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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II (Xbox Series X|S) Review

After an errant trip back through WWII, Call of Duty heads back into the Modern Warfare universe for another thrilling, fantastic looking shooter.

Deja Vu

When you really look at the Call of Duty franchise right now, it’s kind of odd. You’ve got a pretty well-stocked set of sub-series’, as well as a collection of themes that CoD can’t seem to stay away from. And all of those rotate in and out, in any given year, sometimes hitting the mark and sometimes… not.

Two years ago, that system bore the awesome Black Ops: Cold War. A slick trip through the 80s, Cold War came complete with hostile Russians, cloak and dagger themes, and going deep under cover behind enemy lines. It also brought BlOps back from its one-off, multiplayer-only entry.

While that was great, it was followed up with 2021’s Vanguard. A game that I originally had high hopes for, Vanguard didn’t dive anywhere near deep enough into post-WWII conspiracies for my tastes and fell flat. Yes, the action was good, but the game itself served up more of the same WWII action that we’ve seen a hundred times already.

So what’s this year’s title? Well, of course that’s the second entry in the reborn Modern Warfare series. It’s game that hits all the right strides and delivers twists, turns, and a heck of a lot of fantastic action.

Getting the band back together

If you played the original (rebooted) Modern Warfare, then you know roughly where the plot of MW2 is heading. Basically, Task Force 141 is a kind of international strike team, formed to take on global terrorist threats.

We get the already established characters from the first game carried over with Price and Gaz, plus new/returning characters Ghost and Soap, and some actual new characters as well. It’s been a while since I’ve played the original MW series, but in general the characters are vastly improved this time around.

To that end, Activision and Infinity Ward have created a well-structured narrative to accompany the well-structured cast. If you’ll recall, the first title ended with the creation of not only TF141, but also a veritable terrorist army. And that does factor into MWII, with the opening moments being a missile strike that essentially propels the entire storyline. That sees Hassan Zayani become the main visible antagonist of the game, who means to transport missiles into the US and strike at major targets.

I don’t want to give away too much, but the story will have players fighting through the middle-east, South America, and other locations. The game pulls little in the way of punches as to the control of the US southern border too, which I thought was an interesting choice. It pays off well, and looks like it might figure heavily into a future Modern Warfare title.

The campaign is also packed with some excellent action, that at times varies greatly from mission to mission. Modern Warfare II sports vehicular levels (don’t worry, they’re pretty solid), as well as some ‘death from above’ segments, stealthy stuff, sniping, and lots more.

Unfortunately one of the twists in the story is a heel turn that’s more than a little easy to spot coming. I’ll leave that up to you to figure, but you’re probably going to do so the second you meet the character in question.

At times too, I was a little confused by what I was supposed to be doing in a mission. I’ve played a heck of a lot of FPS’, but I still got mixed up by the somewhat nebulous objectives from time to time. Thankfully you can call up the direction you’re supposed to be going at any time.

And then there’s the multi

Now, fair warning, I’m not a multiplayer fan by any stretch. But that said, I also am fully aware that the majority of Call of Duty fans are, so of course it’s an important part of Modern Warfare II.

Actually, it might be the most important part of the game, even with all I said above about the detailed and well-plotted campaign. I say that because the main-menu pretty clearly has the multi modes listed ahead of that campaign. So yeah, it’s not all that subtile.

And if you are a fan, then you’ll likely find plenty to keep you busy. The multiplayer is in full effect here, just as you’d expect it to be. That includes a selection of longtime modes, and some new ones like Prisoner Rescue and Knock Out.

There’s also the Gunsmith, which returns for the new title. In that, players will be able to customize their individual load-outs, fine-tuning weaponry. The idea is give CoD players the ability to fully explore the game’s platforms, and get their multiplayer game as smooth as possible.

Again, I’m not a multiplayer fan, but there’s a decent amount to what Modern Warfare II offers right out of the box. That said, there’s evermore coming with the planned Seasons. It might lead some to think that some of that might’ve been included in the game, since Season 01 is kicking off very soon.

Playing war

While there are some things that you can pick at in terms of the overall content, where it comes to multiplayer specifically, the gameplay is as fantastic as ever. As I mentioned, I’ve played a ton of shooters, and I still find Call of Duty’s gameplay (overall) to be superb.

