This year’s Call of Duty marks a return to the franchise’s traditional approach of attaching a single-player campaign to a robust multiplayer offering. I, for one, welcomed that return with open arms, especially as the campaign reboot of the much-loved Modern Warfare iteration of COD, brings with it a realistic, grounded feel and returning fan-favourite character Captain John Price to our screens.
The single-player campaign, which this is a review of, is fantastic. The return to a modern setting is also a welcome relief from the futuristic overtures of some of the more recent games that had become somewhat long-in-the-tooth.
And graphically, it can’t be faulted. This is a beautiful game, and the fact that it runs buttery-smooth at 60fps even at 4K most of the time is very impressive. Textures are razor-sharp, too, and the lighting effects, even without RTX features (I only have a 1080Ti), look superb. Nobody can knock Call of Duty games for their looks anymore, in my book – this game is gorgeous.
As is the COD way, Modern Warfare has you fighting in battles around the world and playing as different characters. This time you enter the boots of Sergeant Kyle Garrick and a mysterious CIA operative only known as “Alex”, and you’re supported by Captain Price on most missions.
Structurally, you start by attempting to recover a deadly gas, then you move on to London to repel a terrorist attack by fictional terror group Al-Qatala, then on to the fictional Middle-Eastern country of Urzikstan where you’ll help freedom fighters led by a brother-sister team repel a Russian invasion of their land. Along the way you get drawn into a wider conflict with a Russian general, General Barkov, who is at the heart of the Urzikstan incursion. Everything you do leads up to the final confrontation with Barkov.
It’s a fairly standard COD narrative, but that’s to be expected – this is COD, after all. Where Infinity Ward does it differently is with a focus on non-American characters Farah and Hadir – the aforementioned leaders of the Urzikstan resistance – and a more sympathetic telling of their story. See more on that below.
It’s a blast
Playing through the game’s 14 campaign missions is a blast. MW’s levels provide decent variety, offering a smattering of different settings in which to shoot bad guys with all manner of high-tech but still realistic military weaponry.
I sniped, defended, attacked, raided, and stealthed my way through beautiful, smartly laid-out set-pieces, many of them leaving a lasting impression on me. The toughest was the defence of the American Embassy that had soldiers coming at me from all angles, and I died a lot, but I also learned, adjusted my tactics, and kept on going. Good times!
Other highlights include a stealthy raid on a London home, the sniping sequence set on the Highway of Death that had me adjusting my aim to accommodate the distance and wind direction between me and my targets, and coming up against particularly well-armed target very late in the game. Good times.
Plus, of course, the by-now-obligatory sequences where you make use of attack helicopters, drones, and various long-range remote-controlled weaponry to deal death from afar. Call of Duty wouldn’t be Call of Duty without them, and I had a great time using them to my advantage.
Interestingly, the game’s standout level for me was not a traditional Call of Duty mission. Instead, it is a flashback sequence in which you play as a little girl – the future-leader of the freedom fighters you help – as you try to escape from the Russians who’ve invaded her home town and who are executing literally everyone, women and children included.
I won’t spoil it completely; suffice to say it’s pretty grim, but also pleasantly surprising, as it dares to show the other side of a story seldom told – that of a regular Middle-Easterner forced into a life of conflict against their will. And in a Call of Duty game, to boot.
This mission isn’t quite “All Ghillied Up” levels of memorable, but it’s a welcome (if harrowing) insight into the origin story of one of the non-American characters in the game, which serves to inspire empathy with her plight and future choices that eventually have her (unfairly) designated as a “terrorist” by the Americans.
It’s depth I wasn’t expecting from a Call of Duty game, and I must admit to being quite impressed that they included it as part of the overall story.
Where the story remains true to COD’s roots is that Russia is the bad guy again. So while the designers strayed a bit from the usual COD template, it wasn’t a major diversion.
To be fair, this game is a reboot of Modern Warfare, so it has to revisit the themes from the original game in which Russia played a central role. Russia being painted as the enemy, then, is entirely understandable.
Them guns, tho
Getting back to the game’s playability, the shooting this time around deserves serious kudos: it is good. To my delight, Infinity Ward overhauled the sounds and weapon handling, giving gunshots in particular a meaty punch that has been missing from COD for the longest time.
