Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019) – Campaign mode

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is a reboot of Infinity Ward’s classic 2007 first-person shooter published by Activision and once again features the repeating character SAS Captain John Price as one of four main characters. The other characters are a CIA officer called Alex, young SAS Sergeant Kyle Garrick and rebel leader Farah Karim from Urzikstan (not a real place). The facial animation, voice acting and performance capture elements of the cutscenes is really very good and when inserted into hugely detailed levels with excellent lighting leads to hugely atmospheric gameplay, especially when things inevitably ‘go dark’.

Be warned – there are major spoilers here. 

And ‘dark’ is definitely one word to describe this version of the popular CoD franchise – now reportedly into its sixteenth iteration. I have played ten or so of the games and have always favoured Infinity Ward’s offerings over other contenders and this is certainly the most gritty and mostly realistic campaign story I have experienced. I was hoping it would be a bit longer than it was (around five hours) but I feel that it’s a case of quality over quantity. I only experienced one AI bug and one small graphics bug throughout the campaign run through and thoroughly enjoyed it.

There are 14 missions in the campaign. Some of them are very short, while others can take around twenty minutes or so to complete. There are regular checkpoints during the game which helps a lot and I only had to reload a mission from scratch once where I went a bit gung-ho in the red mist of war and painted myself into a corner I could not extricate myself from.

There’s always plenty of dropped ammo and guns knocking around and very few of those silly ammo crates hanging around, and certainly no health packs! As usual there are occasions when you are advised to pick up special weapons e.g. rocket launchers, drone guidance pointers and sniper rifles which are important to use wisely to move the story (and checkpoints) along, but I generally stuck to whatever initial ‘load out’ was given to me.

As you can see from the trailer thumbnail, the main characters aren’t all white males and that certainly helps to give a more balanced view of ‘modern warfare’ than perhaps previous versions of the games have:

The campaign story revolves around a shipment of chemicals used to make poison gas heading for Urzikstan. CIA chap Alex’s operation to recover the gas goes pear-shaped when unknown assailants attack, steal the shipment and leave him for dead. Alex’s CIA boss Laswell, asks Captain Price to help recover the chemicals without pissing off the Russians. Quite why she asks the SAS rather than US military for help remains unclear.

Soon after that, London is attacked by Al-Qatala (aka AQ not a real organisation) terrorists. It’s scary stuff and the controversial shoot-out in an airport that featured in a previous CoD game is pale in comparison. Price helps Garrick to contain the situation and hunt down the terrorist cell responsible for organising the attack and discover the location of their leader, ‘The Wolf’. It’s room to room clearance at its most tense.

Alex is despatched to Urzikstan to liaise with Karim, who has agreed to help track down the chemicals. While he’s out there, Alex gets involved in fighting Russian forces stationed in the country. They are led by a dodgy general called Barkov (perhaps because he’s always barking orders?). A lot of the levels in Urzikstan are reminiscent of the Middle East locations from the original Modern Warfare series.

Farah and Alex infiltrate Ramaza Hospital in Urzikstan, and capture the Wolf, and take him to the US Embassy. Later, the Wolf’s right-hand man, ‘The Butcher’, attempts to free him from the embassy. Price, Garrick, Alex and Farah team up (for the purposes of this post let’s call them Team Ass-Kick) to get the Wolf out of the embassy and into a secure safe room. However, after a brave defence (which features wave after wave of punishing attacks) they eventually find the Wolf has been extricated.

Alex and Farah decide to ambush the Wolf’s getaway on a desert highway. Alex learns how to use a sniper rifle gifted to him by Farah’s brother Hadir with the help of some well placed white flags. The ambush goes Pete Tong and in the mayhem Hadir is revealed as the chemical thief.

While Farah and Alex are affected by the poison gas we get a flashback scene in which Farah and her brother are children. They experience first-hand a brutal attack on their village and try to escape the clutches of Barkov’s soldiers. A later mission finds them ten years later in a Russian prison. Farah manages to escape, but not before she has been tortured by Barkov. It’s pretty grim stuff to watch, but could’ve been worse I guess.

We then go back to the present day. Hadir is labelled a terrorist by the CIA for joining forces with AQ. Team Ass-Kick infiltrate the Wolf’s underground base in an attempt to find Hadir. Instead they find the Wolf, manage to defuse an explosive vest he is wearing and kill him. It’s all rather close to real events recently bragged about by Trump. In an unfortunate turn of events, Farah’s rebels are labelled a terrorist organisation. Disillusioned by US policy, Alex decides to join their cause.

Price and Garrick go to St Petersburg and meet up with Nikolai, one of Price’s old contacts and a familiar character from previous games. They infiltrate an AQ conflab and after a chase and gunfight on the streets of the historic city, they manage to capture the Butcher alive. Having played a little bit of the multiplayer version I recognised parts of the level as those on one of the multiplayer maps.

The Butcher doesn’t crack under initial interrogation about Hadir and the chemical’s whereabouts, so in the campaign’s most controversial scene Price enlists Garrick in threatening his wife and son. The Butcher cracks and reveals that Hador is planning to attack Barkov at his home in Moldova. Playing as Garrick you get the choice to kill the Butcher or let him live. After what had just transpired, I shrugged, said ‘it’s just a game’ and pulled the trigger. I’m not sure what choice I would have made IRL, and I’m thankful I will never have to.

In a hugely enjoyable Splinter Cell-esque lightbulb-popping nighttime mission, Garrick tracks down Hadir. He divulges the location of Barkov’s gas factory to Garrick and Price. Chased by a helicopter gunship they narrowly escape and meet up with Laswell. She tells them that the Russians have demanded Hadir be handed over to them. Price accedes but keeps hold of the intel on the gas factory to share with Farah.

Price and Garrick meet up with Farah and Alex back in Urzikstan. Team Ass-Kick attack the gas factory with some very useful drone support from the CIA. Nikolai provides explosives to plant around the factory, but when he’s attacked by a ‘juggernaut’ Alex discovers the trigger device is broken. He volunteers to make the ultimate heroic sacrifice and take one for Team Ass-Kick – staying behind to set off the chain reaction of explosions. Barkov tries to flee in a helicopter, but in a call-back to her childhood knife attack on the soldier in her home, Farah sneaks up on him and kills him. Nikolai is piloting the helicopter which makes little sense, but we’ll let it pass…

After the dust has settled, Price takes tea with Laswell and discusses setting up the 141 task force familiar from previous games. Laswell gives Price some CVs of potential task force members which include Garrick (revealed as the familiar ‘Gaz’ from previous games), John ‘Soap’ MacTavish (star of three previous iterations), and Simon Riley (star of the CoD ‘Ghosts’ games). So the story is revealed not only as a reboot but a kind of prequel to the original 2007 version.

I found the campaign hugely enjoyable. The story was morally nuanced and not the usual testosterone fuelled silliness that I think characterised the Black Ops series (and there’s certainly no bloody zombie missions). I was mightily impressed by the in-game and cutscene graphics and the sound effects. I expect the game will win some awards and not just because the 3-year development has delivered a bug-free game (although if you’re an Xbox user you might disagree lol) – something that seems hard to come by these days (WWE 2K20 will agree I’m sure).

Here’s IGN’s review which covers the single-player gameplay in much more detail:

Image by Amber Clay from Pixabay

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