What is it? The next Call of Duty, and a precursor to Warzone 2.0.
Expect to pay: $70/£65
Release date: October 28, 2022
Developer: Infinity Ward
Publisher: Activision Blizzard
Reviewed on: RTX 3060, Ryzen 7 5700G 3.8Ghz, 16GB RAM
Multiplayer? Up to 64 players
Link: Official Site
Modern Warfare 2's greatest strength is that it doesn't have a gimmick, because it doesn't need one.
All Modern Warfare 2 needs to be is a great shooter, and it delivers. This is the Call of Duty experience, deconstructed, reconsidered, and obsessively optimized over 15 uninterrupted years of iteration. I know when I'm playing a Black Ops game because it has offbeat arcade modes and the latest iteration of Nuketown. I know I'm playing a Modern Warfare game because the shooting is so finely tuned that I want to take my Gunsmith build out to dinner. Infinity Ward has officially mastered the instant gratification of aiming down sights and deleting targets.
That goes a long way, though some of Modern Warfare 2's biggest swings, such as revamped progression and a genre-bending campaign, are less elegant. It also suffers from an obtuse UI, fits of crashes, weird bugs, and the unexplained absence of basic features like stat tracking. But altogether, it's a good year for Call of Duty.
I said in 2019's CoD review that Modern Warfare "sets the bar high for first-person gun feel." Consider Modern Warfare 2 the new bar. Ballistics are once again physically simulated (not hitscan), but you wouldn't know it from playing on regular 6v6 maps. On arena maps with short sightlines, guns behave like lasers that instantly tag targets. Jump into a 64-player Ground War match and the same guns accommodate to firefights spanning entire city blocks, requiring players to lead shots and account for bullet drop. It's kind of wild how flexible and seamless the system is—even in the most recent Battlefield, a series that's dealt in simulated ballistics for 20 years, guns are a little too slow up close.
Modern Warfare 2's silky physics compare favorably if you've been playing Vanguard for the past year, or even better if you've stuck with Cold War for the last two. I never quite got over Cold War's noticeably sluggish hit detection; it'd take around 5-7 frames for point-blank shots to register in my tests. Under similarly unscientific testing conditions (me counting frames in replays recorded at 60 fps), MW2's latency is a far less noticeable 2-3 frames. It's not clear to me exactly how many factors are at play here. It could be that Treyarch's guns appear slower because they are slower by design, but regardless, Infinity Ward's interpretation is better.
As a counterbalance to Modern Warfare 2's wicked-quick ballistics and time-to-kill, Infinity Ward has pumped the brakes on operators themselves. In terms of movement, this is by far the slowest CoD in recent memory. Established traversal techniques like slide canceling and bunnyhopping, much to the dismay of CoD's loudest fans, have been deliberately abolished. The minimap, breaking with 15 years of tradition, no longer highlights enemies as red dots whenever a shot is fired. Traditionalists will tell you these tweaks are bad for the series—that they "lower the skill gap" or encourage dishonorable camping—but this paints an incomplete picture.
By gluing our boots more firmly to the ground, Call of Duty has finally created the space to be a more methodical, dare I say tactical, FPS. For the first time in years, it is actually a better idea to tread lightly, hold angles, and listen for footsteps than full-sprint down every straightaway and bunnyhop around corners. And allow me to formally debunk the camping paranoia—yes, at some point a guy named I_Just-Shot-Ya will set up on top of a building and look through a scope for the entirety of your match, but so far this is no more common than we're already used to. In fact, the arrival of my new favorite throwable, the Drill Charge, makes it easier than ever to dislodge a comfortable camper.
My only gripe is that Modern Warfare 2 doesn't go far enough. The omnipresence of the UAV means that I still spend way too much time glancing at the map for red dots. The threat of sudden destruction at the hands of overpowered stealth bombers, chopper gunners, and miniature tank drones remains constant. I'd Ctrl+A+Delete all killstreaks from the game if it were up to me, though I reckon a move that monumental would create an angry mob outside Activision.
When friends ask me what I mean when I say "Modern Warfare's guns just feel better," it's easier to show than tell. Here's a clip showing the firing and reloading of one of my new favorite guns, the Basilisk revolver (crank the volume up too):
The Basilisk, in both size and stature, delivers on the promise of hand cannon, and it's cool that I could've told you that had I only heard it fired from half a mile away. We think of Call of Duty as arcadey and unsophisticated, but MW2 disrupts that reputation. Infinity Ward demonstrates its care for fidelity and intricacy. Individual bullets in Modern Warfare 2 snap downrange and send rippled, gradually-waning shockwaves through the air. It's not just about whether or not the guns look cool and make loud sounds (though both apply here)—MW2 cares just as much about the routine actions that get FPSes from A to B. Reload animations bask in tacticool mastery with stylish yet efficient magazine swaps that'd get the John Wick stamp of approval.
That Basilisk revolver has three different reloads depending on how many rounds are left in the chamber, including a distinct animation for reloading two spent casings without replacing all six. Sound effects are what tie it all together: In the clip above, I counted eight unique scrapes, clicks, and metallic clangs for just one reload animation. I wonder how many of these 88 compressed gigabytes on my SSD are raw audio.
