, but in the best way possible.
Ultimately, Modern Warfare’s multiplayer has something for everyone. Responsive controls and a quick time-to-kill make every weapon viable, and there is enough content already to keep you coming back for more. Not to mention the additions of field supply equipment and a battle royale-esque directional radar which once again places Call of Duty squarely at the forefront of FPS innovation.
The new “Gunsmith” customization system allows you to customize your primary and secondary weapons with different attachments to fit your play style. Each weapon has five attachment slots in total, each of which will provide a stat boost in a specific area. For example, if I add a foregrip to my M4A1, it will increase my long-range accuracy, but conversely it will increase the time it takes to ADS. This means that you can prioritize different attributes and customize your weapons to fit your specific play style.
Attachments are unlocked as your weapon rank increases, which happens passively when you have that weapon equipped. This weapon rank is separate from your profile rank, which is determined by XP from completing challenges and winning matches.
I was able to reach level 55 in multiplayer — the max level in the game — after about 40 hours of playtime. After reaching level 55, you’ll hit a new level called Officer Rank 1. This will give you 100 new levels to progress through, replacing the traditional Call of Duty Prestige system. While there isn’t a skill-based ranking system, leveling up provides a sense of personal accomplishment as you can show off new playable characters, weapon skins, and decals. There’s a substantial amount more depth of customization than in the previous titles, while still capturing the same simplicity of the original Modern Warfare back in 2007.
Modern Warfare excels on PC
Modern Warfare is an absolute technical marvel. Not only are its graphics incredibly realistic, but it runs like an absolute dream even on lower-end hardware. My rig consisting of an i7 6700 and RX 570 4GB maintain a locked 60 FPS at maximum settings, or uncapped frame rate fluctuating between 90 and 120 FPS. Infinity Ward clearly put a lot of resources into the PC port of Modern Warfare, and it really shows. You can check out our full technical review for graphics comparisons and system requirements.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is not only the most complete multiplayer shooter of 2019, but it has one of the most compelling narratives I’ve experienced in some time. The addition of cross-play alleviates the PC player base issue, and the absence of intrusive microtransactions is extremely refreshing. Add in the promise of free multiplayer content throughout the year, and Modern Warfare is here to stay. Do yourself a favor and play this one — you’ll keep coming back for more.