Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II (MW2) isn’t supposed to be a remake of Infinity Ward’s 2009 game of the same name. Both games are developed 13 years apart. But offer completely different sensations long after their campaign credits roll and the first multiplayer match ends.
The 2009 shooter felt like a shooter ahead of its time by doubling down on its shooting mechanics and cinematic flair. Infinity Ward’s latest reboot sequel tries to capitalize on its predecessor’s magic. Sadly, it puts itself on the opposite side of a memorable experience for new and veteran players.
Its return to the present day comes refreshing since Activision rebooted the series with Modern Warfare (2019). In a full circle, players got to conduct clandestine missions in Black Ops: Cold War and fight Nazis again with Vanguard. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II’s core setting takes players back to a familiar brand of conflict and translates incredibly well as a design philosophy for multiplayer. The campaign reflects a setting of war done with dangerous levels of intelligence. This sees the return of Task Force 141, a covert military group tasked with staying ahead of threats before disaster happens.
Without spoilers, Modern Warfare II is a self-contained ride of its own. Players are safe to skip on the first game without losing any story beats here. It’s an accessible story that is best enjoyed without asking too many questions left over from Modern Warfare (2019). Task Force 141, made up of Captain Price, Sergeant Kyle “Gaz” Garrick, and Lieutenant Simon “Ghost” Riley make a welcome return. The story also brings back John “Soap” MacTavish, who serves as a main playable character with a few surprises.
The campaign tries to take a life of its own until familiarity sets in. Players are caught in a tug-o-war after a high value target is assassinated by 141. A short prologue sets players off on a globe-trotting set of missions to prevent a nuclear revenge plot. It’s hardly the most original or exciting Call of Duty plot to come from Infinity Ward and writers. The campaign tries to glue a variety of ideas together to break its own shooter mould. But also takes players further away from the core shooting experience that once defined Call of Duty.
Call of Duty invests in a lengthier story mode for the first time in years. Here, missions are broken up into 17 bite-sized sequences. Respectably, the campaign spans a good seven to eight hours with retries. I won’t give away how each of the levels bridge into MW2’s bigger picture for its upcoming multiplayer seasons. But there’s little to remember from a messy compilation of concepts. These aren’t limited to a car chase inspired by Uncharted 3 and a few Sicario-steeped levels to satisfy action film fans. Cheesy action one-liners and cheeky Modern Warfare callbacks included.
“Modern Warfare II is a self-contained ride of its own.”
Its opening levels start strong by paying tribute to the first game’s “going dark” identity with plenty of shooting and an immersion of being a covert operator. Infinity Ward adds some levels of creativity with “Wetwork” that introduces stealth mechanics underwater. “Close Air”, “Recon By Fire” and “Dark Water” are levels that feel like wonderful callbacks that satisfy veterans expecting them from past Modern Warfare games. Respectively, these levels give players that core trigger-happy experience Call of Duty.
For some reason, players are given less agency in a game filled with scripted moments. As a sequel, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II puts all its choices towards trivial dialogue over level approach. Saving these sequences are punchy performances by a lesser known, but stronger cast. Gaz and Price aren’t afraid to poke fun at each other. Soap and Ghost sell a convincing bromance that washes away some sadder moments from games before.
When Modern Warfare II deviates from its roots, Infinity Ward gets too carried away with spitballing stranger concepts at players. Levels like “Alone”, “El Sin Nombre” and “Countdown” go backwards by forcing players to ask questions first and shoot later. But Infinity Ward gets credit for adding critical thinking and immersing players deeper into the story. Here, players rely on resources and a new inventory system to outsmart enemies. While I felt thrown off by seeing Call of Duty flirt with survival horror mechanics, they surprisingly challenged me throughout.
“Call of Duty invests in a lengthier story mode for the first time in years.”
In true series’ fashion, Call of Duty still stands on its own two feet with a highly replayable multiplayer mode. It’s an online mode that outshines a less-inspired campaign. Players looking for the most definitive present-day online shooter will find it in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II. Multiplayer feels much more polished at launch, starting with its mix of classic and original modes. Infinity Ward has clearly taken some notes from the past three Call of Duty games (MW, Cold War, Vanguard). In fact, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II even adapts brand-new modes each of those respective games brought to the table.
Team Deathmatch and Free for All still gives players a satisfying experience that sticks to its roots. Infinity Ward still gets bogged down with delivering a classic multiplayer that doesn’t push any boundaries. They also get credit for making its 6v6 modes feel as fast-paced and methodical as players want. Hardpoint, Domination and Headquarters are objective-based modes that encourage teamwork to capture point zones. With friends, these modes feel more tactical than ever with the right callouts. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II feels more fulfilling with teamwork that shines through multiplayer objectives.
Search and Destroy feels deadlier than previous games with slower, coordinated attack plans and a dash of intelligent gadgets to help. I didn’t mind the Counter-Strike inspired Prisoner Rescue mode that tasks teams with defending or recovering two hostages. These refined game modes continue pulling Call of Duty deeper into its potential as a tactical shooter and competitive experience of its own. Ground War brings back an outrageous 32v32 mode that feels fun once players embrace the chaos.
