Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 review: Stuck in the middle

Call of Duty's "new era" is trapped in the past.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 campaign, multiplayer, and spec ops screenshots
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Windows Central Verdict

The Call of Duty franchise needed a buffer between its past and its future, but Infinity Ward may have bitten off more than they could chew. Ultimately, Modern Warfare 2 has extremely promising multiplayer and co-op gameplay that feels good to play on the surface but woefully underbaked due to a lack of features and overall content in general. The campaign shines the brightest for those with a bit of nostalgia for the characters.

Pros

  • +

    Character interactions are endearing

  • +

    Multiplayer gunplay feels like classic COD experiences

Cons

  • -

    Hardcore mode, progression barracks, and challenge alerts are all missing

  • -

    Game instability causes crashing in parties

  • -

    Spec Ops only has 3 missions

  • -

    The menu UI is not suited to the game

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In the lead up to the launch of 2022’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 lead developers Infinity Ward have leaned heavily into the marketing pitch that this is a Call of Duty title that will bring the franchise to a new era. As a long time fan of the series, however, that marketing seems just a smidge amiss. How can this be a new era if we’re rehashing the same old Call of Duty experiences? The original game carrying the Modern Warfare 2 moniker was released in 2009, after all.  Nostalgia has an incredible grip on gaming with remakes and reboots being all the rage, but can a reboot truly usher in a new era?

In 2019, Infinity Ward revived the Modern Warfare spin off series that had helped to rocket the Call of Duty franchise to blockbuster status. This revival was a full-on reboot with a shiny new updated graphics engine and a new plot timeline that would allow Modern Warfare to finally coexist with the events of the Black Ops timeline that Treyarch had developed. However, some beloved fan favorite characters that had met their untimely demise in the franchise’s infancy had the opportunity to return to operations with nary a scratch on them.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 campaign, multiplayer, and spec ops screenshots

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CategoryCall of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
DeveloperInfinity Ward with support from Beenox, Treyarch, High Moon, Demonware and other Activision studios
PublisherActivision
GenreFirst person shooter
Install size55.47GB (on Steam)
PlayersCampaign - 1; Spec Ops - 2; Multiplayer - up to 64
PlaytimeCampaign - 8-10 hours
Release dateOctober 28, 2022
Price$70
PlatformsXbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC
Xbox Game PassNo
Reviewed onSteam

Modern Warfare 2’s main focus is on Task Force 141, a ragtag team of multi-national military specialists assembled by Captain John Price with approval from the C.I.A. affiliated Kate Laswell following the events of Modern Warfare (2019). Spearheaded by Captain Price and taking orders from Kate Laswell and General Shepherd of the U.S. Army Task Force 141 consists of Johnny “Soap” MacTavish, Kyle “Gaz” Garrick, and Simon “Ghost” Riley with newcomer to the franchise Alejandro Vargas of the Mexican Armed Forces joining the team once the events of the campaign lead to the fictional city of Las Almas. 

In addition to the blockbuster campaign, Modern Warfare 2 (2022) ships with the traditional multiplayer experience that premium Call Of Duty fans know and love (or love to hate, depending on perspective) as well as three Special Ops missions that can be played cooperatively with a friend or random player. At launch, the multiplayer modes are considered to be ‘pre-season’ until the first content drop — currently scheduled for November 16 — launches with the game’s very first battle pass, free maps, and Warzone 2.0.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 — What you’ll like

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 campaign, multiplayer, and spec ops screenshots

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2009) was my first Call of Duty experience. I frequently say that I lack nostalgia for a lot of mid to late 90s video games that so many others in my age group reminisce about fondly and demand to see remade. I was an avid Halo player, and I liked the simplicity of the weapons. However, when my Halo group decided to jump to Modern Warfare 2 (2009) I was forced to either adapt or be left behind all alone with the Chief. I’ve since spent the last decade obsessively hitting max prestige annually, and I’d be remiss to not admit that a little piece of me was simply giddy at the possibilities that a Modern Warfare 2 remake could offer.

As previously mentioned, the campaign for Modern Warfare 2 (2022) focuses on special operations surrounding Task Force 141 as they attempt to locate stolen warheads that have found their way into the hands of terrorists with a little help from the Russians. The game’s single player campaign is a direct sequel to the events that played out in the 2019 reboot of the Modern Warfare series that placed the characters more in step with the Call of Duty: Black Ops timeline. This is part of a more concerted effort by the development studios leadership teams to streamline the franchise’s multiple story arcs into a more cohesive unit. Characters who had previously met their demise in the original early 2000s release of the series have seen a revival to much fanfare, and the campaign gives us all a chance to take Price, Soap, Gaz, and Ghost out for a little more globetrotting action.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 campaign, multiplayer, and spec ops screenshots

(Image credit: Windows Central)

Because Modern Warfare 2 is a reboot within a different timeline we get a chance to see a completely new story, and there’s plenty of room for those big blockbuster cinematic moments that will certainly take players by surprise. Still, there are plenty of delightful call backs for those looking for that nostalgia hit, too. Classic lines like “What the hell kind of name is Soap, anyway?” creep in when you least expect them. There’s even some spectacular attention to detail for those who play with subtitles on, with the colors for character names shifting between red and blue as they are forced to reconsider their allegiances.

