Call of Duty Modern Warfare Review: A fun reboot obsessed with the grim & nasty

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's campaign launches with the gut-punch of a suicide bomber striding out into the middle of Piccadilly Circus, an area I used to travel through every day.

It's a grim opening that clearly communicates what Activision has been trying to market: a gritty technothriller that presents an unflinching look at warfare in the modern age.

Over the course of the game's five or six-hour campaign, I saw a bunch of things that made me wince, in addition to a few cracking set pieces that have spent the time since I played the game rattling through my head.

This is a return to the high-tech contemporary carnage that made the Modern Warfare franchise so compelling the first time, and it's like slipping into a comfy pair of trainers in play.

Movement feels fluid, while using weapons is punchy and rewarding, extra graphical fidelity adding to the feedback in gunfights, to make it satisfying whether you're unloading a heavy machine gun at approaching vehicles or picking off a lone sentry with a silenced rifle.

The high tech flavour adds a cool factor to the game, whether it's watching your character tip their rifle to the side and aim using an attached IR laser while wearing night-vision goggles, or pull up a tablet to steer a remote-controlled RC plane into a crowd of enemies mid-assault.

Feeling cool isn't everything when it comes to games, but if you can't feel like a badass during a Call of Duty campaign, what's the point?

The game starts strong, throwing several short missions at you to establish several of the characters and the state of the world at you in short order.

An early mission drops you in a few seconds before the terrorist attack taking place in Piccadilly Circus, having you fighting through a semi-accurate depiction of the Circus and its iconic digital signage.

It's perfectly paced, with your SAS trooper barrelling through streets filled with marauding terrorists and the yellow-jacketed coppers trying to stop them.

Before you have time to get comfortable, you're pulled away and thrown into the boots of another soldier, thousands of miles away.

The opening to the game does this a lot, tossing you around the globe, engaging in a variety of different missions that rarely overstay their welcome.

Although it is a shame you don't get to spend a bit more time in the earlier stages before being placed into pitched battles that will have you assaulting chemical plants, hospitals and even an embassy before the game's credits roll.

Some levels are obvious callbacks to those in Modern Warfare.

There's an All Ghillied Up analogy that has you crawling through piles of dead bodies to escape detection by roving patrols, and a mid-game disaster is clearly aiming to replicate the shock of enduring a nuclear blast seen in Modern Warfare.

These are big moments, clearly flagged set pieces that would punctuate the review of any other game.

However, it's not these bigger moments that ring true.

The most impactful level in the game is one of its smallest, which has you moving from bottom to top in a Camden townhouse, taking out terrorist threats in a claustrophobic house that really does feel like it's in North London.

With the slightly fuzzy view through the NVGs (that's nigh-vision goggles), the rules of engagement are confusing, as enemies grab for nearby weapons, hide under beds or even grab hold of their own colleagues as hostages.

During one run of the level, I fired a round through a door at someone I half-saw sprinting through a crack in the door and killed a woman running to try and protect a newborn child in a crib.

While the game didn't punish me for this, the taking of this digital life felt too heavy for me, and I quickly restarted the mission.

Most of these moments land, but there are a few bits I have to talk about because I'm astounded they were included.

Did the game need a waterboarding minigame where you, as the main character, try to survive being waterboarded?

Did it need a scene — which you can opt-out of — where you hold a revolver to the head of a terrorist's wife and child to convince him to spill the beans?

Or the scene where you, playing as a young girl, stab a Russian commando to death with a screwdriver to avoid becoming the victim of a war crime?

I felt most of these were okay in context, despite being somewhat shocking, but I would definitely prefer to never have a fun "turn your head away from the stream of water and press the left thumbstick to breathe" minigame about being waterboarded ever again.

I'm not squeamish, not even a little bit, but I think that's probably the moment where I draw the line, and while the scene did make me feel fairly uncomfortable, it didn't hamper my enjoyment of the game all that much.

Call of Duty's multiplayer is the same as you remember, although the game-changing operators at the heart of Black Ops 4 are gone, replaced with a slightly slower pace and a bigger focus on moving wtih your team.

Spicing things up a bit, you can take various different pieces of tactical equipment that will be charged up by the points you generate in multiplayer.

These will feel a little like the ultimate abilities now common in multiplayer games, but they have far less of an impact: stopping power rounds will load your weapon with a magazine or two of armour piercing rounds, which do a little more damage but will also punch cleanly through most objects.

Elsewhere, deployable cover, trophy systems and even an EMP plane are items that can invaluable in a certain situation, but are unlikely to turn the tide of a battle.

Killstreaks return, and the annoying Call of Duty trick where one fragger gets ahead of the crowd and then starts landing killstreak after killstreak continues, and can quickly turn a bad game into a miserable one, as you crouch in the mud and blood, hiding from a roaming chopper gunner by hiding beneath a table and hoping it goes away before killing you for the fifth time in a row.

