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Spec Ops is the downed soldier that Modern Warfare 2 needs to revive

Infinity Ward's opus, Modern Warfare 2.
(Image credit: Activision)

Bullets whiz past my brother’s face as he runs across an almost desolate airplane boneyard. He sprints towards me as I sit atop a decommissioned transport aircraft. I take a deep breath and aim my rifle towards what’s chasing him: a man in near-impenetrable Juggernaut armor. 

The slug hits the Juggernaut’s helmet but he merely staggers. Stray enemy shots cripple my brother, forcing him to crawl towards me, desperate for revival. The haunting soundtrack by legendary composer Hans Zimmer is doing neither of us any favors. I slot another bullet into the armored man just as he steps onto the aircraft’s wing. 

I could jump off the dead plane. But one doesn’t simply run when a teammate is down. Desperate, I switch to an automatic weapon and empty a magazine of bullets into the behemoth. 

The Juggernaut doesn’t even flinch as his machine gun returns us to the Mission Failed screen. My brother and I exhale, letting go of the pressure building up in our lungs.

Infinity Ward's opus, Modern Warfare 2.

(Image credit: Activision)

“We just got our arses kicked!”, barks Captain MacTavish. He’s one of the central characters in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s explosive campaign from 2009. But this was no campaign mission. This was Snatch and Grab, one of 23 offerings from the game’s Spec Ops mode.

This year’s Summer Game Fest offered a glimpse at Infinity Ward’s next title – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The name isn’t the only evocation of the noughties, with iconic characters like Captain Price, Gaz, and Ghost returning to duty. Modern Warfare II aims to be both a spiritual successor to the classic MW2 and a leap forward for the series. And that means delivering more than a competent narrative and a solid multiplayer offering. There’s a third part of the triumvirate to get right.

Bored of hordes

To Call of Duty fans who sunk countless hours into collecting stars across Spec Ops missions, which first appeared in 2009’s Modern Warfare 2, delivering a focused co-op experience is just as important. Spec Ops is to Infinity Ward’s COD entries what Zombies is to Treyarch’s Call of Duty: Black Ops. And while 2019’s reboot did feature a Spec Ops mode, it underwhelmed fans with its focus on run-and-gun tactics and endless enemy spawns. Its crushing difficulty was also criticized by longtime Spec Ops veterans.

Missions set across the landscapes of Modern Warfare II, punctuated with noteworthy objectives and tactical firefights, would be a surefire way to win back Call of Duty fans clamoring for more Spec Ops. From favela shootouts and snowmobile chases to hiding in a cafe or breaking out of prison, the original Spec Ops presented a diverse set of premises to lose yourself in. Being forced to revive a downed teammate even lent MW2 a tense and rewarding survival aspect – a rarity at the time, and perhaps an inspiration for new mechanics today.

Winning on higher difficulties always felt like escaping certain death by a hair

Each of Spec Ops’s five original sets offered missions with clear bumps in difficulty. In addition to the best of MW2’s timeless campaign setpieces, the mode also had new scenarios, like piloting an AC-130 gunship to support your teammate on the ground. The final missions expected you to take out Juggernauts with nothing but explosives and a knife. Winning on higher difficulties always felt like escaping certain death by a hair.

Infinity Ward's opus, Modern Warfare 2.

(Image credit: Activision)

With Modern Warfare II, Infinity Ward has the opportunity to build on what worked the first time around. A curated mix of the campaign’s best hits with a couple of unconventional extras could flesh out Modern Warfare II’s claim to the FPS throne. While its immediate predecessor focused on grueling encounters with hordes of foes, MWII could readopt the careful consideration and earned spectacle of 2009’s Spec Ops.

All ghillied up

I’m talking about missions where the only noise you’ll hear is your silenced sniper rifle as you outwit camouflaged ghillie snipers with surgical precision. Missions where, when you finally break cover, you’ll make impossible leaps on your snowmobile in a race against time, or smash through enemy riot shields at an airport terminal ambush. 

While some players prefer the expansive maps and four-player loadouts of Modern Warfare 2019, I’d rather be dropped into a tight level with one teammate and a curated bunch of weapons to pick from. Stripping perks and loadouts from MW2’s Spec Ops amped up the adrenaline back in the day.

Co-op flaws aside, Modern Warfare 2019 got a lot right. Infinity Ward managed to catch the dangling rope after the stumble that was Infinite Warfare. Tight gunplay – which sounded great – coupled with revamped visuals set the stage for an exciting Call of Duty comeback. Modern Warfare’s gripping campaign narrative reminded fans of the franchise’s glorious past, while battle royale mode Warzone introduced millions to Call of Duty’s infective formula. It’s a more-than-solid foundation to build on for the future.

Infinity Ward's opus, Modern Warfare 2.

(Image credit: Activision)

If the new Modern Warfare 2 leans into live service ambitions, like any other mainstream shooter in 2022, I wouldn’t be surprised if its co-op missions are served to us one spoon at a time. My hope is that would lead to something meatier than survival arenas masquerading as Spec Ops missions this time around.

According to a Bloomberg report (opens in new tab), 2023 is set to go by without an annual Call of Duty release for the first time since the series began. With rival title Battlefield 2042 in a rough state and Halo Infinite languishing as a result of content scarcity, Infinity Ward has a real chance of breaching the sacred FPS throne room. Rumored to be drawing inspiration from Escape from Tarkov, I’m hoping that the studio’s new vision for co-op borrows ideas from its own closet of trophies too.

Antony Terence