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Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 Review: Soap makes a splash

Our full review of campaign and multiplayer of Modern Warfare 2's return to classic CoD.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare was a genuine surprise when it arrived to a very different world in 2019. A spectacular return to form by series creator Infinity Ward, it recaptured the essence of a beloved classic CoD series and turned it into something new; a leap forward and a swansong for an outgoing console generation. We didn’t expect that with new hardware looming, and frankly thought Call of Duty had exhausted such big surprises.

Three years later, Infinity Ward returns with a direct sequel to its reimagined reboot. This time the veteran developer has a far trickier proposition on its hands. Expectations were well and truly surpassed in 2019, raising the bar, and now they have to combine fresh slate with sequel in Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2.

Modern Warfare II is not a remake of Modern Warfare 2

Despite being called Call of Duty Modern Warfare II, this year’s annual console bestseller isn’t a remake of 2009’s megahit Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2.

It’s also not entirely separate. They share the same name, some of the same characters and a loosely similar modern-day setting. But otherwise 2022’s Modern Warfare 2 is a new sequel to 2019’s rebooted Modern Warfare.

To make it more confusing, we don’t use roman numerals in titles here, so we’re going with Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 when talking about either iteration.

Modern Warfare 2 campaign

Modern Warfare 2 picks up three years after we left off, with Task Force 141 now fully operational all over the world. Captain Price and Gaz lead a cast of returning characters, joined by some new, familiar faces. Modern Warfare stalwarts Simon ‘Ghost’ Riley and John ‘Soap’ McTavish make their debuts in this refreshed Modern Warfare timeline.

It’s a successful reunion as that core group takes the spotlight, with the nostalgic tones of Price shouting at Soap to get a move on. Ghost, in particular, is given considerably more screen time and is further developed. There are also several unexpected nods to his namesake, the ghosts of Call of Duty Ghosts, Infinity Ward’s first attempt to leave Modern Warfare behind; promptly discontinued without resolution.

It’s nice to have the gang back together, but beyond that, the story never really gets going. Outside of the core cast, everyone else is making up the numbers, with a villain you’ll forget by the time the completion Trophy or Achievement pops.

When it’s firing, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2’s campaign delivers in spades. Doing what it does best, Modern Warfare 2 hits hard with a deeply satisfying combat loop and best-in-class gunplay. Infinity Ward, in fact the whole stable of Call of Duty developers, are unrivalled in making murdering hundreds of goons delightfully gratifying.

That’s most of Modern Warfare 2’s campaign – Call of Duty single-player on top of its game doing what it does best. A majority of the 17 missions, spanning five to seven hours, revolve around the pristine gunplay. The levels are well designed, and intentionally more open and less linear. It doesn’t go full Halo Infinite, but there are certainly less bottlenecks than Call of Duty is renowned for, which makes for the easiest campaign on Veteran difficulty yet.

It’s in stark contrast to Modern Warfare, which was intentionally provocative and in your face through level design that was tighter and more confined – alongside the large-scale battles.

It’s a case of bigger is different, and not necessarily better or worse. I appreciate being able to take multiple routes through both the stealthier sections and the slaughter battles. Pivoting and taking a different approach is why Veteran is far more accommodating; the days of being boxed into a corner with random grenades spawning atop you are long gone.

Like its predecessor, those big shootouts intersperse with slower more intimate missions, which are generally more linear. That’s where we find a mixed bag, with some of those missions standing out, and others trying too little of too much. Modern Warfare 2 is in a hard place in that regard. It can’t simply reproduce what made the reboot’s campaign so strong, but it’s also following a rose-tinted 2009 classic of the same name that it has to distance itself from.

To counter that, it fluctuates pacing more than any other Call of Duty game and tries a few different ways of injecting stealth, but doesn’t really commit to any of them. Since the last game, we’ve also had Raven’s Black Ops Cold War campaign, which set the standard for one-man behind enemy lines in Call of Duty.

