Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s story picks up three years after the events of 2019’s rebooted Modern Warfare. Captain Price’s iconic Task Force 141 is now fully assembled and, of course, another threat of global terrorism has emerged. Fresh new mechanics, more flexibility in how you complete missions, and a host of callbacks to the original series make Modern Warfare 2’s campaign feel satisfying despite an increase in difficulty.
This rebooted version of Task Force 141 features Price and the familiar faces of Simon “Ghost” Riley, Kyle “Gaz” Garrick, and John “Soap” MacTavish. However, Modern Warfare 2 introduces a new ally with Colonel Alejandro Vargas of the Mexican Special Forces. While this is a different story than 2009’s Modern Warfare 2, it does reintroduce General Shepherd from the original campaign. Modern Warfare 2019’s Kate Laswell and the PMC group known as Shadow Company all make a return as well.
Playing as members of Task Force 141, you are put to the test when a United States airstrike kills Al-Qatala leader General Ghorbrani, whose successor, Hassan Zyani, vows revenge and teams up with an international drug cartel to transport stolen U.S. ballistic missiles. Hassan plans to launch the missiles against United States targets and it falls upon Task Force 141 to stop this from happening. The campaign is a globe-trotting affair, sending you to fight in places like Amsterdam, Mexico, Chicago, and even parts of Al Mazrah, the fictional setting of Warzone 2.0’s map. This gives a refreshing variety to the scenery from mission to mission, with nighttime stealth ops, desert battles, a prison break, and even an oil rig set piece that feels like a throwback to the original Modern Warfare 2’s The Only Easy Day…Was Yesterday mission, without being a remake of it.
Modern Warfare 2 offers a bit more personality to the characters you play and fight alongside than in past games, as there are now dialogue options to speak to your fellow soldiers and ask questions. In the mission Recon By Fire, I could have Gaz make some small talk, and I chose to chat with Kate Laswell, which helped humanize the characters a little more. This is totally optional and you can choose to say nothing, but it’s nice to have an extra layer of dialogue. I really enjoyed the chit-chat between gunfights, and it breathes more life into side characters who could easily fall flat. For example, Kate mentions her wife, a martial status that didn’t seem to be revealed in the last game. There were also some lighthearted bro moments with Soap and Ghost during the quiet moments of an otherwise very serious survival mission.
Farah, a character introduced in Modern Warfare 2019, resurfaces as an ally in Violence and Timing, but it’s a bit disappointing that she doesn’t play more of a role in the campaign, especially since she was last seen teamed up with Price for Modern Warfare’s post-launch story in Warzone. She was featured in the fight alongside Price as he slowly helped reassemble Task Force 141, which indicated that she would be a new addition to Price’s force, but this doesn’t come to pass, sadly. However, Alejandro feels like a good addition to Captain Price’s ever-growing team of allies. When he’s recruited as Task Force 141’s guide through Mexico, you quickly learn he’s a man willing to risk everything to protect his fictional city of Las Almas from the corruption of the cartel, thus being the perfect guy to help you get the stolen missiles out of cartel hands. The writers do a good job of showing Alejandro’s emotion through scenes of interrogating a former ally turned enemy, and he’s easily a character you start to care about when shit hits the fan, and I’d welcome his return to the franchise if future stories permitted.
Without giving anything away, Modern Warfare 2’s quest to locate the missiles and stop the terrorists is filled with twists and betrayal just like the original Modern Warfare 2. Infinity Ward does a solid job balancing the nostalgia of the original series, while also giving a brand-new and engaging narrative.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 features 17 campaign missions, and these range from large-scale, movie-style action set pieces to dialed-back stealth sessions. It’s pretty much everything you’d expect from a Call of Duty campaign. There’s really not much added in terms of major innovation here to really wow you, but the missions pack a lot of fun and nostalgia as the campaign features several classic Modern Warfare missions with new twists. The game also provides some missions that feel more open-world than we’ve seen in the past, giving you more opportunities to explore different tactics for a fight. Some stealth missions let you scour the area for the perfect sniper point to line up a collateral kill, while other just give you multiple pathways to decide how you want to attack or sneak past your enemies. This freedom isn’t as vast as playing an open-world RPG, but the added exploration and opportunities is a welcome change to Call of Duty’s usual led-by-the-hand campaign style.
For example, the mission Close Air is very similar to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare’s Death From Above mission with the player-controlled AC-130 gunship sequence. In Close Air, you play as members of Shadow Company, who are providing air support in the AC-130 for Ghost, Soap, and Alejandro. This was a fan-favorite mission in Modern Warfare, and Close Air provides an experience that’s just as satisfying as you destroy whole buildings with the power of the AC-130.
