STAFF REVIEW of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (Xbox One)

Thursday, October 24, 2019.
by Kirby Yablonski

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Box art The Call of Duty franchise has been going strong since 2003. For me personally, my first COD experience was on the Xbox 360 during the console’s launch, as Call of Duty 2 was released at the same time. There have been numerous games since. While the first 5 years or so focused on World War 2, a shift in the timeline occurred, and that change was COD 4: Modern Warfare. It was a ‘modern’ take on war, and there were three Modern Warfare titles in this franchise. The franchise has been set in other time periods released, including stories set in the future, but many fans have longed for another Modern Warfare chapter, and for those fans, that time has come.

Activision flew us down to an undisclosed location to review the game early. Over the course of a few days, we had the chance to play the single player campaign, duel it out in the online multiplayer, and try out the spec-ops mode. Although Modern Warfare does not have a number after it, it is indeed a brand-new story in the series. It’s a reimagining of the original, and once you finish you’ll see how this story fits in to the timeline. Developer Infinity Ward is once again at the helm, with some assistance from from the folks at Raven Software and Beenox.

There are two new major changes that I want to address right off the get-go. The first, and one that most gamers should already knows given the Beta was out a few weeks ago, is that Modern Warfare is the first COD to be crossplay compatible. Players across PC, PS4 and Xbox One can now play together in PvP matches. While some may worry that mouse and keyboard can have an advantage, there is an in-game filter that will match you up with only people using a controller if that is what you are using.

The other major change that has been made to the franchise, and one that I wholly endorse, is that the game’s XP progression carries over mode to mode. Any progress, such as weapon items, perks, kill streaks, camouflage, etc., carries over to the other modes. This feature alone is almost a game changer for the franchise, in my opinion. If you play the campaign and cooperative spec-ops modes more than PvP, don’t worry, you’ll level up along with all the weapons that you favour. If you just play PvP, of course things will level up for you too, and if you want to play a bit of cooperative or the campaign, you’ll carry your XP into those modes as well. This feature rewards the hardcore COD fans and casual fans of the franchise alike.

Single Player Campaign

Make no doubt about it, Modern Warfare’s single player story pulls no punches, and it has some scenes that will make you think. When I say that, it’s not because they are over the top, or overly gratuitous in their violence or content, but they reflect what is going on in the real world. You’ll witness public hangings, mass graves and public beatings in the streets. I winced now and then, not from the actual subject matter, just from the fact what I saw on-screen caused me to reflect that people in the real world are living circumstances in the Middle East very similar to what happens in the game. You’ll also come across instances where you are given a choice of what to do during some key scenes. Think of it as a test of your ‘moral compass’. I won’t spoil anything by telling you what these are, but when you get to them you’ll know. I had a brief discussion to Narrative Lead Taylor Kurosaki, and he stated that he and the dev-team really wanted to have players think, and talk, not only about the story in Modern Warfare, but also to think about the real world, and given what I played, and experienced, I have to say they have truly done this.

The story is linear in fashion and you control numerous parts of it. You’ll find yourself in various European cities as well as the Middle East as you take on a few different roles, from CIA operative Kyle Carrick, Rebel Leader Farah Ahmed Karim to SAS Kyle Carrick. Each role adds to the narrative which has a few twists and turns throughout the game’s 14 chapters.

I appreciated the back story to some of the characters and that you are given the opportunity to play as some of them during different time periods and events that influenced their life path. This is very evident when considering Rebel Leader Farah Ahmed Karim. You not only learn what the turning point for her was during her childhood, but you’ll play as her during this ‘revelation’. I found learning about a character’s motivation for what they do a great addition. This also creates a real connection to these characters.

I played the single player campaign on normal and took my time going through the various chapters. It took me around 5 hours or so, which depends on the gameplay skill setting you play on and the gameplay style you stick to.

In terms of Modern Warfare’s presentation, I found everything very solid. What was very noticeable is the new graphics engine that Infinity Ward uses. It is very much a step up from what fans are used too. From the lighting or character animations to the environment and the details in the weapons, no one should be disappointed. Going between in-game play and in-game cut-scenes is flawless, as they pretty much look the same in terms of quality and textures. You’ll find the nighttime scenes amazing to look at as the moonlight cuts through forested areas, explosions light up an area while city streets take on a different look depending on day or night, all of it is simply impressive. The details put into every weapon is amazing too. From various metal finishes, the way that a weapon fires a bullet, or series of bullets, to the way each weapon discharges a spent bullet shell, or series of bullet shells, you’ll find a lot of intricate details here.

