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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 review: Stay frosty

The 2022 Modern Warfare sequel attempts to fill the massive combat boots of its predecessor, but ultimately falls short on various levels.

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is a sequel to the Modern Warfare reboot from 2019. Players will follow Task Force 141 as they team up with special forces to thwart a potential terrorist threat. The sequel retains much of the tactical gameplay established in the reboot, while experimenting with new mechanics to freshen the experience. While the campaign delivers impressive visuals and the satisfying gunplay expected of a Call of Duty game, it struggles to reach the sky-high bar set by its predecessors. However, that’s not to say there isn’t value across both the single-player campaign and multiplayer modes.

Back in action

Captain Price returns alongside CIA officer Kate Laswell and Task Force 141 for more action in the campaign for Modern Warfare 2. Players take control of Soap, Gaz, Ghost, and other operatives as they team up with Shadow Company and special forces to track down a new terrorist threat. The campaign kicks off with the assassination of Iranian General Ghorbrani, which prompts his successor, Major Hassan Zyani, to take over as leader and seek revenge for Ghorbrani’s death. When Task Force 141 catches wind that Hassan has teamed up with a Mexican drug cartel and has come into possession of U.S. ballistic missiles, the team enlists the help of Mexican Special Forces and Shadow Company to stop Hassan before he can launch a missile attack.

A street filled with civilians

Source: Shacknews

The campaign takes place in various parts of the world, including Amsterdam, Mexico, and Chicago, as well as in fictional locations like Al Mazrah in the United Republic of Adal. One noteworthy feature about the campaign is just how visually stunning some of the environments are. This is especially apparent in missions like Tradecraft, a stealth mission that gives off major Hitman vibes. The mission involves slowly strolling along the cobblestone paths of Amsterdam alongside Laswell while on your way to crash a cartel meeting. The crisp graphical fidelity and attention to detail make for some distractingly impressive scenery and visuals in this mission alone. The audio effects and sounds are equally top-notch throughout, adding to the game’s cinematic quality.

Despite having gorgeous, realistic graphics, the gameplay doesn’t always hold up its end of the bargain. One example that stands out is having to point your gun at civilians in order to ‘de-escalate’ a situation during several missions. It should go without saying that pointing a gun in someone’s face is not a great way to try to calm them down and may even make matters worse. To top it off, the game requires players to shoot civilians if they pick up a weapon. It’s unfortunate that such an asinine feature made it into the campaign.

A dose of nostalgia

A street and explosion seen through the filter of an AC-130

Source: Shacknews

As someone who thoroughly enjoyed the original Modern Warfare campaigns, I was pleased to find that several of the campaign missions in Modern Warfare 2 were direct references to iconic fan favorites from the original series. The Close Air and Hardpoint missions are callbacks to Modern Warfare’s Death From Above, tasking players with providing air support from an AC-130 gunship overhead. Then there’s Recon By Fire, a sniping mission that serves as a nostalgic callback to All Ghillied Up.

A sniper lying down in a field using a sniper rifle covered in a ghillie suit

Source: Shacknews

Several gameplay features from 2019’s Modern Warfare have returned for the sequel’s campaign. One example is the CCTV mission, which initially involved guiding a person through an area through the use of security cameras. This time around, it’s Ghost who will be receiving your instructions on the ground. Since Ghost is a skilled fighter, you can choose whether to have him perform takedowns on enemies or shoot them from a distance as you guide him to plant a series of explosives. While it’s not the most exciting mission, I did enjoy controlling Ghost like a chess piece while strategically planning his route.

Branching dialogue options have also returned for the Modern Warfare 2 campaign. Although there is one mission that requires players to answer a series of questions correctly to succeed, the dialogue options generally don’t matter in terms of changing the story. The campaign is a linear narrative regardless, but you can at least glean some character details from the branching dialogue throughout.

Trying new things

The player shoots at a truck

Source: Shacknews

One of the new gameplay features introduced in Modern Warfare 2 is vehicle hijacking. About halfway through the campaign, there is a mission that consists of a high-speed chase that involves hijacking vehicles while driving. You have to go back and forth between controlling the vehicle you’re on and leaning out to shoot enemies. Hijacking involves climbing onto the roof of your vehicle and jumping onto another, all while moving. When your vehicle becomes too damaged, you’ll have to hijack another vehicle and repeat this process until you reach the front of the convoy. This proved to be a cumbersome task, especially at the end of the mission, as I kept falling short when leaping to the final truck. Though I didn’t mind the vehicle hijacking mechanic overall, I was glad that this was the only mission that featured it.

A fountain at night

Source: Shacknews

Modern Warfare 2 features a new crafting gameplay mechanic that gets introduced about two-thirds of the way through during the mission Alone, which is when the campaign pacing slows to a crawl. You play as Soap, who has found himself separated from Ghost and must find makeshift ways to defend himself until they are reunited. You have no weapon and are slower than usual due to the events of the previous mission. You will have to go around collecting crafting materials like bindings, wax, metal, and chemicals in order to craft pry tools, smoke bombs, and other items that will help you open doors and distract enemies.

Early on, you should be able to find a knife to perform takedowns on enemies and take their gun. However, in my playthough, the enemy I took down did not drop a weapon, despite the game telling me to pick it up afterward. Replaying the segment led to the same issue: no gun when taking down the enemy. After several attempts, I eventually changed my approach and was able to get a weapon in a different way, but it was not without struggle. The banter between Ghost and Soap is the best part, as their dialogue adds levity to an otherwise burdensome mission.

