Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II’s top-tier gunplay ushers in new year of FPS action

Modern Warfare 2 stumbles on refining its UI and quality-of-life, but mitigates these issues with exceptional gameplay

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II is here, marking the arrival of that time of year again.

It’s a new fall season with a new blockbuster campaign and multiplayer suite. Developer Infinity Ward has again reached into the well that is Modern Warfare for a sequel to the 2019 reboot of the acclaimed series.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II is a brand new entry in the series and acts as a soft reboot for the ecosystem Activision has laid out since 2019. Infinity Ward and countless development partners have big plans for the future of Call of Duty, and it all starts with Modern Warfare II. This includes the upcoming free-to-play battle royale Warzone 2.0. Plus, there’s the emerging Escape From Tarkov-inspired DMZ mode on the horizon. Of course, there’s also the competitive core multiplayer built into the bones of Modern Warfare II.

Fans of the franchise have a lot of hope for what Call of Duty can deliver each year. Some clamour to see the set pieces the campaign brings to the table, while others, including myself, hope that multiplayer provides a balanced competitive space for players.

Following in the footsteps of Modern Warfare (2019), it’s to no one’s surprise that the sequel is fairly well-rounded in its current state. While the overall UI and menu system are rather messy, the campaign delivers an action-packed experience in spades. The multiplayer offering is exceptional thanks to a smart new Gunsmith progression system, top-of-its-class gunplay and pinpoint accurate audio.

The campaign of Call of Duty is often an afterthought for a large segment of players. Perhaps it’s understandable as it’s uncommon that entries offer a memorable experience. We’re very far removed from the gut-punching ending of the original Modern Warfare 2 or the memorable “The numbers, Mason. What do they mean?” from Black Ops. However, I firmly believe Modern Warfare 2‘s campaign isn’t one to be missed.

Modern Warfare 2 is a direct sequel and sees players touch base with Task Force 141. The campaign features some well-trotted territory from military shooters of the past. Following a missile strike, assassinating Iranian general Ghorbrani in Al Mazrah, Task Force 141 begins a hunt for the new leader Major Hassan Zyani and stolen U.S missiles. This leads the likes of Captain Price, Soap, Ghost, Gaz and others to Mexico as Hassan assumes a partnership with the Las Almas cartel. However, the game does not exclusively take place in Central America. We also find ourselves back in the fictional Urzikstan, the Netherlands, and the United States.

“A mission that truly stands out is a rather short visit to Amsterdam. This skip across the ocean beautifully displays the developer’s prowess in level design and lighting. The photorealistic streets were awe-inspiring to walk down.”

Throughout the bite-sized six-hour campaign, I found myself traversing through fantastic backdrops and set pieces. A mission that truly stands out is a rather short visit to Amsterdam. This skip across the ocean beautifully displays the developer’s prowess in level design and lighting. The photorealistic streets were awe-inspiring to walk down. Sights aside, Modern Warfare 2 delivers some of the most bombastic set pieces in recent memories. One mission taking place in Urzikstan tasks players with taking out a military convoy. In perfect Call of Duty splendour, players must hijack a number of occupied vehicles barrelling down a series of roads. To make matters more intense, I had to balance firing weapons out of the driver-side window and steering myself out of harm’s way. Modern Warfare 2 even successfully incorporates a very close reimagining of the original Modern Warfare‘s acclaimed ‘All Ghillied Up’ mission.

While the game does offer some really neat setpieces, some overstay their welcome. In one mission dubbed ‘Alone,’ players find themselves on the run from a rival militant faction. Without weapons, I used stealth to make my way through a small township. This is when the MWII introduces a backpack and crafting system that’s neat for the first five minutes. Unfortunately, the game goes on to use it for far too long. It even reappears in the game’s climactic moments, making for an abrupt Die Hard-esque finale.

From a thematic and narrative perspective, Modern Warfare 2 does its best to strike a deeper level of storytelling. While getting away from the archetypal “bro shooter” mould, it doesn’t quite reach its full potential. The game’s inciting incident is primarily inspired by the assassination of Iranian military officer Qasem Soleimani in 2020. The writers are on the brink of making a political statement with the game. For example, in one mission, two Mexican Special Force agents fight to cross a Trump wall dividing the U.S. and Mexican border. Following this, they are apprehended by American police who remark, “It’s hard to tell you boys apart from the cartel.” Though, there’s barely enough time for this moment to resonate with players before we’re instructed on the next mission. There are many opportunities for the game to say something, but much like its predecessor, it moves too rapidly to properly explore them.

“Gunsmith 2.0, in theory, can remove some of the grind. For those looking to be ready for Season 1 and the introduction of Warzone 2.0, this will come as a relief.”

Multiplayer is the real core Call of Duty community. Each year, the competitive landscape looks on as the franchise iterates once more. Modern Warfare 2‘s new multiplayer component comes with some of the most drastic changes in recent years.

The biggest change seen in the game is the integration of Gunsmith 2.0, the new progression system. Working through the ranks of Modern Warfare 2, the game offers an altered way of unlocking new guns, attachments, etc. Gunsmith 2.0, in theory, can remove some of the grind. This will be a relief for those looking to be ready for Season 1 and the introduction of Warzone 2.0, especially when max levels on weapons now range to around 20 or lower.

