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Modern Warfare 2 review - an enjoyable CoD with an uncertain future

MW2 review - Modern Warfare 2 is an enjoyable shooter with potential to be a great FPS, but it will likely be cannibalised by its big battle royale brother

MW2 review: A bearded operator holding a rifle with soldiers exiting a helicopter behind him

Our Verdict

Modern Warfare 2 is an enjoyable first-person shooter, and if some of its issues get addressed, it could be the best Call of Duty title we've had for a number of years. However, with the highly-anticipated, free-to-play Warzone 2 launching so soon after, it's hard to see a world where MW2 gets the attention it needs.

In many ways, this Modern Warfare 2 review was always going to be one of the most inconsequential pieces I’ll ever write. MW2 is already a huge hit, and the sales figures for its launch window have proved that.

With a name that nostalgic, a cast of characters that iconic, and a disappointing predecessor in Vanguard, it was almost impossible to conceive Modern Warfare 2 not being massively popular at launch. However, last year’s underwhelming trip to World War 2 proved that no Call of Duty game is completely untouchable. Interest waned rapidly and the vision for the Vanguard unravelled. Ultimately, revenues and player counts dropped and Activision will be fiercely keen not to let this happen again.

So, a review telling you whether you should or should not buy the game that has already netted Activision close to a billion dollars seems somewhat futile. Instead, I’ll try and not only critique what we’ve been served up so far, but look ahead at what it all means for the long-term success of Modern Warfare 2. It is, after all, a title that is all but confirmed to be sticking around for two years rather than the typical 12-month cycle, and one that will very soon have to compete with its free-to-play battle royale big brother, Warzone 2.

Let’s start with the campaign. I’ve already voiced a few thoughts about the Modern Warfare 2 campaign, which you can read here, but at the end of the day the campaign will not determine the long-term success of this game. If you want my opinions in a nutshell though: the varied and engaging gameplay is excellent, but it is let down by a lack of memorable moments and some slightly uncomfortable points.

While maybe not quite as crucial to long-term success as multiplayer (which we’ll dive into shortly), the co-op aspects of Modern Warfare 2 are definitely worth exploring. So far, all we have are three Spec Ops missions, but with more likely to be added and the new PvE Raids to be added in December, it’s something that will certainly be important to a lot of players.

From my experience, Spec Ops was a bit disappointing. While there is plenty of intel to collect and lots of choice as to how you tackle objectives thanks to the large maps, the three missions felt pretty bare bones and were over fairly quickly. The Stars system and the fact that there are rewards to earn for finding intel do give players a reason to go back, but I don’t think I’ll be one of them.

Hopefully, Spec Ops is more of a warmup and a testbed for Raids, which should crank up the stakes, the difficulty, and the fun with three-player experiences. Of course, great PvE co-op content is a bonus, but it’s the PvP where Modern Warfare 2 has to deliver.

Infinity Ward has been extremely bold in its choices when it comes to MW2’s multiplayer, which suggests its serious about creating a distinct and futureproof CoD. It has changed up the weapon progression system in the Gunsmith, created a new UI unlike anything we’ve seen in CoD before, introduced a new perk system, slowed down the pacing of the game, and leaned heavily into the Warzone 2 battleground of Al Mazrah for its multiplayer map offerings. The reception to these changes have been mixed, and that’s mirrored my own personal experience too.

MW2 review: Ghost moves through a restaurant while aiming down the sights of his weapon

The new Gunsmith system is a little overcomplicated and was jarring at first, but I think it’s a nice new way to deal with weapon progression. While I’d like a little more urgency and freedom when it comes to movement mechanics, I’m largely a fan of what Infinity Ward has done with the overall pacing of the game as well, as there are opportunities for both strategic and aggressive play.

However, I think there are plenty of cases where Infinity Ward has tried to fix things that weren’t necessarily broken in the first place, and it’s these changes that I can see wearing players down as MW2 goes on. For example, the new UI has been widely slammed for being clunky and bad at relaying all of that complicated new Gunsmith information, and I’m in agreement. Also, the new perk system is an unnecessary change from the simple pick three system players are used to, and it leads to bizarre shifts in momentum in matches. In my opinion, both the UI and perks need overhauling before anything more is added to either.

The gunplay, which was probably the strongest aspect of Modern Warfare 2019, is equally good in Modern Warfare 2. The weapons feel excellent, and there is some nice variety across the arsenal as well. While some of the best MW2 guns are considerably overpowered at the moment, I’m not massively concerned by this – regular weapon tuning and seasonal meta shifts are part and parcel of CoD these days.

MW2 review: Three operators run through a battle-torn street with weapons in hand

I am however disappointed with the current lineup of attachments. Despite there being a vast quantity of them, there are so many attachments that effectively do the same thing. You may be rewarded with attachment tuning for maxing out a gun, but there needs to be more variety across attachments to make this worthwhile and offer up more variety in the stat altering effects they offer.

I’m also not blown away by the multiplayer maps this year. I’ll admit that almost all of them play well for at least one objective-based mode, but spawn logic really needs to be looked at. What I am more concerned about, however, is just how many 6v6 maps have just been lifted out of larger maps (a trend I hope does not continue) and the fact that Infinity Ward has clearly been blasé about the risks of basing maps on real world locations. I hope there are more original maps introduced in future seasons that aren’t as problematic, and that the current issues don’t have a lasting impact on the map pool.

MW2 review: An operator in black military gear aims his weapon

Overall, despite some concerns, my first week with Modern Warfare 2 has been really enjoyable. But the bigger question is whether this enjoyment will last. What do the current pitfalls mean for the future of Modern Warfare 2? Last year, I quickly became bored of Vanguard’s multiplayer, and only really used it as a way to level up weapons to use in Warzone. Will Modern Warfare 2 suffer the same fate, especially as it only has a few weeks in the spotlight before Warzone 2 makes its grand entrance?

Modern Warfare 2 strikes me as a game in an inescapable position. On the one hand, it’s stuffed with new innovations, and while not all of them land, effort has been made to make a distinct multiplayer and PvE experience. On the other hand, if Warzone 2 does become a behemoth of equal or larger size than the original, who will be left to play and enjoy Modern Warfare 2 in a meaningful way? Without some improvements to the core gameplay loop of multiplayer or at least some decent PvE content with Raids, I can see this game suffering the same decline as Vanguard.

Right now, Modern Warfare 2 has the foundation of a great first-person shooter and the potential to be the best CoD we’ve had in years, despite some of its current flaws. However, I fear it may not get the attention and improvements it needs when it’s shrouded in the shadow of Warzone 2.