While our Call of Duty: Modern Warfare review (opens in new tab) tackles the most controversial campaign to date, multiplayer is a different beast entirely. Countless players pick up Call of Duty every single year solely to enjoy the online multiplayer, and this time, Infinity Ward has rebuilt the competitive modes from the ground up. While there are some familiarities, the experience is vastly different to anything we've seen in recent years.
Finding the sweet spot with the weapons
As the gunplay is so core to the multiplayer gameplay, it's got to be impressive. Weapons need to feel weighty, they need to offer the right amount of recoil, and so on, because otherwise the multiplayer loses its core. For the most part, Infinity Ward has got the weapons bang on: every gun packs a real punch, and the sound design this year has been stepped up a notch, to almost Battlefield-esque levels. There's some serious recoil you need to learn how to control, and there's nothing I've found yet that feels too accurate and overpowered.
While previous games have let you modify your weapons with a specific number of attachments, Modern Warfare takes it to a whole new level with the Gunsmith. On any weapon, you can have up to five attachments, ranging from the muzzle to the rear grip, and even a specific weapon perk. There's nine categories in total, depending on the weapon – no, you can't put a laser for improved hip fire accuracy on a sniper rifle – and each slot has multiple options. You can choose from 20 optics and 13 underbarrel attachments on the M4A1 assault rifle for example, which means you can tweak every aspect however you see fit.
Realism is the goal
It's these sorts of improvements upon the core Call of Duty concepts that show just why the Modern Warfare series has been revamped. Realism is the aim this time, and it's clear to see that the "Realism" playlist is how the game was originally meant to be played.
This playlist does away with every single HUD element except for indicators above your teammates' heads, and it truly does feel realistic. It's clearly the experience Infinity Ward spent the majority of development working towards, because it feels natural. Something clicks when playing that mode, but there's one huge caveat: it's not very fun. Having no idea where the enemies are, no hitmarkers, and worst of all, no radar to refer to means the gameplay is far slower than any Call of Duty to date. Corner campers and silencers galore, it's only marginally better than playing Hardcore.
As a result, the experience in core playlists leaves a lot to be desired. While the new turbo sprinting movement is a wonderful addition that would imply close-quarters rushing is more than viable, you'll quickly learn it's the opposite. The low time-to-kill means you'll rarely be able to turn on your opponent and outgun them if they've shot first, and while the number of options in Gunsmith are plentiful, anyone trying to play towards a "quickdraw" style will struggle because most attachments negatively impact the aim down sights speed.
Part of striving to be more realistic means footsteps are now louder than ever before. Dead Silence makes a return but only as a field upgrade, which means it's temporary and lasts for about 30 seconds before expiring. Headphone users can gain an overwhelming advantage because footsteps are blaringly loud, which means sitting in corners and not sprinting everywhere like Wile E. Coyote is the optimal strategy.
Lacklustre map design
The map design doesn't do anything to alleviate the corner camping either, which is a crying shame since the original Modern Warfare features some of the franchise's all time best maps. Gone is the three-lane philosophy that kept matches flowing and layouts easy to understand, as it's been replaced by seemingly haphazard designs that feature no structure whatsoever. Piccadilly is the biggest criminal for this. Despite being a faithful recreation of the real life location (seriously, it looks unreal), the amount of buses and oddly shaped playable areas make it a true nightmare to play.
Another example is Azhir Cave, but for slightly different reasons. Looking into the enormous cavern that takes up half the map from the outside is almost impossible because of the lighting, but if you're inside looking out, you have a perfect view of the surroundings. You'll find the same issue looking into buildings on otherwise bright maps. It's small hindrances like this and the plethora of head-glitches and camping spots that make so many deaths in Modern Warfare feel unfair and unavoidable.
With specific maps limited to different modes – you won't find Euphrates Bridge in 6v6 Domination, for example – the map pool feels incredibly limited, often playing the same three or four frequently if you stick to the same mode. Thanks to the upcoming season of free DLC maps however, here's hoping Infinity Ward will revert back to the formula that provided us with so many incredible maps in the past.
More than just 6v6
In an effort to become the ultimate first-person shooter, Ground War isn't 9v9 anymore. Instead, jumping into the biggest mode available in Modern Warfare puts you in a 32v32 bedlam, on enormous maps with tanks, helicopters, the ability to spawn on your squadmates, and more. Sound familiar? It should, because Ground War is essentially Battlefield, minus the destructible terrain. Except the low time-to-kill and classic killstreaks make for a positively miserable experience, because Call of Duty works best when you can predict enemy spawns and learn the intricacies of every map. Ground War forgoes that, much to its detriment.
On the other end of the scale is Gunfight, a 2v2 one-life-per-round mode with tiny maps and nowhere to camp. This is Modern Warfare at its best; you spawn with the exact same loadout as your enemies, which switches every two rounds, and it's a race to win six rounds. Fast paced, frantic fun in which you're fairly matched and with a co-operative teammate, callouts become essential. You don't heal during a round either, which means balancing aggression with cautious play is key.
The problem is that it's unlikely Gunfight can carry Modern Warfare's multiplayer through the next 12 months, and while I'm yet to tire of the core modes like Domination and Headquarters, there's not much new to explore. Infinity Ward had an opportunity here to invent some new modes or perhaps revisit some forgotten ones like Demolition or Sabotage, but instead the only new mode that shakes things up is Cyber Attack. Imagine Search and Destroy, but both teams are fighting over one bomb in the middle of the map and when you die, a two-minute countdown starts which gives your teammates time to revive you.
A culmination of small problems
Innovations like these could see Modern Warfare's multiplayer be the best online first-person shooter this decade, because it genuinely is a game that feels brilliant to play. There's just so many small issues that drag it down – and I've not even mentioned how your your character bellows at the top of his lungs whenever he sees an enemy, making stealthy play nigh on impossible, especially when footsteps sound like everyone is masquerading as the big friendly giant.
There's a lot to dislike about Modern Warfare, from overpowered guns that will hopefully be patched – I'm looking at you, 725 shotgun – to the low time-to-kill and how the main viable strategy is camping. With that said, the core gameplay loop is the most satisfying Call of Duty has felt in years, and while it doesn't shine a light to how revolutionary the original Modern Warfare was in 2007, there's something about this revamp that simply works.
Reviewed on both PS4 and PC.