As the end of the year fast approaches, it heralds the return of an industry giant. Call of Duty is back, this time serving up a sequel to one of its most acclaimed titles, as well as a remake of one of its most beloved in the form of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II (or Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2).
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II is CoD at its most unashamed, most brazen, and most relentless. You can glimmer every secret from just the briefest glance at the box art. There are very few surprises in this year’s entry into the legendary shooter series.
What this game does offer, however, is a worthwhile campaign with some genuinely fantastic moments and missions that far exceeded my expectations. The classic fast-paced and refined gunplay of the various multiplayer modes returns alongside a new cooperative experience for you and a friend to play around with. None of it is revolutionary and nothing in this package will make you think differently of Call of Duty as a series… but that’s okay.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II is exactly what you expect it to be and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II is available now on Xbox Series X/S, Xbox One, PS4/5 and Steam.
Story: A Classical Campaign Outing
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II is the sequel to 2019’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. This new series of games is a reboot of the classic Modern Warfare trilogy from 2007 and 2011. Both the new and the old series are helmed by Infinity Ward, one of Call of Duty’s primary developers. Out of the original set of games, Modern Warfare 2 is held in exceptionally high regard. One of the reasons was the strength of the story.
Modern Warfare 2 managed to capture the hearts and minds of people in a way that other CoD campaigns couldn’t. While nothing was particularly avant-garde, the characters and the events stuck with those who played it. That isn’t to undersell its impact in wider gaming discourse, either – utter the words “No Russian” and the controversy that flourished will surely come flooding back. This game was a sensation and has earned its place among Call of Duty’s best titles.
Just based on that, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II had a lot to live up to in terms of narrative. Unfortunately, it never manages to reach those lofty expectations.
In fact, for the vast majority of the campaign, the story is a mere backdrop. Your main goal over 6-8 hours is to stop a plot to bomb American soil with a series of powerful missiles. Alongside taskforce 141, you will go on a globetrotting adventure to put a stop to this devilish scheme.
As a plot, it’s just pretty messy. This is captivated perfectly by the fact about 4 or 5 missions are nearly the exact same narratively. You find out where the big baddie is, you go to his location, and he narrowly slips between your fingers. These missions are all pretty good from a gameplay standpoint. From a narrative one, though, they lose your interest very fast and rarely manage to recapture it.
The game also never nears the type of controversy or provocation made by its predecessor. This was also an aspect of 2019’s Modern Warfare that was criticised upon release. It wanted its dark, grim tone without the efforts needed to earn it. A similar thing occurs here in the sequel, which tiptoes around macabre topics without ever committing to their realism. It wants you to question things like the consequences of war and the innocents hurt in the process without exploring those ideas themselves. Admittedly, if the campaign spent its time dwelling on that grim subject matter it wouldn’t automatically make the story any better. There was clearly room here for it, however, and considering that some of those ideas were tackled by its namesake over a decade ago, it is a little disappointing.
Perhaps the game’s saving grace is its cast of characters. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II brings back plenty of the fan favourites into the fold. The interactions between these characters are what carry the story – the banter between Soap and Ghost, the comradery that develops between the group and Alejandro, the quiet pride shared by Price and Gaz – and they’re all really good. Nothing Oscar-worthy, of course, but I certainly found myself invested. Far more than I ever was in the missile crisis they were embroiled in, at least.
On the whole, the story of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II is window dressing. If you were expecting anything less than a framework that picks you up and drops you from place to place so that you can shoot some new set of baddies, you’re going to be disappointed. You’ll share that same fate if you wanted this story to touch on the darker topics and proactive themes bought about by the first incarnation. What is here, though, is a pretty great cast of characters who you will enjoy spending time around.
While the story offered in Modern Warfare II falls a bit flat, it still manages to be a worthwhile experience. This is thanks to the missions that the campaign shuttles you through. I was genuinely surprised at the depth and engagement I had towards a large majority of these missions. They were much more than I was ever expecting from a Call of Duty campaign.
Of course, what you will be doing most often is straightforward boots-on-ground combat: shoot this guy then that guy, maybe swap guns, rinse and repeat. The graphical uplift and the smooth gunplay help bring out the fun in these missions and dull the repetition.
Headshots in particular feel great to execute, and clearing a room by one-tapping baddies never got old. While the gunplay feels excellent, character movement is a bit up in the air. Your character feels sluggish, even at a sprint, and I always felt like I was moving a little too slowly. While this does aid the lite-tactical feel that the game is going for, it leads to a lot more frustration than I would’ve liked.
