Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 review — a new high for the series

Modern Warfare 2 refines its FPS formula

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Editor's Choice
(Image: © Infinity Ward)

Laptop Mag Verdict

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is a new high for the franchise that was sorely needed. Gameplay is as swift as ever, the arsenal of weaponry at your disposal is tantalising to use, and the overarching tactile feel of the game compels me to play “just one more round” in multiplayer.

Pros

  • +

    Engaging campaign

  • +

    Addictive multiplayer progression

  • +

    Weaponry is a treat

  • +

    Superb gameplay mechanics

Cons

  • -

    Some lackluster missions

  • -

    Usual Call of Duty formula

Why you can trust Laptop Mag Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.

Getting hyped for the next Call of Duty is always a risk. We’ve heard it all before: “this is the new era of Call of Duty,” “the biggest one yet,” or “the best in the franchise. At the end of the day, however, everyone knows exactly what they’re getting into — but it’s the way each entry is crafted that makes a Call of Duty shine. 

Case and point: Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 shows how well developers can finely tune a near double-decade-long series to breathe new life into it. It’s a modernized, erm, Modern Warfare that’s brimming with impactful combat scenarios, tense covert action sequences, and the slickest gameplay mechanics for an FPS that still feels grounded. 

From the engaging campaign to the additively tactical multiplayer, along with a revamped Warzone 2.0, I’m surprised Modern Warfare 2 is the most excited I’ve been about a Call of Duty in a long time. For those that have been following CoD, this is a new high for the series. For those that only dabble in it, MW2 is still the same FPS game you’ve (probably) played every other year. But this time, the tried-and-true formula is refined for the best.

A surprisingly compelling campaign

Modern Warfare 2’s campaign offers five difficulties, ranging from Recruit to Veteran initially, with the Realism difficulty being unlocked once you’ve completed each mission. I went for Hardened, and even that had me dying more than a few times, it’s the perfect difficulty, with attackers somewhat realistically falling to the floor after a clean shot — but it only takes a few shots for you to go down, too. 

(Image credit: Infinity Ward)

You start at Al Mazrah, where you immediately fill the shoes of the fan-favourite Ghost. Right off the bat, visuals are breathtaking on PS5, but it’s the little things like the sway of your rifle as you walk or sprint that immerses you in the action. But that’s just a simple prologue. The real action begins as, of course, Soap McTavish. And the first mission is what I’d hoped it would be. 

No outrageous explosions, no gimmicky action sequences, just a clean, suspenseful in-the-dark mission that goes slightly awry. By slightly, I mean defending a shot-down chopper from a small militia of soldiers bursting through a fog of smoke. The way Ghost confidently leads you through the mission is compelling, and kicks off a campaign that’s sure to delight fans of CoD campaigns. 

(Image credit: Infinity Ward)

Next, you head to Amsterdam. Filling the shoes of Gaz behind Captain Price. You’re put in a different scenario where you take out enemies at a pier, sneaking underwater to evade patrol boats while taking enemies out quietly with a well-placed throwing knife. The quietness is satisfying, and these covert operations extend to the busy streets of Amsterdam. This is where Infinity Ward shows off its graphical chops, as the details of each restaurant and cafe, different groups of people chatting away, and splendour of the city delve players into the brief scene. The job is extracting a target in plain sight, and it was terrifying to know that a shootout could happen — causing civilian casualties.

(Image credit: Infinity Ward)

The story starts off intriguing enough, with certain enemy factions and regional weaponry not where they are supposed to be. The Mexican cartel in Amsterdam? An American-made missile in the hands of an Iranian militia? Something’s fishy alright, and Task Force 141 has a few compelling twists and turns ahead of it. I’m a big fan of how Modern Warfare 2 weaves other Call of Duty entries into this new campaign, and while I wouldn’t say the story ends as strongly as it started, the missions it crafts are a major highlight for the franchise. 

Oh, and the score of Modern Warfare II is magnificent. An underlying intensity of each string matches the covert style of the game.

Mission accomplished

Modern Warfare 2 adores its tight spaces, with a number of sections seeing players tactically moving through enclosed environments to clear rooms. That was arguably the most popular mission in 2019’s MW, and Infinity Ward has embraced it fully. It could almost feel like a rail-shooter, with enemies popping out from all angles, but MW2 keeps it excitingly tense yet horrifyingly realistic. One shot leaves a spattering of blood on the wall, and attackers squirm when it isn’t fatal. 

(Image credit: Infinity Ward)

My favourite mission was the chase in the mission Cartel Protection in Las Almas, Mexico, where Soap, Ghost, and newcomer Alejandro pursue main antagonist Hassan in a mountain-side village. The situation goes belly up, and you’re forced down a mountain as you continually flee while looking back to deflect the pursuing forces. It reminded me of Lone Survivor — fleeing a greater force while keeping your head on a swivel. 

