Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II review [Xbox Series X/S] | No Rushin’

It’s bizarre at this point just how many Modern Warfare games have appeared in Activision’s annual flagship FPS series. Following the original trilogy, we were delivered two remasters between 2016-2020 and then a reboot series arriving around the same time. The naming conventions of this franchise is, for lack of a better term, a bit crap – as it appears the series is beholden to the Modern Warfare and Black Ops brands.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, not to be confused with the original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, is a follow up to 2019’s Modern Warfare reboot. Infinity Ward heads up this reimagining of the beloved classic, featuring the return of the series’ traditional campaign, multiplayer and cooperative modes.

In a change of pace from the usual release schedule, Modern Warfare 2’s campaign launched a week before the multiplayer modes did for owners of the more expensive Vault Edition. This gave the community a chance to sink their teeth into the game’s story mode, which otherwise often goes unnoticed by much of the community. Unfortunately, the game’s campaign is a frustrating and puzzling experience.

I wasn’t a massive fan of 2019’s Modern Warfare campaign. It glossed over its main themes and struggled to maintain its core identity. It was competently designed though, and a lot of fun if you could disengage with the subject matter. In the sequel, Infinity Ward is like a drunk darts player at your local pub, constantly throwing in new ideas with each campaign mission and rarely actually hitting the board.

Each mission in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s campaign is either too long or too short, feels displaced with the flow of the story, and has some kind of gimmick that is frustrating with the rest of the experience. One level has you driving along a looping highway, hopping from vehicle to vehicle, and avoiding mines being thrown out the back of trucks. Is this a platformer game from 2009?

Then there’s another where you’re having to be stealthy in the middle of a hostile city, avoiding guards and gunfire as you desperately scavenge anything you can find to use as a weapon. And this is the point where Infinity Ward decides to add a Last of Us-style crafting system. It just feels really out of place in a Call of Duty game.

I could go on with the amount of gameplay issues Modern Warfare 2’s campaign has; too many body armoured enemies, boss fights that feel too artificial, and levels that are way too cartoonish to feel like an FPS that markets itself as having an aura of authenticity about it, as the first title did. The biggest problem, though, is the game’s writing.

To avoid spoilers, I won’t go into too much detail, however Modern Warfare 2’s story feels a huge notch below the original’s. Character motivations make no sense, there’s no amount of reasonable build-up to any of the twists, and there’s a huge lack of stakes and repercussions to any actions the characters make. 2009’s Modern Warfare 2’s campaign was so much more; Cliffhanger, No Russian, the White House missions, the airplane boneyard, Shepherd doing The Thing… the reboot’s version of these events leaves a lot to be desired.

But, let’s talk about multiplayer. The reason most people buy this game.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has launched with 10 multiplayer maps available in 6v6 modes. As with all of your standard Call of Duty releases, most of these maps seem to be unpopular with the community. They’re either recycled “3-lane” style campfests, or labyrinthine arenas that make navigation a confusing affair. During any regular play session, you’re guaranteed to get a few maps you dislike and it’s a shame you don’t have a lobby option to vote on which ones to play.

While Modern Warfare 2019 and last year’s Vanguard took into consideration that lobby sizes may be a factor players want to consider, with the inclusion of the 2v2 Gunfight modes and 10v10 Blitz modes, this isn’t included in MW2. Gunfight was especially a big standout aspect of the first game, encouraging more tactical gameplay and psychological manipulation of your opponents to secure a win – so it’s disappointing to see it absent from the sequel.

Ground War at least makes a return, pitting large swathes of players against each other on a giant map. It’s more Battlefield-esque in presentation, encouraging more firefights across longer distances combined with increased teamplay and communication. I’ve always enjoyed these types of matches in past Call of Duty games, especially in the 2019 iteration, so it was a welcome sight to see it make a decent return. Unfortunately, the maps don’t feel quite as memorable as they did in the past, and it’s quite easy for one team to be pigeonholed at their spawn resulting in an easy win for the enemy.

Despite the less-than-stellar map design and lacklustre game modes, though, Modern Warfare 2 has a much bigger multiplayer problem – the user experience is confusing and frustrating.

Firstly, there are no barracks or combat record features. No easy way to check your profile, compare them against friends and see where you stand in terms of progression. Some of these stats are available elsewhere, but they’re buried within different menus or located in a place you wouldn’t expect to find them. 

This is a symptom of Modern Warfare 2’s wider problem of bloat within the menu system. Each item you can select on the menu is now presented in a Netflix-style way where you have huge tiles taking up the screen that serve no purpose but to keep you scrolling through the various options. Call of Duty’s multiplayer menu has only received a few minor changes over the years, as the formula worked well in the past, and here it’s simply too much of a dramatic twist that doesn’t really feel like an improvement.

The unlock system for weapons is just as awkward too. To unlock attachments for your gun, you have to use multiple different firearms to obtain it. I wanted to use the game’s equivalent of an MP5 for a short-range SMG build, but quickly discovered I had to use another weapon to unlock features for it, which in turn also tied its unlocks to another, third gun. What came as a result was a long chain of rifles I had no interest in using just so I could use the gun I wanted to. When it takes a few hours to completely level a weapon to full, it’s going to put you off playing the way you want to.

Modern Warfare 2 features a new perk system, where some perks you select in your loadout aren’t activated until you’ve earned a bit of score in each match. This new system is a bit frustrating in that your build doesn’t reach its full potential until you’ve been playing for a good 4-6 minutes, making for a frustrating experience in the first half of any given match. 

It also leads to a final problem I have with Modern Warfare 2, and it’s something I’ve felt strongly about for the last few years: UAVs are just too strong to be a low killstreak. Getting four kills without dying can reward you with a special drone that marks all enemy positions on the map.

Players can run the perk Ghost to mitigate this, silencing you to enemy UAVs. Both of these aren’t new to Call of Duty, having been in the game since the first Modern Warfare back in 2007. A lot of players traditionally have run Ghost (or its equivalent) to counter UAVs that are quite common to see due to the low kill requirement. But now that Ghost is classed as an “Ultimate Perk” – and therefore doesn’t activate until a good portion of the match is over – UAVs are suddenly a lot more powerful. In my experience so far, there tends to be a UAV active every minute or so. And until you get Ghost, there’s no way to avoid it.

Personally, I’ve always felt the streak requirement for UAVs should be much higher – 5 or 6 kills. Having the positions of all enemy players available on the map for 30 seconds can make or break entire rounds, and it’s ridiculous you can get one in as little as 3-4 kills. When you can’t even use Ghost to counter this, it suddenly seems even more broken.

This is a small part of a wider issue that Modern Warfare 2 simply doesn’t feel fun to play in its current form. A lot of weapons, perks and killstreaks feel either overpowered or underpowered. Balance is a hard thing to accomplish in a multiplayer game, especially at launch, so hopefully this is fixed as the game’s life cycle continues. But it’s made for a frustrating and weak preseason experience.

As a fan of FPS games and a casual fan of the CoD franchise, it pains me to say Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is one of my most disliked entries in the series. The campaign is a huge step down from its original namesake, and the multiplayer has disappointed me on many levels. I know Activision loves to get a slice of the CoD pie every single year, but I still think we’d be better off with fewer titles, bigger innovations.


For our Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 review, a Xbox Series X/S code was supplied to GameByte by Activision.

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Featured Image Credit: Activision