Call of Duty has a lot of problems. Even in the last seven days, documents have been published that show the close link the series has with the US armed forces, suggesting the game is a big, military-industrial psyop designed to rescue the image of the US war machine and drive recruitment to its ranks. As if that’s not bad enough, the single-player portions of the games often whitewash US war crimes and paint other nation states as the aggressors in order to make the yoke of American imperial oppression look… well, less oppressive.
Modern Warfare 2 really has reversed Call of Duty’s fortunes.
So, to say I’m a ‘guilty CoD player’ is putting it mildly. Working this job means that I feel obliged to play the new games in the series every year – how else are we supposed to capitalise on all those lovely clicks? – and the older I get, the keener an eye I have for the incongruencies between what’s been shoved into my eyeballs and what’s actually happening. I won’t go into the nitty-gritty here, but when engaged with critically and as a piece of propaganda, Call of Duty is fascinating.
But that discussion is for another time. We’re here to talk multiplayer; boots-on-the-ground gunplay, instant-respawn twitch shooting, killstreaks, and chaos. That’s the Call of Duty formula, and Modern Warfare 2 does it with aplomb. After lining up over 50 hours in the multiplayer alone, I feel confident in saying this: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the best multiplayer the series has seen since the Xbox 360 days.
Sounds hyperbolic, right? I mean it, with every ounce of my being. As well as some really intelligent choices with its Battle Pass and some stellar map design, Modern Warfare 2 just nails the pace, direction, and design of its multiplayer.
The guns, for a start, are good. Destiny good. You can feel the heft and the weight and the pull of both large and small arms, and even after a couple of magazines of ammo, you can start adjusting for the way they fire – thanks to how well-realised Infinity Ward’s armory is. Every kick, every judder, every millimeter of recoil; it’s all readable, all adjustable for players that care to learn what they’re doing.
Then there’s the maps. I won’t go into it here – for an in-depth breakdown you can just hit the link above – but the map design lends itself to a harder, more rhythmic flow this Call of Duty seems to trade on. Whether you’re a slow and steady player with your mines, your claymores and your scopes, or a fast, hard-hitting, dual pistol-wielding amphetamine junkie, there’s a way to play this game… and a place for you in the tightly-drawn, well-concocted maps.
I even like the small adjustments that have been made to weapon progression and The Gunsmith, and the way you’re given control over your weapons. Instead of just equipping the starting assault rifle and using it until your trigger finger seizes up from all the recoil, you need to explore other options in order to get better parts for your favourite. Having to use marksman rifles or SMGs in order to unlock better stocks or barrels is inspired – and I think a lot of players have had ‘lightbulb moments’ with loadouts and play styles thanks to this forced rotation, too.
Once upon a time, Call of Duty was seen as the benchmark for FPS shooters. Challenged only perhaps by Battlefield (RIP), CoD games ran amok in the genre – and only ever really fell down to FIFA in the charts, too. After the miserable launch and (underwhelming intensive care life support aftermath) of Vanguard in 2021, Call of Duty is back and as compelling as ever. And what good timing; it is doubtful the series could have absorbed the shock of another 40% dip in sales, year-on-year.
It bodes well for the future, too; when Activision and Microsoft started holding hands in public earlier this year, stories about a number of “high-level employees” at Activision began circulating – apparently, the top brass at the publisher were considering altering the release cadence of the Call of Duty series and moving away from the game’s current setup as an annual franchise. Given that there’s been a game every year since 2005, that’s a good thing.
It means that we can see more Modern Warfare 2s, and fewer Black Ops 4s or Vanguards. Whilst some of the blame can be fingered on Treyarch or Sledgehammer for the flops that came before, there’s also some pressure on Activision there; giving three studios three years to make three blockbuster games, repeated ad nauseam, was never going to work. Something had to give, and perhaps giving the headline developers a break and emancipating Activision’s other in-house studios (Toys For Bob, Beenox, Demonware, High Moon Studios, Radical Entertainment, and Vicarious Visions) from the Call of Duty salt mines was the right choice all along.
Longer development times, more considered approaches to the tail-end of released games, and more support from Xbox Game Studios could all align to make sure the next Call of Duty – and those that eventually follow – are all titles worthy of the brand name, just as Modern Warfare 2 is.
For now, though, you’ll forgive me as I shelve the other three games I have on for review and pick up my Kastov-762 once again; there’s a Hardpoint with my name on it, and I’ve got some battle pass tokens to earn.