There’s a lot riding on Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2. As developers Infinity Ward have stated, this is the “new era of Call of Duty,” with state-of-the-art gameplay, an advanced AI system, and a host of fresh multiplayer modes to expand the scope of its gameplay. Wait, haven’t I heard this somewhere before? Oh, that’s right — in every other annual entry in the Call of Duty franchise.
If you’re like me, what this actually means is a return to form to the days of, well, the original Modern Warfare 2 in 2009. Escape the cookie-cutter format found in Call of Duty: Vanguard, please — give us something beyond the fun-yet-ludicrous combat we’ve come to loathe. But Modern Warfare is a different kettle of fish. The 2019 reboot was met with praise for its realistic-looking graphics engine, exciting single-player campaign, and satisfying-yet-flawed multiplayer. In MW2, Infinity Ward seems to have its sights locked in progressing that last one.
It feels more tactical. When I played Vanguard, there were grenades going off every second, players getting shot and immediately respawning, and just all around chaos. With Modern Warfare 2, movement feels satisfyingly weighty, gunshots are more pronounced, and there’s a general sense of being patient. Don’t get me wrong; this is still the fast-paced CoD we’ve come to know, with time-to-kill (TTK) speeds revving up past the speed dial, but Vanguard’s fast-food multiplayer mayhem is a thing of the past. .
Is the “new era” of CoD beckoning? Based on my time in the Modern Warfare 2 beta on PS5, not quite, but it’s the refresh I’ve been looking for — for now.
To many, Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 is going to feel identical to the numerous experiences they had with path entries, but more specifically with 2019’s MW. It reached the height of exhilaration in multiplayer when the original Modern Warfare came out, so each subsequent entry has been in a weird middle ground of “give us something new” and “don’t mess with the formula.”
So far, Modern Warfare 2 proclaims: “we’ve made a few adjustments you might like, but don’t worry, we’ve kept things just the way you like it.” Many are suspicious that gameplay looks sped up, and while it can be incredibly fast-paced, it can only feel like this in short sprints. I was peering around tight corridors, listening for enemy footsteps, throwing flash grenades or tear gas to flush an enemy out of cover, and figuring out the best way to catch players off guard (especially the usual campers). All this led up to a thrilling exchange of bullets, with the first to pull the trigger (usually) being the one running swiftly past the other’s corpse.
There’s more of a tactical approach at play, which is perfect for the new game modes available in the Beta: Prisoner Rescue and Knockout. Despite the fast-paced nature of Knockout, where teams rush frantically to steal a bag of cash, going in head-on means certain death. Booting it up the first time, it was more of a scramble, but players quickly learned that picking off the opposing team will guarantee a victory. This wasn’t my favorite game mode, as it was more of a mobile Search and Destroy, but it was nonetheless fun to play.
Prisoner Rescue was far more gripping, even though it’s just another version of Capture the Flag. Teams take turns protecting or capturing hostages with attackers getting extra points for extracting prisoners compared to defenders making sure they get stolen. Your squad can be revived when downed, which results in some quick-fire decisions. Do you need that teammate back or should you continue on protecting or attacking? Sure, you can wipe out the opposing team, but you won’t get as many points compared to extracting a prisoner. Tactics are rewarded, and you’ll have the arsenal to display this on the battlefield, too.
Of course, the most largely played modes are the classic Team Deathmatch and Domination. These are the modes I played the most as there was always a new angle to approach in each match. Should I be the general trooper that goes in guns blazing to see how many I can pick off or stick to the tight corners with a shotgun at the ready? Each play style has its rewards, and every death (or well-placed shot) felt fair in terms of the weapon you’re using and how good your aim is. Importantly, players who like to camp are going to get the boot because there are several ways to quickly eliminate a static player, whether it’s throwing a useful tactical grenade or using the many routes on a map to flank them.
I also jumped into the new third-person mode that brings a new perspective to the player, but it didn't make too much of a difference seeing how as soon as you aim down your sight, you'll switch back to first-person mode. I never thought of Call of Duty as a third-person shooter, so I feel this is more of a gimmick for players to mess around in.
During the Beta, it took me no time to jump straight into a game, and I couldn’t blame lag for racking up the most deaths at the end of a match. Speaking of deaths, Infinity Ward must have put more time into respawn locations, as I wasn’t getting shot in the face by an opposing player as soon as I jumped in. It’s been a problem in recent entries, but now I felt like I had a fighting chance each time I respawned.
Infinity Ward wasn’t joking about its “improved 3D directionality.” Making my way through a building only to hear someone sprinting towards me from outside, with no blue arrows on the minimap to mark allies in sight, is both terrifying and gratifying. Sometimes I’d fumble my controller and get easily taken out, but other times I’d lay quiet and wait for the right time to deliver a full face of lead to the enemy player. Despite the relentless explosions of a fiery S.A.E Killstreak, or the beautifully petrifying sound of a Cruise Missile Killstreak landing close by, you can still hear the controlled breath of your character as you crouch to stay silent. Even the reload of a weapon is immersive. It’s the small details like these that matter.
Tools of war
Weaponry looks incredibly crisp and detailed, and seeing your character quickly check up on it before entering the fray shows that Infinity Ward put a lot of time into designing each gun. Speaking of which, you can check and customize each weapon in Gunsmith 2.0, which comes with a few changes.
