Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Campaign Review | At War with Itself

Modern Warfare 2’s campaign looks, feels, and sounds fantastic, but it's bogged down by tedious missions, technical bugs, and other issues.

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Call of Duty campaigns have always been the most sidelined part of every release. The main selling point of the franchise has always been the multiplayer experience. However, games like Black Ops, Black Ops 2, the original Modern Warfare Trilogy, Advanced Warfare, and Cold War have stuck with me as a few of the notable ones that represent the best of what CoD can do with their single-player outings.

2019’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare reboot also featured a campaign that stood out due to how bold it was in dealing with the controversial nature of war. There were moments when I really had to step back and think to myself “do I really want to do this?” Oftentimes, CoD campaigns are just mindless popcorn experiences that barely solidify their existence as something worth playing more than once, if even that. The Modern Warfare reboot proves that maybe something substantial can be said with the added weight that it can happen in today’s world and in worst cases, it already has.

Three years later, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s campaign packs some impressive firepower with a strong cast of characters and exceptional visual fidelity. Unfortunately, it’s all bogged down by tedious mission design, flat attempts at recapturing iconic moments from past games, and a platoon of technical bugs that are too noticeable to ignore at times.

Taking point

For this year, Infinity Ward knew just how anticipated Modern Warfare 2 will be given how successful the 2019 reboot was and the polarizing reception of 2021’s Call of Duty Vanguard. While I’m still not exactly in support of their monetization tactics and lack of a free upgrade from last-gen to current-gen consoles, I will commend their decision to open up access to the MW2 campaign a week early before the full game launch for people who pre-ordered.

A large reason why CoD campaigns would be ignored before was that people would rather grind out the multiplayer modes in fear of being under-leveled against other players. It’s not surprising finding someone who claims that they never have played through a CoD’s campaign in recent titles. Especially now that progression is all the more important with unlocking guns and multiple attachments.

Now with the early access, players not only get to experience the campaign with full focus, but it also helps generate even more hype for the full release. This is one of the best pre-order incentives so far and it’s a system I hope the CoD series continues moving forward.

Clear visual on the target

Modern Warfare 2 looks fantastic. Infinity Ward’s IW 9.0 engine is unquestionably the best in the franchise in gunplay, animations, and visual capabilities.

Facial animations are close to perfect and near life-like in both gameplay and pre-rendered cutscenes. If you look up at any actors who portrayed MW2’s characters, you’ll notice that it is a one-to-one translation. Everything from the subtle mouth, eye, and muscle movements is accurately captured. There is not a single second of performance wasted by the actors and the story feels all the more real and grounded for it.

Environments are now popping with color and the experience is all the better for it. Surface textures and special effects all combine to form levels that I sometimes find myself stopping to just take it all in. Even the water looks great here. This is the best-looking CoD game by far and nothing else comes close.

All this is complemented by a very beefy audio design that is admittedly a bit too loud in its default settings. Guns pop with thunderous sounds which are mixed with impressive ambient and environmental noise. Whether it be a speaker or a decent set of headphones, your ears will for sure going to take a beating.

Everything is tied together with a buttery smooth framerate that never felt like it slowed down for me. I played with a PS5 version which also carries a ton of customizable options and a great integration of the DualSense 5 controller.

The many faces of war

Task Force 141 is as badass as ever with a couple of new additions. Captain Price and Kyle “Gaz” Garrick make a return. They’re still cool as ever with Price as the stern leader and Gaz being the younger mentee. You know what you’re getting from both of them. What’s surprising is that they’re now somewhat overshadowed by the new additions to the team.

The main one is Simon “Ghost” Riley, one of the most iconic characters from the original trilogy. I’ve always felt like his reputation was more of a result of a cool character design and his inclusion of a twist that no one expected back in 2009. Other than that, he was pretty much an overrated and severely underdeveloped side character.

MW2’s Ghost actually has a character to work with and a much more fleshed-out personality. His buddy relationship with John “Soap” MacTavish provides a lot of entertainment throughout the runtime. One of the best missions in particular has Ghost attempting to calm down the situation by telling a few less-than-stellar jokes. Imagine dad jokes but maybe about two tiers lower in terms of quality. It never got to the point that it was cringe or that it felt out of place in the scene.

My favorite addition has to be Colonel Alejandro Vargas of the Mexican Special Forces. His character felt like a modern-day cowboy (which helps with the fact that they call themselves the “vaqueros”). An energetic performance from Alain Mesa adds a slick commanding presence to Alejandro who oftentimes steals the scene he’s in. He is by far the best character in the game and a worthy member of the 141.

Unfortunately, not everything is a direct hit. Returning characters such as Farah are criminally underutilized here as her appearance can basically be described as an extended cameo for one mission.

