Call of Duty is back, rebooting the series’ standout Modern Warfare setting.
Since its inception, Activision’s Call of Duty franchise has barely put a foot wrong. It’s had its ups and downs, development dramas (they lost of most of the Infinity Ward team), and narrative challenges. Call of Duty has taken us from the Second World War, though to the modern age and beyond into outer space.
As the writers upped the ante, the plots got all the more outlandish.
In order to maintain an annual instalment, development duties have been split between a number of studios. In the past series has alternated between the World at War / Black Ops storyline from Treyarch and the Modern Warfare story from Infinity Ward, more recently, Sledgehammer Games have also been added to the development roster, being responsible for the series return to the Second World War with 2017’s Call of Duty WWII. In 2018, Treyarch courted controversy with their campaign-less, multiplayer-focused Call of Duty Black Ops 4.
With Infinity Ward at the reins, Call of Duty Modern Warfare is a series reboot, introducing new characters and reintroducing an old favourite.
There’s no doubt that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was a turning point for not only the Call of Duty games, but also first-person shooters in general. The campaign was hard-hitting, with its modern setting a bit too close to home. No longer was the conflict a history lesson, more a what if? documentary.
With realistic graphics, authentic situations, the Call of Duty Modern Warfare reboot’s single-player campaign is as disturbing as it is riveting.
As with all Call of Duty games, bar Black Ops 4, Modern Warfare consists of a narrative single-player campaign and a multiplayer element. The idea is that you play through the single-player and then continue online, in both a competitive multiplayer and the co-op mission-based special ops.
The single-player campaign starts with a covert joint CIA/US Marine operation to track down a batch of chemical weapons en-route to Urzikstan, a fictional county between Georgia and Russia. Players take on the role of CIA operative, Alex. As they approach the facility, they believe contains the chemicals, the US drop white prosperous to neutralise the enemy before going in for the assault.
Many of us old hands still shudder at the use of “Willy Pete” in videogames, still traumatised by the horror of this evil weapon as shown in Spec Ops: The Line. The aftermath whilst not as graphic this time is still awful, with the enemy screaming as they crawl out of the fire, being burnt alive. “Put them out of their misery”, one of your colleagues says.
Modern Warfare doesn’t pull it’s punches. It’s a story that portrays the grim reality of modern warfare as well as torture, child killings, and a huge and very visceral terrorist attack on the heart of London.
With the covert mission risking an international incident, CIA station chief, Kate Laswell, calls a very familiar Call of Duty character for help. As with previous Call of Duty games, the campaign has players taking control of number of different characters, across multiple plotlines. This keeps the story moving and allows for a deeper narrative.
For the second sequence that action switches to London with the British SAS trying to thwart a terrorist attack, this time as SAS Sergeant Kyle Garrick. As things start to get dicey, Garrick is saved by one Captain Price.
The mutton-chopped British military man, Captain John Price, started out a bit of a running gag in the Call of Duty games. He first appeared, in the original Call of Duty game, as a paratrooper behind enemy lines in advance of the D-Day landings. In the second game Price was a captain in the 7th Armoured Division, in the North African Campaign.
The enigmatic Captain returned for Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, this time as a British SAS captain. There’s no official explanation on how Price manages to turn up across multiple theatres of war, and timelines. In Modern Warfare, Price is the mentor figure that serves to join the plotlines together for the finale.
The game’s use of Russians as the big bad is interesting. As dependable an enemy as they are, picking on the West’s former sparing partners is a bit 1980s and sniffs of a bit of blatant anti-Russian propaganda in the wake of their Syrian actions. Especially as the obvious enemy, China (who just so happen to be a trading partner of Activision’s) would make a far more logical enemy.
The campaign is very well done with some amazing sequences. The SAS London townhouse clearance is incredible, with the player being part of a team sweeping the house floor-by-floor, room-by-room with night-vision on.
The campaign game has five difficulty settings. Whilst Regular offers a modicum of challenge, Hardened is a lot less forgiving of run and gun tactics. Whilst Veteran and Realism is reserved for the serious hard-core players. As you increase the difficulty, the mechanic that allows you to “mount” your weapon against cover positions to carefully check corners, becomes an important asset to ensure survival.
I played the campaign game right though on Regular with a PS4 Pro, and the game looks fantastic. I also replayed the game Hardened on PC with an RTX2080ti GPU. I was able to run the game at max settings at 1440p, but with a 1.5x multiplier (equating to a virtual resolution of 3840X2160), which looked incredible with the accurate, subtle shadows afforded by real-time ray-tracing. That’s some serious game engine optimisation.
To be far, it’s also a credit to the developers that, even with all that extra PC graphical horsepower, the PS4 version doesn’t really look that different. You get a higher frame-rate on a high-end PC over console and some extra graphical flourishes, but it is very much still the same game, no matter what the platform.
The online component features the standard competitive multiplayer fayre, but also extends the storyline from the end of the campaign. Unique to Modern Warfare, the multiplayer aspect is device agnostic. The cross-play feature means that you could be playing with others on PC, Xbox One or PlayStation 4. And this is fantastic. By uniting the online player-base you are more likely to get straight into a multiplayer match.
Also, if you’ve linked your accounts, your online progress on one platform will be the same on another. I played with both PS4 and PC with my progression counting no matter which platform I played on. I would say, however, that the PC online gameplay seemed a lot more responsive that on PS4. I was using a controller for both. Seasoned PC keyboard warriors will probably have even more of an advantage.
All your usual team-based multiplayer game types, such as straight deathmatch, domination, kill confirmed etc., can be found on a quickplay list. There are also more realistic night operations, large scale groundwar, tight gunfights and your PvP free-for-all.
The co-operative Special Ops mode is alluded to in the campaign’s epilogue. These narrative missions have a squad of four players engaged in multi-part objectives against stiff hostile AI forces. There are five co-op missions to choose from plus a classic special forces mode as well.
Call of Duty Modern Warfare is a fantastic achievement. As much as I liked Call of Duty WWII, in rebooting the narrative series back to its WW2 roots, the Modern Warfare single-player campaign beats it hands down. The use of Russians as the big-bad came across as being a bit dated, but by the end, I kind of saw where they were coming from. I do wish Activision were brave enough to tackle China- maybe next time. The events in the story are confronting, a stark reminder of the awful decisions made in the darkness so that we may sleep soundly at night. The multiplayer is frantic as always and the co-op mode very welcome. The multiplayer crossplay feature is a great addition.
Whilst not for the feint-hearted, the incredible spectacle of Call of Duty Modern Warfare’s single-player campaign will likely be one of the best movies that you’ve never watched.
Released: November 2019
Platforms: Xbox One, PC (Windows 10), also on PlayStation 4