As the development cycle of the Call of Duty series wraps back around to Infinity Ward, excitement in the FPS franchise feels renewed. Last year's Call of Duty: Vanguard will forever go down as a misfire, but after the success that was 2019's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, Activision couldn't have wished for a better studio to take its turn next. Alongside Warzone 2, the team pitches Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 as the franchise's next era. With a solid campaign and excellent multiplayer bouts already available at launch, it certainly feels like the right step for the series.
Many will head straight for those chaotic, intense online matches as soon as their download is done, but spare a few hours for the campaign and you'll find Infinity Ward has put its best foot forward once again. The return of Task Force 141 will have already convinced those in the know of a playthrough, as fan favourites like Ghost, Captain Price, and Soap face another terrorist threat to the USA. Therefore, newcomers must be convinced there’s something for them too. While it is very "Oorah" in typical Call of Duty fashion, Modern Warfare 2's campaign is definitely up there as one of the more enjoyable ones.
This is an incredibly intense collection of levels and scenes that jumps from one to the next so quickly it becomes difficult to fit in a breather. Some are fully-fledged, engaging missions with twists and turns that escalate objectives and the stakes at play. Others are smaller scenarios presented more like vignettes — the viral Amsterdam level, for example — that are over within five minutes. The extreme variations in runtime have allowed Infinity Ward to craft a campaign that's not always about shooting the gun in your hands. In fact, sometimes there's no weapon at all.
The campaign is at its most interesting when you're stripped of resources and support, instead forced to make do with the items you find to form a simple crafting system. Placed roughly halfway through the campaign when you're on the run following a twist in the story, it's a great example of how the developer is willing to break tradition.
While the standard run and gun missions have their own highlights, these levels that twist the Call of Duty formula are always going to be the most memorable ones. Modern Warfare 2 features another excellent AC-130 mission, and then there's another sequence that wouldn't look out of place in Uncharted. Tailing a convoy along the dusty roads of fictional country Urzikstan, you'll jump from one car roof to another, chucking the driver out and shooting enemies up ahead. It's a bit chaotic — instant death should you hit the tarmac also makes it a bit frustrating — but it's undeniably fun in the moment.
The only gimmick we would consider a dud actually takes place in the closing minutes of the final mission, so we'll have to choose our words carefully for fear of spoilers. Building upon a mechanic established earlier in the campaign, it's just a really strange way to end the story gameplay-wise. It's functional, but it never feels good to perform.
While it is the end of the game, it's just one sequence in a six-hour narrative with many more highs than lows. Another highlight would be the sniper mission Recon By Fire. It still doesn't beat All Ghillied Up from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare — we highly doubt anything will at this point — but it's another case of Infinity Ward changing up the pace and tone to make those moments you are in the thick of a firefight all the more intense.
It all feels really good too, with the developer's signature style of traversal and gun feel returning. Combined with outstanding visuals and best-in-class audio cues, Modern Warfare 2 looks, sounds, and feels phenomenal. Save for a few visual glitches that introduced a bit of texture pop-in and a flicker in the environment, the campaign runs flawlessly.
You won't get quite the same level of graphical quality when you have to contend with internet connections, but that gritty nature carries over into the multiplayer. Infinity Ward hasn't done anything revolutionary for the online experience. Rather, this is yet another supremely robust offering with very little in the way of teething problems. It works at launch — which is a feat in itself — and a healthy offering of unlocks, maps, and modes provide more than enough to sink your evenings into.
If anything, it's impressive (and almost unheard of) there isn't a single dud of a map or a new mode nobody's going to play past the first week. Invasion occupies a healthy medium between the chaos of a 6v6 match and larger scale fights in Ground War with 20v20 bouts where both teams have AI soldiers join them on the map. They're a source of reasonably easy kills, but make you second guess just enough whether they're human or not. As a result, every match feels like it has lots going on, with very little downtime where you'd have to sprint to the action for a few seconds.
We've even managed to get used to the lack of red dots on the mini-map whenever an enemy shoots their weapon without a silencer; a change that threw up a lot of red flags when we first got to grips with the title during its open beta phase. Its maps were another strong suit, though, and that carries over into the full game with a wider selection.
It's tough to say whether there are any out-and-out classics bundled in with the launch selection right now, but it's a compliment that there isn't a single one you should immediately quit out of. Not even Santa Seña Border Crossing — yes, it's completely stupid pandemonium, but we can't help but enjoy the absurdity of it all. With gunplay that feels excellent and a consistent set of unlocks, it's great to simply leave the game to matchmake and never have to worry about what map or mode you get.
Perhaps the only genuine flaw derives from the menus outside of matches rather than gameplay. Infinity Ward has changed how weapons and their attachments unlock, and it makes for a pretty confusing system. Rather than simply levelling up your rank and being handed guns and equipment along the way, you can now only unlock so many armaments before they dry out. At that point, you must level up certain firearms in order to unlock other guns and attachments for different weapons. It makes sense on paper, but the way Modern Warfare 2 presents it is convoluted.
With tables connecting families of guns together and difficult-to-spot text prompts describing what you must do to unlock attachments, it can appear a much more difficult and confusing task to get the loadout you want than it really is. Some work needs to go into making these menus clearer to read because, on the surface, the change isn't really a bad one. Promoting the use of a wider range of weaponry, you may find yourself enjoying a gun you never expected to.
Still, if the only thing we can find to complain about is a set of confusing menus, then Modern Warfare 2 is getting off on the front foot. With the usual post-launch support of new maps and weapons set to roll out in the coming months, Infinity Ward has another blockbuster on its hands that’s ripe for investment. After the disappointment of Call of Duty: Vanguard, the series is back and better than ever.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 marks a serious return to form for the FPS series, with a solid campaign to run through and multiplayer modes more than worth investing your time in. It may be a bit confusing on the back end, but Modern Warfare 2 is the best any Call of Duty title has been at launch in a very long time.