Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Campaign review: "Vibrant, varied, exciting"
As we continue into this newfound era of Call of Duty, the Modern Warfare 2 campaign finds itself in a tricky position. On the one hand, it has to live up to the immense reputation that the original 2009 title left in its wake. On the other, it also has to be a continuation of the 2019 reboot, retaining some of the series' more grounded DNA while delivering an action-packed and engaging narrative. Aside from a small sense of conflicted identity, the Modern Warfare 2 campaign wholly delivers upon this with a varied and exciting mission list, some of which shine through as the best the series has seen in years.
Picking Up The Pieces
While the ending of 2019's Modern Warfare teased the concept of a reunited Taskforce 141, Modern Warfare 2 wastes no time in establishing that these are the characters the new game will focus on. Right from the get-go, we're introduced to Ghost and Soap, whose squad forms one of the two narrative strands you'll follow throughout the campaign.
While the Scotsman and the Brit are off investigating the Mexican Cartel, Price and Gaz are on their own mission with returning character, Laswell. They're in search of a missing missile that's been stolen by a terrorist organisation - all they know is that they belong to the Americans. Also thrown into the mix is General Shepherd, a character who veteran fans will know not to trust. Combine that with the return of the private military known as Shadow Company, and a familiar scene is set from the original Modern Warfare 2.
What struck me as a welcome change of pace was how personable these characters appear with each other in Modern Warfare 2. Without a need for constant bombastic action, there is plenty of downtime for these characters to interact with each other over the radio, with dialogue options even appearing at some intervals. The usual barked orders are replaced with punchy and jovial remarks, which really helps to develop that team bond more so than I think we've ever seen demonstrated in Modern Warfare before.
Though these characters may be reincarnations of their previous selves, Infinity Ward has strayed away from doing anything too similar with them to what we saw in 2009. Without giving too much away, don't expect General Shepherd to be the double-crossing evil caricature that we know him to be from over a decade ago. However, the twists that the story does take are a little too predictable for my liking. It's easy to see what the narrative is building to as it nears its closure.
Theme Park Of Emotions
The biggest enjoyment factor with Modern Warfare 2 is how varied the gameplay is from mission to mission. One level might have you clearing a Cartel safe house room by room with intense tactical gameplay. The next thing you know, you're rappelling down the side of a skyscraper to defuse a hostage situation. The entire campaign is a long string of extravagant setpieces, each mission with its own unique gameplay trait.
There are two missions that stand out the most, the first of which sees a member of the taskforce wounded and without aid. With no resources and on the run from the law, you're tasked with scavenging the environment for crafting materials to get yourself out of the sticky situation. Here, the atmosphere is built with an expert hand, leaving you to rummage through complete darkness with only a tiny headtorch beam to guide your way. Playing this mission in the dead of night made me feel genuine fear for the first time ever in a Call of Duty game.
The other mission I enjoyed most was a homage to All Ghillied Up from the first Modern Warfare. Assisted by Captain Price, you're presented with an open-ended level that can be approached how you see fit. Re-positioning to find the perfect sniper nest and choosing how to clear a building as stealthily as possible felt like a puzzle box to solve. Especially on the harder difficulties, this one is going to be a treasure trove for gamers who love replayability.
Those are the two main missions that shine the most, but in all honesty, almost every single mission in the Modern Warfare 2 campaign has something interesting going on. There's very little filler, which is not something that can always be said about a game that essentially started out as a beige corridor shooter.
Something else that isn't grey any longer is the visuals that Modern Warfare 2 presents. Call of Duty games have obscene budgets these days - unsurprising, given how much they make - and it's clear that much of that budget has gone into elevating the game engine even further this year. Whether it's gazing out across the vastness of a Mexican valley or scampering through the sludge in a flooded suburban village, Modern Warfare 2 is the best that the series has ever looked.
In fact, the production quality that's gone into the cutscenes for this game might actually be too good. There were points while watching some of these cutscenes where I genuinely couldn't tell if I was watching a live-action video or not. It begs the question of whether these cutscenes would benefit from being completely live-action anyway given that I spent more time thinking about the uncanny valley than the actual plot.
Missing The Good Old Days
As mentioned at the top of this review, Modern Warfare 2 has a tough call to make. The original game from 2009 had possibly the highest stakes imaginable with us witnessing the breakout of World War 3 as Russia invaded the United States. This was in keeping with the bombastic and action-packed nature that Call of Duty was known for back then.
Now, Modern Warfare has grown up a little with it being presented as a much more grounded and tactical franchise. Naturally, this means that the stakes are much lower, with very little of the world stage actually at risk. Fans of the original games may miss the over-the-top nature of the old Modern Warfare, even if the latest entry does stay loyal to its new brand identity.
That said, the ending of Modern Warfare 2 does leave the door wide open for yet another sequel - one where those stakes may just reach the height of a potential World War. It certainly has me excited to play more of the co-op mode and keep up to date with however Warzone 2.0 decides to advance the world of Call of Duty.
Overall though, the Modern Warfare 2 campaign shines through with its sheer variety in gameplay. Stellar level and gameplay design will keep you wanting to play just one more mission all night long, and might even instigate a second playthrough. It's an excellent showcase for how the Call of Duty franchise has stepped up this year and will serve as a fantastic pre-requisite to tide you over before jumping into the multiplayer.
Reviewed on PC.