America - Front
America - Back
By Lee Mehr 07th Dec 2022 | 1,503 views
Reviewer's Note: Due to the controversy surrounding it, I'll be evaluating a few SPOILERS from the campaign. Read on at your own risk.
In 2019, Infinity Ward and co.'s latest Call of Duty was a reboot of what brought the developer to super-stardom: Modern Warfare. Whether one considered it a respectable back-to-basics approach after previously jumping the shark, or glorified recycling work (I lean towards the latter), the idea wasn't without some virtues. The problem is delivering on that potential with little more than impressive technological leaps. With regards to being a more competent all-round package, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II at least manages that; and yet, not enough so for it to feel wholly satisfying either.
Its opening doesn't do it any favors. After taking control of Ghost, everyone's favorite mask in desperate search of a personality, you're tasked with vaulting some chest-high walls. He needs an advantageous recon position, after all. He's scoping out a supposed weapons deal going down between Russians and a character who's essentially a stand-in for the assassinated Iranian General Soleimani. Then, you control a missile for 15 seconds and explosively cancel their little party. [Screen FADES to SUBTITLE REVEAL.] Remember when you used to begin with a simple training tutorial?
Beyond being a confused start, it also brings the series’ jingoistic subtext uncomfortably & hurriedly to the fore. But given current events, it's not like any of these real or fictional adversaries (Iranian Quds Forces, Al-Qatala, Russian PMCs, Mexican Cartel, and more) don't deserve any limelight; plus, it doesn’t pull punches on certain American factions either. Similarly to the 2009 version, by tapping into action-hero sensibilities, there isn't such a desperate need to impress like with Modern Warfare's emotionally juvenile beats. That doesn't mean there aren't cringe-inducing moments or whatnot, but there's oftentimes better work done to marry tone and context.
In keeping with series tradition, one level caused plenty of hoopla upon release: your character "de-escalating" situations with civilians. What that means here is aiming your gun directly at them. A terrible look at first glance; however, this de-escalating is through the lens of a Mexican Special Forces agent in hot pursuit through a U.S. border town. They're invading foreign land and private citizens' houses to apprehend someone on top of the national security food chain. Given how often gaming pundits can waffle about "ludonarrative dissonance" (myself included), Infinity Ward actually incorporated a believable way someone would internally rationalize their actions in this case.
Getting some details and context right doesn't prevent the overarching narrative from being stupid to the point of causing a brain hemorrhage. Some of the most crucial story developments break logic in twain at the nearest convenience. From "we're the good guys so we have to follow international law" to "I'm a good patriot willing to get my hands dirty to save my country" in service of shuffling the plot forward. There's no consistency on some of the most important plot points; the jumble is all in service of globe-trotting across an impressive amount of diverse environments. You will quite literally feel dumber trying to make sense of it all.
Compared to its spiritual precursor, Modern Warfare 2 (2009), it's a banal & less-coherent rehashing of things you already anticipate. There's more evenly-distributed time between all of Task Force 141, plus some integrated Firewatch-esque dialogue choices, but so much of it is action-figure jargon and attaboys to fill space. Admittedly, I like how quickly it gets around. The quickened pace and globe-trotting missions between both split-up 141 teams does enough to keep your attention. Maybe since it's less focused on having Captain Price, Ghost, or whomever else glowering at you while consistently saying "shit's about to get hardcore and messy", you're not as put off by the ridiculous antics.
For all of the typical Alpha-Foxtrot-Oscar-Mike dialogue mixed with teammates congratulating each other, credit is due to these actors intensely playing their part. Outside of Soap's voice actor getting 3-out-of-5 Jameson’s for his Lieutenant Groundskeeper Willie stereotyping, it's strange just how well this cast works. Glenn Morshower as a cooler General Shepherd is a nice contrast to María Elisa Camargo chewing up the scenery as a derisive sicaria (including the full-on acting performances for everyone too). Given some of the unspoken tension you can disinter between certain heroes and villains, maybe extra time could've been spent between them.
Of course, Infinity Ward isn't interested in your plans as it's dragging you by the arm. It's quite fitting for the opening level to plop you on a linear path betwixt two rock faces and play with a simple missile gimmick. The first five stultifying campaign missions altogether do the bare minimum; in fact, I'll say it's a rougher dogshit streak than Vanguard's start too. It rehashes Modern Warfare's "Clean House" idea a few times with diminishing returns, it's unremitting in telling you what to do next, and whisks past each concept so fast to the point of feeling inconsequential.
Then, you slowly see the better stuff unfolding. You still see the strictures of its rote linearity, but there's purposive design behind it. You're being funneled towards a cliff face with enemies hot on your heels, winnowing down friendly red shirts and burning through your ammo. It's not like Call of Duty hasn't had ambushes before, but how the odds keep getting stacked against you feels authentic here. And that's not even in the top five moments. To avoid making an endless spiel about each detail, think of its best stuff as 3rd-person action-game templates transplanted into 1st-person: in-game crafting a la The Last of Us, convoy chase scene from several Uncharted games, shifting cargo crates from Uncharted 3 (which are very deadly on Veteran), semi-flooded areas that allow you to stealthily get a better vantage point, and so on.