Give up the ghost

A character's face in the foreground and an explosion in the background

Source: Shacknews

Modern Warfare 2 rounds out its campaign with two boss fights that are nothing if not underwhelming. The first of these boss fights sees players chasing around a tank with C4. The boss is inside the tank the entire time, taunting you as he drives around the area. You have to go around collecting C4 from boxes to chuck at the tank to blow it up, all while armored enemies are attacking from various directions. I had hoped for the chance to fight this person directly leading up to this mission, so the fact that it culminated in little more than a clunky, repetitive tank battle was certainly disappointing. The final boss fight continued the downhill trend, combining clunky scavenging and crafting with an unsatisfying ending. I was relieved for it to be over.

 A new age of multiplayer

A character looking out over a city at night

Source: Shacknews

Alongside the standard multiplayer modes, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 introduces two new 6v6 modes, Prisoner Rescue and Knockout. The former consists of rescuing and defending prisoners and is similar to a mode like Capture the Flag. Though not my cup of tea, Prisoner Rescue can definitely be fun for players who are working as a team. Knockout is an elimination mode where players rush to the center of the map to fight over a bag of cash. There is only one life per round, though you can revive teammates to prevent being eliminated. Although I don’t anticipate playing Knockout much myself, it seems like a decent game mode for Search and Destroy players looking to change things up.

Four soldiers fighting in the street, one is carrying a person wearing a hood

Source: Activision

There’s also Ground War, which is effectively just Domination on a much larger scale, at least in the reboot. Ground War consists of a 64-player battle where teams fight to capture objectives and earn points. The mode also has vehicles like tanks and helicopters for players to cruise around in. Ground War feels a lot like Battlefield’s conquest mode, but without the ticket system. There is also Invasion, which is an even bigger Ground War mode that features a mix of real players and AI bots. While these modes were enjoyable, I found it odd that I could not spawn on my squad members in Invasion like I could in regular Ground War, as I feel Invasion would benefit from this feature.

An M4 on a bench with a weapon unlock tree UI

Source: Shacknews

One of the new multiplayer features is its overhauled weapon progression system, which the game calls Weapon Platforms. Gone are the days of having to level up each weapon to unlock its attachments. Weapon Platforms work like a sort of gun family tree that allows you to apply certain attachments you’ve unlocked to brand new weapons, provided they are from the same platform. Although the system is a bit confusing at first, it seems to be a speedier way to unlock attachments generally while encouraging players to try different types of weapons.

Spec Ops missions are back in the form of three cooperative missions that each feature their own objectives for two players to overcome. Although multiplayer offers limited split-screen support, this is not the case for the cooperative missions. Though I enjoyed the more tactical nature of co-op, it would really benefit from the ability to play locally or even offline.

During launch weekend, I unfortunately encountered an assortment of technical issues, including latency spikes and game crashes, as well as more specific glitches like having all of my class loadouts randomly reset. Currently, there is also no way to disable crossplay from within the game settings on the Xbox version. Players have to disable crossplay within the Xbox console settings to avoid playing with PC players, an unnecessary hurdle to have to overcome. Hopefully the technical problems will get sorted out when the first season begins in November.

Resting on your laurels

A squad on a boat approaching an oil rig at night

Source: Activision

Although I can appreciate what Infinity Ward tried to do with the campaign in terms of incorporating more tactical gameplay elements, some of the features were not well executed and felt out of place. I will give the developers credit for experimenting with new ways to freshen up the gameplay experience. However, the single-player ultimately misses the mark in a lot of ways. Despite having the powerful shooting and great gun handling the series is known for, the campaign suffers from awkward pacing and can be downright frustrating at times.

Modern Warfare 2 cherry-picks gameplay mechanics from other genres and incorporates them into the game under the guise of innovation. The enjoyable moments of the campaign are tarnished by unnecessary limitations, technical problems, and pacing issues. While its solid gunplay, movie-quality visuals, and exceptionally acted characters are among its most redeeming qualities, the campaign relies heavily on the nostalgia of its predecessors without creating any truly iconic moments of its own. I still recall what it was like to experience the original 2009 Modern Warfare 2’s satisfying gut-punch of a finale. Unfortunately, this year’s campaign did not end on nearly as satisfying or memorable a note.

While there are some new game modes and maps for players to master in multiplayer, there isn’t anything truly groundbreaking there, either. However, there are still a few new multiplayer features on the horizon, such as Tier 1 Hardcore playlists, that may amp up the multiplayer experience in the future.


This review is based on an Xbox Series S retail copy purchased by the reviewer. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is now available worldwide for Xbox Series X and S, Xbox One, PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, and PC.

Contributing Editor

Larryn is a content creator on YouTube and a full-time writer who has written guides and editorial features for various gaming websites. She can often be found at small gatherings preaching the gospel of The Witcher 3

Pros
  • Beautifully rendered graphics and visuals
  • Shooting and gunplay feels great, as expected
  • Nostalgic callback missions are nice fan service
  • Great character voice acting
Cons
  • New gameplay features missed the mark
  • Pacing issues throughout campaign
  • Storyline is forgettable
  • Missions can be more frustrating than challenging
  • Technical issues in both single-player and multiplayer
  • Multiplayer modes and features unavailable at launch
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