Throughout the campaign I felt like I was firing actual weapons, not silenced pew pew kiddie toys, and I loved it. The monstrous explosions from my barrel and the blood sprays as my bullets found their mark provided a highly visceral shooting experience that I very much appreciated.
EA’s Battlefield series has always beaten COD when it comes to the sounds of war IMO, but this year’s COD offers great gun handling and audio that’s just as punchy and satisfying, if not more so, than those of Battlefield.
All of that is well and good, and yes the shooting is better than ever, yet I feel this Modern Warfare falls just short of the original’s greatness; the final sequence and conclusion of the 2007 original still sticks in my mind as one of the best endings of any game, ever, and this game’s ending, while certainly fresh and frenetic, doesn’t quite reach those heights, narratively speaking.
Now for the less-than-positives
So that’s the positives of the campaign done, and yes, I say it’s pretty damn good and well worth playing if you enjoy COD campaigns like I do. However, on the technical side, the game needed more love than it got at launch.
For instance, when I played there was an issue with the cutscenes that played between missions – they were jerky, even on a PC that far surpasses the recommended spec for the game.
This was a problem, because while these movies are simply gorgeous to look at – and I’d go so far as to say they are Blizzard levels of beautiful and thus a feast for the eyeballs – the stuttering playback prevented me from enjoying them to the fullest.
Cutscene audio would also de-sync after major stutters and I had to enable subtitles. No matter what setting I enabled or disabled, that’s how cutscenes remained.
It’s a common issue reported on reddit, but one even the initial patch didn’t appear to fix. It was very annoying, especially given how beautiful they look and how crucial they are to the game’s story.
And then there are the crashes. Several times, Modern Warfare crashed to my desktop. At one point, while playing Going Dark, the game crashed, and attempting to resume the mission resulted in a CTD (I tried it 5 times). Frustratingly, I had to start the level over for it to load properly.
The fact that a driver update and the 1.05 patch finally fixed cutscene playback issues only after I’d finished the campaign was all the more galling. Great, it’s fixed now, but my initial experience was still marred as those all-important videos didn’t play smoothly while I was engaged with the game.
Sure, I can watch them all now, from the menu, but it’s not the same. Yes I am nitpicking, but I’m annoyed.
That damn app
Lastly, there’s the damned Blizzard App itself, and the requirement to be always online even when all I wanted was to play the campaign. You know, BY MYSELF.
This isn’t a problem under most circumstances, but this past weekend was Blizzcon, and COD itself has millions of players all wanting to play, and as a result Blizzard’s servers were overwhelmed.
I was placed in a queue JUST TO SIGN INTO THE BLIZZARD APP several times, and getting into COD:MW itself was hit-and-miss as a message saying the servers were under heavy load would pop up and keep me from even reaching the game’s main screen.
It was a very frustrating experience. It’s like nobody at Blizzard has heard of this “cloud” thing, or the fact that additional resources can (and should!) be automatically spun up when demand spikes.
It’s still very good
Technical issues aside, this is a very good Call of Duty campaign. It mostly hits the right story notes (and some surprising new ones!), it was really good to reconnect with Captain Price, the gunplay is sublime, and the game looks incredible and performs pretty well for the most part.
Sure, the campaign is once again quite short (I spent just under seven hours with it in total, even with plenty of dying) but it’s time well-spent. It was fun enough that I plan to play it again and unlock as many of the achievements I missed the first time through.
Ultimately, Modern Warfare’s single-player campaign is videogame craftsmanship on the cutting edge of what’s possible, and a real joy to play when it works.
It’s just a pity it wasn’t quite as technically competent at launch as it is creatively, and those cutscene stutters and access issues ruined my enjoyment somewhat.
Modern Warfare’s multiplayer component will be reviewed just as soon as I feel I’ve spent enough time with it.
On a final final note, just in case I wasn’t clear earlier: as of 6 November, cutscene stuttering issues have been fixed and the game is working as intended as far as I know. Just be sure your graphics card drivers are up to date before playing.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was reviewed on PC and a code was supplied by the publisher. It’s also available on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, with a recommended retail price on all platforms of R999.