Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (PlayStation 4) Review

By Justin Prinsloo 06.11.2019

Review for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare on PlayStation 4

Infinity Ward has returned to the fold with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, a reboot/re-envisioning of its eight-year-old namesake. Staple characters from the original return, albeit in a setting that feels grittier and more rooted in realism than any Call of Duty entry before it. The series has been on a weird journey, from World War II to jetpacks and back. This instalment feels like Call of Duty taking stock, returning to neutral ground to assess its place in the world.

2019's Modern Warfare is Infinity Ward's first Call of Duty since 2016's mediocre Infinite Warfare, and it arrives at a time when its subject matter treads the line of being poignant versus feeling overbearing in the world's current political climate. This, of course, is exactly what is needed from a game that is quite literally about modern warfare: an experience that highlights the horrors of the conflicts that aren't given enough balance in the media. It's difficult to stay away from politics here, as Modern Warfare is so rooted in the volatile hodgepodge of Western and Middle Eastern relations, but every effort will be made to ensure this review focuses primarily on the game aspect here.

This is, without a doubt, the most grounded and realistic CoD to date. Not only is its Campaign about international terror extremely believable (if a little too saturated by Hollywood tropes), but its gameplay is weightier and physically believable in a way that the responsive but floaty controls of previous entries never has been. The graphics, of course, are phenomenal: especially in cut-scenes, but also during routine gameplay. The lighting, character models, and environmental details are some of the best this console generation has seen thus far. The sound design, too, is excellent, serving to heighten the immersion posed by the photorealistic environments. Bullets distinctly crack and whistle, varying according to what gun they're fired from and where you're positioned when you hear them go off. They have a very different sound depending on if you're the one doing the shooting, or you're being shot at from a distance. Ambient sounds are great as well and the cast of voice actors do an incredible job of bringing their characters to life.

Gameplaywise, this is still classic Call of Duty. Movements are snappy and smooth, and the controls remain the same they've been throughout the franchise's lifetime. Animations have been reworked however, most noticeably when it comes to the guns. As if in resistance to the tide of motion capture rendering that is now commonplace in the industry, the gunplay is animated entirely by hand. This could go so wrong with the heightened realism everywhere else, but it's been done superbly. The animations look realistic and punchy, no doubt exaggerated for some satisfying emphasis - particularly with the reload animations. Nevertheless, it works.

Screenshot for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare on PlayStation 4

Bullets themselves now have realistic trajectory more akin to Battlefield than Call of Duty. This is, naturally, most noticeable with sniper rifles - aiming for an enemy at long distance now requires compensating for distance and windspeed. Of course, for many players the lack of these believable physics was what made past Call of Duty games so enjoyable: it was always the more arcade-like experience adjacent to Battlefield's striving for realism.

After being omitted from Black Ops 4, Campaign mode returns here. Partially set in the fictional Middle Eastern country of Urzikstan, it follows a sect of freedom fighters lead by Farah Karim as she teams up with CIA operative Alex to overthrow a ruthless group of terrorists operating in the country. Elsewhere, SAS forces lead by fan favourite Captain Price fight against the terrorist threat in Europe. Story missions follow the familiar formula of alternating between characters stationed in different locations, notably CIA operative Alex, SAS Sergeant Kyle Garrick, and the aforementioned Farah. Many of the levels adopt a less linear slant than previous entries which leaves some room for players to approach missions their own way. A standout example is the provocative 'Clean House' mission which sees SAS operatives storm a London town house that is suspected of harbouring a terrorist cell. Player-controlled Sergeant Garrick has complete kill freedom, and who you designate a threat as you navigate the multiple floors of the house is completely up to you. There is no "mission failure" message if an unarmed civilian is shot during the fray, leaving the fate of every person in the house, women and children included, entirely in the hands of the player.

This offers some much-needed freedom in the staple Call of Duty gameplay loop. Not all the missions nail this quite as well as Clean House, but it certainly speaks to a desire on behalf of the developers to raise awareness about the impact these situations have in the real world. Modern Warfare 2's infamous 'No Russian' mission has been channelled throughout this reboot's campaign, even if it is as more of a slow-burn and with a little more subtlety. While choices made throughout the campaign don't quite have the weight of the original Black Ops, they are nevertheless felt.

