A new year, a new source of suffering. Infinity Ward, Raven Software and Treyarch have been hard at work alternately developing and releasing new Call of Duty installments at regular intervals. This time, Infinity Ward gives us Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 – a game that faces huge expectations, since its first part from 2019 was a breath of fresh air, also in terms of single-player campaign.
COD MW2, like every Call of Duty in history, is primarily focused on multiplayer (and for me, it is also a game that determines the amount of hair on my head), but since the single-player campaign was made available a week before the game's premiere for preorders, we will start the COD MW2 review with it. Especially since this time, it's a bit different than before.
The review has been updated with a review of the multiplayer mode. I spent about 90h with the game.
There's a story here
The graphics are really good - even despite the lack of ray-tracing.Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, Activision-Blizzard
COD MW2, like previous releases, has a story that Michael Bay wouldn't be ashamed of. The entire thing is about *something,* there are some motivations behind all the characters, and some of them have a beef, but in the end, it's about fighting, shooting and blowing things up. COD's campaigns go a long way in imitating spy action movies, but it's all based on extremely trite cliches, simplifications, and safe themes.
- Great and gripping single-player campaign with slower and easier-to-understand pacing;
- Fantastic audiovisuals, both during gameplay and cut-scenes;
- Gunplay - this is the same addicting gameplay;
- Fantastically designed weapons;
- Invasion multiplayer mode is a great counterbalance for Ground War:
- The new Gunsmith system is an interesting idea...
- That suffers from its interface;
- Unreadable, bugged and non-responsive interface;
- Severe lack of content;
- Some of the maps are questionable to say the least;
- Quality of life.
This time, the villain is Hassan – a terrorist from Iran, who, like most terrorists, sees himself as a soldier, not a terrorist, and that's probably why he's trying to blow up the US of A with American-made missiles. The plot is rather slow and predictable – from the beginning we know that someone will ultimately betray us, because Hassan couldn't have built said missiles himself. The story is as inconsistent as crunchy peanut butter, and if you think about it, none of it makes sense, but so what – "cinematic" gameplay and action-movie pacing make us follow these stupidities perhaps without much excitement, but certainly not indifferently. So we try to bear the outlandish (and that's an euphemism) idea that has the Iranian extremist enter an alliance with the... Mexican cartel, probably having concluded that the experience in smuggling drugs will be useful in trying to get weapons of mass destruction across the ocean. We closely follow these events, which means that one moment, we're in the Middle East, another in Amsterdam, and then we end up in Mexico. As the game progresses, we realize that there expected division into good (us) and bad guys (those we need to shoot). Perhaps this is why the campaign in COD MW2 doesn't offer as much tension as in previous installments. About halfway through the game, I didn't pay much attention to what was going on, who I was chasing, or whom hiding from. The situation changes only once the betrayal happens – this is COD, a betrayal must happen – then, the boring, shallow Hassan is replaced by another villain, who fits the role perfectly.
This is largely thanks to the actors and cinematic cutscenes, which are often indistinguishable from live action films. In addition to mandatory characters like Kapitan Price, Soap, Gaz, Ghost and Farah – there are also new ones, including the brilliantly played operator of Mexican Special Forces, Alejandro Vargas (Alain Mesa). I sincerely hope that we will see this hero in the next installments of the series, because it was definitely the most interesting character in the whole campaign. Phillip Graves (Warren Kole) and Kate Laswell (Rya Kihlstedt) also perform supremely well. Acting and drama are two key elements that ultimately make up for the shortcomings and weaknesses of the single-player campaign of the newest installment of COD MW2.
In somewhat of a contrast to the changes introduced to multiplayer (based on the beta), the pace of gameplay in the single-player campaign seems to have slowed down significantly. Compared to the roller coasters we know from previous CODs, the story feels more intimate – even though it plays out across the globe. The missions prepared by Infinity Ward are also somewhat calmer – in the sense that there is less chaos and mayhem in them, less moments in which we didn't know what was happening on the screen, except things were exploding and people were shooting. In this part, I actually had enough time to understand what the heroes meant as they shouted to me over the raining bullets, and to be honest, I take find this change relieving.
