Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Campaign Review

By Sean Carey,
Call of Duty graces us once again, this time with a fully-fledged campaign peppered with some familiar faces and a whole bunch of unsavoury moments. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare opens with a nightmarish scene, a suicide bombing in a prominent London tourist spot. Straight from the off, players will feel unnerved, and this, it seems, is what Infinity Ward was after. Across the game’s brief — yet action-packed — eight hour-campaign, several controversial and gut-punching scenes are thrown at the player, along with some of the finest gameplay moments from a COD game that I have come across since the original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.

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As with most Call of Duty campaigns, players take on the role of different characters set across different parts of the world, switched in and out when the story requires it. This time the protagonists CIA agent Alex, SAS Sergeant Kyle Garrick and a freedom fighter by the name of Farah Karim. Farah is by far the most interesting character of the bunch. Captain John Price is of course back in all of his moustachioed glory, although players won’t get to play as him this time around - he’s more of a fatherly figure, barking orders at you from a distance.

The plot is in the same vein as the original Modern Warfare. Russian forces are once again cast as the bad guys along with a middle-eastern terrorist group called Al-Qatala. A chemical weapons shipment headed for Urzikstan is captured by an unknown enemy, and it’s the process of following these weapons across the globe that brings these characters together.

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In the beginning, the game will toss you between the different characters a little too quickly. The first memorable mission sees Garrick fighting his way through a terrorist attack in progress — it’s frantic, filled with gunfire and explosions, but it all ends too soon, and you’re quickly whisked off to fill the boots of another soldier. It would have been nice to be able to spend a little more time in the earlier levels. But where this Modern Warfare reboot excels is when the pace is slowed down to an absolute crawl. Several missions pay homage to the classic All Ghillied Up mission in the original Modern Warfare. Going Dark has players entering a compound at night, utilising night vision goggles and one-tapping enemies from the shadows. It feels cool, trained and tactical, casting players as a trained and tactical spec ops soldier — a nice change of pace from the running and gunning. There are several set pieces throughout Modern Warfare’s campaign that break up the standard COD formula of listening to an order and always pushing forward, including a mission where you fly exploding drones into helicopters and one where you direct an embassy employee to safety using CCTV cameras, not unlike Ubisoft’s Watch Dogs.

The same can be said for another level in which players have to clear out a townhouse, with each room needing to be methodically cleared of combatants. The pacing here is perfect, with each step forward causing floorboards to creak in the silence. Enemies are shuffling around in rooms next door, and upstairs. Quiet whispering will have players questioning if they heard anything at all. It’s tense, and it will have players on edge. It may also make some players start questioning their morals or their itchy trigger finger. Women will dart from one side of the darkness to the other, reaching out for something. Players have a split second to decide whether to shoot. Is that person reaching for their child or a gun?

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These controversial moments soon rack up and increase in intensity – one particularly memorable moment has the player make a choice between sacrificing themselves and witnessing a brutal execution. Infinity Ward continues to poke a toe over the controversy line with a torture waterboarding mini-game in the later levels. Here players have to dodge a water stream and choose when to take breaths to survive the torture. The message doesn’t really land and could have been conveyed through a cut-scene rather than trivialised as a mini-game. Players will likely forget about the horror of the torture while they concentrate on when to hit a button. Aside from a few missteps like this, Infinity Ward has done a fantastic job at encouraging the player to feel sympathy towards the characters and question the actions taken. The studio could have easily taken things a step too far for the sake of shock and awe, and thankfully that doesn’t happen.

Controversial story moments aside, I don’t think I have enjoyed a Call of Duty campaign this much in a long time. Visually, the game is flawless, even if there are some levels that are completed solely using night vision goggles. Character models are stunningly detailed, as is the weaponry. The story’s early shocks are more impactful because everything is so realistic. The gunplay feels top-notch and satisfying — coupled with some excellent sound design, each weapon feels as if it carries weight — silenced weapons especially.

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Movement is fluid, and when the movement speed is slowed for darker, stealthier missions, it feels natural and not forced. There were some enemy AI hiccups — enemy soldiers would randomly stop firing and face the other way, although this only happened a handful of times and didn’t detract from the overall quality, and could be patched later on. Overall, it’s a slick and familiar experience from a studio known for delivering on gameplay and presentation.

Luckily the achievement list is all campaign-related bar one multiplayer achievement for Spec Ops. The list is pretty simple for the most part apart from a few achievements. “Out of the Fire” involves you completing the game on Veteran or Realism difficulty. “We Own the Night” is another tricky one which requires you to kill all enemies in three buildings on the level going dark without anyone calling for backup. Those two are probably the ones that are going to give people the most trouble. All the rest can easily be won by following the achievement guides already up on site.

Check out our Best Xbox One First-Person Shooters Available in 2019 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.

Summary

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has the best campaign that I have played since the original Modern Warfare. Infinity Ward hasn’t shied away from controversial moments, and for the most part, they are carried out maturely, making the player sympathise with characters caught up in modern war. However, I don’t think a video game is the correct medium to capture and convey the horrifying experience of war. Gunplay, graphics and sound are all superb — everything you’d expect from a Call of Duty game. Each level is unique, and there are welcome changes of pace throughout. In recent COD releases, the campaign is often overlooked in favour of the multiplayer. But if you’re after an emotional, action-packed thrill ride, you shouldn’t skip out on this one.
4 / 5
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare
Ethics
The reviewer spent eight hours fighting a terrorist organisation and the Russians, earning 14 out of the 27 achievements on offer. An Xbox One digital code was provided for the review and was played on an Xbox One X.
Sean Carey
Written by Sean Carey
Hey everyone! I'm Sean. I have been writing gaming content for various outlets over the past few years while studying a degree in Journalism. I grew up on everything PlayStation — mainly Metal Gear Solid, with a brief foray into the world of Xbox. Nowadays, you'll find me mainly playing multiplayer PC games, but with the recent addition of the Xbox Game Pass for PC, I'm looking forward to improving my TA Score.