In the large 20 person Team Deathmatch offerings, this gets worse, but dig into the slightly calamatous Ground War mode (Activision's clear attempt to capture the Battlefield crowd) and it's a massacre.

High damage killstreaks are constantly taking to the air for both sides, filling the maps with explosions, cruise missiles and entire flights of VTOL jets.

I do not like Ground War.

The teeming masses of enemy soldiers can feel like a solid addition, but the constant kill streaks and the addition of heavily armoured vehicles and attack helicopters upset the game's delicate balance; all in favour of worship to some strange eldritch god of chaos, stranding you in the middle of a typhoon of f**k as you try to navigate the battleground.

Some of the maps nearly work, ruined by the addition of vehicles, but one map which strands 100 players in the middle of a ruined city was hyped up as offering innovative verticality.

However, I managed to capture the unique Battlefield experience of crouching on a rooftop with a sniper, looking for the 40 snipers on the enemy team, and the handful of enemies that ignore the rooftop battle to try and play objectives.

The Call of Duty instinct here is to push, taking objectives and ground, keeping your head down from obvious sniper points and covering your advances with smoke.

But there are so many snipers, and so many different perches, that it was a near pefect example of a bad Battlefield match, encapulated in Call of Duty.

The only way to win, it turned out, was not to play. When we took to the rooftops and my squad amused themselves shooting chopper pilots out of the sky for fun it was much more enjoyable, but it lost so much of the kinetic energy that makes Call of Duty so satisfying to play.

Considering Ground War was a huge part of the pre-game marketing, the fact that it's so infuriating to play is a big red mark on Modern Warfare's largely immaculate record, the first time the game really reaches for something and really messes it up.

Ground War feels like a game mode designed in the board room, with many of its ideas wilting as soon as they are exposed to daylight.

But if Infinity Ward's big multiplayer idea doesn't pan out, Gunfight, a multiplayer mode that pitches duos against each other in a one-death-only last man standing competition, is a joy.

Gunfight arms all four combatants with the same selection of weapons and turns them loose in smaller, well-made, locations. Here, there's no regenerating health and all you can rely on is the teammate by your side, hoping that you'll be able to snag the enemy duo before they can get you.

It's one of my favourite parts of the multiplayer Call of Duty experience, despite the fact it doesn't really have any of its tropes: create a class, killstreaks, regenerating health and even equipment are absent, with the game focused on the weapon in your hand and the enemies out there in front of you, somewhere.

Rounding out the package is a return to the Spec Ops mode so beloved of Modern Warfare players, however, this Spec Ops feels different. The missions on offer are weird: one has you fighting through an abandoned airport, stealing a vehicle and fighting your way across the tarmac towards a waiting plane.

On the plane, the four of you rock and roll, blasting your way through it to get to a MacGuffin as quickly as possible.

Then you shoot your way back out, tear open the hatch of the plane, parachute to the ground and sprint for the extraction point.

It's tense, hilarious, full of neat touches and well-plotted.

On the other big missions we played, we had to blow up a series of tanks while searching for containers, culminating in a tank chase to the exfiltration, or move around the outside of a big stadium to hack something for… some reason?

That last one took us two hours and i'm still upset about it.

Spec Ops, as it stands, feels patchy.

The missions that are brilliant are truly, truly, brilliant. There's a full selection of different perks and upgrades here, with unique abilities and lootable killstreaks that should make the experience more fun.

But it feels half-baked, and if you were hoping to pull the trigger on this as a co-operative game, it's by far the weakest part of the experience.

Modern Warfare faced an impossible task.

At a time when the Call of Duty franchise, despite critical acclaim and some of the best gunfights in the biz, can't seem to draw in consumers like it used to, this is their hail mary.

Rebooting the long-beloved Modern Warfare series is a move they could only do once, and we'll have to see whether it brings the audience back in, but this is one of the most engaging Call of Duty titles for years, and I can see myself playing it for the next few months, easily.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Best Prices

Verdict : Call of Duty Modern Warfare – 4/5

Reviewed on PS4

In general, Call of Duty Modern Warfare is a tight shooter that hits most of the parts you expect from a AAA shooter, while throwing heaps of new ideas into the mix.

However, the few areas that I'm cold on: Ground War, Spec Ops and the few moments of the campaign when common sense gave way to a desire to shock needlessly… they're a bitter aftertaste to one of the best shooters I've played all year.

Pros :
• Compelling story
• Beautiful CGI facial hair
• Slick gunplay
• A true successor to Modern Warfare

Cons :
• Too much torture. Seriously.
• Ground War takes only the worst parts of Battlefield
• Multiplayer can feel too killstreak-focussed

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