And if you’re a long-time CoD fan, you would know what the name “General Sheperd” means. I’d say the way Infinity Ward handled his portrayal here is interesting which had me on the edge of my seat throughout the entire runtime. I had a lot of trust issues playing the campaign and I don’t know if there was something going to be thrown out of nowhere. This felt great as it was a direct connection with how the main cast felt throughout their adventure.

Changing the rules of engagement

All in all, the main cast felt a bit more characterized here compared to everyone’s stoic nature from the 2019 campaign. MW2 felt a bit more entertaining to play but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it is better.

Modern Warfare 2019’s story stood out because of some highly affecting missions that stuck with me to this day. Playing as a child trying to hide from a huge man who wants nothing more than to kill you was just one of the risks Infinity Ward took that paid off for the most part. They wanted to say that yes, war is ugly and it does not choose who’s the hero or villain.

MW2’s campaign felt like it tried to do the same but it felt more “safe” in nature. There was not a single scenario here where I felt like my actions had consequences the way MW wasted no time in communicating with the player.

Infinity Ward saw just how many people loved the “Clean House” mission and tried to bring it back in MW2 as the first level. Unfortunately, it’s not as good as it should’ve been. The mission just later devolves into a typical wave-based gunfight that has been far too overused in any shooter from three console generations ago. This mission structure of starting off well and then drastically falling off will be a common theme throughout the MW2 campaign. There are a ton of stealth sequences here that go on for far too long. It almost felt like this is a campaign that belongs more to a Black Ops game rather than Modern Warfare.

“Recon by fire” is by far one of the worst missions from both a design standpoint and gameplay loop. This was supposed to be MW2’s attempt at recapturing “All ghillied up” but it ended up being a cheap knockoff. You spend most of the mission walking in prone positions trying to snipe people in a huge patch of land. Afterward, you have to make your war to each warehouse and eliminate any hostiles. Note that these are warehouses that are a stone’s throw from each other. Once you begin your assault on one making all the noise possible, you can still sneak through the next warehouse with no trouble at all. It’s almost as if every enemy soldier is wearing state-of-the-art noise-canceling headphones.

There will be missions here that you can finish in less than five minutes while most of them overstay their welcome t the point that it feels tedious. There’s also the return of the escort someone through a security camera mission here. MW’s version was interesting since you were trying to guide a scared civilian through a warzone. Stakes were high because she had no means of defending herself. This time, you try to guide Ghost himself. Throughout the entire thing, all I was thinking to myself was “Why don’t they just let me play as him?”

There’s also a mission here that pulls from the best action sequence in Uncharted 4. While I have no problem with that since it is one of gaming’s best, the way MW2 executes it felt so awkward due to the number of technical issues and a hilarious missing sense of speed. Jumping from one car to another should feel like a thrill ride that is perfect for the CoD franchise but it was just not well realized here. I was laughing more than I was impressed.

To add the cherry on top, MW2 is probably one of the buggiest CoD campaigns I’ve played. Characters floating in mid-air, geometry, foliage disappearing, checkpoints that spawn you directly into fail states, etc. Maybe this was because of the early access but given how Infinity Ward had about three years to develop the game, they have no excuse.

Old dog, New tricks

MW2’s campaign introduces crafting to the CoD franchise but only in select missions. It is a novel mechanic and one that I can see being more fleshed out in unique ways in future installments but as of right now, it’s pretty basic. You gather around supplies from the environment in order to create makeshift gear to defend yourself from heavily armored enemies.

Yes, the armor mechanic from Warzone makes its way to the single-player campaign and it’s back with a vengeance. The armor here is ten times more difficult to crack and it will cause some problems, especially in the higher difficulties. I do suggest that you run the game on “Hardened” mode for your first try in order to get used to the mechanics before doing a “Veteran” run. As usual, “Recruit” and “Regular” are just too easy to even be worth the effort.

Final Thoughs – 7/10

Much like 2019’s Modern Warfare, MW2 also ends at an abrupt pace that leaves much more to be desired. The payoff to everything that the characters have been chasing is just cleaned up in one quick sweep.

After hearing rumors of a possible year two paid expansion to continue with the story, it all began to make sense why Infinity Ward chose to end MW2 the way it did. I’m all for setting up future sequels but when profits get in the way of story cohesion and satisfaction, that’s when I start having a problem.

There is a post-credit scene here where it teases a very interesting scenario for the next installment, one that fans of the franchise will be far too familiar with. But I can’t help but think that I felt robbed of a complete narrative just because some executives wanted to make a couple more extra bucks.

All in all, I’d still say MW2’s campaign is worth a playthrough. The characters can be fun to be with and there are particular sequences that are impressive. For now, I still believe that 2019’s Modern Warfare is the better campaign simply due to how safe MW2 played it. No doubt because they’re saving all their ammo for the next entry whether it be an expansion or a new game altogether.

This review was made using a game code for the PS5 provided by the publisher.