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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: First-Person Shooter
Release Date: Oct. 25, 2019


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PS4 Review - 'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare'

by Cody Medellin on Oct. 28, 2019 @ 1:30 a.m. PDT

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare engulfs fans in an incredibly raw, gritty, provocative narrative that brings unrivaled intensity and shines a light on the changing nature of modern war.

Buy Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Compared to the immense hype that the series generates throughout a year and especially last year's multiplayer-focused entry, the publicity for this year's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is more subdued. There wasn't a big ad blitz, and the preview coverage has been scarce, even among streamers. Perhaps more telling is that this year's entry was released at the same time as a few other marquee titles, something that would have never happened in the past. Since the popularity and impact of the Call of Duty series is on the decline, Infinity Ward and the other Activision studios put together a tremendous effort to make Modern Warfare something of a series comeback, and while some parts could still be better, the mission is mostly accomplished.

For those who play a game for the campaign, the main draw for Modern Warfare is the return of a campaign after skipping a year. The plot is pretty standard for the series or most military movies. It starts off with a video from a terrorist organization talking about how it plans to drive everyone from its country by using excessive force. Elsewhere, a secret U.S. mission to retrieve chemical weapons goes pear-shaped, as the chemicals are stolen by the same terrorist organization, which then unleashes a bombing attack on London. This culminates into a partnership between a small sect of UK and U.S. forces as well as a group of freedom fighters of the fictional country of Urzikstan as they seek to retrieve the chemical weapons from the terrorists — as well as Russian forces that are trying to retrieve the weapons for themselves.

Activision has been touting this as a darker campaign, and that's true in a few areas. Civilians can get injured and shot, and there are bombings with tons of civilians around. A torture sequence gets pretty brutal, and there's a sequence where kids can be shot and you see corpses of all ages on the ground. For a series that has given us nonsensical forest sequences in Black Ops III and asked players to "Press F to pay respects" in Advanced Warfare, this is certainly a turn to something more serious. It also doesn't seem to be as forced as the "No Russian" sequence in Black Ops II, as they strengthen the backstory and reasons for some of the character traits and conflicts in the game. At the same time, the shock factor for these events isn't there. Either other games have already subjected us to this or it's simply a sign of the times, but the intended emotional impact of these sequences don't hit has hard.

It still works to complement a story that's already buoyed by some familiar characters. Players will gravitate toward Captain Price because of his status as a returning character from the original Modern Warfare trilogy, while both Alex and Kyle are likeable player characters that have some personality but aren't overbearing. The siblings Farah and Hadir are the main protagonists, and they're well thought out, with Farah getting the bulk of backstory and characterization while Hadir doesn't fall into the trap of being overprotective or antagonistic. The antagonists are the only characters that serve as typical bad guys, robbing the plot of any nuance it might have had.

The series' campaigns are less about story and more about moments, and the game delivers that well without devolving into clichéd Hollywood movie scenes. There are loud sequences, intense escalations, and sniper sequences. They're well-paced affairs on their own and in the grand scheme of the campaign, and they're peppered with different gameplay. One mission has you shooting from a gunship and flying RC planes strapped with bombs. Another mission has you extracting a high-value target from a disintegrating U.S. embassy by directing an office worker through various rooms via security cameras. Like some of the best campaigns from the series, they're memorable and leave you satisfied, even with the game's short running time of 6-8 hours.

The return of a campaign mode is certainly welcome, but the series is synonymous with multiplayer, which really makes or breaks the game. For the most part, this remains unchanged from previous entries, where shooting is fast and it only takes a few bullets before you see the camera smeared with your own blood. Your loadout is going to be your friend, as there's barely any time to pick up enemy weapons and any time that's not spent running and shooting is spent bringing your health back up to speed before returning to the fray. Killstreaks are also a thing, where those dominating with consecutive kills can further their lead with things like drones and small robot tanks, but the inclusion of white phosphorous is going to be polarizing for a game with a campaign about anti-chemical weapons.

Compared to the last few games, some parts of the multiplayer are a return to the basics. In particular, while you can play as specific characters, they're more akin to skins, as you're really caring about classes and loadouts. Elsewhere, there's an emphasis on gun customization, and this is where gun XP comes into play, as you'll be encouraged to spend more time and kills with a particular gun to get the best attachments to beef up its stats and give it some personal flair.

Aside from the now-standard multiplayer modes like free for all, team deathmatch, and the Counter-Strike-like Search and Destroy, there are a few new and noteworthy modes in Modern Warfare. Realism is one of the more interesting modes, as it plays like a mix of the base game and the old Hardcore mode from previous titles. You have increased and regenerative health, but the most notable change is the lack of a HUD. That seems like a small thing at first, but not being able to see nameplates or see who killed you or activated a killstreak perk makes the game feel different; you now have to watch body language and listen for audio cues to get a sense of how things are going.