Some of it is great, and I truly wish it was fleshed out more. An early mission, Wet Work set in Amsterdam, is more special ops than all out warfare. Price and Gaz begin their mission floating in wetsuits, spying a barge as their target. Splitting up, Gaz clears the docks using knives and silenced handguns, remaining in stealth for as long as possible by using the water, and an excellent lung capacity, to his advantage. Hunting enemies below water, choosing to sacrifice firing power, provides the standout amongst the slower missions. Single enemies are far more threatening, but so are you with the right tactics.

A later stealth mission that leaves you stranded without a weapon feels like it’s replicating the slow and steady approach of Modern Warfare, until it introduces mandatory crafting – something CoD doesn’t need. Taping up shanks and making bombs out of mouse traps never really lands, especially with the armoured-to-the-teeth baddies on an endless respawn cycle. It’s contrasted yet again by an excellent though brief abseiling down a skyscraper segment, methodically clearing out floors without being spotted. This scattershot approach to intentional sporadic pacing predicably has its share of hits and misses.

Those slower missions feel more personal, and when they work, they blend better together and into the hectic action. There aren’t as many exaggerated set pieces – and it wouldn’t be Modern Warfare without a couple of scripted helicopter crashes – but the quieter moments are just as meaningful. Gameplay blends together as the sum of all its parts more than past CoD campaigns, rather than a selection of iconic, but individual, missions.

There’s more time to take in your settings, whether it be traversing the outside of a building, approaching a compound by sniper or covertly wandering the meticulously redesigned streets of Amsterdam. The whole game looks fantastic, and I often found myself being yelled at to get a move on as I was admiring the minor detail (including a shocking amount of VHS players)w

Overhauls to water combat and vehicles were the headliners as Infinity Ward announced Modern Warfare 2 would provide a unified experience across all modes. With full online implementation still a few days away, we haven’t been able to test that, but the indications are it shines across consistent gunplay and movement; where it’s so good and seamlessly matched that you won’t even notice.

It’s those newcomers that stand out in campaign. The water sections are good but underutilised; the vehicle sequence is rubbish and several generations out of date. It has you awkwardly jumping between five or six cloned vehicles to hijack them in pursuit of the lead truck in a convoy of baddies shooting at you. With clunky driving controls and a requirement to drive and hangout the window shooting exploding barrels at the same time, it feels completely out of place. Thankfully, vehicles are never revisited.

Outside of those missteps, the remaining missions are all top notch and that’s why they’ll be spoken about less – they meet the lofty expectations of a Modern Warfare campaign. Infinity Ward has deliberately varied the pacing to avoid monotonous murdering, and while it doesn’t flow quite as well as Modern Warfare 1, it’s a nice mix that compels you to keep playing just one more mission until suddenly the credits roll. That’s Modern Warfare 2’s campaign. It isn’t as innovative as past Modern Warfare games, nor does it have as many iconic moments. But for the most part, it’s a unified campaign that nails what Modern Warfare should be. Fans of Call of Duty campaigns won’t be able to put their controller down.

Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer

Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer package looks to simplify proceedings on the battlefield, while increasing complexity with far deeper weapon customisation off it. It slows down the combat loop of its predecessor – and considerably more compared to the frantic pace of last year’s Vanguard – to deliver a classic Modern Warfare experience that’s the closest game in years to Call of Duty 4.

If you’ve rolled straight across from Call of Duty Vanguard, Modern Warfare 2 will feel slow. Player movement has been toned down, and you’ll go more than a few seconds without running into another player on a killing spree. I’ve even had several matches of Domination, Headquarters and Kill Confirmed timed out before reaching the score limit; such is the reduced frequency of encounters.

I’m a big fan of this new, slower pacing. There’s more reliance on skill as it’s all about the gunplay, and pretty much only the gunplay, but skill-based matchmaking should ensure you’re always competing in your own league, even if its design has inherent limitations.

That isn’t to say it’s a slow game. Modern Warfare 2 is still a fast-paced shooter that draws you into the thick of the action, but it has rightly made the call to dial things back. The extreme pace was starting to get out of hand. With CoD’s affinity for generally making each game faster than the last, I’m ready to step back with a Modern Warfare that takes more queues from the series as it was 15 years ago.