Another called Recon By Fire is very reminiscent of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare’s iconic All Ghillied Up stealth mission. What sets apart Modern Warfare 2’s version is the improvements in AI. You can no longer memorize enemy movement patterns and hide accordingly, as enemy soldiers more dynamically search the area for you, and they will spot you much easier than in past games. I criticized Modern Warfare 2’s advanced AI in the multiplayer beta, but the campaign’s enemy NPCs proved to be a much greater adversary. Unfortunately, I can’t say your AI allies are quite as capable, so expect to do most of the work in taking down enemies.
Vehicle chase sequences are a staple of Call of Duty campaigns, and Modern Warfare 2 has one of my favorites. Violence and Timing is another instance of Modern Warfare 2 eschewing the usual linear feel of these missions in CoD games to offer variety and player choice. The mission hits a few fun and over-the-top moments, with a satisfying vehicle chase, a brief period of hanging upside down from an aircraft while in gunfights, and vehicle hijack shenanigans.
Part of the fun in Violence and Timing stems from Modern Warfare 2’s new maneuvering mechanics, which give you the ability to quickly swap seats in a vehicle and even stand on the roof of cars to hop over and hijack an enemy’s ride. All of these actions let you choose how you want to accomplish the mission. You can opt to stay in one vehicle, assuming it doesn’t get demolished during the skirmish, or you can hop from one hijacked vehicle to another as you work your way through the enemy convoy. It’s a level of dynamism that injects greater thrills into a sequence that is already a high-octane blockbuster set-piece.
While the game features mostly the same equipment as previous years, Modern Warfare 2 adds a new crafting layer to the game. Some missions require you to do some light scavenging to craft tools and weapons such as mines, smoke bombs, shivs, and a pry tool, which is used to open locked crates and doors. Finding supplies to craft pry tools does get a bit tedious after the first few times, and I sometimes wished I could just Incredible Hulk my way through more doors. Nevertheless, it was more of a minor annoyance than something that ruined the experience and, in its current form, it feels like experimentation for something coming in future Call of Duty content. In terms of brand-new equipment, the game introduces the new snake cam device to slide under a door jam and get enemy visuals from the other side.
As someone who plays all of the Call of Duty campaigns, starting on Regular difficulty and then completing on Veteran, I was surprised to find Regular offered more of a challenge than usual. Even with this default setting, you can die in just a few bullets, but some of my struggles may also be due to the advanced AI in Modern Warfare 2, as in some stealth missions I found that the enemy NPCs spotted me easily no matter how stealthy I tried to play. Although it felt like AI was more intuitive in their searches during stealth missions, there were times where I was confused how the enemy spotted me. Their eagle-eye vision might just be a little too good, to the point where it sometimes felt unfair. I died way more than I ever expected, which was quite a humbling experience.
That increase in difficulty highlighted one of the campaign’s biggest issues, which is its handling of checkpoints. These were spread out pretty far in some missions, and I would have to replay a large chunk of a mission all over again if I died, while other missions saved my place at awkward points in the action. Several times I died and respawned right near the enemy who just killed me, and it made for a tough recovery, especially in the stealth missions. Sometimes I respawned only to die almost instantly, and there were times where it seemed I was only able to push forward out of sheer luck.
On PlayStation 5, the graphics were sharp and everything ran smoothly. Your personal experience could vary depending on your platform but I didn’t run into any crashes, major bugs, or performance issues. The only weird encounter was during a building-clearing section in the Recon By Fire mission, where it took a while to find the remaining enemies to reach a checkpoint because all of the soldiers were stuck inside some crates that served as room decor.
The success of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2019 left big shoes for the sequel to try and fill, but overall, Modern Warfare 2 is a strong successor. In an early preview of Modern Warfare 2, I wasn’t impressed with the new maneuverability mechanics, nor did expect the changes to make such an impact on the game. However, I was pleasantly surprised with how much I enjoyed the freedom to tackle scenarios in my own way, including all the carjacking. The variety of locations from mission to mission also ensured there was never a dull moment. My time with Modern Warfare 2 and Task Force 141 was a blast, and truly feels like Infinity Ward created this campaign as a greatest hits list for the series. My surprise enjoyment of the added open-world set pieces and new maneuverability gives me hope that these elements of freedom may become more of a staple for the franchise, and that’s a future for Call of Duty that I can get behind.