One notable chapter for the campaign sees players through a sequence of events that is reminiscent of the classic All Ghillied Up mission from Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (2007). Taking on the role of Gaz who is aptly suited head to toe in a detailed ghillie suit with a similarly disguised sniper rifle, players must infiltrate a fish hatchery off of the coast of Spain that is serving as a cover for smuggling weapons. With directions from Captain Price players will take out the armed guards around the hatcheries while being mindful of civilians. The mission skews very heavily toward rewarding stealth, and anyone who dares to play on Veteran or Realism difficulty can expect a lot of restarts. Surprisingly, Recon by Fire is not the only chapter of Modern Warfare 2 that leans into stealth game play, The new enemy AI designed for the game is surprisingly intuitive and will change up their strategy depending on the player’s behavior before restarting a checkpoint, leaving each attempt just as risky as the one before it as players don’t have the opportunity to memorize enemy locations.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 campaign, multiplayer, and spec ops screenshots

(Image credit: Windows Central)

The campaign features seventeen chapters in total and is single player only. Should you want to jump into a PvE campaign-like experience with a friend you can do so in the Spec Ops mode. Co-op mode is two players only, but players can team up with a friend or find a random player via matchmaking. There are three distinct Spec Ops missions where players can earn up to three stars per mission for completing certain goals such as completing the challenge within a set time limit. There are no custom loadouts for these missions, unlike multiplayer, but players can choose between Assault, Recon, and Medic roles which can be advanced with better unlocks using experience earned from attempting spec ops missions. Players will need to work together to dismantle heavily guarded anti-air defenses, defeat juggernauts attempting to plant bombs, and infiltrate behind enemy lines to acquire precious intel. 

For bigger squads, multiplayer offers two battle options. A “core” 6v6 PvP experience on mid-sized maps, and a more Battlefield-esque Ground War mode that pits two teams of 32 against each other.  For the most part, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 slips into the comfortable and familiar limitations of past Modern Warfare titles. Gone is the recently introduced “Combat Pacing” mechanic that Call of Duty: Vanguard offered in a bid to give players more options on how hectic their matches could be. While it’s always iffy for development studios to remove an element of the game that their predecessor included, in this specific instance the decision to scale back to classic 6v6 and 32v32 modes works out in Infinity Ward’s favor.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Campaign, Multiplayer, and Spec Ops screenshots

(Image credit: Windows Central)

Multiplayer itself feels like going home. The movement of the characters in their world, the aesthetic of the environments, and the feel of the guns against enemy players are all very reminiscent of classic Call of Duty multiplayer experiences — but in all the best ways. Snapping your aim to an enemy, regardless of weapon choice, feels very responsive while the time to kill (TTK) in combat is nearly perfect with most guns and equipment. There are more than 50 different weapons and over 180 challenges that can be completed to unlock additional attachments and camos. The traditional Create-A-Class system is at play when it comes to designing your loadout, but there are some notable changes.

For as much as Modern Warfare 2 embraces its past, Create-A-Class probably sees some of the biggest overhauls in preparation for a “new era of Call of Duty”. It's very obvious right away that much of the design around weapons and loadouts is done with the upcoming Warzone 2.0 release in mind. The new vault system completely shakes up how players unlock and access weapons, instead classing gun variants by a base that can be swapped and built upon to create an entirely new weapon.  The M4 base, for example, can be swapped out for the 556 Icarus LMG or the FTAC battle rifle simply by changing the base, thus changing the entire model and dynamic of how the gun behaves with the attachments you have equipped.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 — What you won’t like

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 campaign, multiplayer, and spec ops screenshots

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The line between embracing nostalgia and letting go to move forward with a game franchise can be a perilous one to walk, but it seems to be the line that Activision, the publishers behind Call of Duty, are willing to pin the game down to.  For all of the developer’s efforts to call back to the namesake series, there’s still a need to prepare for what’s to come, and it is surprising just how openly Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is designed to usher in Warzone 2.0. 

The simple list menus of yesteryear have been replaced with an endless scrolling page of boxes that would feel more at home on Netflix or Hulu than in Call of Duty. When teaming up with friends in Multiplayer each teammate’s preferred multiplayer Operative is supposed to show up as part of a pregame lobby scene, but oftentimes these characters are bugged, player names do not show near them, or they don’t fully load in at all.  Showcase items, like earned calling cards, that are visible to players who inspect your profile simply showcase the default no matter what options you actually choose.  In addition to small features like showcase not working, there are much larger, more egregious quality of life elements missing from Multiplayer. 