Gunsmith 2.0 is pretty grating and overwhelming at first. Breaking it down, each weapon has a new system called the ‘receiver.’ Levelling up a singular weapon unlocks new receivers for a weapon. In doing so, a new weapon which shares the same receiver and attachments is available. This means rather than having to unlock the same barrel for every assault rifle, players merely need to unlock the receiver across compatible weapons. In theory, this allows for less grind and more customization in both how weapons operate and their core stats. That said, we’re still in the early days of Modern Warfare II, so the long-term effects on the meta are yet to be determined.

The other substantial change is the UI. We’ve gone through three iterations of Call of Duty where the template for navigating stayed roughly the same. In Modern Warfare II, the menus and UI remind me more of Disney+ than a multiplayer game. The main menu screen mashes up the campaign, multiplayer and a small assortment of co-op missions. Options to filter specific modes from Quick Play also appears small on the screen. There’s also no shortage of ways to accidentally back out entirely when simply attempting to thumb over to the ‘Weapons’ or ‘Operators’ menu.

“It’s disappointing when the coat of paint impacts the quality of life of the player and ease of use.”

The game’s Social menu is also in a totally separate menu system. My biggest gripe, though one that should have an easy fix, plagues the 2XP system. Currently, the game will not display how long a 2XP token is in effect. Given that these are crucial for levelling ranks and weapons, you may want to set a timer on your phone like I’ve had to. I understand wanting a new coat of paint to accompany this new generation of the Call of Duty ecosystem. However, it’s disappointing when the coat of paint impacts the quality of life of the player and ease of use.

For console players, it’s worth noting that the ability to turn cross-play off is only available on PlayStation. Currently, Xbox players are unable to opt-out of playing with PC players. This is despite input selection, whether its controller or keyboard and mouse.

Modern Warfare 2 does have a lot working for itself, however. Unsurprisingly, Infinity Ward continues to prove that the studio is a leader in the FPS genre. The tight gun controls shine beautifully here. Whether you’re a run-and-gunner or a sniper, every gun I’ve used handles exceptionally well. Of course, this depends on the build and the balancing of attachments, but when you finely tune a weapon and its receiver, I’ve been able to have some great matches.

Infinity Ward has also scaled its movement in the game. No longer can players slide cancel around the map. With sliding now nerfed, the emerging new movement meta seems to be bunny hops around corners and a diving mechanic. Though, its aim-down-sights (ADS) recovery leaves much to be desired. The result of all of this makes for slower movement, leading Modern Warfare 2 to feel more like Rainbow Six Siege than recent entries in a way.

Audio is also something Modern Warfare 2 can proudly tout. The game can render sounds with pinpoint accuracy, whether it’s footsteps, gunfire, or AI callouts. This is especially true while wearing a pair of headphones, but clean audio also came through very well on my soundbar. It may be an overlooked component, but when footsteps are crucial to awareness, the improvements in audio clarity are a surefire winner for me.

As far as the game modes are concerned, Modern Warfare II delivers a fairly balanced offering. ‘Team Deathmatch,’ ‘Domination,’ ‘Free-for-all,’ ‘Search and Destroy’ are all available in their current state. The game doesn’t yet feature ‘Hardcore’ (now renamed Tier 1) until the launch of Season 1 on November 16th. Additionally, a third-person mode has been reintroduced after many, many years. While novel, it feels like a step back from the first-person perspective. It does enable a different scope in map awareness for a change of pace, though.

“Invasion mode reads as Infinity Ward’s attempt to capture the magic left behind by Battlefield. In many ways, it successfully does replicate the feeling of larger multiplayer battles.”

Rather than a Zombies game mode, Modern Warfare II introduces Invasion. This large-scale 20v20 game mode incorporates real players with AI bots. Each team fight to be the last team standing in a pseudo-Team Deathmatch. Invasion mode reads as Infinity Ward’s attempt to capture the magic left behind by Battlefield. In many ways, it successfully does replicate the feeling of larger multiplayer battles. Vehicles spawn in to use while choppers fly through, dropping off more AI opponents. It’s chaotic and fast-paced, though without the ability to spawn on your squad, I’ve more often found myself running into battle than engaging in meaningful firefights.

The map selection is also fairly strong. Modern Warfare 2 has 10 core maps and five battle maps. Notable standouts include Mercado Las Almas, which offers a healthy blend of close quarters with long-range opportunities. Crown Raceway, a nighttime race track blooming with colour, is also standout. Zarqwa Hydroelectric combines broken-down buildings with small pools of water for players to swim through to flank the enemy. But not all maps smell of roses. Santa Sena Border Crossing, a conjected highway map, is purely not fun due to its design and layout. Not even its Breaking Bad easter egg can put it in my good graces. Unfortunately, Valderas Museum, a great map in the beta, is no longer available. The map’s disappearance may be due to copyright issues with the Getty Museum in Los Angeles. If true, this is very disappointing.

Overall, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II is in an excellent position. With Tier 1, Warzone 2.0, and DMZ around the corner, the foundation of gunplay, movement, and progression pave the road for an exciting year. However, Infinity Ward and its development partners should be wise to listen to community feedback in these first few months. There are quality-of-life issues to address. Though, there’s nothing currently baked into the DNA of the game that can’t be improved via updates and fixes down the road. Despite my gripes, Modern Warfare II brings the blockbuster action and tight FPS fun I’ve been craving this fall.

Activision-Blizzard is currently facing ongoing legal issues regarding harassment and workplace culture. The company has been accused of enabling “frat boy culture.” Legal proceedings and investigations remain underway. Meanwhile, CEO Bobby Kotick is also under the microscope for allegedly covering up reports and allegations. New reports continue to filter in regarding sexual harassment allegations at the company.

Image credit: Activision