The little stuff has a real impact on the big stuff. The foundation of modern Call of Duty is constant repetition, and when I'm not feeling particularly motivated to matchmake into my sixth straight round of Domination for the promise of a gaudy suppressor or mildly cool digital camo, I can always find the fun in Modern Warfare 2's perfectly tuned FPS fundamentals. It's a piece that was missing from both Cold War and Vanguard, and likely the reason I didn't stick with those games but maintained a steady relationship with MW2019.
Call of Duty might as well have coined the advice "if it ain't broke, don't fix it," but Infinity Ward got a little too ambitious with Modern Warfare 2's iteration of Gunsmith.
Leveling up guns is now the only path to unlocking other guns that are part of the same family. So if you, like me, rushed to try out the FSS Hurricane, the SMG variant of the M4 with a wonderfully weird magazine that looks like you're slotting a graphics card into a gun, it's not as simple as "get to level 20." You have to work down the M4 tech tree, starting with the standard M4 rifle, graduating to the FTAC Recon (the DMR variant), and eventually the Hurricane. I love the intention here—tying guns of various types to a single platform formalizes a cohesion that has always existed in Infinity Ward's arsenals. It's cool to scroll through the AK-47 family tree of assault rifles, LMGs, and SMGs and compare/contrast. By testing out the many interpretations of a single gun, the distinct characteristics of the platform shine through, like the AK's theme of high damage checked by wobbly recoil. That said, our new tech tree future has some huge, gaping holes that have yet to be filled.
For one, attachments are a freaking nightmare. Like guns themselves, all attachments are now married to progressions of specific weapons. Infinity Ward pitched Modern Warfare 2's attachment changes as a convenience—now when you unlock a red dot sight for the MP5, it's available for all guns that can use that sight. Sounds straightforward, but what Infinity Ward didn't mention (and what the game itself does a poor job explaining) is that all of Modern Warfare 2's 100+ attachments have each been assigned exactly one gun capable of unlocking it.
This has already led to many confusing trips to the Gunsmith. The worst part is paging through MW2's many layers of menus to unravel a confusing web of unlocks. Here's a particularly extreme case of me wanting to get one of my favorite optics, the SZ Mini, for my SCAR rifle:
- Find SZ Mini sight within Gunsmith
- Discover it is unlocked by reaching level 11 with the Lachmann SMG
- Oops, I do not have the Lachmann SMG. How do I unlock that?
- I see, you get the SMG by reaching level 12 with the Lachmann 556
- Yikes, don't have the Lachmann 556 either. Lemme guess…
- Yep, unlock the 556 by reaching level 13 with the Lachmann 762
Earning the SZ Mini used to be as simple as using the gun you want to put it on. Modern Warfare 2 turns a process that used to be automatic into a list of byzantine chores. The problem is twofold: it takes too long to unlock attachments, and it's hard to know what it is you're even chasing. The only way to view a gun's unlocks is a horizontally-scrolling menu that shows tiny pictures of attachments with no option to click through for details. You can equip a gun and edit it to see a complete list of each attachment type, but if you don't know exactly what you're looking for already, it's a needle/haystack scenario. I never used to mind vague attachment descriptions when unlocks were passive, but now that I have to make a conscious decision about which grip, scope, or stock to pursue next, the lack of clarity is infuriating.
I believe there is a version of this system that makes more sense. Infinity Ward has tried to shove a spreadsheet's worth of tiered unlocks and intermingling dependencies into elegant, streamlined menus. You can't have it both ways. It'd also be nice if there was more than one way to unlock attachments (maybe the occasional ability to skip the progression line and instantly unlock a scope would do the trick).
Unexpectedly, one of my biggest barriers to enjoying Modern Warfare 2 has been keeping it running long enough to finish a match. Crashes have been abrupt and frequent during launch week—I've been booted to desktop 14 times in the last week.
Some of these bugs, like one that'd reliably crash the game after partying up with friends, have been fixed, while others persist. I can't seem to stream the game on Discord for more than 20 minutes before it conks out, but a crash seems less likely if I close my stream. This is the rockiest CoD launch I can remember, enough that you should consider holding out for a few more patches to play uninterrupted. Infinity Ward has made it clear crashes are a top priority. One good sign: yesterday, a bug in Nvidia's latest video drivers causing graphical glitches finally got a hotfix.
I've also recognized a few old bugs from Modern Warfare 2019 creeping into the sequel, particularly little menu annoyances. Sometimes my friend's operator will be holding my gun on the main menu. Icons for attachments often fail to load, text will overlap itself, and jumping between game modes on the playlist screen takes a weirdly long time to load. I mention this stuff not because it's unacceptable (giant games have bugs), but because this is the sort of stuff that never actually got completely fixed in MW2019. Six months into that game's run, I was still guessing which of my loadouts were which because all the icons on the in-game menu were blank. I hope that doesn't happen again.