Screenshot for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare on PlayStation 4

The story itself is the best the Call of Duty series has had in a long time. It can't quite escape the trademark overstuffing of cheese and clichés, though - it's still very Hollywood, which is sadly ironic given that it aims to be more universal in its view on the Middle Eastern conflicts. Still, it tries its best to cleave as close to realism as possible without being totally overbearing, resulting in an action-packed five-or-so hours that are very enjoyable. There is, however, the issue of the overbearing quantity of Call of Duty games - the franchise has been on a yearly release cycle since 2005's Call of Duty 2.

There's no doubt that most CoD instalments are good in their own right, but wave after wave of them is becoming monotonous. It is an experience that will always have a place in modern gaming - at its core, mindlessly shooting at things is cathartic, pure and simple. Infinity Ward and Activision know this. Thankfully, Modern Warfare's campaign at least prompts players to consider why they're always shooting, and if they even should. It doesn't quite land many of its points, but it nevertheless poses some important questions. For this, it is to be commended.

On the other hand, the multiplayer experience is a bit of a mixed bag. With the added element of realism, it demands more of a tactical approach to combat but in the process manages to feel like it's emulating Battlefield more than anything else. This wouldn't be a bad thing but for the fact that it fails to add enough of its own personality to truly warrant praise. The biggest failure here is in the collection of maps. They've been designed to feel a little more organic and realistic, resulting in map sizes that range from large to over-large, leaving the experience often feeling empty in the legacy game modes. Camping is the worst it's ever been, but it's difficult to blame individual campers for this. If anything, the map layouts reward camping thanks to the sheer quantity of vantage points and snug corners. It quickly becomes a frustrating experience that climaxes in the sad realisation that the best way to "get good" is to find a nice spot and pitch a tent yourself.

Screenshot for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare on PlayStation 4

The 32v32 Ground War mode is the best way to play, as even though the maps here are obviously gargantuan, there's enough going on to not feel singled out by an annoying sniper all the time. This is so clearly emulating Battlefield though, and again fails to add enough of its own personality to distinguish it as a Call of Duty experience. This isn't to say it's not fun; on the contrary, it can be extremely enjoyable. It just feels as though by trading the run-and-gun kicks for realism, CoD is having an identity crisis.

This impression isn't helped by Modern Warfare's co-op mode, Spec Ops. Spec Ops is an extension of the Campaign, narratively taking place after the events of the story. It introduces the task of defeating various terrorist cells around the world with some mates. There are multiple specialisations to choose from so teams can be the desired balance of assault and support. Once the posse is formed, missions can be tackled that house multiple objectives and require the player to take on waves of enemies.

The concept is great, but the execution is sadly bumbled. The difficulty is very poorly balanced, resulting in unnecessarily tough missions that ultimately demand adopting a singular approach, despite being advertised as non-linear affairs that can be tackled in multiple ways. Enemies seem to show up out of the blue and don't stop coming from every angle, rendering any attempt at strategy obsolete. Stealth, of course, just isn't viable.

Spec Ops is likely to be Modern Warfare's least trodden mode, what with a good campaign and serviceable multiplayer. The versus modes, for their failings, are held up by some great technical optimisations - matchmaking is as smooth and pain-free as ever. Everything, from the menus to the majority of the matches themselves, feels slick and responsive. The polish is evident even if the quality of the product itself is not. That being said, there have been whispers of some classic Modern Warfare maps being added in a future update. This will go a long way in making the experience feel a little homier.

Screenshot for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare on PlayStation 4

Cubed3 Rating

7/10
Rated 7 out of 10

Very Good - Bronze Award

Rated 7 out of 10

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare refreshes the formula by rooting itself more firmly in realism and adopting a grittier approach to both combat and to its Campaign's story. The gameplay is the smooth experience expected from the franchise and results in some fun, memorable Campaign moments and a handful of enjoyable multiplayer ones. The Spec Ops mode is a bit of a mess but could easily be fixed with a patch, while the majority of the current multiplayer maps leach the enjoyment from the classic CoD formula. Ultimately, this is a steady-as-she-goes experience that walks a good walk but fails to capture a truly elegant stride.

Also known as

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019)

Developer

Infinity Ward

Publisher

Activision

Genre

Shooter

Players

2

C3 Score

Rated $score out of 10  7/10

Reader Score

Rated $score out of 10  0 (0 Votes)

European release date Out now   North America release date Out now   Japan release date Out now   Australian release date Out now   

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