Modern Warfare has a stripped back multiplayer that feels more accessible and fun than Call of Duty has been in years

After years of changes, updates and slight variations on a now familiar theme, Call of Duty's multiplayer has built up a fair bit of baggage and noise. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare feels like it's cleared all that away with a stripped back setup, clear rules and customisation options that feels more inclusive to anyone that isn't the fastest twitch-trigger in the lobby. Where previous Call of Duty games became an online haven for sprinting no-scoping lone wolves, Modern Warfare feels more like a game that everyone can enjoy, using its gear, maps, and new larger player counts to give everyone a meaningful place on the battlefield. 

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Gunsmith system | Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Multiplayer maps | Call of Duty: Modern Warfare gameplay

Weapon of choice

To be clear, if you want to grab an assault rifle and hero the map alone you still can, but if you want to hang back and take a little more time there's far more to consider and take advantage of. A slower pace and removal of the flashy tech and insta-death scorestreaks has created a much more tactile game, with individually modelled bullets that physically travel across the map. It's a more straightforward concept than we've seen in recent installments, with Modern Warfare focused on the guns you choose and the spaces you use them in. Because of that, even if you're not the best shot or fastest aim, there are other valid strategies that can make up for your shortcomings – playing a map's geometry for an advantage say, or tweaking your guns to boost whatever area you're weakest. 

In the case of the maps, for example, these are much more realistic areas full of odd corners, debris-lined road and generally more true to real life environments. Where faster-paced Call of Duty games  like the Black Ops series and Advanced Warfare increasingly leaned towards two or three-lane tunnels to sprint through, this has a much more realistic feel. These are more organic spaces that can reward patient players with a nice corner, or covered position, to help give you a fighting chance. Infinity Ward talks about 'positional play' (or camping, let's be honest) as a perfectly valid tactic. Here it doesn't feel cheap, because it's less about somebody sitting on a corner and popping every head that comes around it, and more about how your strategy changes and teams adapt to deal with it. There's more space and opportunity to find a solution if an enemy player or team digs in – the opposition might lock down a street, say, forcing a small frontline to form as players fight to break through or find a way around. 

(Image credit: Activision)

It's a much more satisfying and considered experience as a result. Rather than simply chasing a kill and respawning once you get caught out, you can now move more confidently from area to area, scoping what's ahead and any danger spots before pushing on. The more open and varied spaces afford far more opportunity to take control of a situation using the terrain itself; taking advantage of cover or elevation to swing the odds in your favour. There's a lot to climb in the environments, and you'll often only learn about a good spot when you see a player camped out somewhere you didn't realise you could reach. Infinity Ward hints at an almost traversal puzzle feel to maps in that respect. Wherever you end up if (when) you do die it's often clear where you went wrong – usually missing a corner or turning into an open area without first checking for danger – rather than feeling like a magic bullet just killed you without warning.

Adapting on the fly tactics to the action and situations around you comes together in the larger maps, and these are great for creating the feeling that you are fighting numerous smaller and coordinated battles within a bigger area. There are now 10v10 and 20v20 matches, and the mix of 40-players with Modern Warfare's arcadey military feel creates some satisfyingly big moments as teams bunch up at different flashpoints and fight for control over several zones. It might not be a 100-player battle royale sized player count, but there's still something exciting about running into a firefight with 19 other people at your side. 

Full clip

As well as the maps providing more opportunity to have fun by giving you more ways to play them, the new gun customisation system has a beautiful clarity to it that lets you know precisely how you're changing each individual weapon's characteristics. Most guns have around 60 different attachments (and around 30 for pistols) spread across components such as barrels, muzzles, clips, sights, stocks, and so on. Each of these features a clear set of positive and negative effects, meaning players will need to experiment to find combinations they are truly comfortable with. You might receive an increase in damage at the expense of hip-fire accuracy, for example; a muzzle brake might lower damage, but it'll reduce the recoil too, while a stock could increase movement speed while aiming but take longer to aim down the sights. 

(Image credit: Activision)

Modern Warfare is packed with little decisions like this, giving you a greater sense of authority and clarity over your own setup. I prefer slower firing guns instead of spray-and-pray full auto, so I outfitted my weapons with a barrel and stock to increase damage, a suppressor to decrease recoil, and I swapped out the magazine for slower firing but harder hitting ammunition. Plus I fitted a dual action sight that swapped between a red dot and 4x scope for the perfect mid to long-range setup. It might all just be in my head, but knowing exactly what everything is supposed to be doing and why it's there just feels good

As well as feeling far more inclusive and flexible for a broader range of players, there is also a lot of nice little ideas and tweaks working behind the scenes that bring it all together. The ability to mount your gun on any ledge or wall provides increased cover and stability as you deal with threats – clicking the right stick while aiming near an edge clamps the barrel to it, reducing your profile and steadying your sight as you creep around the angle, peeking for the perfect shot. The ability to open and close doors might sound like a minor gimmick, but it can be a surprisingly effective tactic – being able to shut a door behind you and cover your rear as you move forward, or close all the doors in a building for extra cover, can make a huge difference.

(Image credit: Activision)

It's obviously going to take a little time and some extended play to see how everything settles down in the long term, and what works and what doesn't as players learn the ropes, but there's little I'd want to change at this point. There's a sense of fun to what I've seen and played of Modern Warfare so far that comes from the purity of what Infinity Ward is doing. The focus on transparent systems and tactics feels like a breath of fresh air after years of speed, wall runs, and space guns. Older players will likely recognise the original Modern Warfare feel immediately, while new recruits might be surprised just how much you can do with a clear setup and simple, but powerful rules. Either way, everyone's going to enjoy it. 

Leon Hurley
Managing editor for guides

I'm GamesRadar's Managing Editor for guides, which means I run GamesRadar's guides and tips content. I also write reviews, previews and features, largely about horror, action adventure, FPS and open world games. I previously worked on Kotaku, and the Official PlayStation Magazine and website.