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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 | Critical Consensus

Innovations in the campaign don't quite make up for uncomfortable moments in what critics overall deem a fun but imperfect Call of Duty title

'Tis the season! It's not really Q4 until Call of Duty has released, and today happens to mark the launch of Modern Warfare 2.

Infinity Ward is at the helm of this year’s entry in the Activision-published franchise, a sequel to 2019's Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, which itself was a reboot of the original title of the same name.

Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, which releases today on PS5, PS4, Xbox Series X|S, Xbox One and PC, will soon be joined by Warzone 2.0. The follow up to 2020's Warzone is still a free-to-play battle royale, and will actually roll out a bit later, on November 16.

Since Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is a multiplayer live game, most reviews are currently in progress and focus on the single-player campaign. The title is also unrated on Metacritic at the time of writing.

The 17-mission campaign follows returning characters from the franchise, and is set in 2022.

In her 8/10 review for GameSpot, S.E. Doster described the story as follows: "Playing as members of Task Force 141, you are put to the test when a United States airstrike kills Al-Qatala leader General Ghorbrani, whose successor, Hassan Zyani, vows revenge and teams up with an international drug cartel to transport stolen US ballistic missiles.

"Hassan plans to launch the missiles against United States targets and it falls upon Task Force 141 to stop this from happening. The campaign is a globe-trotting affair, sending you to fight in places like Amsterdam, Mexico, Chicago, and even parts of Al Mazrah, the fictional setting of Warzone 2.0's map. This gives a refreshing variety to the scenery from mission to mission."

"The 'good parts' come after a hand-hold-athon of railroaded levels dotted with moments of violence that feel uncomfortable at best and morally questionable at worst"Claire Jackson, Kotaku

Doster added that this quest to locate the missiles "is filled with twists and betrayal just like the original Modern Warfare 2," and that Infinity Ward does a "solid job balancing the nostalgia of the original series, while also giving a brand-new and engaging narrative."

But not all reviewers agreed on the narrative aspect, and how Modern Warfare 2 handles the sensitive topics in its six-hour long campaign.

In an unrated review for Kotaku, Claire Jackson goes straight to the point from the very first sentence: "There’s a good game buried in Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. But the 'good parts' come after a miserably slow, hand-hold-athon of railroaded levels dotted with moments of violence that feel uncomfortable at best and morally questionable at worst."

She added that MW2's story felt like a "paint-by-numbers trip" that is "pro-war" and "pro-military intervention," and noted issues with pacing. She described one of the early missions.

"The difficult, questionable levels of violence begin early on," she wrote. "The game’s second mission, 'Kill or Capture', requires you to not only clear out a building full of wounded soldiers who can barely raise a gun at you, but it also tasks you with murdering someone grieving over the body of a person your forces just killed. And no, you can’t just walk away. Though they grab a weapon themselves and fire at you, they are clearly cowering in a bathroom and are not dressed in military garb. Yet you have to kill them for the level to continue through to the next sequence. I was physically uncomfortable playing this scenario."

Equally uncomfortable missions occur later in the game as well. Earlier this week, a tweet from streamer Hasan 'HasanAbi' Piker went viral as he showed a part of the game where "de-escalating civilians" is done by pointing your weapon at them.

Jackson noted that "eventually the game’s tone changes a touch," with things ending up a bit more nuanced than expected, but it appears to be too little, too late.

"The game portrays international politics as a kicked-hornet’s nest of prior events that, while still holding up special forces troops as the good guys, appears to acknowledge, at least, that the United States is not some innocent actor who must save the world from the bad guys who don’t speak English," she wrote.

In an unrated review for the Washington Post, Mike Hume also exposed his issues with MW2's narrative, saying that the way events are told in the game "don’t really feel like considered meditations" but rather feel like "shock value."

"Regardless of where you fall on the political spectrum, border security and the killing of a military leader of a country with which the US is not at war are heady, multifaceted topics," he wrote. "And yet these are the sorts of subjects Call of Duty games typically home in on, seeking to offer up the kinds of gritty, ripped-from-the-headlines plots that animate films like Zero Dark Thirty and Sicario.

"But in contrast with those films, Call of Duty offers these up as setpieces – just empty calorie spectacle. It’s no surprise then that these games often attract criticism for, at the least, appearing distasteful, or worse, villainizing entire nations. It’s a shame, because aside from the handful of questionable storytelling decisions, Modern Warfare 2 provides a welcome, hard 180 from the substance-less veneer of Vanguard’s campaign. What’s more, the varied and gripping gameplay far outshines its story."

"But in contrast with those films, Call of Duty offers these up as setpieces – just empty calorie spectacle"Mike Hume, The Washington Post

MW2's narrative also doesn't seem to follow up on Modern Warfare's story in a satisfying way, Sherif Saed explained in his 4/5 review for VG247.

"On its own, this is yet another story about an Arabic-speaking brown dude from the Middle East who’s staging a terrorist attack in the West. The squad must hop between different parts of the world, including the obligatory mission or two in Europe, to prevent disaster. It’s as rote as they come.