The other thing which helps make the gunplay feel fresh across your 6-8 hours run time is the mission variety. Just when you feel your trigger finger starting to hurt, the game will swiftly move you onto something more structured. Then, when the itch comes back, you return to the simple, satisfying act of blowing dudes up. It’s a welcome change, one where you enjoy bouncing back and forth between these different diversions… most of the time. Some of these missions are handled much better than others, with these failures often becoming the lowest point of the entire campaign.
On the positive side, there are some top-class missions here. Stalking through the hills dressed head-to-toe in Guille suits, picking groups of enemies off one by one with snipers was a great mix of tense and atmospheric. Another mission asks you to infiltrate the house of a Cartel leader, sneaking around using kitchen knives and broken bottles. There’s even a chase scene more akin to something like Uncharted than Call of Duty. What Modern Warfare II gets right, it gets really right.
None succeeds more so than the mission ‘Alone’. You’re injured, unarmed and are being hunted through a small Mexican village. You wade through the aftermath of the siege, a group of baddies set on your demise. There’s even a small crafting system introduced at this point. You collect household items like rope or mousetraps to construct tools to outwit your vastly superior combatants.
This mission is excellent on many levels. Slowly gaining confidence as you find new tools and new weaponry – first a smoke bomb, then a knife, then a pistol – is just brilliant. The escalation from weak and helpless, to all-out guns blazing, feels earned and all the more cathartic for it. ‘Alone’ is also the only place in the game where the narrative sings: you see still warm bodies, eerily empty homes and screams muffled by gunfire. It unsettles you and makes you question things in a way the that the rest of the game never does.
Not every mission is like that and there are certainly a few duds. Most of the gimmicky missions used as filler or pacing all last far too long. Their gimmicks ware themselves out at a rapid pace and you soon grow bored. At the end of most of these sections, I was begging to get back into regular combat.
Despite them, the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II campaign was a good time. The controls were tight and satisfying enough that I never got bored of using any of the guns and the mission variety is very dense and constantly keeps you on your toes (even if it stumbles a bit here and there). While the story of Modern Warfare II never reaches the heights of its namesake, the gameplay certainly does.
Multiplayer: Get Busy Living, Get Busy Dying
Alongside the campaign is the suite of new and returning modes for the multiplayer component of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II. This is perhaps the highlight of the game for many and what will keep them coming back.
Just like all previous Call of Duty experiences, multiplayer varies from mode to mode. On the whole, you will be competing against others in everything from classic Team Death Match and Search & Destroy to new entries like Prisoner Rescue. As you play, you level up weapons and earn EXP to reach new ranks that award new tools of destruction. Like the rest of the package, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II’s multiplayer is exactly what you will be expecting.
The gunplay is just as tight and refined here as it is in the campaign. Deaths come quickly and respawning comes even quicker. It imbues the multiplayer with that familiar chaotic CoD energy that many know and love. Being able to get back into the fight right after death keeps the low time-to-kill bearable. Instead, you can just focus on having fun with the sandbox and the weapons at your disposal.
A few things do begin to creep up while playing that you may have missed during the campaign. The first is the audio design. Unfortunately, it isn’t very good. The weapons all feel cartoonishly loud while footsteps and enemy movement are practically silent. I’ve snuck up on plenty of people and been snuck upon plenty of times because no one can tell where anyone else is. It never becomes a debilitating issue due to the low stakes of most of the game modes, but it is very noticeable.
The other goes back to the sluggish level of movement we spoke of in the campaign. In that environment, with scripted set-pieces and enemies programmed to do certain things, it was generally acceptable. In multiplayer that guise slips a little. Moving became frustrating thanks to how stiff your character is and you cannot escape from a lot of conflicts.
Maps are another divisive issue – one that always seems to crop up in multiplayer discussions. The ones that work are really good and promote a healthy mix of close and long-ranged engagements. These maps work and thrive in a wide variety of game modes while still allowing CoD’s fast-paced gameplay to reign as king. There’s a reason that maps like ‘Rust’ are still spoken about so fondly. However, there are a few that flop hard and Infinity Ward hasn’t managed to strike gold again in that regard.
One has players fighting on a crowded motorway filled with cars and trucks. Hypothetically, these are supposed to provide cover and interesting places for engagements but routinely lead to the simple act of moving around being confusing and irritating. Another is a massive open map set in a destroyed town where there’s more empty open air than actual buildings. These maps don’t allow Call of Duty’s gameplay to shine and instead put more obtrusive obstacles (whether that is vast amounts of empty space or areas that are too crowded) before the player can have any fun.
