This year’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare may be the best entry in the classic shooter series to date. Eight years on from the conclusion of the original Modern Warfare trilogy, the sub-brand now makes a triumphant return. Akin to the originals, the title sees the player fighting alongside the acclaimed soldier Captain Price as they try to stop terrorist attacks and the onset of a bigger war. As Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare did back in 2007, this new entry showcases war as it is today.
Modern Warfare feels great as a first-person shooter, both offline and online. Guns have a much better feeling of weight compared to most other shooters that look to be arcady, and the time to kill is reduced, making each gun feel as powerful as their real-life counterpart. The online portion does have some hiccups, and the maps might be mediocre, but the gameplay feels the best since the early releases of the PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 years, if not better.
Accompanying the great gameplay, the story is back to being a serious and provocative story about what living through war is like. The game addresses recent real-world events and grounds them in reality for the average civilian who can be ignorant of what warfare is actually like. The story is mostly well-written, only feeling rushed at a few points. Tropes and gamification aside, the story is presented with lifelike cutscenes, along with thought-provoking situations that many have lived through or potentially one day will.
Video games have a level of interaction that makes them far more impactful than a movie or book can be by putting the decision, the trigger pull, and the view of carnage in the power of the player. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare does an amazing job of telling a story that hits close to home in today’s political climate with moments of interaction that can be very powerful. However, except the game is held back by tropes, methods that make scenes more playable than needed, and what appears to be a fear of going too far.
One mission has the player involved in a gunfight where many civilians will lose their lives in the crossfire. Fighting through the streets among normal people is a powerful moment, but it lacks a sense of urgency because the player can wait until all the civilians have left.
The game features other events where the developer uses gamification methods to give gritty situations more play than they need which holds the story back. One example is an unbelievable occurrence when the player has to take down an overpowering soldier with household items. The scene tries to create a sense of fear but falls flat because the player character, being a child, should not be able to take down a weaponized Russian soldier. Furthermore, Modern Warfare has a mini-game of getting tortured that is handled in a very simple and light way, by just turning side to side and pressing a button. The torture scene lacks a sense of urgency and danger for something that is very dark. Scenes like these show a sense that the developer was scared of possibly going too far.
Blockbuster stories often suffer from tropes, and Modern Warfare follows this trend. Many scenes in the game look to be inspired by blockbuster movies but the plot’s flow breaks when the tropes of those movies—betrayal (kind of), self-sacrifice—become present.
Modern Warfare holds more positives to the story than not; while the gripes mentioned seem more on the negative side, they are only made out of the desire for the game to push the boundary harder. Getting a team together to storm a residential house and take down a terrorist cell in pitch black was exhilarating, and not knowing who was truly a friend or foe only added to the tension.
Another fantastic mission is ‘Going Dark’, where the player has to infiltrate different locations in the dark without being seen. Shooting out lights to use night vision goggles and hiding from vehicle patrols was a very fun way to add more to a normal linear shooter. The mission gave feelings of Metal Gear and even Dishonored as the player snuck through the estate looking for the mission’s target.
The cutscenes in the game are some of the best-looking in recent memory, with great voice acting and presentation rivaling other big hitters this year, such as Devil May Cry 5 and Resident Evil 2. The animation has lifelike fluidity, but the biggest success is the detailed facial animations, with lifelike skin and several emotions portrayed in the eyes.
The game’s biggest issue is that a bit of post-campaign story is locked behind the very underwhelming online co-op mode called ‘Spec Ops’. Facing off against waves of AI enemies feels more like a battle of attrition against the developer to see the story. Hopefully, Infinity Ward can make ‘Spec Ops’ more accessible for those who want the story and not so much a challenge.
Modern Warfare is a great start for a revival of the sub-franchise, hopefully continuing to push the envelope with its dark tone of realistic warfare. Infinity Ward is on to something great, but should not fear going too far when the goal is to create a lifelike depiction of the problems with war and depths of horror they have. Using real-life events as a basis for certain moments in the game adds gravity to a situation because someone has lived, fought, and killed just to get to the other end. Other people will never know what goes through the survivor’s mind, but hopefully, interactive media and attempts like Modern Warfare can get us to realize the world is capable of far more horrors than we can think of.
The story is meant to be controversial, pulling on the heartstrings of the player to tell a story of why war today is so much more convoluted than it used to be. In the story, many characters go through challenging moments that make the player ask whether they can handle making the hard decisions. While the story gets dark with instances of torture and terrorist attacks, the game feels like it was scared to go all the way, holding back when situations should have pushed for more. Although the story has tropes and moments of gamification, the plot is still incredibly relevant and thought-provoking. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare may be the best in the series.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4. Also available on PC and Xbox One.