Time played: 8 hours
Platform: PlayStation 5
“Let’s see who’s who in the zoo.” Captain Price mutters in my ear as we lie on our bellies, all ghillied up, on a ridge overlooking a cartel base. He sucks through his teeth as my sniper scope rolls over a gangster in the distance. “Two others can see ‘im,” he points out. “Try moving to a spot where you can take out two with one bullet.”
As I dart between the thick white roots of Spanish wind turbines, looking for the perfect vantage point, I stop to make an approving note on my phone: ‘Lots of room to maneuver’. Then I look back at the television. And down at my notes again. Am I just a starving man impressed by morsels?
It is true that the early missions of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II are so tightly directed as to be stifling, punishing any dithering or wrong turns with corrections in your earpiece or full-screen warnings not to leave the area. By comparison, even a small field in Spain feels like freedom.
But it’s also true that Recon by Fire, the mission that sits right at the campaign’s midpoint, is a masterpiece. Yet another riff on a classic, yes – but proof that remixing nostalgia can result in ambition, at least some of the time.
As Gaz and Price infiltrate a smuggling operation on the coastal edge of the Atlantic, Infinity Ward deftly weaves dynamic dialogue and moments of tension into a kind of scripted sandbox, where you’re often free to make your own choices: engaging patrols or not, breaching doors or smashing skylights, fighting solo or flushing out enemies with tear gas for Price to pick off from the hillside. It’s not Metal Gear Solid 5, but something closer to a player-directed rollercoaster, in which you switch the rail from one track to another according to whim.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 price and release date
- What is it? The latest blockbuster shooter in the Call of Duty series
- Release date: October 28, 2022
- Price: $69.99 / £69.99 / AU$109.95
- What can I play it on? PS5, Xbox Series X|S, PS4, Xbox One, PC
Yet the ride takes a while to get there. Whether to forefront its cinematic storytelling or for fear of overwhelming newcomers, Infinity Ward practically directs the camera for you during the campaign’s first half. You’re told precisely what to do and where to stand to see the next fancy takedown animation or exquisitely rendered Dutch church.
These missions are also repeats of past glories – namely the signature level of 2019’s Modern Warfare, Clean House, with its close-quarters combat in domestic settings, and of course Death From Above, the grayscale pummelling of tiny targets from an airship hanging high in the sky. Though well choreographed, there’s little truly novel or knotty to hold onto, and so these postcards from Al Mazrah, Amsterdam, Mexico, and the southern US border slip through your fingers, quickly leaving the memory.
That changes in Spain, and Infinity Ward keeps up the momentum for a good few hours thereafter. Look out for Violence and Timing, a winningly daft convoy chase that begins with you dangling upside down from a flaming helicopter with the road as your roof, and only gets less sensible from there. You hop from car to truck to APC as you please, hurling the drivers onto the tarmac as you take their seats and engage with Warzone 2’s vehicle handling.
Then there’s El Sin Nombre, named for the anonymous head of the Las Almas cartel. A narco mansion makes for rewarding freeform stealth, thanks to the oblique angles offered by balconies and garage roofs; the guards half-glimpsed through the slats of bedroom cupboards or peek holes of internal doors.
As with Black Ops: Cold War’s KGB infiltration, there’s a touch of Hitman here, but the influence now runs deeper than stolen uniforms and poisonings – as you slip between safe and hostile areas, enemies cotton onto your masked deception with varying degrees of awareness. You can deescalate the situation by vacating the floor you were spotted on and concealing your weapon, for instance – or embrace escalation by raiding a cartel lieutenant’s hidden armory, replacing your loadout of beer bottles and knives with M16s and chest plates. Unlike Modern Warfare II’s first hours, it’s eminently repeatable.
Even an attempt at scrappy survival horror, dubbed Alone, is largely successful – forcing you to push through a grueling period in which your protagonist is hobbled and unarmed, until you can play cat and mouse with armored soldiers using improvised mines and molotovs deployed in empty restaurants and clothes shops. The expert matching of mood to mechanics, as well as the rudimentary crafting system, brings to mind The Last of Us Part 2. Though in the storytelling department, Infinity Ward appears to be missing some of the Naughty Dog DNA from which it once benefited.
Narrative director Taylor Kurosaki left the studio in early 2021, alongside fellow Naughty Dog alumnus and design director Jacob Minkoff. Over the prior half-decade, the two had turned Infinite Warfare and Modern Warfare into convincing character studies of soldiers searching for purpose or reassurance in a quagmire of moral unease and machine gun fire. And already, it seems, their absence can be felt in this new campaign’s plotting and dialogue.
Some of the high-level choices are baffling. Kate Laswell, the CIA handler who in the 2019 reboot represented the cold utilitarianism of US foreign policy, is unwisely chosen as the campaign’s emotional center – and a last-minute effort to humanize her falls flat. Much of the rest of the script, meanwhile, focuses on Soap and Ghost – two characters drawn from a period of CoD history when a haircut and a headsock were considered adequate stand-in for a personality. What little levity there is rarely lands, and the villain carries as much menace as a copy of the Beano with the pages torn out. It’s lucky, then, that newcomers Maria Elisa Camargo and Warren Kole make the most of their mo-cap, bringing unexpected playfulness and warmth to their roles of cartel sicaria and private military good-old-boy.
Beyond them, it’s up to Captain Price’s Barry Sloane to breathe down his nose, smack his lips, and make you feel at home in Task Force 141 again. He makes you so welcome, in fact, that you almost don’t notice that this campaign isn’t quite as good as Infinity Ward’s last, which wasn’t quite as good as the one before that. And you nearly forget to worry about that trajectory.