Rewriting History

HIGH The weighty feel of the weapons. Fantastic sound design.

LOW The two-day odyssey of installation.

WTF Captain Price without a moustache.

This review is for the campaign mode only.

I’ve recently been making my way through the Call of Duty series. With World War 2 feeling like a high point, I was eager to play the next iteration, Modern Warfare — a reboot of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. I would argue that CoD4 is still the best in the series, and one of the top games of its generation, so I was naturally excited to play Modern Warfare.

This entry is a military-style first-person shooter set in a contemporary setting. Created by Infinity Ward, the original CoD developers, the campaign sees the player take control of two characters — a CIA operative and a SAS soldier. They’re tasked with tracking down the source of a terrorist attack and assisted by the rebels of a fictional country, Urzikstan, in exchange for helping combat a Russian invasion.

Despite looking forward to digging in, my excitement died quickly, and initially due solely to technical issues.

First there was the wait for the game to install at 35GB, taking around an hour, and then another 100GB installation (which took around three hours) for Warzone, a battle royale componentI have no interest in multiplayer, much less a battle royale mode, but I could not play the Modern Warfare campaign without it installed. I don’t like being forced to download something I shouldn’t need to, but I had no choice other than to let Activision shove Warzone in my face.

I thought I’d be good to go at this point, but it didn’t end there. No, then I was required to download data packs which were “unavailable.” I tried some online fixes, and even deleted and tried reinstalling, but still no luck. Almost at random, I solved the problem by registering an Activision account.

I hate registering these kinds of accounts and resent being forced to. I also resent jumping through multiple hoops like this just to install a console game when consoles are supposed to have a convenience factor above PCs. So much for that!

With all excitement gone and feeling somewhat annoyed, I was hoping that Modern Warfare would be a great game and make all of the hassle worthwhile.

The opening level recovered some of my lost spark. Set at night, players are tasked with recovering chemical weapons from an enemy compound. It looks like the sequence took inspiration from the film Zero Dark Thirty and was full of atmosphere thanks to crisp visuals, well-placed flashes of light from enemy and player weapons, and excellent use of color and mist. A sense of tension gradually built, culminating when I entered a pitch-black warehouse. Suddenly, Modern Warfare was like a horror title, brimming with unseen enemies scurrying around the player. Jump scares are almost unheard of in this series, but they got me here.

Further impressions were also high. Excellent gunplay has always been a feature of Call of Duty, but Modern Warfare is a series best. The guns feel weighty, shooting is snappy and responsive, and the appropriately loud gunshots sound like they actually whiz past the player’s head. Added weight is also applied to movement — it’s slower, but seems more realistic as a result. I was beginning to forget my installation woes! However, problems started to appear in the second level, an area set in London.

In response to a terrorist strike, I found myself exchanging gunfire in the middle of a crowded street. As a Brit, this felt close to home, and brought back images of actual terrorist attacks — a clear evocation of real events, and I was reminded of other eye-rolling attempts in the series to shock the player. Maybe with Modern Warfare going for a grittier feel, there would a legitimate point in referencing these attacks?

Modern Warfare does attempt to tell a story with themes around the messiness of war, the blurry lines between “good” and “bad” guys, and how this distinction is dependent on the whims of government. Some moments illustrate this well, but Modern Warfare also undercuts these themes in several ways.

One particular level sees the player controlling a prominent character, Farah Karim, a Urzikstani rebel leader. I found her to be a well-written, well-acted and engaging character. However, in this section we take control of her as a child and see her village attacked by Russians from her perspective. I found this to be egregious, as the anger and passion she demonstrates throughout the game is more than enough to illustrate her feelings. No, instead of legitimately adding to her development, this bit seemed to exist only to be shocking or controversial.

Speaking of controversy, this brings me to the “Highway of Death.” As CJ points out in his excellent review of Cold Warthe series has always had dodgy politics, and I would argue it reaches the nadir in this level.

Here is a more direct reference to a real-life atrocity of the same name, committed by American forces. In Modern Warfare, this is instead attributed to Russia — a cheap way of increasing their villainy and contradicting its themes around the blurred lines between “good” and “bad.” It literally takes a real, horrific event and uses it to reinforce how evil Russia is, while painting the country that actually did it as heroes!

As a rule, I don’t have high expectations for the Call of Duty series — I generally see them as enjoyable (but shallow) experiences that deliver a consistent level of competency that’s bolstered by impressive setpieces and settings. It’s a low bar to clear, but Modern Warfare fails to get over. Past the impressive first level, it leads to an experience that is only memorable for its “shocking” moments, undercutting its own themes and a torturous installation process.

Rating: 5 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Infinity Ward and published by Activision. It is currently available on XBO/X, PC and PS4/5. This copy of the game was obtained via retail store and reviewed on the PS4 Pro. Approximately 6 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. No time was spent in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated M and contains Blood, Intense Violence and Strong Language. The official description reads as follows: This is a first-person shooter in which players join an elite army squadron on missions to hunt terrorists. Players navigate battlefields in the Middle East and Russia/Ukraine engaging in firefights, stealth missions, and rescue operations. Players use machine guns, sniper rifles, grenades, and missiles to kill enemy soldiers or destroy enemy vehicles/targets. Combat is frequent and fast-paced, highlighted by realistic gunfire, explosions, and cries of pain. Soldiers emit large splashes of blood when shot or stabbed, and some scenes depict corpses lying in pools of blood. Cut scenes include further instances of intense violence: a prisoner of war beaten, then shot in the head; a man shooting himself in the head, depicted in slow-motion. The words “f**k” and “sh*t” appear in the dialogue.

Colorblind Modes: Colorblind modes are present.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game offers subtitles. The subtitles cannot be altered and/or resized. Overall, Modern Warfare can be played without sound without any problems, as most of the gameplay is based around shooting what you can see. There are instances in the stealthier section where being able to hear the location of enemies could be an advantage. However, these can still be completed without the use of sound. I’d say this is fully accessible, but again, please remember this disclaimer is for the campaign mode only. This advisory does not apply to the multiplayer.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

Gareth Payne
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John adam
2 years ago

I appreciate this game’s slower gameplay style as opposed to the faster-paced games, it’s a good change of pace. I got the same feeling when I played the black ops for the first time. It was fabulous. Call of Duty warzone is the best when it comes to deep FPS shooter game lore and easiness. And one of the dogs, the best

2 years ago

If you’re going to post a “retro review,” it would be helpful to indicate the original release year somewhere.

Brad Gallaway
2 years ago
Reply to  hdefined

Good feedback! Will do. Thanks!