Saturday, November 2, 2019
By: Patrick "TheLaw" Morris
Call of Duty is one of the video game industries most polarizing series. The games are played by both the extremely hardcore competitive gamer type and the most casual "I only play COD and Madden" frat bro type. For that reason Call of Duty holds a truly unique and nearly bulletproof position in the video game industry having only been toppled from the best selling game of the year twice since 2009: in 2013 by Grand Theft Auto 5, and 2018 by Red Dead Redemption 2. But like every other icon of pop culture it seems as though the best days of Call of Duty are in the rear view mirror. Call of Duty has been an annualized franchise longer than most; and in the past few years the campaign offerings have begun to lean on nostalgia. Modern Warfare 2019 attempts to ride the audiences nostalgia for its namesakes trilogy in the same way 2017's World War 2 did with the world war 2 shooter genre, but the combination of the familiarity of its gameplay and proximity to its predecessor makes for an aggressively mediocre COD experience.
Welcome welcome welcome everyone welcome back to LegalSpeak a ColdNorth Production. I'm TheLawMorris and this is the video essay series in which I get to talk about the games I've been playing and what I think of the medium as a whole. I was supposed to be talking about Gears 5 this week but then someone told me to check out the new Modern Warfare game because the campaign was "the best campaign since the original Modern Warfare trilogy" so here we are. Another year and another Call of Duty, let's talk about Modern Warfare.
Spoiler alert: I will be discussing what some might consider some major spoilers for Modern Warfare 2019 so if you haven't played it and you're going to you should mute the video but make sure to leave it playing so that my watch time goes up. Also a quick disclaimer: this video is about the Call of Duty campaign. I don’t play Call of Duty for the multiplayer so hopefully that’s not what you came here for or else you should prepare yourself for disappointment. Let's get to it.
To be clear: I absolutely don’t think Modern Warfare 2019 is a bad game. It's perfectly competent in some areas and down right good in others. I don’t want to sound to negative on the game so lets get started with what this game does right. Weapons are fantastic, there are so many different weapons and different combinations that can be used to completely change the way a combat scenario is approached. If you want to hang back and pick your enemies off one by one that’s great you can use Hadir's Sniper Rifle for that. If running in guns blazing Terminator style is more your thing pick up the mini gun and go to town. Both of these approaches can be applied to the exact same scenario. And if you're just looking for the most brutal challenge the game has to offer then crank up the difficulty and choose a well measured and reliable mid range weapon. Every different gun type looks, sounds, and feels wholly unique making the game feel more customizable to the individual players play style. Never in any other game have I so thoroughly enjoyed using so many different AK-47's in so many different ways. Guns are punchy, offer a wide variety, and incredibly well realized. Weaponry is definitely at an all time high for my experience with the series.
While some levels throughout the game struggled a lot (one in particular but we'll get to that later) the levels that I was always looking forward to were those of the stealth variety. Infinity Ward's focus on one to one real world scaling makes the stealth raid and infiltration levels of the game feel incredibly real and claustrophobic. One shot one kill sequences full of enemies bursting out of hiding places, utilizing creative vantage points like under a bed or behind a toilet, and waiting to hear your footsteps to try to shoot through a door make for some of the most memorable and enjoyable Call of Duty gameplay I've had in years. Combine all that with graphics and animations so stunning that under the cover of night vision I genuinely believe a person could be tricked into thinking it were actual combat footage and what you’ve got is the best levels in the game. It's just to bad there are only a handful of these levels.
Along with the weapons, graphics, and stealth sequences one of the main stand outs of the game were a few of the characters. Farah, Hadir, and Kyle were all fine and of course Captain Price was just as charming and badass as he ever is, but the real stand out character in the game was Alex. Alex was charming, loyal, humble, handsome, and most importantly believable. It's been since Soap Mctavish that I've looked forward this much to getting to play as a Call of Duty character. Alex's contribution to the story through his loyalty to Price and by proxy Farah and Hadir makes him exactly what a playable character in a game like Call of Duty should be: a badass soldier with an infectious personality for the player to inhabit for five to eight hours. It's amazing but there is finally another Call of Duty character that's as likable if not more so than Captain Price.
Don’t mistake my praise for these aspects of the game as a ringing endorsement of its overall quality though. After all was said and done I was left with the feeling of having just finished what I could generously describe as a just okay game. While there were some stand out features throughout, the rest of the game felt like a standard paint by numbers Call of Duty experience. Not that that’s an inherently bad game just one without any feeling of heart or soul put into it, one lacking that tender love and care found in earlier titles like COD 2, the first two Modern Warfare games, and World at War.