Ground War is another new mode that'll be very familiar for Battlefield players. You play in big teams and try to reach the target kill score before the enemy does. The battlefield is littered with plenty of capture points that can be used as spawn points for your team, but you can also spawn in on your squad directly if you wish. You can also use a few vehicles for the fight, like an armored car or a tank. The high score threshold makes for some longer-than-normal games for the series, and while the map selection isn't that robust yet, it's a good time away from the standard modes.

Of all of the new modes, Gunfight is probably the most exciting, especially since players got a taste of it in the beta. You're placed in small arenas in a 2v2 situation without health regeneration, and everyone has the same weapon. The action gets frantic, and losing a round is quickly forgotten as new ones start up almost immediately. Of all of the game modes, this is perhaps the most fun, since every match goes by quickly and everyone starts on an even playing field. There's also a variation where you need to procure your weapons from a battlefield first, which adds some battle royale flavor.

Perhaps the biggest change to the multiplayer is one that few imagined would ever happen: cross-play. We've seen this before with games like Rocket League and Fortnite, where PS4 players can go against Xbox One and PC players, but it's huge to see it happen with one of the bigger multiplayer titles. As you would expect, the player base has increased greatly, so it's much easier to find full games, but this is more beneficial for those who have friends on different platforms or wondering which version they should pick up. The game does a great job of letting you know what platform your opponent is on as well as segregating gamepad players from keyboard and mouse players for a more level playing field, and the online performance is just as solid as previous titles. The only annoyance is that you have to create an Activision account to take advantage of this, but that's a small price to pay.

If the campaign and multiplayer are the game's two pillars, then Spec Ops is the third. It also happens to be the one that isn't very polished. Starting off with the good news, this is a 2-4 player affair with its own storyline, where the U.S. and UK forces team up with Russian forces to fight the terrorists from the campaign mode. Each stage has you in larger multiplayer maps where you complete objectives while enemy forces breathe down your neck. Some stages have pedestrian goals, like finding a target to assassinate, while others bring back some of unbelievable moments of past games, like blowing up a large plane so you can dive to your escape. The ingenuity of the missions varies wildly, but the enemies drag down the mode. They spawn all around you and in large numbers, something akin to a free-for-all match. Even if you have a well-coordinated team, the enemy spawns and their difficulty levels mean that the mode feels like a drag to play. The mode is supposed to provide rewards for your profile, but those have been delayed until next month, further decreasing the incentive to play.

Spec Ops also houses Survival mode, which is exclusive to the PS4 for one year. While it isn't ideal that a mode is held back from other platforms for so long, players on the Xbox One and PC don't need to suffer from FOMO, as the mode is rather dull. It plays similarly to Killing Floor, where you need to wipe out waves of enemies while spending your money between matches for better guns or perks. While the enemy threat levels increase per wave, they do so at a slow enough rate that you'll likely quit or let yourself get killed before anything gets exciting. No one would have batted an eye if this were part of the base package, but the extra attention due to it being an exclusive only highlights how the Spec Ops mode feels less polished than the rest of the game.

For a game with pretty consistent graphics, Modern Warfare represents a pretty big leap forward. Take away the Blur-produced cut scenes, which look just as good and as realistic as you'd imagine, and you have a game with character models that look much improved over the heights seen in Advanced Warfare. The environments still sport the same chaotic rubble of past games, so they aren't as eye-pleasing, but what'll stand out is the lighting and other effects. The opening level sports a good mix of fog and its interaction with bright spotlights, while the fires from explosions and Molotov cocktails are impressive. The lighting and smoke continue to be a source of awe in later levels, and there's enough here to give you an idea of what a proper next-generation entry will look like now that Infinity Ward is using technology that isn't a decade old. It isn't flawless, though, as you'll see a bunch of texture and detail pop-in if you run through each level instead of jogging. The game also sticks to 60fps most of the time but only if you have a PS4 Pro, as the base version tends to start losing frames once the scene gets busy due to the new lighting and effects.

The sound has also received a major upgrade. Particularly, the sound effects for every firearm has been revamped, and every gun packs a bigger punch while also sounding distinct, including when you have a proper silencer or if you're using an oil filter for a makeshift job. Elsewhere, the music isn't present much, but it sounds good whenever it appears, providing a subtle action vibe like the campaign. The voice work is also well done, but the series has always been strong in that arena. The different equalizer presets take into account your sound system and situation. For example, one might want to start off with something more booming during the day before switching over to a midnight mode that still packs some clarity and oomph while also being quiet enough to not disturb others without changing the volume.

As a whole, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare hits all the right marks. The campaign is well done, with some very memorable moments and a decent overall story that'll overshadow some of the weaker enemies and vanilla ending. The multiplayer is as reliable as before, and the new modes provide some fresh fun, while true cross-play automatically makes it the best entry in the series due to the expanded player base. Wrapped in a presentation that provides a good preview of what a next-generation entry could look like, Modern Warfare is a very good entry for series fans who are willing to overlook the currently undercooked Spec Ops mode.

Score: 8.0/10

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