Like in many CoD campaigns, there are missions that like to give another perspective of certain missions. This is an “eye in the sky,” offering players an aerial view of the action on the ground. Eliminate enemies with different tiers of ammunition, from short 40mm bullet fire to one devastating missile, to support the squad achieving their objective. I get the change of pace, but I’ve never been a fan of these scenarios. It takes you out of the close-quarter action for a limited chance to gauge enemies from another perspective. We get it: special forces thrive by using different resources. But why take away from what could be thrilling first-person scenarios with on-the-ground aerial support? It’s not like players will ever make use of this in other game modes. 

(Image credit: Infinity Ward)

Also, spoiler alert: we have another “All Ghillied Up” mission in “Recon by Fire.” It’s clear Infinity Ward is striking off the best parts of past fan-favourite missions, but spicing it up with different takes on them. “If you have to manoeuvre, keep it slow and steady. No quick movements,” Price tells you. Like in the original Modern Warfare, it’s as chilling as ever. And the graphics elevate this tension — watching enemies unknowingly breeze past you as you watch them through a blade of grass is mesmerising.

(Image credit: Infinity Ward)

There’s even a return to a cargo ship on a rainy night. That mission in the trailers with the shifting cargo shipments and boxes as players stumble their way through hostile territory? It’s also a good one. In fact, nearly all missions come with memorable entertainment value, and thankfully not the kind that ends in a catastrophe of over-the-top set pieces like past CoD entries. This campaign is a new high for the series, and despite it being on the short side (just around five hours), fans of CoD campaigns will want to check this one out. 

(Image credit: Infinity Ward)

One mission in particular even seemed, dare I say, Resident Evil Village-esque? I know, that sounds far-fetched. However, you’re finding supplies and crafting tools to outmanoeuvre an imposing force through the dark streets of a creepy, unfamiliar surrounding. Sound familiar? More Guerrilla warfare than T-virus zombies, of course, but this was a shift in what we usually get from a campaign. 

Contributing to the entertainment are the quick bursts of banter between characters — especially between Ghost and Soap. From the knowingly corny “army humour” to digs at Ghost’s mask, it lightens the mood in an otherwise highly risky situation — it’s fight or flight with a few smirks. 

(Image credit: Infinity Ward)

With 17 missions altogether, varying in length, I’m a fan of the variety in each one — which is needed when the main point of action is shooting down waves of enemies. This is one of the better campaigns of the series, and campaign fans will want to give it a go.

Refreshing multiplayer tactics  

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.” 

(Image credit: Infinity Ward)

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: 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.

(Image credit: Infinity Ward)

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. 

(Image credit: Infinity Ward)

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.

(Image credit: Infinity Ward)

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.

(Image credit: Infinity Ward)

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. 

(Image credit: Infinity Ward)

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…

Location, location, location

There are a good amount of expansive maps in multiplayer, 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. 

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. 

(Image credit: Infinity Ward)

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.

(Image credit: Infinity Ward)

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.

Bottom line

In a world where we get a Call of Duty every year (but not for long), it’s a triumph that Modern Warfare 2 reinvigorates the series in its 20th(!) entry. Sure, this is the same game many of us have played over the past decade: a short-but-sweet campaign, a near-endless multiplayer mode, and another section like Warzone or Zombies to mix up the formula. But it’s to Infinity Ward’s credit that it can still deliver a bombastic FPS experience that not many other games of its kind can keep up with. 

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is a new high for the franchise that was sorely needed, and I’m more interested than ever in what’s coming next. Gameplay is as swift as ever, the arsenal of weaponry at your disposal is tantalising, and the overarching tactile feel of the game compels me to play “just one more round” in multiplayer. 

Is it a “new era of Call of Duty”? In the sense of a modernized Modern Warfare, sure, but don’t expect too many differences from past entries. Still, if it’s been a while since you’ve dabbled in CoD, Modern Warfare 2 is a fantastic re-entry point.

Darragh Murphy is fascinated by all things bizarre, which usually leads to assorted coverage varying from washing machines designed for AirPods to the mischievous world of cyberattacks. Whether it's connecting Scar from The Lion King to two-factor authentication or turning his love for gadgets into a fabricated rap battle from 8 Mile, he believes there’s always a quirky spin to be made. With a Master’s degree in Magazine Journalism from The University of Sheffield, along with short stints at Kerrang! and Exposed Magazine, Darragh started his career writing about the tech industry at Time Out Dubai and ShortList Dubai, covering everything from the latest iPhone models and Huawei laptops to massive Esports events in the Middle East. Now, he can be found proudly diving into gaming, gadgets, and letting readers know the joys of docking stations for Laptop Mag.