True to its name, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare retreads familiar territory, and in more ways than one. Not to be confused with the remaster of Call of Duty 4, this is a full blown reboot that ironically shakes up the formula by going back to where the franchise's fortunes truly started. However, while some old ideas are revived for this outing, Infinity Ward's latest throws in some new material too, making it an interesting mix of familiar and fresh.
You're probably most curious about the single player campaign, so let's start there. Forget everything you know about the original Modern Warfare trilogy -- this is a completely new story with original characters, aside from Captain Price, of course. Unfortunately, the narrative itself is unlikely to hook you in. Chemical weapons are stolen from the Russians by a terrorist group, and the aforementioned moustache-that's-grown-a-man is called in to clean up the mess. He's joined by SAS sergeant Kyle Garrick, while a US soldier named Alex is sent to Urzikstan to team up with Farah, leader of a rebel militia group. The two forks in the story intertwine as you'd expect, but the narrative is pretty forgettable overall. Some characters are great, but none of them are particularly well fleshed out.
Captain Price gets a lot of screen time, understandably, and acts as someone to latch onto throughout the campaign. Player controlled characters are okay, but aside from Farah, who receives a generous amount of backstory, they aren't particularly memorable. Call of Duty isn't known for deep narratives, but it would've been nice if, at the end of the story, we had a crew that we could care about.
Having said all that, the missions themselves are almost all fantastic. The campaign may be short, clocking in at maybe six hours or less, but each of the 14 levels are distinct and offer up some jaw-dropping moments. The overarching narrative might lack heft, but when you're in the action, Modern Warfare takes the gloves off. You're thrown into intense and sometimes uncomfortable situations frequently, but they're paced out nicely with more action-packed firefights. We don't want to spoil anything, but know that the campaign has some of the series' best missions since the original Modern Warfare.
The single player is definitely the strongest aspect of the game, but that's not to say you shouldn't bother with multiplayer or co-op. The former includes some new modes that certainly change things up. Ground War is pure chaos; it's a 64-player battle for control points in a large map, but this Battlefield-esque mode doesn't really mix well with Call of Duty's faster action. Gunfight, meanwhile, is the opposite. Two pairs go at it in tiny arenas with random loadouts, and the intensity of such short rounds makes for an incredibly addictive new variant. Other than that, the multiplayer feels very familiar, with the usual suite of modes, custom loadouts, and the return of killstreaks. With no microtransactions currently live, it feels almost old fashioned -- in a good way.
Co-op, or Special Ops, is Modern Warfare's weak spot. Currently, there are four operations to play which continue the campaign's story, but they're severely difficult. You're given some basic objectives, but the relentless enemy waves will inevitably overpower your squad. The same goes for the lone Classic Special Ops mission -- it's nigh impossible as it stands right now. We imagine this part of the game will be updated over time, and frankly it needs to be completely rebalanced.
Part of why Call of Duty is what it is today is because of the signature gunplay, and it's of course present and correct here. Whether you're a fan of the franchise or not, it's hard to argue with the lightning fast, smooth shooting action. Firing a gun in this game sounds and feels excellent, aided by the series' slick frame rate. Infinity Ward has made some small additions to your capabilities; you can now mount your weapon on walls and other surfaces, locking you in place but increasing your accuracy, and it's a surprisingly useful tool across the game. You can also now decide to open doors cautiously or burst through, which might not sound like a big deal, but can be a surprisingly tactical choice.
This is also the best-looking entry in the franchise so far. Pretty much the entire series is built on a super-custom Source engine, but Infinity Ward has really pushed the visual fidelity this time, and it's paid off. Particularly in the campaign, character models are great, and certain missions such as those that make use of night vision are visually outstanding.
When Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is at its best, it's easily one of this generation's best entries in the series. The campaign makes up for a so-so story with a run of brilliant missions that offer up some astonishing moments. Multiplayer treads old ground but remains highly compelling, and Gunfight is a successful addition to the list of modes. Special Ops is disappointing, with just a few missions that are all far too difficult to be fun. Overall, this is an entertaining, high-octane shooter with highs that outweigh the lows.