Modern Warfare has returned to its roots with a greater focus on the 6v6 game modes and maps, and less frantic killstreaks and abilities. They’re all still there, but it’s more how Call of Duty used to be; with negligible tactical field upgrades and killstreaks that begin with the U.A.V. at 4 kills – and a mini-map that’s only useful when someone on your team activates one.

Infinity Ward promised to deliver a combat loop that caters for the most common types of players; and I can mostly see that in action. There’s a clear divide between the snipers who hang back, the stalkers, and the run-and-gunners with an assault rifle, SMG or shotgun, which accounts for the bulk of players. Like the vintage CoD games it is replicating, snipers have returned with a vengeance, but across the board, it’s fairly balanced between play styles.

A slightly slower time-to-kill also means a more forgiving time-to-death – something competitive players lamenting the slower player movement seem to have forgotten. For the average player, kicking back with a couple of cold ones and CoD on a Friday night, spawning into immediate danger is infuriating. Vanguard often led to near instant death simply because it didn’t allow a few seconds to recalibrate your bearings. Modern Warfare 2 does away with that.

While you can certainly still run-and-gun, and you’re rarely more than a moment away from combat, Modern Warfare 2 rewards players for taking that extra fraction of a second to line up a shot or acquire a better position. Coupled with pristine gunplay, multiplayer kills are as satisfying as they’ve ever been. And dare I say, the frequency of bullshit deaths that you’ll lie and blame on imagined lag are at an all-time low.

This year’s maps are mostly excellent, except for the well documented Santa Sena Border Crossing disaster. It’s awful, with a narrow lane littered with abandoned cars; it reminds me of a long and narrow house I once rented that squeezed five homes into a block originally designed for one, and ensured you’d always be privy to every neighbour’s bowel movements. It just doesn’t suit Modern Warfare 2’s pacing.

The remaining 10 maps at launch, with a few others seemingly plucked from the rotation, are great. They mightn’t be instantly memorable, but they are all designed extremely well for this style of combat and provide a nice contrast in aesthetic, with a mix of colours and styles. They feel intentionally designed for the 6v6 modes, unlike recent games which focused too much on the larger modes first and CoD’s bread and butter second. 6v6 is back where it belongs.

Those big maps, with 32v32 in Ground War and 20v20 in Invasion, are quality as well. With such botched competition, Call of Duty is doing Battlefield better than Battlefield now – and yet, I still find that to be a nice extra, rather than the main attraction, so I’m glad to see 6v6 getting the full attention it deserves.

The touted new gameplay mechanics are most apparent in these larger modes. You’ll need to play Ground War to cruise around in more destructible vehicles, and while water and hanging from ledges do appear in smaller modes, you’ll notice them most in the bigger maps with their spacious sandbox designs. They’re nice additions, but the pacing changes, reduced prevalence of diving and nerfed bunny hopping are all far more impactful in their endeavour to ground gameplay.

All the regular modes return, and that’s where you’ll be spending most of your time. The elimination newcomers, Prisoner Rescue and Knockout, are extremely similar 1-life-per-round modes, and reminiscent of almost identical modes we’ve seen before. They’re serviceable, but quickly forgotten.

Outside of play, Modern Warfare 2’s biggest addition is an even deeper gunsmith, with more customisation options than ever before. As well as the standard attachment options, this year’s gunsmith introduces a plethora of detailed and complex weapon finetuning. It’s too convoluted for casual players who simply want to attach a scope, but for the gun nerds, it allows you to spend time tweaking every part of your firearm to craft a truly unique weapon – which, in the end, may essentially reduce a weapon’s hip-fire characteristics to improve its down-scope capabilities. It’s a nice addition for those heavily invested.

Infinity Ward has also seen how many players set and forget their loadout – guilty. It’s trying to coerce more players to try different weapons this year with progress for one gun tied to using many. You’ll need to level up certain weapons to ultimately unlock attachments for the gun you’re already using.

I can see the intention, and it certainly can be ignored if you’re happy with the early offerings, but it’s also somewhat at odds with the gunsmith customisation. If you spend time tweaking every aspect of your max level weapon, it’s hard to justify using something you don’t like for hours, just to unlock another attachment for your first choice.

