Game Review: Does ‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’ Live Up to the Hype?

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Every year, gamers anticipate what “Call of Duty” is going to deliver. The much anticipated reboot of “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” certainly has substance behind the hype. Players will experience an engaging campaign — when Captain Price says, “Check those corners!” while hunting terror cells in safe houses and in tunnels underground, he means it.

Several new and meaningful characters are introduced, including Farah and Hadir, two leaders in a fictional Middle Eastern liberation force who only know an existence where war is raging at home. The narrative details the shadowy side of proxy wars, where one nation’s terrorist is another nation’s freedom fighter. Some familiar faces return in a reimagining of a new fictional plot based on real missions and themes.

As you work through the campaign, some of the allusions to recent events become apparent. Sentiments eerily similar to Benghazi, the Bin Laden raid, terror attacks across Europe, proxy wars in the Middle East, and other real-world events draw comparisons. The villains in the game are adversaries of the U.S./British military — and the banishment of the game by Russia’s government should speak volumes.

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Photo courtesy of Activision.

Infinity Ward, the developers behind this year’s installment, brought in former Tier 1 operators as military consultants to provide insight as to what happens in reality as opposed to what is possible in a video game. Infinity Ward’s intention from the beginning was to create a world that melds together a story that is authentic, gritty, and fun. Instead of the shock-and-awe approach from previous games, this time the player has to think about their actions instead of just entering a building and lighting it up. One gameplay mechanic added was the way the players ADS (Aims Down Sights) while looking through NVGs (night vision goggles). These minor insights are sprinkled throughout the game and enhance the experience.

The greatest aspect mastered in the single-player gameplay is the unknown. During one mission, alongside Captain Price and other members of 22 SAS (British Special Missions Unit), the player enters a High Value Target’s (HVT) house and must distinguish enemy from innocent civilians under NVGs with only seconds to react. Each time the stack of operators forms behind the door it plans to breach, there’s an intense feeling of anticipation for what awaits them on the other side. It puts the player into the mindset of an operator — even though failure to complete the mission in the game will only result in a retry as opposed to the real-world implications on which it’s based.

Another development in the campaign is the controversy. There are features to the narrative that highlight the dark side of war. Warfare is not black and white; it often lingers in the gray — where what is acceptable is judged through the lens of historic atrocities and moral costs to humanity. Torture, war crimes, mass graves, banned weapons, civilian casualties — worst-case scenarios are brought to life in a story that resembles the horrors of war and how to counter them.

For trophy hunters, the Achievements are challenging but not impossible — unlike the Mile High Club trophy on veteran difficulty in “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.” Aside from the campaign, there are also co-op and multiplayer.

Multiplayer is the centerpiece of “Call of Duty,” and this year has seen some significant changes. For the first time ever, cross-platform gaming allows players on PC, Xbox One, and PS4 to play together in one lobby. A new mode called Gunfight is a nice change of pace. Players face off in 2v2 matches on a tiny map the size of a football field that resembles a game of glorified paintball. I recommend playing Gunfight mode before hopping into multiplayer, that way you can get a feel for the weapons since they change every two rounds.

In the new Ground War (32v32) mode, snipers are perched on skyscrapers, Armored Personnel Carriers (APC) and tanks are dueling in the streets and alleyways, and players have the opportunity to get creative in how they approach their targets. Killstreaks provide a lot of satisfaction in this mode. A relatively easy Killstreak is the precision airstrike (5 kills). When an APC is wreaking havoc on your teammates trying to control a point, equip the spotting scope, aim at the APC, fire, and wait until it is blown into smithereens. It is the ultimate equalizer for vehicles, but also for those who control the rooftop of a building and believe they can’t be touched. Plus, the BRRRT of the A-10 never gets old.

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Photo courtesy of Activision.

Like the reimagining of the campaign, some new modes have been given a twist. Realism mode is a spin on Hardcore. There is no HUD and no hit markers, so players can’t really tell if they killed the opposing player unless they see the body. Cyber Attack is similar to Sabotage, except you can revive downed teammates. There are so many differing modes and content available that it can seem overwhelming — but don’t expect to see Battle Royale, as the developers have decided against it.

A small, but important feature is the “edit” classes while in the match. If you didn’t have time to swap a semtex with a claymore, now you can. There is also a new twist on weapon unlockables. Weapons are still unlocked as one progresses in ranks, but attachments are earned by ranking up the weapon through XP. There are also new, fun challenges that deliver unique weapon camo patterns.

Many fans were not pleased with the loot boxes, so those will be replaced with a Battle Pass system later in the year. Activision has said that all content that affects gameplay will be released for free sporadically throughout the year. Although NVG mode was removed from Quickplay, expect it to arrive to playlists in the near future.

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During the campaign mission “Clean House,” SAS operators hunt an HVT. Screen grab courtesy of Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die.

During the campaign mission “Clean House,” SAS operators hunt an HVT. Screen grab courtesy of Matt Fratus/Coffee or Die.

Based on feedback from critics and fans, Spec Ops is the least liked mode — but it’s still worth checking out. A new inclusion is Classic Spec Ops. Basically — and in an effort to avoid spoilers — four players work together to survive being overrun by a numerically superior force that has every type of weapon one would see a modern insurgency in the Middle East use. The tactics seen in recent years in Iraq and Syria show up, and teamwork is required to survive.

Spec Ops also brings back the usual suspects where players must tackle objectives to complete a mission. The maps are large, the ammo is short, and the levels can be very difficult if you decide to get your Rambo on instead of sticking together.

Overall, the latest “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” is a must-get for any first-person-shooter (FPS) gamer and hardcore “Call of Duty” fan. The revival of the series is looking bright, and despite some critics’ negative reviews of the campaign, multiplayer, and Spec Ops, the good overwhelmingly outweighs the bad.

Matt Fratus is a history staff writer for Coffee or Die. He prides himself on uncovering the most fascinating tales of history by sharing them through any means of engaging storytelling. He writes for his micro-blog @LateNightHistory on Instagram, where he shares the story behind the image. He is also the host of the Late Night History podcast. When not writing about history, Matt enjoys volunteering for One More Wave and rooting for Boston sports teams.
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