Of course, this is still Call of Duty, so things explode, smoke, and burn all the time; still, the impression was that the creators were more skillful in handling all this. There were also various missions – there's one that happens almost entirely in water, another one takes place in a driving car, and in yet another we watch the world from above. However, what I liked the most was the mission in which we were deprived of weapons and had to – by using simple crafting – assemble homemade bombs and traps that would allow us to sneak. By the way, completing mission 13 without firing a single shot earns you an achievement, and it's worth noting here that many achievements in the campaign are difficult, as they're not obvious – don't be surprised if you finish the single-player campaign with just 4 or 5 achievements unlocked.
The single-player Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 perhaps isn't as impressive as the one from COD MW1 – but the events depicted here are easier to follow, the acting is excellent, and the missions – although I wouldn't wager any of them will become as iconic as "All Ghilled Up" – are all a lot of fun. This is a strong suit of the new COD MW2, but let's face it, it's not the main course – just an appetizer for the multiplayer...
Multiplayer's difficult beginnings
The new gunsmith has potential, but the problem is the interface.Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, Activision-Blizzard
On October 28, we finally got the main course – multiplayer for Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2. Honestly, I had huge problems with quantifying both the quality and content of the game. I've spent over 80 hours with the game, often tearing my hair out. I also had some great time thinking it was the best COD in at least 3 years. It all depended on how many errors I would make. The "delayed" release of this mode did not affect its quality in any way. Let's get it out of the way now: the COD MW2 multiplayer mode is good when it comes to gameplay, but suffers from content shortages and some bugs.
At the onset, COD MW2 gives us 9 game modes we already know and 3 new ones: the Ground War variant, i.e. Invasion, in which, in addition to players, we also face bots, Prisoner Rescue (where we save VIPs) and a TPP mode. Invasion immediately became a particularly popular mode, and that's because it's the easiest mode for XPing weapons (killing bots gives you almost as much XP as killing players). Indeed, while Ground War is a mode that I almost invariably shunned (I always considered COD inferior to Battlefield in terms of large-scale battles), Invasion is a lot of fun – the gameplay is a bit like in a MOBA. We have games of 20 vs. 20 on a huge map, but in addition to real people, bots are spawning on the map and storming the enemy base. The whole thing is quite chaotic, frenetic even.
The least fun I had with Prisoner Rescue and the TPP mode – other games do it better and I don't really feel that a third-person perspective really suits COD. Nevertheless, it's worth appreciating novelty, as it's something these games oftentimes lacked.
The rest of the modes remain mostly unchanged – you will play deathmatch, team deathmatch, domination, hard point, kill confirmed, search & destroy, knockout, etc. Everyone will find something they liked – in my case, it was usually hardpoint, or domination – I feel the game works best in these. One mode that didn't make it this time, is gunplay – fast and simple 2v2 matches.
The creators prepared new maps for us and, apart from a few exceptions, I quickly started enjoying battles on them. The most noteworthy are The Crown Raceway (for 6v6 modes, where we fight on a Formula 1 track), Farm 18 or Zarqwa Hydroelectric (an interesting map in which we can flank the opponent using flooded windows – just like in Cold War, in this part we can swim, which works great against campers). However, I didn't like Taraq – the map is ugly, sad and has, in my opinion, too many spots for snipers.
The most controversial, however, was the map of Santa Sen Border Crossing (available in a smaller version for 6v6, and a 20v20 Invasion variant), which resembles the memorable scene from the movie Sicario a bit. We have a road jammed with cars in the middle, with long streets on the sides (riddled, of course, with snipers). Now, the general sentiment of the COD community seems much more negative than mine, but I think that the map works much better in Invasion than in the smaller mode.
For the most part, I consider the appearance of the maps and their design an advantage of the game – we can learn and remember the maps quickly. Perhaps, apart from the Formula One map, there are no jaw-dropping locations – everything is rather predictable and we've seemingly already seen it somewhere, but these maps are not for admiring, but for playing, and so far, they get this job done. Of course, more maps will be added systematically with the release of subsequent seasons.
51 weapons and gunsmith 2.0 (which you can't handle)
For the release, the creators have prepared as many as 51 weapons and many of them are returning from previous editions (although they function under different names for licensing reasons); there's also a ton of add-ons and camouflages. The weapons are – as befits real COD – perfectly rendered and very nuanced from individual pistols, to rifles, SMGs, etc. Gunning players down on the various maps is still a lot of fun, and the satisfaction from a headshot – amplified by a beep sound effect – is nicely tickling the monkey brain. There are really no major changes here, except for the pace of the game, which I shall discuss in length below.