This is also where we start to see Modern Warfare 2’s launch shortcomings; the glaring omissions. Its big new weapon customisation feature was removed for several days following launch due to serious issues, and we can’t help but notice the other basic features unusually absent at launch.

Barracks is gone, so there’s no way to check-in on your stats – a staple of the series. I’ve had some great matches and the odd shocker, and I’m accustomed to seeing how I’m going overall. It wasn’t that long ago Activision released a companion app to track all of this, but it doesn’t show anything beyond Vanguard. There’s also no hardcore playlist at launch, another oddity, but it is coming soon, resulting in Treyarch removing ranked play from Cold War and Vanguard in anticipation. Strangely, Xbox and PC players also don’t have an option to disable cross-play, and on that note, we’re still waiting for either a console-only or input-only option, which is clearly far too sensible.

There are reports of more glitches than we’re used to seeing in Call of Duty, but I haven’t found these to be prevalent playing on Xbox Series X – they may be more common on other platforms. The only unusual error came in Ground War where around 10 players spawned on top of each other, and I was the meat in the sandwich. None of us could move until a delighted opposition player came along and got the best killstreak of his CoD career.

For the first time since Modern Warfare 2 – ah, the 2009 one – Modern Warfare 2 introduces an online third person mode to Call of Duty. It’s been improved considerably since the beta, with an on-screen reticule that makes much more sense. It’s an interesting experiment but doesn’t amount to much more than that. Good for the odd change in perspective, but I wouldn’t expect it to become more than a niche option once the launch intrigue subsides. It is its own dedicated mode, so don’t worry about players switching between first and third person – that isn’t a thing.

Alongside the multiplayer mayhem comes a delightfully unifying Spec Ops mode. Often the forgotten third pillar, I’ve really enjoyed this year’s offering. It’s a set of three 2-player co-op large scale missions. They have rudimentary objectives, but I like the goal alongside the AI slaughter-fest set in part of the upcoming Warzone 2.0 map.

Each of the three missions has a slightly different goal and capturing buildings versus trying to protect them disrupts the flow of an otherwise standard wave mode. There’s little incentive to go back once you’ve attained 3-stars for each mission, but it’s an enjoyable change from the bustle of competitive multiplayer.

As it’s only 2-player, be warned that it’s only really possible with a friend, as you need someone you can rely on. The utterly useless randoms I’ve attempted to play with online have either failed to follow the objective or quit early. That unearths another disappointing omission, as while Modern Warfare 2 prompts connecting a second controller for split-screen, you can’t actually play any of these modes at the time of publishing (private games with bots don’t count).

This style of Spec Ops would make a great couch co-op game – and it would work much better than online – so I hope it’s added soon, which will also ensure Spec Ops’ longevity.

The Final Verdict

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 is a great return to classic Modern Warfare, with most of the bells and whistles of more recent games. The overall package is similar to its rebooted 2019 predecessor, but not quite as innovative or surprising – as this time we knew what to expect. The campaign mixes up its pacing, and delivers strong characters in a lacklustre story backed by highly engaging gameplay that will keep a controller entrenched in your hands. The multiplayer slows movement, but it’s still a fast-paced shooter that encourages taking an extra moment to make the right decision. The larger scale modes are quality, but it’s 6v6 that returns to the spotlight with maps designed around the signature Call of Duty style of play. While it does omit some key features, and might have put-off more competitive players, the masses will enjoy a grounded Call of Duty multiplayer that focuses purely on great gunplay to drive its satisfying combat loop.

8 out of 10

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 was reviewed using promotional codes on Xbox Series X, as provided by the publisher. Click here to learn more about Stevivor’s scoring scale.



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About the author

Ben Salter

Ben has been writing about games in a professional capacity since 2008. He even did it full-time for a while, but his mum never really understood what that meant. He's been part of the Stevivor team since 2016. You will find his work across all sections of the site (if you look hard enough). Gamertag / PSN ID: Gryllis.