Bringing back the Modern Warfare name carries certain expectations. Call of Duty 4’s story stands as the best in many fans’ eyes. A handful of brilliant missions, phenomenal cutscene work, and a fantastic cast help this year’s Modern Warfare approach that bar set nearly 12 years ago.
What Modern Warfare gets right
Blur’s CGI cutscenes stun once again. Blur’s track record of taking my favorite games and making some of the best media from them continues. Add Call of Duty to a list that includes Star Wars, Halo, Destiny, BioShock, and Dishonored.
Blur said they were aiming for ‘Zero Dark Thirty’ style story-telling, and they absolutely nailed it. The facial animations and wind effects, in particular, stand out. Here are a few screen grabs from the campaign.
It adds another layer to a cast of fantastic characters. Hell, there were times where I was just waiting for the next Blur cutscene to kick in. They’re that good. Blur and the voice actors’ work needed to be great to carry the story, and they are.
A phenomenal job from the folks at Blur elevates an already good campaign into a great one. I still long for the day we get a movie or TV series with this level of CGI. Here’s their Vimeo page to keep you entertained for the rest of the day.
A different kind of set-piece moment. Taking control of the full arsenal of an AC-130 gunship never gets old, but Modern Warfare leans more into Call of Duty 4’s ‘All Ghillied Up’ side for some of its missions. None of them quite top that moment from Call of Duty 4, but there is one that is an instant classic.
After a terrorist attack hits London, Captain Price and company hunt down those responsible. The mission is to clear out a single house. Slowly climbing the stairs with my team is tense as hell. The entire mission plays out in a three-story house as you go room by room, making snap decisions over who is innocent and who isn’t. There’s a sense of claustrophobic tension that the developers execute so well here. It’s probably one of the smallest Call of Duty missions ever created, but also one of the best.
The mission surrounding a terrorist attack in progress in London also stands out. I had goosebumps playing this. I wasn’t expecting the feeling of dread the incredibly realistic graphics along with the chaos following suicide bombers delivered.
Another favorite is the Embassy mission. I don’t want to spoil too much, but it feels like it was ripped straight out of the 13 hours movie (based on the embassy attack in Benghazi, Libya).
These set-piece moments don’t revolve around a killstreak or a high-speed chase. Instead, they present situations where the tension is ratcheted up super high and guide you through it.
It might be too ‘on-rails’ for some, but I enjoyed the hell out of it. Not every game needs multiple ways to do everything. Modern Warfare doesn’t offer much choice. What it does offer are several missions that instantly stand out across the more than dozen Call of Duty games that have come before it. And that is an amazing achievement for the folks at Infinity Ward.
Not every mission follows this template, though. There are still times when the shooting gallery style missions pop up. They’re not necessarily bad, but they don’t hit the highs the three I mentioned above do.
Modern Warfare’s night vision is visual candy. Call of Duty was always one of the top shooters thanks to its gameplay. But it quickly lagged in the graphics department. Not anymore.
The entire game looks outstanding, but the night-time levels take it to a whole new level. There are times when Modern Warfare feels like you’re playing a movie. Words won’t do it justice. Here are some screen grabs from my playthrough.
Voice actors bring the characters to life. Modern Warfare’s story comes together thanks to the fantastic voice acting from the cast. Shoutouts to Barry Sloane (plays Captain Price), Claudia Doumit (plays Farah Karim), Elliot Knight (plays Kyle Garrick), Chad Michael Collins (plays Alex), and Aidan Bristow (Hadir Karim), and the rest of the cast. Also, a special shoutout to Nick Tarabay (plays The Butcher). He doesn’t have a huge role, but his time on Spartacus being an evil bastard served him well in Modern Warfare.
Sarah Schachner’s soundtrack. Schachner is no stranger to composing music for the Call of Duty franchise, and she does another fantastic job here. It can be easy to overlook the music when gunfire and explosions are shaking your screen, but the score helps punctuate the action. Plus, the main theme is so good.
Here are a couple of more of my favorites.
Excellent work by Sarah Schachner.
Where Modern Warfare stumbles
It’s a bit of a mess on the technical side. I played on Xbox One X, so I’m not sure what the other platforms look like – but I noticed minor frame rate stutters throughout the cutscenes and gameplay. Thankfully, It never bogged down for long stretches. More like a small stutter I see when playing unoptimized PC games sometimes.
However, I did have a half dozen hard crashes over the weekend. I’m not talking about the game just crashing to the home screen, either. My Xbox One X would turn off completely. I’m sure Infinity Ward is looking into it, but the game should have never shipped like this.
These bugs didn’t have a huge effect on my enjoyment of the game, but still something to be wary of if you’re still on the fence or aren’t sure about which platform to buy it for.
One dimensional villains. It’s a Call of Duty game, so the usual suspects are the bad guys – Middle-eastern terrorists and over-the-top bad guy Russians. Modern Warfare is the 12th game since Call of Duty 4 turned the franchise into the juggernaut it is today, and the villains are a whole lot of ‘been there, done that.’
It was the missions and the characters within them that kept me invested. Captain Price, Farah, Alex, and everyone else could have been taking on some other bad guy for some other reason, and it would have been just as good.
An abrupt ending and a weird transition to Spec Ops. Call of Duty games are never long affairs, and the end comes quickly with Price teasing the formation of Task Force 141 and the return of more fan-favorite Call of Duty characters. But after the credits roll, another cutscene plays talking about a new leader of the terrorist organization you fought in the campaign. It’s a jarring transition where the story continues in the co-op mode.
Too bad the Spec Ops mode never lives up to the story missions. The cutscenes introducing each mission are little more than a list of objectives tacked onto a board as Laswell talks about them. And these objectives often have you fighting what feels like endless waves of AI enemies that have their aim cranked to 11. It’s not fun in its current state and adds very little to the story.
Spec Ops captures none of what makes Modern Warfare’s missions so great. The map feels more like a tease of the rumored Battle Royale mode then specifically crafted for co-op. Toning down the number of enemies and how quickly they can take you out would go a long way towards making the mode semi-enjoyable. Right now, it feels like a chore to play through.
I can’t praise some of Modern Warfare’s missions enough. Without them, it would be an average Call of Duty game at best. When Modern Warfare is at its highs, it’s hard to beat. It doesn’t stay there throughout the entire game, but it’s there long enough. Combine that with stunning graphics, awesome cinematics, and a great cast, and Modern Warfare sits comfortably in the top half of the franchise.
It’s not perfect, though. The overarching plot didn’t do much for me. It didn’t take long for me to tune out the bad guys, and enjoy hanging out with Captain Price and company.
And the technical issues on the Xbox One X were disappointing to see. Games shouldn’t launch that shut off my console a half dozen times in two days.
Modern Warfare’s highs outweigh where it stumbles. I’m not sure if it tops Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare on my list, but I would put it in my top five. Some of the missions are that good.
As for multiplayer? I’m going to do a write up on that later this week.