Meanwhile, a real revolution took place in the gunsmith mechanics. Let me recap how it worked in previous versions: when playing a given weapon, we leveled it, and these levels unlocked various attachments to weapons, which could improve its statistics (e.g. reducing recoil, increasing accuracy etc.). In other words, it was enough to level a given weapon to the maximum to unlock all its attachments. In this way, the game's meta was created – some weapon configurations were better than others inside a given patch, but were nerfed in subsequent ones. COD MW2 is similar, but… completely also much more opaque.
I like Gunsmith 2.0 a lot, but it has a major disadvantage. Now we're also leveling up weapons, thus unlocking attachments. However, there are way fewer and… after reaching the level cap, we will not unlock all the possible additions. These can only be unlocked by leveling other weapons. So if we want to, let's say, use our favorite sights in a rifle, we may have to level up a specific weapon that unlocks this particular element. This forces us to switch weapons up more often, hence also resort to new tactics, while also significantly extending the leveling process. At the same time, it gives more leeway when modifying weapons. The concept itself is really good, the problem is that the interface of COD MW2 is an absolute failure – not only unintuitive, unresponsive and unreadable, but also buggy. Really, I encountered more bugs in the main menu of COD MW2 than I did in the game proper. Some attachments come with clearly explained requirements, others do not – still others, remain inactive even if we meet the conditions to unlock, and we may have to restart the game to get them. If we're lucky!
The stats of the gun attachments alone drove me crazy – unlike their predecessors, almost each of them extends the ADS (aiming down sights) now – i.e. you can take a brand new, unlocked sight that will improve your accuracy at distances, but... coming at a cost of significantly longer aiming time. This means they're useful only to limited extent in multiplayer games. Just to make it clearer – in COD MW2, at least as I write this review, it's better not to wear these attachments or only use a few of them, because they considerably affect your performance during matches. What's the point of unlocking them at all, if we won't be using them anyway?
There's also a hidden catch here. Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 also resets the Warzone progression (which consisted of three other games: the last Modern Warfare, Cold War and Vanguard). In Warzone 2 – an f2p game – we will be able to level up weapons as in the number one, the problem is that – at least for casual players – it will require much more time (just because there are fewer frags in Warzone than in multiplayer games). So the reason to get better progress would be buying COD MW2...
Don't get me wrong – Activision has used these kinds of tricks before. To quickly unlock all camos in COD Warzone, you needed to play multiplayer matches in Modern Warfare, Cold War, and Vanguard. And that was ok, because it was merely about cosmetic items. Attachments, on the other hand, are – at least in their final version – items that directly affect how you handle a given weapon. And while in the first Warzone it was enough to just get new XP levels to upgrade your weapons, now we will have to not only unlock attachments, but also do quite a lot of micro-management around with them, which could inhibit progress even more.
But let me reiterate – the very concept of gunsmith mode is brilliant because it promotes using guns you'd otherwise shun. This way, for example, I finally learned how to operate three-shot rifles. The creators even added an interesting – although, obviously, bugged to the point of freezing the game – system for tuning the attachments, which, I am sure, will diversify the game's meta even more when season 01 and Warzone 2 kick off. However, in its current state, this system simply frustrates players.
How not to design the interface
About the biggest setback I've found in the game so far is its interface. I don't know why it lags so horribly when searching for an online game, but it happens literally 100% of times. The rest of the bugs also include glitching when selecting camo (you can't use the mouse to check the challenges of some camos; you have to use arrows on the keyboard or... connect a pad). And while on the subject of camos, do you know how many clicks it takes to learn the progress on unlocking a given camo? I counted, and it takes at least six clicks. First, go to Weapons, then select Multiplayer Loadout, then choose the specific loadout, then click Gunsmith, then select Customize, and then you get to Camo... Now imagine repeating this navigating sequence after every match for 3 hours to check the progress of the camouflage challenge status... Why isn't it possible to pin a given challenge to the lobby page? It would make life so much easier...
