Modern Warfare 2's Ground War mode puts Battlefield on notice

modern warfare 2 ground war
(Image credit: Activision Blizzard)

I wasn’t always just a Battlefield guy—I also love a good twitchy, 6v6 Call of Duty match, but a cerebral palsy diagnosis in college benched me, leaving my days of chasing weed-themed calling cards and golden skins in the dust. I lingered and languished in DICE’s digital warzones, a walking memoir who “could have gone pro”, fondly recalling gnarly killstreaks and insane quickscopes like Roy Batty at the end of Blade Runner.

Modern Warfare 2’s explosive Ground War and Invasion game types have brought me off the CoD bench and back into the field, brilliantly synthesizing the tight gunplay and accessibility of MW2 with the large scale maps of Battlefield. 

I spent a lot of time in Modern Warfare 2019, but rarely ventured outside of Warzone, Team  Deathmatch, and Hardpoint, only ever queuing into Ground War during bouts of extreme boredom. As a longtime Battlefield fan, the shortcomings of Infinity Ward's first crack at 30v30 Conquest were plain as day to me—bad maps, worse spawns, and the tacit refusal to balance the armory, it was a poor mimicry of the massive battles that DICE specializes in.

Modern Warfare 2’s Ground War builds on the original mode in some key ways that are so good, they have me hesitant to return to DICE’s struggling series. 

Modern Warfare 2’s five Ground War maps are awesome, channeling the chaotic energy of Battlefield 3’s infamous Operation Metro, but with wide open spaces to support vehicles and killstreaks. If you thought Santa Sena was chaotic in 6v6, its 32v32 variant is a whole other ballgame. Ground War is, for me, the only part of the Modern Warfare 2 package that channels the out-and-out absurdity of the 2009 original. The nonsense on display here is uniquely hilarious—seeing scores of B2 bombers flying low over the border wall to wipe out a Mexican cartel armored column feels like pulling back the veil on the deeply deranged writing room that gave us the original MW2’s white house level.

modern warfare 2 ground war

(Image credit: Activision Blizzard)

It’s not just the theming that makes these maps a joy, though. Take Taraq, a cross-stitched composite of every Call of Duty map that takes place in the Middle East, where the playing field seamlessly pulls together a blown-out downtown, an oil field, and a mosque into a gigantic sandbox to play out the most devastating imperial conflict of the millenium (so far). The oil field’s rolling dunes wrap around a loving recreation of a fan-favorite map, Rust, with loads of cover and sightlines too wide to effectively control. The game slows down to a crawl in these outskirts, unless your team is rolling tanks and heavy air cover up to the point. 

The Battlefield comparisons feel most relevant when behind the wheels of Modern Warfare 2's new suite of vehicles. There’s a new heavy tank, cargo helicopter, and Armored Personnel Carriers, the latter two fulfilling transport roles. Anyone on the team can jump into one of these heavily armored tactical insertions and park them anywhere, allowing a steady stream of Seal Team Six knockoffs to swarm any flag. 

The helicopter doesn’t even need a pilot, really—you can just set it and forget it in the air and it'll hover. Sadly, vehicles still have the same stiff handling from Warzone, often resulting in vehicle combat feeling like a match between two scaled up RC cars. It’s nowhere close to Battlefield 1’s legendary tank battles, but given that DICE can’t seem to get that lightning to strike twice, it’s hardly a dealbreaker.

modern warfare 2 ground war

(Image credit: Activision Blizzard)

Rather, the ease and fluidity of infantry to vehicle combat (and vice versa) ferments some really great interplay. None of the vehicle-mounted cannons deliver precise enough fire or near enough splash damage to serve as an overpowered solution to swathes of massed infantry, and use of the Double Time perk to sprint for longer effectively neutralizes suppressive fire long enough for daring C4 and thermite plants. It’s truly Battlefield in micro, very much appreciated given the tendency of DICE to dump swathes of negligibly beneficial vehicle upgrades and unlocks onto their vehicles. 

Ground War forced me to make a bit of a mindset change from my usual lizard-brained CoD routine of stubbornly dumping SMG fire from the hip. Those tactics can work here, but some wonky controller only aim assist meant that I was easy pickings for quick-scoping teenagers.

My best performing matches were the result of a playstyle I’ve never associated with CoD before: patient and observant play. My gameplay looked and felt like one of those pre-recorded Ubisoft demos, carefully using every tool in my kit to maximize my chances of survival. I was using the mounting system to peek around corners, constantly monitoring my spare ammo and grenades, and always keeping an eye out for where my deployable cover kit could give our boys an edge in a sideways firefight. My best weapon is the M16, tuned via gunsmith to increase the recoil just enough to reliably have the third bullet connect with the head when aimed at the chest.

modern warfare 2 ground war

(Image credit: Activision Blizzard)

Gunsmith is great for a lot of reasons, but I think it really lives up to its potential in Ground War and Invasion by providing an open-ended sandbox that rewards earnest engagement with its systems. Finally, the dozen variations of grip tape and stocks have a purpose. 

The user experience isn’t all there yet—I’ve been playing crossplay with a friend and we suffered simultaneous crashes on PC and PS5, a genuine first for crossplay in general. This was apparently a known bug with parties that Infinity Ward says should now be fixed. While that specific issue isn’t a Battlefield problem (yet, give it time), Modern Warfare 2’s server stability, netcode, and performance are altogether better than most Battlefield games on launch, and CoD’s level-based progression is just a much more accessible way to unlock weapons and tools than Battlefield’s awful challenge-based unlocks, the worst of which made you play the terrible dogfighting maps on janky European servers with >150 ping to unlock a drone that you use twice.

I also want to call out Invasion, a Ground War variant with slightly fewer players (20v20) that populates the field with dozens of easily dispatched AI-controlled grunts, TItanfall style. It’s a real boon for casual players, with mobs serving as a buffer between aggressive squads of players, giving those at the bottom of the scoreboard something to blow away and contribute to the team score. It’s perfect for those days when my hand pain is out of control and I have a scope I’m dead set on unlocking. 

Modern Warfare 2 (opens in new tab)’s Ground War and Invasion game types are hammering the Battlefield pleasure centers in my brain. At the end of the day, we’ve only got a set amount of leisure time available to us, and my disability means I’m always gonna be hesitant to jump headlong into hours leveling guns and chasing unlocks in another modern military shooter. Infinity Ward's 64-player offerings put DICE on notice—whatever’s next in the Battlefield series, it should be inspired, stable, and better than the side modes of its competitor.