Modern Warfare 2’s campaign is… just fine. I mean, it’s a fine slice of military fiction with a clearly big budget, grandiose spectacle and nods to the original. That’s what the fans wanted. It serves them well.
But in my opinion, it could have been so much more – and it’s a bit disappointing that, for me, it doesn’t capitalise on bearing the name of one of the best games in the entire Call of Duty series.
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By calling itself Modern Warfare 2, the game would always invite comparisons to the original Modern Warfare 2 from 2009. However, it’s under this light that it especially really lets itself down.
The original MW2 became almost synonymous with one level – the infamous No Russian. If you’re somehow unfamiliar – the level sees you playing as an undercover agent tasked with mowing down innocent civilians in an airport.
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At the time it attracted a lot of (well-deserved) controversy, for the shock value of that premise alone. The game even offered the option to skip the level, and there were many calling for its removal entirely.
Now, I’m not here to argue that MW2 needs something as crass and attention grabbing as that level was to make it good – because it doesn’t. But it was just a small part of what was, honest-to-goodness, perhaps one of the best Call of Duty stories.
–Spoilers for MW 2022’s campaign (and MW2 2009) follow after the trailer – here’s your last chance to turn back–
But here’s the issue. It doesn’t really have any truly big or particularly narratively significant moment at all and, for me at least, comes off rather flat and (dare I say it) dull.
Twist and Shout
See, first we have to remember that No Russian might be shocking – but it’s also not the only big moment in MW2 2009’s story. In fact, if anything, the events of No Russian are just a footnote in the game’s rollercoaster narrative.
The big one, of course, is Commander Shepard’s betrayal. If you’re not familiar with the original – Roach and Ghost are sent to one location, Price and Soap are sent to another – and the former two are killed by Shepard himself in cold blood.
This was a huge – and brave – twist, killing off what was already easily MW2’s most popular character (so much so that ‘Ghost’ has been a mainstay in the series in some form ever since) and revealing the person sending you on your mission was, really, the bad guy.
MW2 2022 knows this. And more crucially – it knows that you know this. As a result, it makes no real attempt to make you trust Shepard before his inevitable betrayal.
In fact, it’s not really a surprise when one of the major “new” characters – Phil Graves, on-the-nose-name and all (it’s even lampshaded in the dialogue) – also turns against Task Force 141.
He’s immediately introduced as a bit arrogant, a bit cocky – and frankly you can see his heel turn coming ages before it does.
And perhaps expectations are the MW2 story’s biggest problem. While the new game isn’t strictly a remake, IW knew that players would be expecting the game to hit certain beats.
It certainly does this throughout the campaign. As you play it’s like “Oooh, here’s the ship level. Oooh here’s the level where you rappel down a building. Here’s the Death from Above mission.”
However, these feel a little like moments on a checklist, they’re present and correct even when they don’t follow the exact script of the original -even if they are incredibly well polished and improved.
But then when it does deviate from what you expect – the result is slightly underwhelming. Ghost survives the events of the game. Task Force 141 is pretty much as it is at the beginning as it is at the end.
While these developments may be seen as fan pleasing, in reality it takes away the feeling that there were any stakes at all.
They even tease some potential betrayal with Vargas and Valeria Garza and their shared history – but again, it’s never followed through with (albeit leaving a potential thread for a presumed MW3).
IW had the opportunity here to defy expectations; and it doesn’t feel like they really do that – and it feels like they played it very safely as a result.
Don’t get me wrong, there’s a couple of cool completely brand new set-pieces in the game – the Amsterdam mission is a particular highlight – but these are incredibly short and over very quickly.
It seems to say a lot when – around 24 hours after finishing the campaign as I write this – I have more memories of the nods to the original MW2 than the new stuff.
I admire the ambition, the polish and the mix of gameplay on offer, but I came away from the Campaign of Modern Warfare 2 2022 feeling underwhelmed.
But maybe that’s fine?
But then, the world of Call of Duty in 2022 is very different from the world of Call of Duty in 2009.
Let’s be honest – these days, the campaign is not where most people’s focus will be on the game long-term.
While MW2 2009 multiplayer was very popular, it didn’t quite have the same year-round constant stream of updates and additions of a true ‘live service’ game that we know today.
In just over a month, I would hazard that most people will have moved on from the campaign and exclusively focus on the multiplayer and Special Ops.
At the time of writing, those sides of the game aren’t live so I can’t comment on how good that is – it’ll probably be wildly popular, with exciting and fun action perfect for what the series is known for in 2022.
But it’s a shame when you consider Modern Warfare 2’s campaign is still talked about more than a decade later as a pinnacle of Call of Duty storytelling – and not just for its most controversial scene.
Bearing in mind, the original game launched during the era of Bioshock, Assassin’s Creed 2, Uncharted 2 and some massive single player story focused games – so for a Call of Duty game of all things to still be fondly remembered now – that’s no mean feat by any stretch of the imagination.
Granted, Activision has also said it’ll be carrying on the narrative in the game’s Spec Ops mode. So maybe it will pull something out and really surprise us there – but the nature of the beast of live service games means I’m doubtful this will happen.
Regardless, right now, I can’t say Modern Warfare 2’s story will be remembered in the long run, once the hype has died down, as anything more than “A pretty good Call of Duty campaign.”
And that just seems like a bit of a shame.
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