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Modern Warfare 2's campaign is big, bold and kind of boring

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In something of an inspired move, this year’s Call of Duty is enjoying a staggered release, with the campaign being made available to all those who’ve pre-ordered Modern Warfare 2 a week ahead of the full release on October 28. And as campaigns go it’s possibly as big and bold as Call of Duty – a series that’s not exactly renowned for being reserved – gets. Is it any good, though? We’ve played through it all and here are our thoughts…

Martin: So first of all, before we get to the campaign itself – I’m a fan of the split release. I love a good Call of Duty campaign but in recent years I’ve found myself skipping them in favour of the real meat that’s the multiplayer modes. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I finished a Call of Duty campaign – maybe Infinite Warfare? They can sometimes feel like afterthoughts and it’s easy to pick them up for a couple of hours then put them down and forget about them. At least this way the campaign’s getting its moment in the sun, and fittingly it feels like the biggest, boldest Call of Duty campaign there’s been in an age. Now whether it’s a good campaign or not is another question…

Wes: I think it’s good! But I don’t think it’s brilliant. It’s a weird mishmash of different gameplay types, some clearly inspired by other games but not quite as good as them. Take for example the car chase level. You’re jumping from car to car, leaning out and shooting and blowing stuff up as you do in Call of Duty, but it’s not as good as Uncharted’s famous car chase stuff.

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It’s a similar deal with the level that includes a sort of Hitman-style bit where you’re in disguise and have a few options for how to proceed. And then the sort of survival crafting level that felt a lot like The Last of Us in first-person and without the clickers. God, that went on for a while.

There are even levels that are cover band versions of famous Call of Duty levels, like the one where you shoot down at a battlefield from the target camera of a gunship, and the one where you’re literally All Ghillied Up and prone in the long grass as soldiers walk around you, and lots of bits where you’re walking up stairs aiming down sights behind a few soldiers who are doing the same, which is like Clean House from 2019 Modern Warfare but not as good. (God, Clean House is so good!)

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There are some clear references to classic CoD setpieces, often offered with their own interesting twist.

This campaign has good bits, for sure, but none of it is very good, I think. It’s so constrained by that rigid Call of Duty campaign formula – you have a thing to do and you go in mostly a straight line to do it, following orders from Ghost or Price or whoever. Maybe I expect too much! This is Call of Duty after all. But there are flashes of deviance that offer a glimpse at what might have been: the backpack survival stuff – maybe that could have been fleshed out more? The level where you guide Ghost via CCTV cameras, telling him when to move from cover to cover, when to set off distractions and when to knife kill. More of that off-the-beaten track stuff, please!

Although, saying that, the shooting is so, so good, as Modern Warfare’s was, and I found myself pining for the simple pleasure of shooting enemies to bits in this campaign. It didn’t seem to happen all that often.

Gosh, I’ve gone on! I have thoughts about Modern Warfare 2. What do you think of it?

Digital Foundry dug deep into the beta to get some performance comparisons.

Martin: Well, I’ve got to agree that the guns do feel good. Going back to your original points, there is a lot of Naughty Dog in Modern Warfare 2’s campaign – it feels like a fair amount of talent has exchanged between Infinity Ward and the Uncharted studio. And that’s no bad thing at all, because it makes for a more varied, more interesting campaign than the more linear shooting alleys of old.

I think a term being bandied around about the time of Uncharted 4’s release was ‘wide linear’, and Modern Warfare 2 has a lot of that; these sort of semi-open spaces with objectives you’re able to approach sort of how you see fit. It’s pretty good, too! There are some really fun open levels where you can switch up from sniping to breaching and clearing outhouses, and they work well. It can be frustrating too, though – there are those same moments you get in Naughty Dog games where you’re trying to find how to trigger progression, so it goes from offering open-ended action to something more like a pixel hunt. Which isn’t so much fun.

Then there’s that level that lifts from The Last of Us with you starting unarmed and then crafting weapons with what you find in people’s laundry baskets. It’s a bit weird and I wasn’t really convinced at first, but it’s only a matter of minutes before you’ve got a gun in your hand. Then a bigger gun. Then some mods for your bigger gun. By the time the level wrapped I thought it offered a pretty entertaining sped-up progression from being alone and vulnerable to being tooled-up and invulnerable like Arnie.

There’s a standout mission, too, in Dark Water – which understandably led the marketing with Modern Warfare 2 and was part of our very first look at the game’s campaign. It’s more in keeping with traditional Call of Duty, I guess – and your beloved Clear House – in that you’re fighting alongside special ops sorts and clearing out room after room, but it’s delivered with flair. With some real, proper flair – the section with containers that are skittering about the surface of the boat and providing cover that’s constantly moving was inspired, and it helps that it all looks outrageously good. It’s almost as mind-blowing as the tanker section was in Metal Gear Solid 2 all those years ago.