Prisoner Rescue is a new game mode introduced with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II and feels like a variant of Search & Destroy. Two teams of 6 gear up to either extract or defend a pair of prisoners. The extraction team must find the prisoners and manually carry them to a safe point while avoiding the defender team. Meanwhile, if you are tasked with the defence you simply have to stop them. Every player has a single life, as well as a one-time use revive on other players. Teams will fight it out over several rounds until a winner is crowned.
Prisoner Rescue can be a really fun mode with a completely different vibe from other multiplayer offerings. However, I don’t know how successful it will be in the long run or with more casual players.
The biggest draw of Rescue is how it dials up the tension and changes how you play. The fast, frantic state of traditional multiplayer slows down to become something more refined. With one life there’s a lot of pressure to perform and you subconsciously begin to act more cautiously. Death feels like a heavy blow to the team while the revives means that there is a lot of potential for hero moments. The quick TTK of multiplayer carries over to simultaneously make it more immersive and more engaging.
Although, despite this praise, there are a lot of things that will push people away. Due to the emphasis on teamwork and staying alive, the audio issues in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II rear their ugly heads once more. If you miss the enemy sneaking up behind, it can cost the entire match. In normal play, you can push it aside because you come back so quickly – not so when you only have one life.
Additionally, with a slower cadence Prisoner Rescue is quite antithetical to the majority of other Call of Duty modes (Search & Destroy notwithstanding). That same appealing quality that makes this mode play more like a light version of tactical shooters like Rainbow Six Seige will also be off-putting to the vast majority of casual players – why play this when you could just play TDM or even just S&D? Especially when, if you get unlucky, you could spend the majority of time watching other people play if you die early on.
Where I think this mode will thrive is through watching it. Seeing coordinated teams battle each other with elaborate callouts and strategies would be very entertaining. Especially when the multiple focus points of Prisoner Rescue would increase that engagement. As a spectator mode, Prisoner Rescue succeeds and will find a place with stacks and squads.
While Prisoner Rescue has a lot of upsides, I don’t know how much longevity it has with casual audiences. The messy, chaotic brawls of traditional multiplayer will be more appealing whereas hardcore players would rather play a focused tactical experience. However, there is a good amount of potential here. Maybe Prisoner Rescue has it within to surprise.
Loadouts, the Gunsmith and Progression
So what are you actually bringing to the table in each of these modes? Players can create loadouts that they will take into any engagement. New weapons and tools are unlocked through levelling up, where the maximum level is 55, after which you can prestige. Other parts of the loadouts include perks that change up your gameplay in subtle but impactful ways or field gear like a deployable shield or anti-armour bullets.
Playing multiplayer always feels rewarding, as is watching your rank tick up. Locking weapons and items behind certain levels may seem a bit archaic now (especially in the era of Battle Royals). It never feels overbearing, thankfully, as you can coast through the levels rather quickly.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II also has daily challenges. These are often fun and doable side ventures that ask you to complete a certain task. That can be to get a certain amount of kills for a specific weapon type or achieve specific accolades such as a Revenge kill. Challenges like these incentivise mixing your gameplay up, even if just a little. However, some challenges ask you to use equipment you are yet to unlock. This forces you to skip that specific challenge (for example, I got a challenge asking me to get 3 kills with throwing knives, which unlock at level 54 when I was only level 15).
The loadout system is familiar enough to people who have played the previous Call of Duty titles to understand. You can equip one primary weapon alongside a secondary weapon such as a pistol or an anti-air rocket launcher. These weapons all have unique challenges that unlock camos as you complete them. Every weapon in the game has access to these challenges and they are expansive, giving you a lot to work towards as you master your favourite weapons and tools.
Another nice feature is the Gunsmith. You will customise weapons with different scopes, barrels, muzzle attachments and more. The Gunsmith is where you can equip and test these variations out. Almost every attachment can go with one another, crafting unique and distinct guns just for you. There’s also a test range for fine-tuning each little adjustment to make sure it’s for you. The Gunsmith makes everything easy to read and understand, making the process of crafting your perfect weapon even simpler.
It is also worth noting that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II is set to have a seasonal battle pass similar to previous titles and other games like Apex Legends. Season 1 of Modern Warfare II launches on November 16th, alongside Call of Duty: Warzone 2. The season 1 battle pass will release alongside it.