"As a sequel to Modern Warfare 2019, however, it strangely avoids dealing with the events, consequences, and state of the world established by the end of that game. You wouldn’t need to know that the two key drivers of that game’s ground-breaking narrative left to head up a new studio to realise that something changed in the intervening years."

But most critics agreed that, story aside, Modern Warfare 2's campaign offers an enjoyable experience. Kotakus's Jackson regretted a very rigid structure that inherently lacked fun at first despite a very high level of polish, but the game does seem to open up in later levels.

"There’s no denying that Modern Warfare 2, at its core, is a slick, well-polished first-person shooter with very good graphics. The problem, however, is that the game doesn’t want you to have too much fun with its toys or explore much of its environments. And it’s buggy around the edges in a way that’s even more unfun."

She continued: "I had fun in the second half of the game and wanted more of Modern Warfare 2’s gunplay, but holy hell was I bored to death for quite a few hours before the fun kicked in."

These later levels seem to bring fun in a variety of forms unusual for a Call of Duty title, with what Jackson described as "a greatest hits of all the car-chase sequences from Uncharted," and later on more stealthy missions reminiscent of The Last of Us, or a "prison-break level" with elements comparable to Watch Dogs.

"In many ways, this is the most inventive and bold campaign we’ve seen from the series, ever. If you’re looking at it purely from a gameplay point of view"Sherif Saed, VG247

Saed also enthused about the diversity of the missions, saying: "Modern Warfare 2’s campaign, on the one hand, is a very standard shooty-bang-bang jaunt across the globe with enough rah-rah attitude and military lingo to almost become its own genre.

"Having finished it nearly twice already, however, I was consistently surprised by how much more it offered than I thought it would (and could!) going into it. In many ways, this is the most inventive and bold campaign we’ve seen from the series, ever. If you’re looking at it purely from a gameplay point of view."

He added that "almost every second mission flips the script in some way, starting off with a standard style before switching gears to play with an experimental idea or demonstrate a surprising new use of mechanics."

Doster enthused about how MW2 "adds a new crafting layer to the game" and highlighted some more open world aspects, "giving you more opportunities to explore different tactics for a fight."

"Some stealth missions let you scour the area for the perfect sniper point to line up a collateral kill, while others just give you multiple pathways to decide how you want to attack or sneak past your enemies," she continued. "This freedom isn't as vast as playing an open-world RPG, but the added exploration and opportunities is a welcome change to Call of Duty's usual led-by-the-hand campaign style."

Saed added that Modern Warfare 2 at times feels "very un-CoD" due to these different approaches being explored, saying: "The discovery is part of the joy, and the game often shows restraint; rarely tipping its hand about the different paths you can take or potential items you can craft."

However, as a Call of Duty veteran, GameSpot's Doster noted a spike in difficulty compared to recent entries, which led to what she considered "one of the campaign's biggest issues," which is how it handles checkpoints.

"[Checkpoints] were spread out pretty far in some missions, and I would have to replay a large chunk of a mission all over again if I died, while other missions saved my place at awkward points in the action," she wrote. "Several times I died and respawned right near the enemy who just killed me, and it made for a tough recovery, especially in the stealth missions. Sometimes I respawned only to die almost instantly, and there were times where it seemed I was only able to push forward out of sheer luck."

"My time with Modern Warfare 2 was a blast, and truly feels like Infinity Ward created this campaign as a greatest hits list for the series"S.E. Doster, GameSpot

But, concluding her review, Doster shared a very favourable opinion of the title, hoping that the variety in the mission becomes a more permanent fixture of the annual franchise.

"The success of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2019 left big shoes for the sequel to try and fill, but overall, Modern Warfare 2 is a strong successor," she said. "I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed the freedom to tackle scenarios in my own way, including all the carjacking. The variety of locations from mission to mission also ensured there was never a dull moment.

"My time with Modern Warfare 2 and Task Force 141 was a blast, and truly feels like Infinity Ward created this campaign as a greatest hits list for the series. My surprise enjoyment of the added open-world set pieces and new maneuverability gives me hope that these elements of freedom may become more of a staple for the franchise, and that’s a future for Call of Duty that I can get behind."

Jackson's conclusion was a bit more nuanced, with the boredom of the early levels and the issues with the stories overshadowing the title's innovations.

"After finishing the campaign, I found myself itching for more of the game’s combat," she wrote. "But sadly, all I was left with was a boring-as-hell opening set of levels that are only loosely made up for with level structures lifted from other AAA games later on. And I have little desire to play through the sequences where I’m shooting people who don’t feel like a threat. I guess there’s the multiplayer to look forward to, but this campaign is a wildly missed opportunity for those who enjoy military-themed first-person shooters."

Author
Marie Dealessandri avatar

Marie Dealessandri

Features Editor

Marie Dealessandri joined GamesIndustry.biz in 2019 to head its Academy section. A journalist since 2012, she started in games in 2015 at B2B magazine MCV. She can be found (rarely) tweeting @mariedeal, usually on a loop about Baldur’s Gate and the Dead Cells soundtrack.