Performance wise, the frame rate maintained relatively solid and I did not notice any slowdown or tearing while playing, even with lots of action on-screen at once. I did check out the game in 4K and HDR on the Xbox One X and I have to say it looked gorgeous. When I asked about taking advantage of the more powerful mid-generation consoles, I was told that the game was optimized by Infinity Ward Poland, and that each strength of each console (base and mid-gen upgrade) has been taken advantage of. Exactly what was done for the Xbox One X specifically I don’t have exact details, but it looks fabulous on the 40-inch 4k HDR TV I played on in my home office.

As for the audio, this again is another area that seems to have been improved upon. At the review event we were using Astro wired headsets (A40s), and at my home office I was reviewing the wireless Astro A50s, Gen 4, so I played the game using this headset. I felt like I was in the middle of everything that was happening on-screen. Switching to my sound bar, although there was a loss of being in the middle of the action (no surround), everything was very discernable, from the chatter of my squad, the music that was playing, to all the sound effects during battle. Speaking of music, it manages to hit the right level of intensity no matter what seems to be happening on screen. Whether I was using a headset or my soundbar, the sound could get extremely busy, but not in a way that was distracting.

I really want to take some time here to comment on the weapon sounds. The best way that I can put it is that they sound “impactful”. From the handguns and, SMGs to LMGs and Assault rifles and more, each weapon is very distinct sounding, and there is a lot of oomph when you fire them. Even the sound of a spent shell exiting a weapon is prevalent and very unique to each gun. It really is that good.

Spec-Ops (cooperative)

Let's get the ‘Elephant-in-the-Room’ out of the way right now given we are an Xbox centric site. Yes, there is a 1-year timed exclusive spec-ops mode for PS4 owners, and yes, I am very much not a fan about this. The mode is a horde like mode called Survival. In the end, it is one mode in the spec-ops world, and to tell you the truth, it’s not a deal breaker. I do agree with those that do not approve of this kind of business practice, as Xbox One owners pay the same price as PS4 owners, except Xbox owners get one less Spec-Ops mode. However, after playing what is available to Xbox One owners, I really don’t think this is a big issue gameplay wise and it is more about the business practices of Sony and Activision (positive or negative). Ok, with that being put to rest, let’s go.

Spec-ops is a four-player cooperative mode. There are two flavours for and that is operational and mission based. In terms of that latter, the game’s story continues in the mission-based spec-ops, while the operations based variant is more about matchmade challenges completing a multi-stage operation. We spent most of our time in the operation mode. Before we started playing, we were warned that spec-ops is very challenging and requires your team to work together and communicate. I have to tell you; they were not kidding. Make sure to choose a specific role that will be advantageous to you and your whole team.

The first mission we took on required us to download data from various points around a sports stadium and try to get out alive. It seemed manageable at first, as enemies would came at us during each download, but as we progressed the difficulty got harder and it never let up. It was crazy as enemies came from all around, and they were relentless in tracking us. We made it about three-quarters of the way through before we finally succumbed to the incredible number of enemies attacking us. We faced terrorists, juggernauts, snipers, and more. We tried this operation a couple more times, but we continued to get overrun. The next operation required us to infiltrate an airport, but I knew we were in trouble from the get-go as during the first wave of enemies there were two juggernauts who decimated us. We managed to get farther after a few more attempts, but again, we ended up getting overrun, and getting separated often. The final operation we tried had us heading straight into a military base, but as soon as we passed the gates, all hell broke loose. This happened repeatedly, and no matter what we did, enemy upon enemy attacked us from all directions, and a helicopter or two made things rougher. Add in a couple of juggernauts (again) and damn, we struggled.

My biggest complaint isn’t so much that it was tough as nails, it is that there was no break in the action if you finished a certain step. For example, once we downloaded the first and second batches of data in the first operation we played, I would have appreciated a break in the action; however, there was none. Enemies kept coming whether you were defending the download area or not. Add to this fact that enemies come from everywhere, even after you’ve cleared an area. The other issue is how quick you go through ammo. Although you have a chance to equip a crate to supply ammo, or can find guns that deceased enemies drop, you still must be very aware of ammo management. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not about just about firing your gun with careless abandonment, but still, you really have to be on your ‘A’-game regarding your ammo as there are very few sources.

I hope that there is at least a realization by the dev-team that things just may be TOO tough for some players. While I fully agree that challenge is good, but if you just can’t succeed at the missions, giving a group of players a chance to change the difficulty would be something positive. However, the challenge of spec-ops also may encourage more gameplay for the completionists out there..

Multiplayer (PvP)

When we played PvP we did indeed play on an optimal network, but for the love of god, it is just like playing online in the wild after the initial impact of launch week when the servers get his hard early, so we think it’s fair to review the PvP here.

COD games have always had a huge following regarding the PvP play, and with Modern Warfare the dev-teams involved have made efforts to add new features to freshen things up. Along with their usual online PvP modes (e.g. Domination, Team Death Match or Headquarters) you’ll find some new things to play right of the hop, like Cyber Attack, Realism, Gunfight and Ground War.