First, there’s the Receiver, which (thankfully) carries some parts you’ve unlocked over to another weapon you eventually get. That means you don’t have to waste time grinding to get the Underbarrel, Muzzle, Ammunition, and the other parts you already worked on getting when using, say, the M4 assault rifle to get the same parts on a weapon made by the same manufacturer. You still have to level up the other weapon you use, like the FTAC Recon, but you’ll still have all those parts you previously unlocked. I’m keen on this system, as it lets me quickly experiment with different weapons that work for me — taking the time out of using a gun just to unlock parts.
Second, there are the modification slots. You can only equip five attachments to modify your weapon. This made me prioritize my attachments: do I really need the 4MW Laser Box to increase my hip fire accuracy? Not if I can trade it out for a Phantom Grip for better “aim down sight speed”. In Vanguard, you can have an attachment for each slot, but here, attachments are more precious, and I prefer this customization. There’s always some kind of sacrifice you’re making — like better accuracy over speed.
Speaking of speed, the FSS Hurricane SMG was my go-to once I unlocked it. It doesn’t have a lot of range, but its handling speeds, ammo capacity, and recoil stability is a champ compared to the M16 Assault Rifle and FTAC Recon Battle Rifle. However, I liked how each weapon excelled in different scenarios. Take the FTAC as an example: a semi-automatic with a lot of firepower and gun control. This was great for clocking a one-shot, one-kill headshot at a distance, but my accuracy was never good enough to pull it off often. Its recoil control is horrendous, but that’s what Gunsmith 2.0 is for.
A big shout out to the Expedite 12 semi-auto shotgun. Finally, a shotgun in CoD that does its job at close range. With the Deadeye or Assault perk package equipped, it allows you to carry two primary weapons, and I often found myself switching to the ‘ol reliable Expedite when in close-quarter situations like the Shoot House in Farm 18. From the incredible impact it makes to the sound of it firing off, I was satisfied with each pull of the trigger. That goes for all guns, really, and it’s partly thanks to the PS5 DualSense controller’s adaptive triggers.
As for the Perk Packages, you can set out to customize your own unique combination of perks or pick from the six defaults that match your play style, from the sneaky Phantom package that makes you undetectable to the Sniper package to know exactly where your enemy is. They’re split up into base perks you have when entering a match to Bonus and Ultimate perks you earn in a match. I like this shift in perk design, as it means not everyone is overpowered when kicking off a match. You can earn buffs like Fast Hands to reload and switch weapons faster or the very handy High Alert to know if an enemy has spotted you. These perks aren’t anything we haven’t seen before, but if it ain’t broke…
Then there are the Operators. These aren’t the type you’ll find in Battlefield 2042, as they don’t come with any special perks. It’s more about how you want to look on the front lines.
Location, location, location
I got to play a handful of expansive maps, all with open areas for all-out warfare and enclosed spaces for tense shootouts. Like in many CoD maps, there are different routes to flank an unsuspecting enemy player, but the ones in MW2 seem less obvious — and that’s a good thing. I still need more time to get used to them, and surely players will quickly learn a map’s layout like the back of their hand.
Mercado Las Almos is a good example with two blocks of buildings spaced out by a long, wide street with small, abandoned stalls as minimal cover. Leading to these streets are narrow alleys and short corridors in the buildings, allowing players to blitz through them to surprise the opposing squad or wait just behind a door for a sneaky shot. It’s the usual tactics of a majority of CoD maps, but it works very well here.
My favorite, though, was Farm 18: an eerie map used as a makeshift training camp. I loved the creepiness of the maze-like Shoot House with enemy players either hiding behind a door or running between rooms to catch you off guard. It’s a great hiding place from the outdoors, which is filled with vantage points for people to snipe you from above, whether it’s a shelter’s wide roof or a crumbling building’s blown-out opening. There are many ways to get from one end of the map to the other without being noticed, and the freedom to take on opposing forces at multiple levels made this my favorite map to play on.
Breenbergh Hotel feels more claustrophobic compared to the rest, and I loved the outlandish hotel lobby music playing in the background during the quieter moments of a shootout. Sprinting through different rooms, from the kitchen to the blown-out back entrance, had me thinking about shifting my rules of engagement because each had its own low and high points.
The one thing I’m hoping for is a solid selection of different maps. There was only a handful available in the Beta, and while they’re brilliant to play on, CoD players are going to need quite a few more in order to stick around in the long run.
Everything feels just right in Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2, even if it’s more of a refresh rather than a full-blown “new era.” That doesn’t mean it kept me from coming back for just one more match, as everything from the gunplay and maps to the visuals and sounds are a joy to experience. Simply, it’s a tactical, fast-paced thrill, and I’ll take that any day over the chaotic warzone of Vanguard.
This is still only the Beta, meaning there will likely be a few adjustments once Call of Duty MW2 officially releases on October 28. However, this is largely what multiplayer will look like once it does arrive, and despite this writer always telling himself “you don’t need another Call of Duty this year,” Modern Warfare 2 is already making me excuse that line of thinking.
While PlayStation players got a first taste of the MW2 Beta, there’s another one kicking off on September 22 for PlayStation, Xbox, and PC gamers. If you can, I recommend giving it a go.