There’s this one player in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (I won’t say the username for the sake of confidentiality; let’s call them xXPwnmasheen420Xx) who just keeps on killing me. Every time I go back and try to kill them – no matter how I approach it, or whether I change my gun, or I go tactical or go loud – they kill me again. My death count ticks up and I cross the threshold whereby Call of Duty awards me the “Comeback” XP bonus if I actually do score a kill, and meanwhile I watch this other person graduate from a UAV, to a cruise missile, to a stealth bomber just from shooting me over and over. I am not just losing. I am helping them to win. If this were an actual war, simply owing to my own ineptitude, I would be done for treason.
But do I mind? Am I frustrated, bored, or raging into the comms? I am not, because even when I’m having a bad game, the presentation, the style, and the overall feel of this latest Call of Duty entry mean Modern Warfare 2 is always, in some way, enjoyable. It looks great. It sounds fantastic. Shooters live and die by the volume of their guns; if they sound puny, I’m out, but if they’re loud and dangerous, like Battlefield, like PUBG, like here, it can even be enough to cover some otherwise bad mechanics.
Modern Warfare 2 can catch you out. There are changes to the pace and the perks system that will wrongfoot CoD and FPS veterans, and feel perhaps overly punitive for series newcomers. But you quickly acclimatise, and in the meantime, the sheer sensory experience of Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer, whether that’s in Ground War, Invasion, or even a standard team deathmatch, is so great that whatever frustrations you might feel towards being repetitively killed, or not being able to correctly balance your perk set, become minor if not completely ignorable.
What Modern Warfare 2 achieves, via a set of small but important details, is making each multiplayer game feel almost narrative. It’s like every match is a self-contained, organically developing short story, beginning with the little animations that show your team arriving at the map in a van or via a fast-rope descent from a helicopter, to how the action ebbs and flows from one side of the environment to another.
Even in team deathmatches, where everyone is running around basically for themselves, the spawns rotate in such a way that it feels like you’re pressing on one enemy stronghold, united in a general, forward momentum, before capturing it then regrouping to push on the next occupied zone. The voices in your radio, the terrifying spectacle of bombing runs and drone strikes, the way that smoke gathers and clears during a pitched gun battle – it’s like all the plotted and choreographed visual flair of a great single-player mission naturally, dynamically, appear and coalesce, so what you get is this convincing hybrid of player-driven action and developer-designed pyrotechnics.
Nowhere is this more visible than in the new Invasion mode, in which large-scale PVP across a free-roaming map is bolstered by regular deployments of AI troops on both teams, ensuring there’s always someone to aim at. There are some issues here. The computer-controlled combatants are occasionally too easy to spot owing to some bizarre pathfinding and decision making, and occasionally, even if you’re alone on, say, a rooftop, far away from the main brawl, one might parachute on top of you and try to melee you to death. But ultimately what they add is a pronounced sense of scale.
When one side is losing and ordered to fall back, and you suddenly hear the AI battalion yelling and shouting at each other, then streaming past you down the main street as they’re picked off by enemy sharpshooters, it feels, more than ever in Call of Duty multiplayer, like you are in a war. You’re not just battling other players looking for perks and XP, and you’re not the centre of the game’s attention, but rather one frantic particle in among a rapid unravelling chaos. As players have already observed, it’s true that you die a bit too quickly. One of the best components of these large-scale type game modes is having the option to revive yourself or be revived, to escape the occasional near miss and continue with the flow of the battle without having to jog all the way back from the spawn point. But again, this can be fixed in time for launch.
In the past, when I’ve been playing Battlefield or maybe battle royale games like Warzone, I’ve been killed over and over and gotten fed up, and wanted to stop – I’m not actually a soldier; I’m not going to learn how to be a soldier; I just want the game to make me feel like a soldier. What Invasion offers – though it might bother some die-hard players – is a game mode where casual players can still feel like they’re making a positive difference: if you’re getting torn up by human opponents, gunning down a few NPCs still lets you feel part of the fight. It’s not the same, sure, and it’s not conducive to competitive, pro-friendly play, but tell that to the dopamine that’s coursing through my veins.
And that’s what I like about Modern Warfare 2. So far, it seems designed to do and offer more than a conventional multiplayer adapt-or-die gauntlet, where you either learn the systems and unlock all the good stuff or get slaughtered by the higher-ups. You can be ‘bad’ at it, in the sense that you maybe get an even kill-death ratio and don’t commit to learning all the movement exploits and weapon metas, and still have an extremely fulfilling, spectacular experience. This is Call of Duty multiplayer as more than just a competition. Modern Warfare 2, judging from the beta, makes playing online feel like a semi-written, well-paced adventure.
If you’re gearing up for the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 release date, check out our guide to all the best Modern Warfare 2 guns. You might also want to get ahead of the curve by preparing the best M4 loadout or, if you’re still fighting in the Warzone, give yourself the top shot at victory with the best loadout drops for season 5.