Cyber Attack is best akin to a Search and Destroy mode. You retrieve an EMP device and try to plant and set it off near your enemy’s data center. This mode gets intense as teams battle for position and try to stop the EMP device from being activated. Getting down to your last couple of players (you can also revive each other) can be intense as you only have so much time to destroy the device after activation before it goes off. First team win to five rounds wins the game.

Realism is a new mode that I found interesting. This mode eliminates much of the regular COD interface for more of a barebones on-screen HUD. You’ll see that weapon reticles that are not part of the actual weapon are gone, and you’ll have to judge, and hope, that some of your weapons will hit their target (e.g. grenade launcher on bottom of assault rifle). It adds a bit more skill to the game as you compensate for the lack of such features.

Gunfight is a 2v2 mode that I didn’t think I would enjoy but ended up liking a lot. It’s a simple premise, as you are on a team of two playing against another team of two, and weapons change each round. There is also a variant called OSP Procurement where you find guns placed around the level. Each area for Gunfight is small, full of cover, and easy to traverse. All in all, it is a great way to play with a friend and hope for the best as the firefights can become intense, and somewhat crazy at times.

Finally, there is Ground War, and this is the biggest mode in the game in terms of player count and level size. You will find that the mode can range from 20 vs. 20 to as high as 32 vs. 32. During the review event I heard one of the dev-team say to their staff “keep an eye on the screens, we are going to 60 players”. This included all the media that was there (around 40) plus members of the dev-team that were not at the event itself. It was crazy playing in the largest levels of the game with so many people. The mode consisted of each team fighting for control of up to five zones at the same time. Each environment has so many different areas you can go to as they are pretty much open up to exploration everywhere. You can even get to the roof of various office towers and snipe from above. I ran up a virtual 13 story building to the roof and ended up taking potshots as people below, as well as those on other rooftops. Although I didn’t come on top of the scoreboard, I had a lot of fun in this mode exploring the levels, taking zones, and exploring more ways to get to certain areas on the map.

Like the single player campaign, the visuals are great. PvP uses the same graphics engine and you can tell. From a bright hazy day in the city (Ground War) to those modes where night vision is required (NGV mode), you’ll see so many details in each of the games 21 PvP maps. Although the number of maps is large, some of the maps are geared for specific modes, while others are interchangeable. Regardless, there are a lot of maps along with a lot of modes in Modern Warfare’s multiplayer arena.

One of the key things I noticed when playing was the physics engine. In past games I felt that the multiplayer was a bit ‘arcade-like’. This feeling, in my opinion, was when running, jumping (bunny hopping) and the general feel of getting around a level. After a few games I looked at one of the dev-team and asked if there was a change in the physics. He just smiled at me for a bit, asked for some explanation as to why I thought that, and then he informed me that they overhauled the multiplayer physics. The best way I could describe it is that it doesn’t feel ‘floaty’, and the bunny hopping is not nearly as prevalent. If anything, it feels better, and dare I say more realistic. From jumping/traversing over barriers or through windows to mounting your weapon on a door frame, wall corner, or concrete barrier to steady your aim, it all feels more fluid.

You can customize your loadouts to your hearts content. Given that Modern Warfare’s XP carries over in all modes, you’ll be unlocking guns, weapon attachments, and perks a lot. You will be able to visit the game’s Gunsmith where you augment the weapons you use in battle and assign them to specific loadouts. But be careful, as you only have so many ‘points’ that you can use in terms of augmentations and/or perks for your weapons. There is so much to experiment in this area that you’ll come up with many ways to run and gun. Of course, you’ll also find a wide variety of killstreaks that have made COD PvP the game mode it is.

Finally, I want to talk about Microtransactions. This was something that Infinity Ward/Activision wanted to address prior to us even seeing the game. We were told that there will be microtransactions; however, if the item is functional in-game then it will not be behind a paywall. This meant a lot to many of us listening, as what they are saying is that the game is not ‘pay-to-win’, and that with crossplay being enabled for Modern Warfare, they want everyone to have the same in-game experience. They have also recently announced a battle pass system, so you’ll know what you are paying for.

As a whole game experience, I am very happy with Infinity Ward’s new take on the Modern Warfare franchise. It is a very well put together game, from the reimagined single-player campaign, the 'hard-as-nails' cooperative mode (spec-ops) to the addictive and refined PvP with crossplay, no loot boxes, and an upcoming battle pass. The new graphics engine looks great, the sound is well done, and the controls make for an enjoyable time with the whole package. Many people doubt COD every year, but it’s with confidence that I can recommend that people think about picking up this game, as not only is it fun, but it will make you think too, given what the narrative team has done with the story. Oh, and one quick tip, make sure to check out something after the credits have rolled.

Overall: 8.9 / 10
Gameplay: 8.9 / 10
Visuals: 9.0 / 10
Sound: 9.0 / 10


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