Other than those glaring crashes, Modern Warfare 2 is a pretty great PC port. At 1080p, default high settings, DLSS set to Quality on my RTX 3060, 6v6 maps are a smooth 90-110 fps. Ground War holds up surprisingly well with a tripled player count, though expect a 5-10 fps drop. Considering how gorgeous the game is, I'm impressed by the engine's flexibility and the malleability of its graphics settings. There are so many knobs to tweak that "Shadows and Lighting" is its own section with nine different dropdown menus. MW2 supports not one, not two, but five different AI upscaling techniques.
New to MW2 is a "Quick Settings" section that's always immediately available at the top of the pause screen. By default this section has a few obvious settings players like to tweak often, like master volume, display mode, and mouse sensitivity, though the best part is that it's entirely customizable. Hover over any setting, press C, and it becomes one of your 15 favorites in Quick Settings. This is genius.
I'm saving the best for last: the settings menu has a search bar. A freaking search bar, for options! For the first time in perhaps any videogame ever, I didn't have to enter a scavenger hunt to find subtitles. I just searched for it, and it was there. I didn't even know I wanted this feature a week ago and now I don't want to live without it. It's these quality-of-life touches that make me appreciate that, despite CoD's history of spotty PC ports, Activision is taking the PC platform seriously by dedicating an entire studio, Beenox, to the job. The work shows.
Oh that's right, this gargantuan multiplayer shooter also has a very pretty seven-hour campaign that oozes "expensive" from every corner. As covered in earlier impressions, Modern Warfare 2's campaign is more about living a series of spectacular moments than following its rote geopolitical drama. This year, Call of Duty trades a fictional corner of the Middle East for a fictional corner of Mexico, Las Almas, controlled by a cartel. That cartel happens to be harboring the international terrorist in Captain Price's crosshairs.
Infinity Ward saw the enthusiasm around the return of Captain Price and Gaz in MW2019 and has raised us one Soap MacTavish and a Ghost. The campaign really likes to indulge in the return of its spec ops quartet. The opening mission concludes with a reintroduction of Ghost presented with the same reverent, legendary air of Han Solo's return to Star Wars.
At first I thought Infinity Ward was assigning unearned esteem to characters that, at their original peak, were one-note "follow me" companions created to be picked off one by one—most people only remember Ghost because of the way he's killed—but honestly, these meatheads carry more nostalgic power within me than I thought. I did get excited when Ghost first appeared, and I even liked seeing Soap's stupid mohawk again (a fashion choice that stands out a lot more than it did in 2009). The gang still brings almost nothing to the table in terms of personality, but occasional moments of in-mission dialogue choices (think Titanfall 2) are a modest attempt at selling them as a brotherhood.
The campaign's 17-mission run is a healthy mix of familiar corridor shootouts and digressions into gimmicky experiments. You won't find Treyarch-style multiple endings or side quests, but there are a few truly memorable missions. My favorite, Recon By Fire, is an evolution of Call of Duty 4's iconic "All Ghillied Up" mission with a sandboxy twist. I also loved the first half of Prison Break, which briefly turns an FPS into an isometric tactics game as Soap guides Ghost through a risky solo infiltration via CCTV cameras.
I'm still thinking about how cool those moments were now two weeks later, but the highlights are stained by some real stinkers, too. That one mission from the trailer where you jump from truck to truck like a government-sanctioned Nathan Drake? Too long, surprisingly boring, and janky as hell.
I'm glad Modern Warfare 2 opts for a generally lighter tone than MW2019's embarrassingly edgy attitude, but it's a bummer that Infinity Ward can't seem to make a campaign without a handful of moments that feel uncomfortably giddy about the morally black world of special operations. Team Price are the heroes of the story, and yet one mission is dedicated to exploding the hell out of a small Mexican town from an AC-130. I'm not expecting a reflection on war on the level of Spec Ops: The Line, but you'd think at least one of these righteous freedom fighters would acknowledge that the mission was a total disaster as they drive away from a pile of rubble.
These moments undercut the inter-squad relationships that Infinity Ward tries to build in the quiet times. It's hard to enjoy any sense of comradery after moments where I'm aiming a gun at civilians to "de-escalate" them, for example.
It's easy to look at Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 and write it off as "just the same thing again." And yes, Modern Warfare 2 is 'yet another' CoD with M4s, red dots, kill streaks, and a fun (but conventional) 7-hour campaign. But to me and the millions of enthusiastic fans who play these games every year, Modern Warfare 2 isn't the latest Call of Duty game—it's the latest Infinity Ward game. And nobody does Call of Duty better than Infinity Ward.
In the three years since Infinity Ward made the best CoD in years with Modern Warfare 2019 and then shipped the immediately successful Call of Duty: Warzone, the series has been moving backwards. Cold War was a fun distraction with flashy '80s locales, approximately a billion modes, and boring guns. Vanguard, armed with the MW2019 engine, was a better shooter, but also a WW2 revival that nobody asked for.
Modern Warfare 2 is exactly what I was asking for. As the stewards of Call of Duty filling the gap left by no new game coming in 2023, and the upcoming Warzone 2.0, Activision is putting its full weight behind Infinity Ward as a lead studio. Modern Warfare 2 is a good argument that they're the right folks for the job.