So yes there are some great bits. But then there are other bits, too… It’s such a big grab-bag of ideas from other games that it can feel a bit too much, with some of those ideas being executed in a bit of a half-arsed fashion like that backpack. I’m not sure a Call of Duty campaign needs to be as big as this, or as broad – by the end I was wishing it’d been whittled down to a tight 4 hours rather than the sprawl it is.

Graves is one of the more memorable characters.

Wes: You mentioned how good Dark Water is and looks – Modern Warfare 2 looks fantastic. We’ve probably all seen that viral clip of Tradecraft, the mission set in Amsterdam. Yes, it’s super detailed and environmentally looks realistic, but that level in particular felt like a tech demo to me because of how constrained the objective is. It’s almost a mini-walking sim.

Can we talk about the faces? Holy shit the faces in this game look amazing. Infinity Ward have taken video game faces to another level, I think. There were moments where I thought the characters looked like real-life, with their eye movements, smirks and head bobs. The voice acting is superb, too. Well, mostly. By the end of the campaign the dialogue between the Brits (Ghost, Price, Gaz and Soap) annoyed the hell out of me. But I couldn’t get enough of prime PMC douchebag Graves (who’s a dead ringer for Leeds United manager Jesse Marsch by the way), Mexican Special Forces hardman Alejandro and, best of all, Valeria.

Yes Martin, we need to talk about Valeria. I think I’m in love…

Martin: It does look bloody spectacular, and the motion and facial capture is beyond impressive. It’s so bloody weird to me, though, that you’d go to those lengths with that tech and then waste it on some of the worst writing I’ve encountered in any video game. The voice acting is grand, but the lines they’re delivering? I’m sort of amazed that a script might have been passed around, people read it and went ‘ok yeah this is fine’. At one point Soap, who’s Scottish, berates Ghost when he asks for a cup of tea by saying ‘Bloody Brits’. Did no-one read that line twice and think hold on a second, there’s a bit of an error here?

Maybe it’s best they just keep to the barks, which seem to be a hundred variations on how to say ‘fuuuucking hell’.

There’s also the issue of tone, and I sort of wish this leant more into the late-Brosnan era Bond that the old Modern Warfare sequels did rather than attempt something more grounded that ends up leaving a nasty taste in the mouth. It’s always going to be icky making a game about shooting people in the face with realistic military hardware fun, but Modern Warfare 2 certainly doesn’t do itself any favours with some of the choices it makes, such as the regrettable scene where you go around ‘de-escalating’ civilians by pointing your gun square at their faces. Grim.

The writing feels like placeholder dialogue that was left in place then full voiced and mo-capped. It’s bizarre.

Wes: Yeah, that whole level on the border with Mexico seemed misjudged. Was it trying to make a point about something? I’m not sure. I’m not sure the campaign has much of a point at all, apart from the end of a sharp knife.

I also felt grim controlling a ballistic missile on its way to obliterating an Iranian general, given everything happening in the world right now. To be clear, I’m not disgusted, just uncomfortable. I don’t think the game needed that bit. It would have been fine without. Multiplayer is like paintball to me. But the campaign for 2019 Modern Warfare and this sequel trade on their grounding in military realism. It’s why levels like Clean House work so well. Thus, when set pieces feel too close to home, they hit harder.

What Modern Warfare 2 did need – and don’t think I haven’t noticed you failing to mention her – is Valeria. Martin, what do you think of Valeria? Martin! Tell me!!

Martin: I hate to disappoint you but I don’t think she really registered for me. None of the characters really did as they’re all a bit one-dimensional. By this time next week, once I’ve got stuck into the multiplayer, I doubt I’ll remember any of the characters from the campaign.

Before we wrap up – and this is going to head firmly into spoiler territory, so look away now if you don’t want to know what happens at the very end – did you see the post-credits sequence?


They’re going to make us hijack that plane in No Russian 2.0, aren’t they? Shock, horror! Hear all about it! Hold the front page etc!

I won’t kill any civilians, Martin. I just won’t do it.

It’s a bit Game of Thrones, isn’t it? At what point will the soft reboot games catch up with the end of the original trilogy? What does Infinity Ward do then? I know! Soft reboot of Call of Duty: Ghosts. Call the dog Colin this time, you cowards.

Martin: It’s a bit weird. Like, in Marvel films you’ll get a post-credits scene that’s like ‘here’s your favourite character returning!’ In Modern Warfare 2 it’s more like ‘here’s that level in which you slaughtered loads of civilians!’ Again, grim.

I’m up for them having another crack at Colin though. Or Modern Warfare 3, even. Just make it a bit shorter and punchier next time round, please.

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