This is our single-player campaign review for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. For our thoughts on PvP, check out the in-progress multiplayer review, and expect our final verdict soon.

In five years time when we discuss Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, there will be no confusion as to which of the two games that share that name people are referring to. Thanks to a lackluster story, fumbled mechanical innovations, and largely underwhelming mission design, this year’s Call of Duty campaign is an unfortunate misfire that fails to live up to standards set by not only its unforgettable 2009 namesake, but also its 2019 predecessor. While it is graphically impressive, the gunplay remains state of the art, and there are some welcome but all-too-brief attempts to tread new ground, Modern Warfare 2’s campaign relies too much on echoing the victories of Call of Dutys past rather than establishing its own triumphs.

The six-hour campaign whisks you away from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s Middle Eastern frontlines and drops you into Mexico for the majority of its run. That’s thanks to the addition of the Las Almas drug cartel to the list of foes, who fulfill the exact same tired stereotypical roles that you’ve seen everywhere from Ghost Recon: Wildlands to Bad Boys. They’re heavily embroiled in a plot that involves an Iranian arms deal, stolen US missiles, and the interplay between multiple nations’ special forces. The quality of this story is a substantial step down from its predecessor; where Modern Warfare examined the human stories that emerge from military occupation and (lightly) assessed sacrificing a piece of your own morality in order to protect the civilian world, Modern Warfare 2 is more interested in broader, shallower action. The result is paper-thin, gung-ho characters and a conclusion that can be predicted from barely 30 minutes in. Expect less Kathryn Bigelow and more Michael Bay vibes for this chapter.

The quality of this story is a substantial step down from its predecessor.


That doesn’t mean there are not some more immediate, base-level thrills to be found while powering through that story, though. As ever, Call of Duty is on the cutting edge of graphics technology, and so looks incredibly handsome from practically every angle. While Mexico has plenty of lovely vistas, a brief visit to Amsterdam really demonstrates Modern Warfare 2’s graphical grunt thanks to impeccable attention to detail and gorgeous lighting effects.

Likewise, as you’d expect from Call of Duty, the shooting is also pulled straight from the top shelf. Weapon handling is precise and punchy, and the visual, physical, and particularly audio feedback is in a league most FPS games can only dream of. Praise should certainly be laid on the sniper and assault rifles in particular, which feel the best they ever have. There’s a seemingly never-ending collection of weapons to pick up, each of which feels distinct in feedback and form, although rarely does the mission design favor one type over another to the point that different gun categories can feel interchangeable.

Modern Warfare 2 doubles down on the smaller, more ‘realistically’ sized combat engagements of its predecessor. This makes for a Call of Duty campaign with a distinct rhythm; there’s much more methodical room clearing than there is taking part in large-scale, chaotic battles. This helps cement an identity for the rebooted Modern Warfare series, but comes at the expense of the intensity that has fueled some of the original games’ most memorable shootouts. I’d be more welcoming of this change if it weren’t for the addition of armored enemies, who must have their helmets or vests shattered before you’re able to land the killing blow. They initially feel like fun curveballs, but quickly become annoying bullet sponges that not only erode the efficiency of Call of Duty’s long-standing double-tap-to-kill approach, but also shatters any of the realism those smaller encounters are attempting to build.

Mission design is, as you’d expect, admirably varied and often built upon a novel concept. Those that fall back on more standard templates feel underwhelming and often quite static, with multiple ‘hold the line’ objectives and other such generic fare, although these are thankfully outnumbered by levels with better purpose. But while most of developer Infinity Ward’s campaigns have had a poster child mission (All Ghillied Up, No Russian, and Clean House to name just three), Modern Warfare 2 struggles to make anything quite as memorable.

Its best attempt is Alone, a stealth level in which you must escape a labyrinth-like town packed with guards. Starting completely unarmed, you gather materials and craft a variety of DIY tools – smoke bombs, trip mines, lock breaking gizmos – and use them to work your way to the exit. This has all the makings of a star Call of Duty mission, but is frustratingly undermined by the fact that your character is injured and can only walk at a snail’s pace. It makes weaving between guard patrols a chore and its 40-minute duration seem like a lifetime. Elsewhere, there’s an unwieldy car chase that’s a poor alternative to Uncharted 4’s showstopper, and a brief-but-fun infiltration of a cartel boss’s mansion that has a (very) light Hitman touch about it as your disguised soldier rubs shoulders with enemies.

But the majority of Modern Warfare 2 is content to relive past glories. There are two back-to-back missions that replicate the original Modern Warfare’s Death From Above, in which you rain down all manner of high-caliber ammunition from a circling gunship. Another sees you storm a cargo ship in an echo of Crew Expendable, while yet another is – of course – the copied homework of All Ghillied Up, right down to the hiding in the grass as enemies walk by. Then there’s the multiple references to 2019’s Clean House, which have you slowly walking up stairs behind two allies whenever the opportunity arises. It makes for something that feels a bit like a ‘Best Of’ album performed by a different, less confident band.

Recon By Fire demonstrates Infinity Ward absolutely has the ability to weave some choice into encounters.


That’s not to say there’s no merit or fun in these covers. The gunship missions demand much more precision than their inspiration thanks to targets often being close to civilians, and there’s a more deliberate feeling in how you use each of the plane’s three ammunition types. Dark Waters, the cargo ship level, makes great use of moving cover as containers slip and slide across the wet deck. And Recon By Fire, the sniping mission, provides you with a backpack filled with various tools that provide a greater degree of tactical choice when it comes to clearing buildings. Will you breach the doors with explosives and fight inside, or drop a tear gas grenade down a ventilation shaft to force your enemies out into the open?

I would have liked to have seen that backpack system used across the entire campaign. While I believe that Call of Duty’s strengths are firmly in linear scenario design, Recon By Fire demonstrates Infinity Ward absolutely has the ability to weave some choice into encounters. But it’s sadly just one of a number of mechanics that feel included to be a momentary novelty rather than the basis of something richer. It’s joined by an armor plate system that’s used for a single mission, seemingly as a nod to Warzone rather than for any tactical benefit. Had both mechanics been woven into the fabric of the campaign as a whole, then the moment-to-moment could potentially have been elevated with a layer of micro decisions. Maybe that would have made fighting those groups of bullet sponges more pleasant.

As a final note, Modern Warfare 2’s campaign is also a little buggier than I’d expect of a Call of Duty. Performance is consistently slick, but while playing on PlayStation 5 I have seen occasional texture pop-in on larger maps, and ugly low-res textures on some elements like water. I also encountered a save corruption bug at the final checkpoint of the last mission which triggered a hard crash every time it loaded, and so I was forced to replay the mission from the start. These are by no means game breaking, but are minor irritants all the same.

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