You might be inclined to see this panoply of "new stuff" as nice experiments or desperately-grabbed baubles incorporated into its homogenized structure. At a glance, you can notice subtleties in Warzone's influence too, with armored combatants and their metal armor plates to crack. From storytelling to gameplay, there's something... safe about what to expect where even the nuances throw you off more than they should. Even taking that into account, along with one of the most lopsided CoD campaigns of recent memory, I still rank it as a tolerable time sink.
Whether looking at Vanguard's pitiful Zombies or the reboot's half-baked Spec Ops missions, just being competent surmounts those earlier offerings; plus, it's nice to see no PlayStation-exclusive mode parity this time. Defender: Mt. Zaya essentially acts as a Horde Mode. Put your bank towards better defenses or explosive artillery while each successive wave ramps up in strength. A default feature at this point. The mission-oriented operations like "Low Profile" or "Denied Area" focus on you completing certain tasks (and within a time limit if you want to get 3 gold stars); the former focuses on nighttime stealth, the latter is about blowing up SAM sites across a big map and vehicular travel.
Even if it's still not near the quality of old Modern Warfare 2 & 3's co-op, some credit is due to going in a better direction. The (current) two-player limit does a better job of maintaining focus. Even if its idea of "difficulty" can still be about vomiting enemies, e.g. raising the alarm on Low Profile, it's nowhere near as egregious. It's also neat how little story details in the form of scattered Intel have been moved over here instead of littering the main campaign. And at the time of writing this, two more operations (Gun Game: Mt. Zaya & High Ground) have been included, with more promised content coming soon. While I don't want to oversell the GaaS structure making up for an initial paucity of content, it's one of those cases where some credit is due to it being better-composed and actually tempting me to keep my eyes peeled.
Before enjoying either multiplayer offerings, everyone is universally fighting one terrible battle: the UI. 1,000 monkeys typing on 1,000 computers could code something better in a few minutes. Who in their right mind thinks replicating the streaming service format was a good idea? Infinity Ward's answer: the guy who was previously Hulu's UI Director. The horizontal displacement for custom classes, game modes, and so on feels so tedious and unintuitive. The worst example of this is the cosmetic selection: imagine scrolling to the right over and over and over just to find the correct charm, weapon skin, and so on. More than just the visual noise or confusing layout decisions, it simply takes more needless work to do whatever you want.
After mentally surmounting that hurdle, competitive multiplayer will feel familiar to any veteran. I can tell you're shocked! It's the usual story of nuances to the existing Skinner box. One crucial technological improvement would be aurally tracking footsteps. It's not pitch perfect by any means, but I could immediately tell it outclasses the likes of Rainbow Six: Siege in consistency. And since sound has a heavier emphasis, so too does the value of a flashbang's ear-ringing detonation. Even tweaked systems like premade 'Perk Packages' (two baseline perks, one extra, and one ultimate based on your performance) is a humorous contrast in balance compared to Modern Warfare 2's crazy trait flexibility from the old days.
That consideration for balance doesn't really counteract its rote spawn/die/repeat template across many sites. On net, I think this is a weaker compilation of launch maps than the reboot's mostly-serviceable ones. On the foul end, Santa Sena Border Crossing may go down as CoD's worst 6v6 map in years; on the positive end, Breenbergh Hotel and Crown Raceway are both nice aesthetic breaks from the norm and well-balanced for many – if not all – appropriate modes. For bigger Ground War maps, Guijarro ranks as the only one I routinely enjoy replaying. Aside from its few multiplayer crown jewels, this collection doesn't inspire huge confidence for what future content may also be in store.
When you get past the initial sheen of a new CoD multiplayer, it's tough not to see the game resting on its laurels. Sure, the surfeit of modes and maps can be enough to keep any superfan occupied; however, my frustration comes back to quality. Outside of the awesome Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter vibes from the 3rd-Person Moshpit mode, nothing really grabbed my attention. It was quite rare to get solid maps back-to-back, and most of everything else here, from 32v32 Ground War to smaller objective-based variants, never felt like I'd bother with it long term.
It's funny how closely Activision released Modern Warfare II and Warzone 2.0, and I'm more enticed to continue exploring the free option.
When weighing the totality of Modern Warfare II, it’s a case of its better qualities inching forward instead of any sizable leap. The campaign isn't as desperate to make sophomoric statements about “the cost of war,” yet it’s also one of the series’ most lopsided in terms of quality. Co-operative options aren’t trash at launch this time, but how much does its limited amount move the needle? Competitive has some neat nuances, but its iterative nature makes so many recent entries blend together. It’s like eating Trail Mix, only some of the nuts and raisins are past their expiration date. If someone hypothetically put a gun to my head (for “de-escalation” purposes, of course) for my overall thoughts, the best I can muster is a long sigh and admit maybe it’ll be worth checking out for fans after a few more updates.
Contractor by trade and writer by hobby, Lee's obnoxious criticisms have found a way to be featured across several gaming sites: N4G, VGChartz, Gaming Nexus, DarkStation, and TechRaptor! He started gaming in the mid-90s and has had the privilege in playing many games across a plethora of platforms. Reader warning: each click given to his articles only helps to inflate his Texas-sized ego. Proceed with caution.