This year’s Call of Duty is sleeker than most
The last few months of 2022 have been absolutely insane when it comes to game releases, so it’s been really telling of which games I’ve enjoyed the most based on what I’ve been drawn to playing these days. Even with newly-dropped titles like Overwatch 2 and God of War Ragnarok, I find myself going back to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II over and over again.
I’m relatively new to the Call of Duty series, having picked it up with Cold War for the first time a few years ago with encouragement from a friend. Now CoD has basically become part of my daily routine, even if it’s just for a few rounds of Domination on my lunch break.
I know that some of my opinions about the series tend to clash with long-time fans, but I’ve actually enjoyed jumping into the middle of things for the first time without any other expectations and just going with the flow. Makes me feel like I can have a fresh perspective, you know?
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II (PC, PS5, PS5 [reviewed], Xbox One, Xbox Series X)
Developer: Infinity Ward
Released: October 28, 2022
The strongest CoD story mode I’ve played
Let’s start with my usual domain – the single player campaign. Not gonna lie, some of the other story mode campaigns in the series have felt like a bit of a slog to me. I couldn’t tell you one thing that happened in Cold War, and Vanguard’s story consisted of a bunch of smaller, disconnected vignettes, and being bopped around from character to character made it kinda hard to care about anything.
Modern Warfare II, on the other hand, was a pleasant surprise. The Call of Duty campaigns are known for their nonstop action and somewhat bombastic set pieces, and they definitely delivered on that front. Maybe I’ve just played too many Naughty Dog games, but this time around, I couldn’t help but get the feeling that they took some notes from the famed single player developer – there was a good handful of set pieces that felt like something out of an Uncharted game, and I mean that in the best possible way.
Sure, there were huge explosions and stealth-centered sniper missions, but a lot of the levels were more restrained in their design, instead focusing more on using the environment in compelling, creative ways that would switch up gameplay without compromising the grounded feeling Infinity Ward was going for. The result was that nothing overstayed its welcome (except for one air support level), and the gameplay always felt fresh and varied, rather than simply throwing me into a battle arena with endless hordes of enemies over and over again.
One of the levels introduces a crafting mechanic using objects you find in the environment (again, it felt very Last of Us), and I felt myself pull back. Too many times I’ve seen a game implement such mechanics under the guise of adding more “depth” only for them to just bog everything down with unnecessary tedium. Within the constraints of that level, it worked well enough that I can’t complain too much. In the final level, they brought the crafting back in a way that made a lot of sense and helped heighten the story. That is not the kind of narrative design I usually expect to see from a Call of Duty game, so I was pleasantly surprised to say the least.
Characters that feel like characters
When it comes to the cast, it all clicked for me. It’s fair that for the most part, the series hasn’t placed a large focus on its storytelling, because it’s always been about the gameplay anyway, but what I’ve come to expect is all of the dialogue melding together into an endless stream of battle chatter and angry men yelling at each other. Usually when it comes to the CoD campaigns, I have a horrible time differentiating between all of the different characters in the first place, and have to come up with nicknames to keep them all straight (for example, I called Soap “Zefron” for the first half because I thought his character model bore a striking resemblance to the only and only Zac).
But don’t worry, I did end up learning all their names this time because Infinity Ward put a lot of effort into the writing for this one, and it shows. A good portion of the campaign is still the usual war jargon and belligerent yelling, but I was truly shocked to see some genuinely fun and interesting conversations happen between the characters that didn’t have to do with their immediate actions.
A particularly endearing exchange between Soap and Ghost went viral on Tiktok where they discussed mundanities like the logistics of Ghost never taking off his mask, or what kind of drinks they want to have – all in the face of the most desperate, fight-for-their-lives part of the campaign. I know it’s kind of lame to say, but it was by far my favorite moment from a Call of Duty story mode that I’ve ever played!
I got a real sense of why these two characters are friends and trust each other, and you can feel the familiarity and camaraderie of two people who have had to look out for their buddy in countless life or death situations. There were other great moments like this, too, but for the most part, that mission is everything I’ve wanted the CoD campaigns to be. It didn’t compromise on the action, but it actually made me care about who these people are. Well done there.
When it comes to graphics, well, this is one of the best-looking games I’ve ever played. That’s expected when it’s a next gen game that I’m also playing on a PS5, but I was still taken aback by how realistic the pre-rendered cutscenes looked. There were multiple water levels, too, and you better believe that’s some of the best-looking water I’ve seen in a game.