To sum up, multiplayer is just like the campaign in that, for the most part, it is what you expect from a Call of Duty multiplayer experience. If you don’t gel with the rapid pace of other Call of Duty titles, Modern Warfare II won’t change anything for you. If you do, Modern Warfare II is more of the same old fun with a new coat of paint.
Spec Ops: Buddy Up
Spec Ops is the final new mode in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II.
These are 2 player-cooperative missions where you work with your teammate to complete some objective. This can be securing radioactive samples, destroying hostile hardware or defending a point of interest. There are currently three of these Spec Ops missions available as of release and they each challenge you to complete them as quickly as possible, awarding you and your teammate with more rewards and EXP. Players can specialise and level up one of three classes, gaining unique benefits and bonuses as they do.
This mode suffers an eerily similar fate to Prisoner Rescue. With only one other teammate to rely on, everything has a bit more punch and a bit more weight to it, whether it be breaking stealth or splitting up to cover different objectives. Being able to coordinate with a partner and perform the same synced-up sniper shots that you did in the campaign, only this time with another person, is immensely rewarding. When the game commits to that and you and your teammate pledge to it as well, Spec Ops missions are entertaining.
However, like Prisoner Rescue, I worry about the permeance of this mode. For all intents and purposes, this is the mode replacing Zombies for 2 years as Call of Duty takes a break. Like it or not, Spec Ops will be compared to the near-infinite replayability of its competitor.
The fun of Spec Ops comes from completing the missions as quickly as possible. The fun of Zombies, on the other hand, comes from enduring and being able to survive. Neither is inherently better than the other, but Spec Ops by design will have less replay value for casual or less committed players. As soon as you 3-star a mission, there is very little reason to go back. While Spec Ops missions are fun once or twice, running the same objectives with the same enemy spawns over and over will get dull quickly.
Add on a few minor annoyances like Laswell constantly talking during the mission and I just don’t think the same magic is there. There is the risk that solo players will be put off: there is a ping system but it is very barebones and will likely cause issues for people only communicating through it rather than voice chat.
Spec Ops has so much pushing back against it that I don’t know how well it will do over time. If Infinity Ward continues to expand and add more missions, it’ll be worth revisiting now and again. As it stands right now, though, Spec Ops is an entertaining distraction for a few hours from the multiplayer and not much else.
Performance: Going Dark
Lastly, let us round up discussions with a performance check. On the PS5, the game ran beautifully. Across my entire play time on all 3 modes, I didn’t drop a single frame and the game ran very well. In a few of the campaign missions, particularly the more expansive missions, there was a noticeable amount of pop-in with the environment, but never enough that it detracted from the beauty of the engine at work.
What I did have more trouble with were bugs and crashes.
In the campaign there seem to be some problems with the checkpoint system. The game saves often, allowing you to quickly get back into the action with some wicked quick load times. This does unfortunately lead to problems, though, as the game often creates a checkpoint at inopportune moments. Sometimes this would be right when I lost stealth or as I was taking damage. Right out of the gate on a respawn, I would beat a disadvantage. Often, this just resulted in me dying until I got lucky enough to escape.
On the talk of bugs, there were a fair few. One big bug came at the very tail end of the campaign. Something interrupted my character before a cutscene and they glitched out. Instead of holding a sniper rifle (which I needed to shoot someone far away), I was holding a melee weapon instead. This completely locked me out of finishing the mission and I had to start it from scratch.
Spec Ops was even more buggy. In one of my attempts, I spawned in without camera control, meaning I couldn’t aim or move properly. On another attempt immediately afterwards, the game kept fading to black, restarting the mission over and over. Both of these bugs required leaving the mission completely to fix. Things did calm down after this but considering how polished other areas of the game were, it was certainly vexing.
Additionally, I ran into several crashes during my playtime. In the campaign, I had the game hard crash when I died at least once. Meanwhile, in Spec Ops (between me and my friend) we experienced at least 2 more hard crashes. One of these crashes occurred on the results screen and wiped all the progress we had just done.
Overall, the technical state of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II is pretty solid. The fact that the game runs this well while looking and feeling as good as it does is great. However, with the messy checkpoint system paired with a few bugs and crash issues, it may be safe to give it a few weeks for some patches to roll on through first if you’re skittish. There’s nothing here that will ruin your experience, but if you’re a stickler for polish it’ll surely get on your nerves.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II code provided by Activision.