With the stellar release of Activision and Infinity Ward’s new Call of Duty title, Modern Warfare (2019), those who have been hands on with it have already voiced their praise for the shift in a new direction, while simultaneously outlining familiar criticisms. Many criticized the campaign’s controversial statements, with some wanting less while others wanted more. However, one complaint in particular has stood out from the rest. Many review outlets and people who have already beaten the campaign have expressed their issues with its length, stating how it is over just as fast as it began. Call of Duty games often have shorter campaigns than other shooters due to the franchise’s emphasis on multiplayer and subsequent co-operative game modes. Modern Warfare delivers a campaign similar in length to previous years, but this time around things are different.
To make the argument that Modern Warfare’s campaign is not as short as others are claiming it to be, one must understand the age-old debate of quality over quantity. The Activision-owned developers can easily churn out a Call of Duty campaign to act as a supplement to the title’s money-making multiplayer. Countless Call of Duty titles in the past have suffered from an under-cooked narrative, yet people seem to forget the ones that rise above, such as Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2, along with the first entry in the Black Ops series, but rarely is the campaign of Infinite Warfare discussed in the same vein. Now, before the angry commenters break their fingers from typing too fast, let me explain why Infinite Warfare stands among the great Call of Duty campaigns.
If one thing is for certain, Infinity Ward cares about the stories it tells. One of the greatest Call of Duty games ever made was done by Infinity Ward. Despite some of the original developers departing and forming Respawn Entertainment, many remained to keep the heart of the studio alive. One cannot dispute how Infinite Warfare’s release was met with backlash and controversy; the title is widely considered as one of the worst Call of Duty games in modern memory. All issues aside, the campaign of Infinite Warfare provided a fulfilling experience throughout, even with the cringe of Kit Harington’s villain. The story of Marines fighting for galactic peace against Mars separatists was definitely a departure for a Call of Duty game, but judged on its own merits, Infinite Warfare gave players a narrative campaign that rises above its counterparts.
Why was Infinite Warfare brought up in a Modern Warfare article? To identify where Infinity Ward has come from and how it expresses quality in its narrative campaigns. Like Infinite Warfare, Modern Warfare (2019) takes pride in the story it tells and seeks to raise the bar for Call of Duty narratives going forward. In this reboot to 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Infinity Ward has taken the beloved Modern Warfare universe and given players another reason to care. By focusing on near-realism and gritty narration, Infinity Ward has crafted a campaign that will, without a doubt, go down in history as one of the franchise’s greatest.
This year, Call of Duty made an adjustment to how its campaign could be played via an alternative difficulty modifier. In addition to the game’s standard four difficulty levels, Infinity Ward has added Realism, which acts as a modifier for the classic Veteran mode, albeit without a heads-up display (HUD). By aiming to present the most ‘realistic’ depiction of modern war, Realism mode forces players to act more cautiously when approaching situations.
With the removal of the HUD, players can no longer keep track of their ammunition and supplies, as well as indicators that provide assistance throughout the levels. For my playthrough of Modern Warfare, I opted into Realism mode first—mostly due to trophies—but also to experience the game in a way that I felt the developers had intended. Once my playthrough had concluded, I knew I made the right choice.
By the time I had seen the credits for Modern Warfare, I had clocked in around nine hours of playtime, a whole five hours more than others have claimed. The added time is attributed to the Realism mode, as it forces players to play slower, smarter, and more efficient. Experiencing less frustration with Modern Warfare’s campaign is possible at this difficulty due to how it encourages players to second guess how they would approach any given situation. With standard Veteran difficulty, and those below it, players could rely on crutches such as ammunition and grenade counts, along with enemy grenade indicators to outwit the AI and difficult mechanics.
Realism makes players feel vulnerable to the extent of inducing fear when you hear an ally shout “Grenade!” and not knowing where it landed. In situations of panic, such as enemy grenades, players are forced to listen for its bounce and decide whether to run or throw it back. To say that lowering the difficulty will result in a shorter runtime is obvious, but it is the unfortunate truth. Realism left me satisfied with the story length, and instead of wanting more from Modern Warfare, I cannot wait for its inevitable sequel.
To desire more content from any game is easy, but knowing when to draw the line and when to cross it is an art within itself. Modern Warfare carefully straddles this line by offering 14 story missions of varied length. One mission could take all of 10 minutes as players make their way through a single housing unit, while others can take up to an hour as the narrative tasks players with stealthily navigating through multiple buildings within a compound to search for a target. The smart pacing of Modern Warfare’s campaign does a great job of bouncing between multiple frontiers of war, with each offering a unique trait. Sure, the 10-minute mission could have been longer, but its length contributed to its setting, and both had a significant influence on how the story could impact the players.
Black Ops 4’s lack of a campaign is worth discussing too. Black Ops 4’s campaign was reportedly cut from release due to its inability to be finished on time. Despite the absence of a campaign, Black Ops 4’s overall sales were impressive, although not meeting Activision’s expectations for the title. Activision, a corporation with investors and financial obligations, could have seen this and thought it had a fiduciary duty to double down on its multiplayer-only initiative and recuperate future sales through more aggressive monetization methods. Instead, Activision sought to recover lost sales via providing more content to Modern Warfare, rather than incorporate additional microtransactions. Fans rejoiced when Activision announced that 2019’s Modern Warfare would bring back the campaign, but the company always could have continued the franchise without it.
As previously mentioned, more is always better. In Call of Duty’s case, I believe the opposite can sometimes be true. Players reporting that their runtime for Modern Warfare’s campaign was too short and left them wanting more probably approached the game like many other shooters. Call of Duty campaigns are always a spectacle, as they include set-pieces and missions that incentivize that ‘just one more mission before bed’ thought in the back of one’s mind, often resulting in its completion in one sitting. The added focus on a darker and more realistic portrayal of what modern warfare is actually like, coupled with the newly added Realism mode, encourages players to alter their approach to how the campaign is consumed. Instead of ‘just one more,’ players are now more likely to let the experience sink in before progressing further. Say what you want about Modern Warfare’s campaign, but one cannot deny that it provided quality over quantity.
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