Despite a few slow moments, Modern Warfare II is by far the most fun I’ve had playing a Call of Duty campaign, and I highly recommend it to anyone who even remotely likes single player experiences.
More good stuff from multiplayer
Of course, the story campaign is only one small piece of the experience – let’s talk multiplayer. First person shooters have been one of my favorite game genres for a long time, and of course CoD has some of the best FPS gameplay out there, period. I know any given COD multiplayer has mixed reviews from some of the more seasoned players; but for a casual like me, I’ve been pretty happy with MWII’s multiplayer experience so far.
The guns have the punchiness that I liked about Vanguard, but the movement feels a lot smoother than before. There’s also more customization with the attachments than ever before, which is perfect for players who really like to fine tune every aspect of their loadout to fully min-max their build.
The ratio of maps that I really enjoy playing on versus the ones I don’t is better in MWII than the previous games in the series I’ve played, that’s for sure. The design feels nicely balanced on pretty much every map so far, and I’ve yet to play in an environment that feels impossible to navigate because the snipers just set up shop and are taking pot shots without engaging with the objectives (looking at you, The Pines and Red Star).
While Domination still remains my favorite CoD mode, I have to admit that I’ve been intrigued by the inclusion of Headquarters, Search and Destroy, and Knockout, among others. These classic modes are relatively new to me, and given that Call of Duty’s whole thing is just finding new excuses for you to shoot at the enemy, I’m always pleased to see how creative the CoD studios have been in making up new, engaging game modes. I guess it’s all been decades in the making, so think of this as an all star list of classic MP modes – at least that’s what it feels like to me.
The third person modes are a bit uncanny to see in a CoD game, but they’re a good time, and also a great way to level up your guns given that it’s easier to aim in third person without a scope. Ground War and Invasion are great options for players who want an in-between of regular MP and Battle Royale, or who just want to experience the usual MP gameplay experience on a larger scale.
Co-op wasn’t for me
I was pretty excited to try out the multiplayer co-op missions, because I hadn’t played something like that in a Call of Duty game before. Unfortunately, though, they were the biggest let down of this title for me. They felt a bit janky and buggy at times, and the AI was the silliest I’ve seen in the series in a while. While you can sit through a lengthy briefing cutscene before each mission, my friend and I would still find ourselves at a loss of what to do once we got into the game.
The co-op modes basically come down to infiltrate a base and destroy a thing, or defend a base by killing huge waves of enemies. I imagine they’re a fun time if you like going for high scores, seeing as they give you a star rating at the end based on how well you did, but I found the co-op missions to be the least engaging part of the Modern Warfare II experience. I think I’ll just go back to Domination and Team Deathmatch.
There have also been some bugs with multiplayer that Infinity Ward has been dealing with since the beta, including everything from messed up footstep audio to issues joining a party with friends to invisible walls that seem to be left in on the new Shoot House map. In an ideal world, every game would be free of bugs, but for the most part, I haven’t encountered anything that’s not the usual fare for a large, online game launch like this. Compared to Overwatch 2, playing Modern Warfare II has been a walk in the park.
I think my PS4 Pro might be on the way out anyway, but I’ve had some real issues with lag and loading into games on my previous gen console (I sometimes had to give up the PS5 because I share one with my roommate). At this point it feels pretty obvious that devs are excited to take advantage of what next gen consoles are capable of, but it’s a shame that some players are gonna be left behind in the process.
I agree with the complaints about the UI, but it’s certainly not game-breaking for me. I’ve had particular frustrations trying to send party invites to friends, because I can seemingly do it from like three equally confusing places in the menus. The main menu is the worst of it, because things are unnecessarily hard to find now, and the new addition of Warzone 2.0 has only hidden everything behind yet another screen you have to click through. No thanks.
In the end, it comes together
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II is certainly not a perfect game, but for all its flaws, it’s my favorite CoD game that I’ve played so far. The story mode was a blast, and the multiplayer is just as addicting as ever. It’s one of the best looking games we may have so far, and I recommend playing it on a next gen console or souped-up PC if you can to see it at its full potential. Infinity Ward has proven yet again that Call of Duty is at the forefront of the FPS genre, and I’m really impressed with how they continue to drive the series forward.
[This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]