The Call of Duty games are huge sellers. In fact, they’ve topped $1 billion in sales annually for each of the last 15 years. So, if you haven’t played them, you’ve at least heard about them. And it’s time for a new one.
If the latest entry, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, sounds familiar, that’s because it’s sort of a prequel/reboot to 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, one of the most popular games in this long-running combat series. And with this refreshed iteration, the gamemakers harken back to a much more realistic military-shooter format.
The weaponry and mission structures are certainly still high-tech and advanced. But the CoD folks have dialed back on some recent soldier skills that almost crossed over into the superhero realm. You’re no longer endowed with enhanced abilities to run along walls and double-jump your way up impossible inclines.
What you get instead is a set of incredibly realistic and intense conflicts filled with running-for-cover, enemy-outmaneuvering, building-clearing, door-breeching moves. You’ll also navigate environments zinging with ricocheting enemy bullets and filled with the screams of running-and-ducking civilians. It’s all designed to convey a believable sense of what modern warfare must feel like, for better and for worse.
This game’s campaign mode takes place in several hotspots around the world. Missions include a bad-guy interception in St. Petersburg and dealing with a terrorist attack in the streets of London. But the story mostly focuses on the fictional country of Urzikstan and a conflict sparked by the movement of a huge shipment of lethal gas that everyone wants to get their hands on.
In essence, three different factions are going at each other tooth-and-nail over this deadly stuff. American and British forces team up with Urzikstan freedom fighters in one camp. Russian occupiers of the country, led by a brutal General Barkov, are in another. And lastly, there’s a terrorist group called Al-Qatala, led by madman Omar “Wolf” Suleiman. Each group wants the chemical weapon for its own purposes; but the twisting dynamics of who’s good, who’s bad and who will betray you in a heartbeat isn’t as clear cut as you might imagine.
As with other titles in this franchise, the story mode sticks you in the boots of multiple characters faced with difficult, sometimes nearly impossible decisions. You take aim at terrorists running through a crowd of innocents blocking your shot. You try to clear a hospital taken by killers who are ruthlessly executing civilians and using them as human shields. And you watch as one of your own chooses to toss an innocent victim—who’s wrapped in an explosive vest—off a precipice and to his death in order to save a crowd of captives.
The various missions are fierce, frenetic and often filled with the foulest language amid an onrush of multitasking gaming demands. You repeatedly switch from a sniper rifle to detonating bombs to drawing a pistol and fending off a foe screaming toward you—while ducking everything from a hail of bullets to a Molotov cocktail. It’s often a 360-degree running, crawling and blasting form of insanity as the good guys, bad guys and indifferent victims die all around you.
At one point, you’ll play as a young Arab girl who’s crawling around and hiding in terror from a Russian soldier who just murdered her father. You’ll also watch enemy heads explode in a nasty 4K splash as you pinpoint targets away from 300 meters. You’ll struggle with a group of people gagging and choking from a “friendly” drop of deadly gas. And the more you play, the more you may realize that this game is taking a rather neutral stance on the morality of war. Good and bad, friend or foe, innocent or collateral damage, life and death: those’re all fungible things in the heat of a raging conflict, we’re told.
At one point, a central character named Capt. John Price grumbles about a wince-worthy, but in his mind, necessary abuse of innocents. “We get dirty, and the world stays clean. That’s our mission,” he says. And indeed, whether you’re playing through the intense story mode or diving into online multiplayer battles, that’s what this hard-hitting game is all about. It gives you a sense of that dirty life in the brutal trenches and bombed-out death-strewn remains of war.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare begins with a “Mature Content Notice.” And it openly declares that by playing, you’re agreeing to wade into “graphic and intense content.”
And on that front, it sticks close to its word.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.