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Campaign, Multiplayer, and Spec Ops screenshots

(Image credit: Windows Central)

While showcases are not necessarily game breaking, there are other bigger issues in Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer mode. The ability to ping an area as a callout to teammates who may not be listening or in the same party as you was initially available in the Modern Warfare 2 Open Beta. The system was undoubtedly rudimentary, though it was also a much needed accessibility tool for the franchise. Surprisingly, pings had to be removed shortly after launch as it caused a problematic glitch where players who were pinged shortly before killing a player would stay pinged for the remainder of the match.  At the time of writing this, ping has not yet been patched back in.  Other necessary multiplayer features such as the barracks and challenge tracker are also notably absent. 

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has also suffered greatly from instability issues, among other known bugs. Players on PC and Xbox alike were plagued with disconnects and hard crashes when attempting to join teammates. Those that were lucky enough to party up and stay that way would often find themselves disconnected by a crash midgame.  Playing as a solo player limited how often this occurred, but the more players in a party for multiplayer the greater the likelihood you and your crew were spending the night waiting on your 5th and 6th pals to log back in after crashing, regardless of platform. A hotfix for this issue was released on Day one, but it was unfortunately just a mitigation of the issue instead of a proper patch.  While it happens less often at this point, multiplayer does still crash if there’s a party of three or more players getting together.

 If you manage to stay connected for any length of time, it won’t take long before the lack of maps in rotation catches up to you. At launch, Modern Warfare 2 features 10 maps for core 6v6 multiplayer and an additional 6 maps for ground war game modes, paling in comparison to Vanguard’s 24 available maps at launch.  While there’s a few options for game play modes to cycle through, including popular classics like Search & Destroy, Kill Confirmed, and Domination, the lack of a hardcore — or “Tier One” as it is now called — mode is another unusual choice that leaves you feeling like Modern Warfare 2 could’ve used a little more time in the oven. 

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 — Should you buy it?

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 screenshot

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Modern Warfare 2 (2022) is straddling two identities. It desperately wants to assuage fans of the series who are looking for callbacks to the classic Modern Warfare series which helped skyrocket the Call of Duty franchise into the massively successful blockbuster title it is today.  Meanwhile, it is very clear that Infinity Ward, the lead development studio, is looking toward the franchise’s future and attempting to factor in how the potential success of Warzone 2.0 will affect the series in the long term. Modern Warfare 2 is supposed to somehow serve as a cultural touchstone while ushering in a world of change for its ‘new era’. 

In a vacuum, the game’s individual elements serve these purposes fairly well. The campaign is entertaining and engaging, with little moments that help to endear the player to the characters.  Arguably, some of this writing may not be the strongest or as quotable as its namesake but I can’t not smile at least a little when I think of Ghost and Soap bantering with each over the comms. Intense action sequences feel gripping, although some of the slower paced stealth missions certainly overstay their welcome. Spec Ops is clearly the game’s weakest link, however, with it making the glaring lack of content on launch front and center. Previous Infinity Ward titles featuring the Spec Ops mode featured dozens of challenges that players could tackle with varied degrees of difficulty. Modern Warfare 2’s three lone spec ops missions are nothing short of disappointing.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 campaign, multiplayer, and spec ops screenshots

(Image credit: Windows Central)

 That’s not to say that I don’t find Modern Warfare 2 enjoyable. I pushed through the entire campaign on Veteran, hit the level 55 cap in Multiplayer, and three starred the currently available Spec Ops missions all in the first weekend post-launch.  I’ve enjoyed my time with Modern Warfare 2 and I appreciate just how good it feels to load in and play a few matches at any given point in the day. However, the state of the game with its instability issues and missing elements that have previously been standard to the franchise has soured the experience just a bit. 

At the very least, Modern Warfare 2 would’ve benefited from releasing in November like its predecessors. It feels like it was just not yet ready to fill the giant shoes of its past. Still, with some time and attention to the issues currently plaguing the game, Modern Warfare 2 will be solid foundation for Warzone 2.0 and a suitable multiplayer experience that franchise fans will want to come home to. 

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2022)

Jump into the sequel to 2019's Modern Warfare reboot and help Task Force 141 stop a terrorist attack before jumping into Spec Ops with a friend to recover important intel. Then squad up with your friends for fast paced PvP action in Multiplayer.

Available now: Xbox (opens in new tab)| Steam (opens in new tab) | Amazon (opens in new tab)

Cole is the resident Call of Duty know-it-all and indie game enthusiast for Windows Central. She's a lifelong artist with two decades of experience in digital painting, and she will happily talk your ear off about budget pen displays.