Vehicles, large-scale battles and conquest-based objectives fill in the war-sized void missing from its campaign. In a tribute to the original 2009 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, Infinity Ward adds a Third-Person Mode. It’s still clunky with a few suggested polishes, but more than satiates the curiosity for long-time Call of Duty fans who questioned the mode into existence. But this playlist still throws in a number of modes to send players back into the SOCOM days and feels damn great to see in action.
Players are much deadlier than ever thanks to Modern Warfare II’s tight controls. Infinity Ward further improves mobility by making every motion – from sprinting to sliding and mounting – feel reactive at a button push. There aren’t any missteps as players can parkour through environments and naturally take campers out from ladders. It’s still faster to switch to a sidearm than reload.
MW2 makes this clear with a quickdraw ability that feels incredibly satisfying to pull off when ammo runs dry. Across campaign and multiplayer, improved tactical movements are there for players to act more on instinct. While keeping frustrating accidents to a minimum.
I’ll spare you a separate article for Modern Warfare II’s finely-tuned arsenal of weapons. At launch, every weapon already packs high stats and reflects how dangerously powerful they can be with attachments. Classic MW weapons, including the M4, P90, Aug, Desert Eagle, MP7 and Benelli shotgun all make a return to make MW2 stand out. New additions like the FSR Hurricane, FTAC Recon and HCR 56 add new design concepts that feel fun to see in the field.
“While most killstreaks are classic, in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, they each feel satisfying to deploy when they matter most.”
Players can modify these with Gunsmith 2.0, the new and improved system to customize weapons. Infinity Ward has gone out of their way to make stats including bullet velocity, recoil, handling and mobility emphasized. I found it much easier to pick the right parts to make my gun faster, further or rapid. MW2 packs one of the biggest catalogues not limited to barrels, lasers, muzzles, ammunition types, scopes, grips and stocks. These feel extra rewarding to unlock with progression. While MW2’s planned seasons and Battle Pass only find new ways to incentivize players.
Rewards also come in the form of killstreaks over Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II’s multiplayer. Players can expect UAVs to map out enemies, Cruise Missiles that send enemies indoors and VTOLs for clearing enemies. For newer additions, Modern Warfare II takes notes from Cold War with a fun Bomb Drone that delivers C4 to enemies.
A Cluster Mine scatters explosives that’s useful for corridors and taking out runners. To add a cherry on top, Infinity Ward brings back the nuke in the form of a Mass Guided Bomb (MGB) after nabbing 25 kills in a row. While most killstreaks are classic, in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, they each feel satisfying to deploy when they matter most.
Players can come up with all the fun scenarios across some more creatively designed maps. At launch, there are a total of ten Core maps and five larger-scale Battle maps. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II serves up a more complete offering for players to enjoy before updates. Each of these maps also offer a variety of winding paths and lanes for players to experiment with.
Snipers have plenty of high points to perch at. Runners can bash their way through doors and get straight to the point. Modern Warfare II fine-tunes its level design for more versatility. While Infinity Ward’s maps keep players moving as a result. This leads to fast-paced matches along with Search and Destroy modes that feel even more fun to approach.
Maps like the Crown Raceway and Mercado Las Almas feel unique to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II with tight corridors and room for long-range firefights. Breenbergh hotel packs indoor combat with lots of verticality and peeking. Embassy opens the floor for setting traps and features lots of windows for surprise enemies. My personal favourite includes the Santa Sena Border Crossing, which takes another page out of Sicario for tense gunfights through car wrecks and a narrow strip for head-to-head confrontations. Infinity Ward masterfully brings a suite of maps that cater to various playstyles. While I’m more than excited to see how the list grows with every free DLC season.
Surprisingly, Modern Warfare II’s most under baked mode comes from its “Special Ops” Coop mode. At launch, players won’t get much to do for PvE. Where Modern Warfare brought a decent list of objective-based missions, its sequel only has three to work with. Players can complete these missions in a shorter time than expected. While having a buddy along can fast track the drill of mowing down enemies and making it to the finish line. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II takes noticeable steps back by removing the arcade aspect which made past coop modes fun.
It’s easily one of the weaker aspects that needs work as the DLC seasons start rolling in with more missions. For some reason, Infinity Ward holds back on its highly replayable Survival Mode in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II. The mode is touched on with Defender: Mt. Zaya that pits players against six waves of enemies. But this quickly loses its lustre as players can clear this mode with a limited time.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II (2009) came at a time when first-person shooters still needed a foundation. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II (2022) drops into a saturated era for the genre and struggles to raise the bar Infinity Ward set for themselves. There are plenty of reasons here for the franchise to pause on annual releases and wind up with a higher quality package.
Even with this all said, the new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II still fills the void with a modern take of the iconic series. It still checks the boxes for an annual entertainment package with a story and online multiplayer. But it sticks to what it knows to stand out as a household name for gamers. At the end of each multiplayer session and campaign replay, I still warmed up to the idea of Infinity Ward channelling their old habits for better or worse.