Call of Duty is one juggernaut of a franchise that despite its predominantly multiplayer appeal, has been home to some truly memorable single-player campaigns. The Modern Warfare series of games within the franchise has succeeded, for the most part, in their dedication to realism and “boots on the ground” feel that sets it apart from Black Ops or the WWII games.
The latest entry in the series, bafflingly-named Modern Warfare II (2022), not to be confused with Modern Warfare 2 (2009), picks up the story from 2019’s Modern Warfare. This reboot served a multi-pronged purpose for Infinity Ward as it allows them to explore familiar characters in a brand-new setting and in a different lens, and rely on nostalgia to bolster the effect of these campaigns.
Modern Warfare II packs a rather ambitious campaign that takes place predominantly in Mexico in a battle against the Cartel rather than the Middle Eastern setting that has become familiar to COD fans. While the change of scenery is undoubtedly appreciated, what makes this campaign a touch more ambitious than Black Ops Cold War’s or Vanguard’s is the introduction of a couple of new mechanics in select missions.
The majority of the campaign is the familiar COD affair – thrilling set-pieces, massive explosions, breathtaking visuals, and a whole bunch of questionable political stances. What you’ll find majorly in Modern Warfare II, if you’ve been a long-time fan of the series, is that the game, in an attempt to cater to fans, follows a rather familiar blueprint to the point that it is content in simply throwing things the way that you’ve already seen a bunch of times rather than create new stories for our characters to explore.
Call of Duty Modern Warfare II: Two Steps Forward, and Four Steps Back
As a huge fan of 2019’s Modern Warfare, I was expecting the sequel to maintain the high bar that its predecessor had set with regard to tense combat scenarios and the increasingly challenging moralities of our protagonists. Call of Duty Modern Warfare II largely ignores the nuances of its predecessor for a story that is far more jingoistic and “black-and-white” rather than the grey area that 2019’s Modern Warfare had operated in.
In the sequel, you play as various members of Task Force 141, an elite group of soldiers that are locked in battle with the terrorist organization, AQ (Al-Qatala) and the Mexican Cartel. The introduction of the Mexican cartel makes for some of my favourite moments in the campaign such as an Uncharted-style chase on the highway, a firefight in dense forests, and a densely-packed city. The story here is fairly cut and dry and the couple of twists the game throws at you are ones you could easily from miles away.
The campaign has its fair share of questionable moments, including ones where you need to aim down the sight and point your weapon at innocent civilians to “de-escalate” them. Tone-deaf and ill-advised moments such as these go a long way in taking you out of the game. While moments such as these could easily be rectified by small gameplay tweaks or dialogue lines that confirm just how blurry the lines are in the field – they are instead regarded as necessary tactics that our heroes must rely on to get the job done.
If you can ignore all of that, the campaign itself is pretty enjoyable, albeit a little repetitive and occasionally tedious. The game’s best moments come from the tense levels where you must clear out individual rooms in claustrophobic spaces, a trademark for the Modern Warfare series, at this point. A standout mission, here, “Recon by Fire” has you clearing out several buildings in succession while arming yourself with tools for the job such as Tear Gas, Mining Charges, and Flashbangs.
The occasional moment of player agency is much appreciated as Call of Duty introduces a new “Backpack” system, where you must ration your tools and take on enemies in any way you see fit. This mechanic makes a return in later stages where you are now forced to “Craft” weapons and survive by any means, which, while novel and interesting at first, dwells into complete tedium and you hope to high heavens that you are reunited with your weapons.
The campaign is about 6 hours long, and for the majority of it, the game constantly reminds you of the “good times”. That is, a large portion of these missions are simply replays of what you’ve seen in older games. There is even a sniper mission with Captain Price where you don a ghillie suit and lie waiting in the grass to let enemies pass you by, recalling the iconic “All Ghillied Up” from Modern Warfare (2007). It almost feels like a Key and Peele skit as the game is trying desperately to score nostalgia points anywhere possible.
Something I was acutely aware of from the game’s starting moments was that Infinity Ward was trying to grasp at straws to elicit any sort of visceral reaction from the player. While the 2019 game did that by presenting the player with intense moments of gameplay and brilliant moments of grey morality – the sequel settles for nostalgia. From the moment Gen Shepherd shows up on the scene, you pretty much have a good idea of how the story is going to play out, and largely, the game doesn’t deviate from that notion at all. This makes the game feel painfully familiar as it is content being in the series’ shadow rather than step outside of it.
For the most part, while I enjoyed the signature solid gunplay and movement of Call of Duty, the story left me wanting more, not in terms of length, but for quality. COD Modern Warfare (2019), in my opinion, told a much more compact story that was filled with grey moralities that were instantly more intriguing than anything I saw in the sequel.
A Visual Treat Unlike Any Other on the PS5
An area where I have little to no complaints about Call of Duty Modern Warfare II is the visual and audio department. The sound mix is beyond reproach and each gun, especially Sniper Rifles and ARs sound better than they ever have if you happen to have a good set of headphones, you are likely to have one of the most dynamic and carefully tuned audio experiences in gaming. However, the sound mix for the soundbar, while usually consistent, buries the background music way further down than it needs to.
Visually, Modern Warfare II is an absolute treat. From the lush and stark landscapes of Mexico to the faithful recreation of Amsterdam, the game rarely ever fails to impress you. A sharp, 4K monitor will bring out the best in MWII and the consistent 60 FPS will be one of the reasons you return to the campaign long after the credits have rolled. Even though the visual experience was consistently solid, the game does falter a bit in terms of performance.
Several times through the campaign, I encountered asset pop-ins such as grass, small buildings, rocks, and foilage appearing out of nowhere, which took me out of the game. The framerate rarely ever dipped below 60 and even though there were a couple of texture pop-ins here and there, the performance is largely solid.
Call of Duty Modern Warfare II presents you with a campaign that feels much more polished than Vanguard’s and Cold War’s and despite the occasional moments of falter, the experience is largely unparalleled and one can only hope more games are able to take advantage of next-gen consoles as MWII does.
Final Word: Call of Duty Modern Warfare II Campaign
The 6-hour long campaign feels far more than 6 mostly because of the increased amount of challenge in select missions that has you scrounging for items and making do without weapons. Even though the game throws curveballs at you in terms of gameplay, the story falls flat, for the most part, as it is content by simply triggering moments of nostalgia by relying on the campaigns from the series’ past.
If you’re someone who enjoys the gung-ho nature of certain Call of Duty campaigns and wants to shoot your way through beautiful sceneries and photorealistic environments – then MWII should tick all the boxes. However, if you’re someone who likes a little bit of complexity to their campaigns much like MW (2019), you will likely be disappointed by the cut-and-dry, bereft of all nuance, story that the sequel presents.
As someone who has consistently enjoyed Call of Duty campaigns, despite their questionable politics, I found myself slightly let down by a campaign that wishes to make any sort of nuanced comment on the state of things. This is a real shame since its predecessor really set the groundwork for IW to explore the grey nature of Task Force 141’s work in the field and how moral lines can shift on the go.
Despite my complaints about the story and narrative, I would still rank Modern Warfare II’s campaign in the upper half of Call of Duty’s campaigns, somewhere above Modern Warfare 3 (2011) and below Black Ops (2010).