Spec Ops is finally worth playing again. But the same can’t be said for the feeble variants of familiar competitive modes. There’s nothing in Modern Warfare II’s multiplayer that registers as truly new.
Twisting maps give you plenty to learn
Dynamic shooting and movement
Co-op is satisfying, even with strangers
New modes aren’t daring enough
Larger maps feel like Warzone-lite
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Time played: 10 hours
Platform: PlayStation 5
Among the multiplayer FPS mainstays – your Battlefields, your Overwatches, your Destinys – Call of Duty has long been the misanthrope’s choice. A team game in which you can turn off your mic and forget any coordination beyond that of your own hands and eyes; a way of connecting with the world while firmly ensuring your personal space with a sighted shotgun or silenced assault rifle.
It’s a characteristic that has been the series’ greatest strength and most frustrating limitation – and Modern Warfare 2 exemplifies both. On the one hand, quickplay is always there for you: a reliably rewarding way to while away a spare half hour, without wasting precious minutes in matchmaking or corralling friends for a squad. On the other, the lack of commitment COD asks from its players puts a hard limit on the ambition and complexity of its design. As a result, nothing feels quite novel enough – and you could easily mistake a new mode for an old one.
With Infinity Ward back in the developer’s chair for the first time in three years, there’s a noticeable lean toward small-scale, objective-based modes in which respawns are off the table. Ancient bomb-planting exercise Search and Destroy returns, alongside two new variants. Knock Out might strike a chord with fans of Halo Infinite’s Oddball, since it requires your team to keep hold of a package until a timer ends. And Prisoner Rescue, the standout addition, asks you to throw hostages over your shoulder and carry them to an extraction zone – essentially creating mobile capture points.
The latter two modes are enlivened by the ability to revive downed teammates, bringing an unpredictable ebb and flow to every match as six-person teams drop to one or two survivors, then grow in number to overwhelm their opponents again. But these moments of reversal are also dangerous to reach for: canny enemies tend to camp the bodies of your teammates, hoping you’ll crawl out from behind some wrecked car to play the hero. It’s a smart system built on small tweaks to the rules.
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
Things get shakier as the scale expands. Ground War is, as ever, a straight Battlefield rip-off about grasping for territory. And like Battlefield 2042, it suffers for a lack of clearly defined squad roles; if you don’t luck out with a tank or pack a sniper rifle, you’ll default to assault trooper like everybody else.
But at least Ground War has capture points – meaningful objectives to direct the action, swinging your head this way and that over the course of a match. Infinity Ward’s other large-scale offering, a new invention called Invasion, has no shape to it whatsoever. Two teams of 20 players duke it out, accompanied by AI soldiers whose only distinguishing factor is that they cough up fewer points on death than their organic comrades. The result is soupy and aimless, well below the Modern Warfare studio’s standards for ingenuity.
There’s nothing here so bold as Sledgehammer’s War mode, which turned the storming of Normandy’s beaches into asymmetrical assaults with distinct narrative phases. Or Black Ops: Cold War's Fireteam: Dirty Bomb, the bizarre ski resort showdown that threw small squads and vehicles together in maps blighted by player-created radioactive fallout. In fact, Invasion’s only real sell is that it takes place on chunks of Warzone 2.0’s Al Mazrah map. It’s hard to imagine that many will stay behind once the battle royale launches on November 16.
There’s greater creativity on show in the design of the smaller maps, used as backdrop for familiar deathmatches and area control modes. There’s a backstage thrill to playing on the F1-themed Crown Raceway, for instance, which draws from a similar well of gleeful absurdity as Nuketown; stand close to the level’s edge and the speed of the supercars streaming past will shake your screen. And then there’s the Breenbergh Hotel, a luxury slice of Amsterdam that pumps soothing song into your earphones as you pass through the spa.
Infinity Ward’s instinct is still to fill its maps with cubbyholes, balconies, and mezzanines, making it impossible to protect yourself from every possible angle. Instead, you’re must rely on sound and reaction speed – a distinctive quirk which many complained about back when Modern Warfare was rebooted in 2019, but came to love. It’s just a shame that Gunfight, the tight two-vs-two mode that made the very best of these studio traits, currently has no presence in Modern Warfare 2 at all.
Thankfully, Infinity Ward has dramatically improved co-op since its last entry. 2019’s Spec Ops mode was a grueling series of clip-emptying encounters with heavily armored enemies that appeared to draw more from Left 4 Dead than Modern Warfare’s own solo campaign. But this new set of levels, which sends you to blow up SAM sites or locate radioactive material using a Geiger counter, is much more varied and pleasingly paced. While stealth remains an impossibility with randomly matchmade teammates, the resulting chaos of a fumbled infiltration sees you bounce between memorable set pieces – steering a commandeered hatchback through a minefield, or a jeep onto the ramp of the extraction plane as pursuing guards fire from the back of their APCs.
Let’s count that correction as a victory, since otherwise, Modern Warfare 2 has left us short on new things to whoop about. Its disappointments may be swept away within weeks by a mammoth update, or rendered moot by the explosive second coming of Warzone. But as a launch prospect, Modern Warfare 2 doesn’t make nearly enough changes to its loadout to warrant another spin around the map.
Jeremy is TRG's features editor. He has a decade’s experience across publications like GamesRadar, PC Gamer and Edge, and has been nominated for two games media awards. Jeremy was once told off by the director of Dishonored 2 for not having played Dishonored 2, an error he has since corrected.