We get the same, great framework, lots of bugs, and a promise for a better tomorrow. But that's probably not enough to give Modern Warfare 2 a higher score. During the 80 hours that I have already spent with the game, I did have a great time, and the developers still promise mountains of gold. I don't believe in these promises. Although I am happy and I can't stop playing, I also have the impression that I am participating in an it-was-supposed-to-be-so-great type of event. And I realize that in a month, six months, even a year, this game will probably look completely different (it will, Activision, right?!) – but today? It is what it is. Just a good game. Still addictive, but I was hoping for more.
Convoluted menus, chaos and bugs is what defines the COD MW2 interface. Quality of life is not a principle that the creators seem to have cared about. Opaque challenges, tons of clicking, and buggy menus are one thing, but why can't players check how much time they have left until the current XP token ends?
The specific COD MW2 release model that was divided into limited-access single-player launch and open multiplayer release seems to be so appealing to suits from Activision Blizzard that they also decided to cut the multiplayer release in half. I may be scornful here, but COD MW2 unfortunately seems to lack content. Everything seems to be in its place, but when you spend a few hours with the game, you will quickly discover there isn't quite much to do (except, of course, leveling weapons). I found myself wondering "what now" many times after ticking off daily challenges, because general challenges, in which we could collect various cosmetic items such as calling cards, and other awards, were cut from the game. These are perhaps minute details, but they used to enhance the fun and extended the game's longevity. Meanwhile, in COD MW2, all we can do is level a character to 55, level weapons up endlessly, and then level up camos. Once you hit character level 55, you have only progress in terms of camos and weapons, as there is no Prestige system included – it will probably only come with the launch of Season 01.
The HC playlist has also been forgotten – this mode, called Tier 1, will also be released along with the start of Season 01. There are no statistics, summaries, rankings, leaderboards, ranked games – I can't even check what K/D I have! There are fewer maps, no challenges (apart from daily) – in fact, all I have to do is unlock new add-ons and weapons and the tedious grinding of camos (though obtaining camouflages itself is, it's worth noting, more fun than the last time around). So how do I, the reviewer, relate to it all? Am I supposed to take their word for it that much more fun is coming to COD MW2 on November 16, along with a major, bug-fixing patch? It's November 8, almost two weeks have passed since multiplayer launched – and I still have to "hack" checking the progress of the golden camo, because the developers still haven't mended a simple interface error.
Time to kill COD
Players were criticizing the low TKK (time to kill) already during the beta. The TTK has tangible influence on how the game feels. If TKK is low, you have less time for risky business, you don't run around the map in Rambo mode, and many players end up, well, camping. The winner is not the one who aims better, or knows the maps more thoroughly, but the one who simply fires the first shot, hence low TTK kind of encourages campaign.
The creators, however, took the requests of players to heart – TKK, although still low, allows for a bit longer fights, with opponents running away from sight many times. That said, however, I must also stress that this COD is indeed a "aim-hit-win" kind of game, and the result of most encounters with opponents depends on who fires first. This didn't affect the gameplay as drastically as I thought it would – at least not for casuals – nevertheless, it's indeed a conspicuous piece of game meta.
Average start, though hopes are high
I'm not a pro – I am a passionate COD player, and the game has the ability to snatch more than one night's worth of sleep from my daily life, but I am by no means the type of player who always fights for the MVP title. I try to find relaxation and pleasure in playing Call of Duty (which is quite strange considering how easy the game can trigger me into a rage). Nevertheless, some of the changes that Infinity Ward has introduced to this series seemed quite controversial even to me. While I enjoyed the so-called cancel slides and bunny hops getting patched, this game does promote camping, which forces you to play more carefully.
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So, with the beginning of COD MW2, we get the same, great framework, lots of bugs, and a promise for a better tomorrow. But that's probably not enough to give Modern Warfare 2 a higher score. During the 90 hours that I have already spent with the game, I did have a great time, and the developers still promise mountains of gold. I don't believe in these promises. COD MW2 looks like Activision rushed the release, forcing devs to release an incomplete product – yet again rehearsing this utterly confusing scenario. Therefore, although I am happy and I can't stop playing, I also have the impression that I am participating in an it-was-supposed-to-be-so-great type of event. And I realize that in a month, six months, even a year, this game will probably look completely different (it will, Activision, right?!) – but today? It is what it is. Just a good game. Still addictive, but I was hoping for more.
We have received a copy of the game from Step 3 – the PR agency.
Matthias Pawlikowski | Gamepressure.com