Summary execution. Waterboarding. Chemical gas attacks. Suicide bombings. The new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare single-player campaign isn’t just another first-person shooter (FPS) — it’s an unflinching and often visceral look at some of the most brutal sides of conflict.
As dozens of panicked, screaming civilians run away in various directions and you’re aiming a pistol at men in explosive vests charging at you in Piccadilly Circus, the experience feels uncomfortably accurate. The shocking perspectives aren’t limited to the West. There’s an extended mission where you get a terrifying first-person perspective of an invasion, through the eyes of a child refugee. Infinity Ward, the game’s developer, even forces the player to endure a waterboarding session. It’s little wonder, then, that you have to read an advisory warning and agree to play on every time you open the campaign sub menu. In Urzikstan — the game’s fictional nation state hosting a force of Russian invaders, Al Qatila terrorists as well as a sizeable band of rebels — there are shades of Afghanistan, with poppy fields, and Syria, with a chemical gas attack.
You don’t just engage passively in the violence and grim realities of war — it’s actually a fundamental element of gameplay. When you kick down a door in a house, a woman is reaching for something. It’s not a gun, but a baby. Holding fire can be rewarding. However, in another mission, a civilian employee at the US Embassy has a gun to her head — if you don’t act fast to headshot her captor, she dies.
The overall experience has been refined over previous titles and feels far more immersive. The way the camera shifts from third to first person during a mission’s opening cutscene is just one means of this.
While the campaign is a refreshingly serious take on war, Modern Warfare’s multiplayer offerings feel a little more familiar but include some important new additions. One of these is Gunfight, a mode we got to play during the game’s Alpha release a few months back. These two-versus-two skirmishes are limited to a small map and are just a minute in length. The inclusion of a team health bar means you can’t run and hide when taking damage, as the team with the bigger bar wins the round. Invite a mate over for some split-screen fun in this mode.
Conversely, Ground War can include up to 100 players on a massive map. Thankfully, the game’s crossplay functionality — PS4, Xbox One and PC players can all battle each other — means it doesn’t take as long as previous instalments to start playing. Meanwhile, the Realism mode strips away the heads-up display (on-screen text that shows how much ammunition remains in your weapon and the number of grenades in stock) and the crosshair reticle, meaning you need to aim down your weapon’s ironsights for accuracy. You have to confirm your kill the old-fashioned way, by seeing an actual body slump to the ground, as opposed to “+125 Kill” flashing on-screen the way it does in the other modes.
In keeping with publisher Activision’s promise of a more realistic war simulation, you start out multiplayer battles flying in on a chopper or sat alongside your teammates in the back of a van arriving at the action zone.
The game’s third major part is online co-op. Special Ops lets players team up in strike teams of four. Part of this section is Operations, a large-scale experience with multi-phased objectives, and Classic Special Ops, which lets you test your performance with weapons, munitions and other tools.
You get an expanded offering of unlockable gun attachments as well as aesthetic customisation options. Happily, Activision has promised free maps in future updates of the game through 2020.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is out now on PC, PS4 and Xbox One. The game’s Dark Edition comes with a set of real, working night vision goggles.