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I still remember the day when I first got to see how modern warfare is portrayed in video games. It was a gaming cafe that charged 30 bucks an hour, and it was there where I played Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II for the first time on someone else’s save file. For me, it was a dream come true; I had heard so much of the MW series but hadn’t played them ever. Heck, before that I hadn’t even played any game that had large-scale warfare going on with modern weapons! 

And that’s when I fell in love with the series, fell in love with the characters alongside whom I fought…. and mourned.  With all those betrayals, over-the-top sequences, and emotional moments, I thought those days won’t return…. until 3 years ago when Activision decided to reboot the MW series. And now we’ve got a sequel. But is it able to hold the torch as high as its predecessor? Let’s find out.

The Plot

The boys are back in town and this time we start with Simon “Ghost” Riley who’s got a major glow-up since his last appearance (and a sh*t ton of memes and fan arts including NSFW ones). Ghost spearheads a successful surgical strike against the Russian-backed Iranian forces led by General Ghobrani. But just like a Hydra, you cut one head and two more take its place—The Quds Force and the Cartels. And the Quds Force Major Hassan Zyani has come in possession of American-made ballistic missiles. Thus, begins Task Force141’s race against time across the globe to take down Hassan and recover the missiles. 

Supporting you are an assortment of new characters like the recent fan favourite Colonel Alejandro of the Mexican Special Forces, Phillip Graves of the Shadow Company PMC, Farah (Claudia Doumit) CIA Station Chief Kate Laswell, and General Shepherd himself! And we all know things are going to go sideways if Shepherd is involved; it’s only a matter of when. I won’t be going into the spoilers but I all I can say is the plot is based on the real-world assassination of Qasam Soleimani (and back then there was this meme that Activision’s got the plot for a new CoD and look where we are now!)

The dialogues are really well written and I’m a complete nut for tactical military dialogues. However, unlike its predecessor, more effort has been put into character interactions especially the banter between Soap and Ghost, Ghost’s dry humour delivered with a deadpan voice, Cpt. Price’s badass monologues (“These things take violence and timing; I can do both”) etc. And Phillip Graves and Alejandro’s whole persona are like cherries on the cake. However, despite all that when it comes to enjoyment… Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II kind of falls flat when compared to the OG.

The Gameplay

The beginning of the game sends me down on a nostalgia trip to the first Modern Warfare, especially the night vision mission. However, when I say it kind of falls flat it’s because of the game’s more grounded nature—it lacks those over-the-top ‘Michael Bayish’ action sequences that made its predecessor so great. Back then we had an actual war, and you can feel the urgency in the missions—the favela chase, rescuing Cpt. Price from the Gulag, defending Burger Town from the Russians, defending the Capitol while planes and choppers stall from the sky following the detonation of a ballistic missile. And who will forget the ‘No Russians’ mission? The new CoD doesn’t have many of these moments which reduces the pacing of the game. It’s Modern Warfare where we are trying to prevent a war instead of actively taking part in it.

However, because of its grounded approach, players are encouraged to play tactically instead of running-n-gunning like a Hollywood action hero. For starters, the leaning left and right mechanics are replaced with a ‘mount’ button that allows you to aim while resting your gun against certain wall corners or surfaces. The fact that you’ve to face the wall at a certain angle to mount unto prevents the rate at which players slide and hop around like they are playing Apex Legends. The sprint option is still there, and you can instantly change your stance after a sprint to slide into the cover.

Furthermore, the inclusion of armoured enemies ramps up the difficulty (and the game will throw them at you a LOT!). This enemy variation isn’t the most inventive as they are simply bullet sponges but encourages players to think about their strategy a little more than they normally would. Constant headshots would crack open their protective helmets allowing you to take them down with one shot. However, any fire on their body would just stagger them a bit only for them to recover and return fire. You’ve to make split-second life-n-death decisions as these armoured enemies show up alongside hordes of regular enemies as well.

Graphics, Performance and Sound

This goes without saying that the graphics especially the cinematic cutscenes are absolutely phenomenal. The facial mo-cap of Graves and Alejandro are so well done that I started watching the Behind the Scenes of the game. However, I had a major gripe with the sound design. Want to know why I feel Modern Warfare II is very slow-paced? It’s because there is practically no background score at all in the levels! And even if it is there, it’s not even noticeable! All the older CoDs had larger-than-life soundtracks accompanying each mission so playing through them (and dying in them) didn’t feel like a slog, unlike in Modern Warfare II. Maybe the devs, in their quest to make it more grounded, removed the background scores. But maybe we don’t need a grounded CoD! We need to feel like action movie heroes while listening to epic music and background explosions!

As for the performance, (sigh) nearly constant crashes when I started the game. That is, until the devs rolled out more updates that added another 25 GB to the base game. The coop missions are well optimized for online play however I faced constant stutters and choppy sounds in the campaign missions. Not to mention, I actually ran into a game-breaking bug in the endgame which literally prevented me from completing the campaign! This is a constant trend that has been observed among many AAA titles this year, and at this point, I would say, no point in playing games as soon as they are released.

Real Talk

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II has both pros and cons blended together. For every fleshed-out character and voice line, we have a mediocre plot. For every tactical gameplay, we have a lack of explosive setpieces, and for every Co-op mission, we have a grindy multiplayer where 14-year-olds describe how they had consensual intercourse with their mother. All in all, it’s a good game but it somewhat feels like it’s similar to the earlier Battlefield games (except 3) where the maximum focus was on the multiplayer instead of the main campaign. That said most of the multiplayer content will be drip fed to you over the course of the next two years. If only the devs could reduce the number of bugs in this game as it’s too much for a meagre 6–7-hour campaign. However, if you’re in only for multiplayer, it’s quite good.

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