Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Campaign Review

It has been a while since we have been here. For the first time since the first Black Ops I prioritised the campaign of a Call of Duty game before the multiplayer. With each yearly entry, the importance of the CoD campaign has diminished before entirely disappearing last year in Black Ops 4.  The last CoD campaign I played all the way through was Advanced Warfare and I can’t remember anything past the nice looking cutscenes and the memeable “press F” (or X in my case) to pay respect.

The media noise surrounding Modern Warfare’s campaign really was a masterclass of marketing. For months I’ve listened to many a games journalist express concern over the controversial nature of the story. Rumours circulated that Infinity Ward was even attempting to essentially make the entire campaign in the style of contentious mission from Modern Warfare 2 “No Russia”. While I wasn’t actively looking for the most controversial videogame story of all time, the fact that there were even talking points to be had in a modern CoD campaign had me interested – and this subsequently was the first of the franchise I have ever pre-ordered.

While it must be said that the campaign never quit hits any of the highs of MW2, it is by far the best CoD campaign in years. While relatively short, I found myself blasting through it in just a short few sessions. The opening zinger sets the tone, and immediately gave me a sense of what this entry was all about, whilst simultaneously leaving me silent as it jump cut to the title – a simple and elegant white text on black.

The story really isn’t anything much to brag on about. Missing gas, a terrorist organisation and freedom fighters of a middle eastern country. Its all stuff we have seen before, but what MW does right is places you in among these elements and uses its gameplay to make you feel a part of it. Not since missions like “All Ghillied Up” in the original Modern Warfare have I felt like a special forces soldier within a videogame. It places you, on the assault of a Russian factory thought to host gases, or in Piccadilly Circus in the middle of a terrorist attack, or on the raid of an ordinary house in the pitch black in the middle of Camden. It still has its Call of Duty-isms, with big explosions and globe-spanning story, but with a bit more grounded realism, and, dare I say, a tiny touch of maturity.

The story continues to draw you in, not just through the gameplay, but the cutscenes. These are some truly high production value cutscenes. The acting, facial animations, and even cinematography are all truly fantastic here. There were even a couple of shots throughout that genuinely looked real. The level of detail is insane, to the point you can even see the light hairs on characters cheeks as the light shines behind them.

The cutscenes cannot be discussed without the mere mention of Captain Price. Played by Barry Sloane, I genuinely relished every second he was on screen. I’m not even quite sure what it was that I liked so much. Maybe simply the fact that a character in Call of Duty was standing out and interesting me. For others its will be the sense of nostalgia, harking back to the old days of the Modern Warfare franchise. Personally, while I have a great affinity towards those games, my memory lies with the scenarios of the mission, rather than the general goings on and characters of the story. To turn the spotlight away from Captain Price, the other characters are, while not as interesting, likeable at the very least. The fact that I remember their names, is a testament to both the actors and the writing/story.

So what about the gameplay? This is very firmly a boots-on-the-ground game. There are no fancy, zippy exo-suits, but in their place tight and satisfying shooting, coated in excellent animations, and some stellar graphics. This is the first time that I can remember of a game using its graphics as a mechanic, with the inclusion of night-vision. Darkness in videogames, is never truly darkness, but in Modern Warfare, if you don’t have your goggles on in the dark, then you will not see a damn thing. It further grounds you in some of the highlight missions of the campaign. Through the graphics, animations and tight gameplay, you get a game that ultimately is just really fun to play. More of the gameplay will be touched on in my Multiplayer review, but it is really the best its ever been.

While Modern Warfare failed to have any of the intense highlights of MW2 (my favourite entry) it brought the series to a new frontier – which is no small feat for a franchise reaching its 16th entry. I don’t believe it is as controversial as it maybe wanted to be, and at times, I wasn’t sure I was immersed or lightly shaking my head thinking “yeah I get it”. Yet, what is delivered is a story with some truly excellent and memorable missions (although must are found in the first half) and the best CoD campaign in years. It is both the first CoD campaign I have sat through start to finish in quick successions, and the first I ever started a new game for in the highest difficulty. It’s financial surpassing of Black Ops 4 in opening weekend, hopefully will show developers, that gamers do want single player stories, if they just put the time and effort in, rather than a mandatory tacked on element. Regardless, I am hoping the future of this newly rebooted Modern Warfare series will usher in a collection of excellent campaigns that have matured over time with their player base.

Published by Aaron Bayne

I’m a film and video games journalist based in Scotland. I write stuff about them on my website, talk about them on my podcasts and film videos about them for BBC The Social.

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