The gunplay is almost perfect at this point. That’s true seemingly no matter who does the developing, but Infinity Ward is just on another level when it comes to delivering in a big way. And they have a fantastically fun and frenzied masterpiece with Modern Warfare.

Action is intense, and at times brutal with forces firing on your character from all directions. Depending on how you ratchet the difficulty, you’ll definitely have some deaths. Restarting is a friendly enough experience though, most of the time, thanks to plentiful checkpoints. And it can be fun to pinpoint what you didn’t see the first time around, and correct behaviors for subsequent run-throughs.

Getting back to the hardware, the guns are fantastic. Even more varied than the mission-types, the arsenal in Modern Warfare II is massive. Weapons of every stripe are included, and will have you actually upset when you run out of ammo with a favorite, having to pick up a rando from a fallen foe.

Still, there are some rough points. And the biggest one is the vehicle stuff. Yes, I know I said the vehicle missions were fun somewhere above, and they mostly are. But if I got a little frustrated with a mission in the game, 9 times out of 10 is was a vehicle-centric one.

Control is iffy at times there, and leaning out and shooting while still trying to keep your truck on the road… yeah it’s not great. Thankfully there aren’t too many of them.

War is (good looking) hell

Even last year’s Vanguard, which I wasn’t in love with by any means, looked fantastic. Modern Warfare II though, is even better.

Once again you’ll find CoD staples like big set pieces and awesome special effects here. Standouts are plentiful, and that includes a rain-slicked level that many fans have already seen with the assault on the oil derrick.

Set out at sea in the midst of a massive rainstorm, players are tasked with assailing an abandoned derrick that’s been overrun with enemy forces. Without giving away too much, the good guys have to scale the structure, take out an objective, and exfil before… well before everything goes ‘boom’.

That particular stage isn’t alone in being impressive though, as the game is full of moments just like it. And of those, most are delivered with impact thanks to the overall fantastic graphics.

Modern Warfare II has a whole mess of settings, with locales that go from deserts and military bases, to wind farms and small Northern European cities. It jumps around quite a bit, keeping things fresh with altered gameplay, and stunning visuals.

The weaponry looks as you’d expect too, which is to say pretty much perfect. And the character models? Yeah, they look fantastic. While the enemies can be a little same-y (which is nothing new), the main cast is really well-done. They all feature incredible facial detail and animation, with some real-world realism when it comes to a few of the actors.

There are some imperfections however, especially as go annoying glitches. You’ll absolutely come across weird stuff in your. time with the game. One thing that, in particular, sticks in my mind is a seagull I came across that was standing… on nothing. And along those same lines, I found that in one particular level footfalls didn’t disturb shallow water whatsoever. It just kind of looked like we were all walking on the surface.

That’s the kind of stuff I’m talking about. While it’s admittedly not all that terrible, in an otherwise fantastic looking game, it’s stuff like that that can rip you right out of the experience.

Overall

If you love military FPS’, ignore the CoD-haters and check out what’s likely the best ‘blockbuster’ shooter this year. It’s a game that does so much right, that what problems it does have get fast-overshadowed.

Oh, and make sure you stay past the ‘credits’ for an awesome callback to the original MW series, plus a tease at what comes next.

A copy of this game was provided by Activision for this review

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II
Release Date:

Platforms: Xbox Series X|S (reviewed), PS5, PS4, Xbox One, PC
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Infinity Ward
MSRP: $59.99 USD

Stay frosty

Premise - 86%
Gameplay - 93%
Presentation - 90%

90%

Excellent

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's rebooted universe comes roaring back with a sequel that serves up a fantastic story, huge action, and the series' staple multiplayer. It has a few issues here and there, including some graphical flubs, but don't let that spoil the party for you. This is a shooter that genre-fans should definitely check out.

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About Jason

Jason's been knee deep in videogames since he was but a lad. Cutting his teeth on the pixely glory that was the Atari 2600, he's been hack'n'slashing and shoot'em'uping ever since. Mainly an FPS and action guy, Jason enjoys the occasional well crafted title from every genre.

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