As we once again hurtle toward a crippling recession of the U.S. economy, another Avatar film, and an undying desire as a nation to attempt to rekindle past glories rather than look down the barrel of a dying world and strive toward the future, I am once again playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II. The most interesting thing I have to say about it right now is that it’s almost funny how obviously it attempts to act at once as U.S. military propaganda (as it always has) and an ambiguously political battle against ‘bad guys’ who few people would have an issue with fictitiously gunning down en-masse.
Incoming controversial opinion: I think war (and the celebration of war) is bad. I also love blowing up guys in a Call of Duty game. I have no moral objection to playing and enjoying Modern Warfare II. Blowing up not-Soleimani in the first three minutes of the game was so out of pocket and insane I had to laugh. We got him boys. War crime successful. Press L2 to de-escalate civilians. You get the idea.
The campaign is full of varied, stupid missions that are fun as hell (mostly). Hijack cars from not-Al-Qaeda after hanging upside down from a helicopter and fighting alongside the not-Mujahideen. Play another mission with British McChops where you snipe a bunch of dudes in ghillie suits. Navigate the deck of a container ship during a storm while its cargo slides from port to starboard as you try not to get shot (or crushed). There’s always a new, absurd reason to go to a new locale and shoot guys in increasingly ridiculous scenarios.
The campaign isn’t anything that’s going to linger in the collective memory of The Gamers, but it’s a fun and beefy warmup for the other modes Modern Warfare II has to offer. There were a few aspects I wasn’t as fond of — the hare-brained checkpoint system that more than once saw me restarting a mission comes to mind. Try getting blown to bits by a tank mere seconds after reloading a checkpoint — not fun. The last half of the affair picks up in pace and intrigue but is held down by some half-baked stealth missions and wild difficulty swings.
I had a good time with the campaign but found myself sticking around for the much-bemoaned multiplayer. It’s largely made the rounds that the core gameplay here is rock-solid, but the UI and “completeness” of the package are sorely lacking. I’m not going to tell you any different, but damn if I’m not having a pretty fun time shooting guys with guns.
As I squeak up against the ripe age of 30, I find myself squarely in the camp of the ‘casual’ player. I couldn’t stop thinking of this TikTok all week, featuring a man doing a half-Russian, half-Transylvanian accent attesting that he “do this for fun.” Me too, brother.
What I’m trying to say is I’m not quite as bothered by the absolutely bananas aim assist (I even switched to controller despite playing on PC, as I’m sure many others have), the absence of a hardcore playlist out of the gate, and missing barracks that would normally show your stats. I think the missing features I’ve listed are inevitably coming, and no doubt should’ve been in the game from the start, but as a no-good casual I just don’t particularly care. The camo grind, as usual, is enough to keep even the sweatiest player busy for the few weeks until Season 1 officially hits.
The maps here are pretty good, but I’m most impressed by the new Invasion mode. An altered version of Ground War, this 40v40 (20 players, 20 bots), gave me more “Battlefield moments” than Battlefield 2042 did the entire time I played it. It’s stupid fun, and a great way to jump in and grind without feeling the heat from the more traditional 6v6 game modes.
The pace of Modern Warfare II feels a smidge slower than titles of the past, due in large part to the decisions to tone down advanced forms of movement like bunny hopping. I’m in favor of this, because I’m a casual, but also because I enjoy skill gaps that are based on map knowledge and teamwork more than exploits that aren’t accessible to average players. Sure, you can bunny hop in CS:GO, but it has such a fringe use case that even the best players opt to just play the game normally. This slower pace rewards posting up and holding angles a bit more, but new tools like the hilariously effective drill charge, which kills enemies behind walls, will quickly outmatch campers.
As always, the gunplay in Modern Warfare II is mindblowing. The feel of each gun, from the visual and audio effects to their impact on the environment, gives all of them unique flavor. I spent the first day of playing getting the gold camo for the P90 SMG (frustratingly named something else, as all the weapons are, for what I’m sure are legal reasons), and it felt rewarding trying out each new unlock to see how it affected things like range and handling. There are tons of incentives to use each weapon, too, since you’ll often have to level up multiple guns to unlock their alternate-caliber counterparts and scopes. It can be a tad frustrating to be incentivized to use a particular weapon you don’t particularly excel with, but as I said before, “I play this for fun.”
I often have to remind myself that Call of Duty is an arcade shooter. Whenever I start taking things just a little too seriously, I sit back and remember I just spent the better part of a 10-minute game trying to shoot people across the map with a kinda crappy SMG, all because I wanted the cool white camo. That, to me, is what Modern Warfare II is all about — feeding you challenges and rewards with unmatched regularity, and letting you figure out how you’d like to best enjoy it for yourself.
This review is based on the PC version of the game. A code was provided for review by Activision.
Modern Warfare II will be easily enjoyed by an average player such as myself. More hardcore fans will be missing exclusions like the titular playlist, but I'm resting assured these will be on the way soon. It's a shame that not even the biggest franchise in the genre can seem to offer up a complete package at launch, but the core is solid and as fun as ever.