When I wasn’t raiding a house in a perfectly curated stealth level the game was essentially the standard Call of Duty tunnel shaped shooting gallery. Not that that’s a bad thing but in 2019 competing with the likes of Control, Resident Evil 2, and even Gears 5 it just comes off as uninspired. Level design feels derivative of previous COD games, so much so in some cases that the only way I would be able to pick out which levels came from this game in a line up would be the graphical prowess. The attempts at variation in gameplay are well paced but when it comes to having the player do anything other than the classic Call of Duty run and gun nearly every single sequence fell flat. Painting targets for a drone strike didn’t feel as awesome and powerful as it should have, sniping from a very long range was degraded by small flags right next to every single enemy apparently being the only way to convey wind direction and speed, and thank god there was only one instance of guiding a prohibitively stupid AI through an office via CCTV cameras. And to top this all off the check point system was so overbearing it nearly led to me having to restart a level from scratch on multiple occasions.
Putting it frankly I would be shocked if I ever found out that Activision had even for one second been holding their breath waiting for a Call of Duty game to win an award for best writing or story telling. When it comes to stories the best that can be asked for from a COD game is something like the personal emotion of WW2 or the intrigue and thrill of Black Ops…neither of which can be found in Modern Warfare. The games story becomes a convoluted mess of vague double crossing and even triple crossing all in an ill defined attempt at adding some sort of moral compass aspect into the narrative. Like Tom Clancy stories Call of Duty should focus on simply refining what they are: a military thriller, and leave the drama and sub textual messaging to other games.
So we've covered the good, the just okay, and the even somewhat bad. But unfortunately for Modern Warfare 2019 the writers seemed to think that episode of Happy Days featuring Fonzi jumping over a shark was wicked cool so naturally they decided to jump the shark themselves. An entire level of the game is played from the perspective of Farah when she was a child. In theory I actually really liked this idea and I think from the right developer given the proper story build this could have been a really cool sequence but instead it came off as something akin to Tommy Wiseau setting out to write Oscar bait. The story beats explored in this particular level feel rushed. The fantastic one to one scaling I was praising from earlier in the game is either temporarily completely abandoned or the developers have never even seen a child in their lives as Farah should be at the very youngest 5 years old and she appears to be at most two feet tall and can compact her body to be literally just a head sitting in a corner when the gameplay calls for her to hide. And apparently prying the lock held to the door with what is clearly a flathead screw off the door frame with a flathead screw driver is much more realistically possible for a five year old than simply unscrewing it. The Farah level takes what was up to that point an okay game and changes course directly into bad game territory only to be salvaged in nearly the final hour by the fantastic "Going Dark" level.
As a sub series Modern Warfare has somewhat made a name for itself through the utilization of disturbing imagery. This trend began in Modern Warfare 2 with the infamous "No Russian" level and was continued in Modern Warfare 3 in both the opening fight on Wall Street and the car bombing in Paris. While these scenes and levels were disturbing and in the case of "No Russian" caused quite a bit of controversy they did contribute to the story in a meaningful and well thought out way. Modern Warfare 2019 attempts to follow this trend early in the game with the attack on Piccadilly Circus seeing the extremely recognizable landmark location come under fire by terrorists and watching civilians run for safety as they are gunned down in the street. This so close to home imagery seems to be included for nothing but shock value. I'm not opposed to disturbing imagery in video games but where Modern Warfare 2019 differs from Modern Warfare 2 and 3 is in its feeling of being earned. Not earned as in the developers earning the right to use imagery like this in their game but more in the way that they had written a story in which the airport scene was a pivotal story beat and the wall street and Paris invasion scenes were the result of a slow crescendo spanning two games. Modern Warfare 2019 slapping the player in the face with the Piccadilly Circus moment in the second level isn't earned through writing or build it's just a means of advertising through controversy. And given the revelation that this game is a prequel to the original Modern Warfare this scene makes even less sense as it devalues those moments of terror and uncertainty as people are attacked in places they would never have expected and have always been presumed safe.
Though it provided some major highs and a seriously low low at the end of the day Modern Warfare was counting on nostalgia. WW2 succeeded in entertaining me by bringing me back to the early 2000's when World War 2 shooters were a dime a dozen and every year there was a new game trying to bring that Spielberg magic into a new medium. But what WW2 had going for it that Modern Warfare 2019 does not is time. The World War 2 shooter genre died in 2006 compared to the most recent game in the Modern Warfare series having been released in 2011 just eight years ago. This year's Call of Duty campaign was fine but leaned a bit to heavily on the clout granted by its namesake and as a result in my opinion wound up being a mediocre game not worthy of the Modern Warfare name.
Which Call of Duty campaign is your favorite and if you played this years what did you think of it? Let me know in the comments down below. Don’t forget to subscribe and click that bell icon for notifications of when our video essays and podcasts are posted every week! You can see everything we do all in one spot over at ColdNorthPro.com, I'll be back next week talking about Gears 5 for real this time so until then just go play some games!