Now it’s got that Battle Royale nonsense out of its system, FBT can return to COD.
At first, MW is so similar to the previous modern-era entries you’d not even know you were in a rebooted Modern Warfare game. But under that bloody, bullet-spewing surface is the best anti-war shooter since Spec Ops The Line.
At first, the story is almost laughably familiar; a ‘rogue’ Russian General invades Urzikstan and CIA Operator Alex is sent to confirm they’ve broken International Law by using chemical weapons (by dousing the Russian base in White Phosphorus first…) Of course, they have chemical weapons, but they’re stolen by an unknown force and soon after, an Extremist group, Al-not-qaeda, bombs London (what does COD have against London).
The CIA suspects a connection and pairs Alex with apparently the SAS’s only solider, Price who along with hot-headed rookie Gaz makes contact with Urzikstan rebels, and they all join forces to recover the gas and stop the extremist cell while unofficially aiding the rebels in forcing back the rogue Russians. So far, so COD. But what quickly sets MW apart from MW is one huge difference - Farah Karim, leader of the Rebels.
As we bounce between Alex and Gaz, we learn more about Farah and her rebellion, and it’s horrible. An early mission has us playing her as a 7-year-old watching her mother crushed by rubble during a raid then desperately trying to reach her father’s arms as Russians slaughter people around her. Then Farah’s playing hide and stab with a hulking Russian solider who’s invaded her home.
Hiding under the furniture and scuttling through vents like a retro-Newt, you’re holding your breath with her. You can dismiss it as cynical, or just a boss fight really, but it’s frightening trying to find weapons and pick a moment to stab the bastard; its character defining and worse, it's only the beginning of her suffering and hardening.
Other flashbacks have us trying to resist waterboarding for as long as possible, and leading child soldiers on an escape. It’s harrowing stuff, but it’s not No Russian sensationalism; this serves a purpose and frames everything that comes after, it shows us what occupation really is, and what makes it more affecting is MW pares down the usual bombastic OTT set-pieces.
It has its trademark COD-kinetic moments, including one with an annoying mini-boss, the Spetsnaz Juggernaut, but overall this is a surprisingly subtle COD. One mission has us infiltrating an estate while Price snipes from a distance, taking out lights if you go stealth, or soldiers if you go in heavy. The missions feel ripped from reality not hyper-reality; the London attack is overwhelming, and a stand-out is a night raid on a UK house looking for clues on the Extremists – split-second ‘extremist or civilian’ decisions fry your nerves. We attack a compound which parallels the Bin Laden raid, and protecting a US Consulate nods to the Benghazi attack. It’s realistic, claustrophobic and tense, a shooter from the point of view of a grunt who's truly embedded with those most affected, who are usually just the NPCs.
It is exceptionally well detailed, and there is an openness to it despite the ultimately linear experience – it feels organic, unscripted even if the levels have a familiar feel. It’s a harddrive-breaking 126gb too, which seems unreasonably high given the levels aren’t that epic or expansive; it’s nice but not that nice. It’s gotta be the cutscenes; you can see the emotion. It’s amazing to think a COD’s strongest element is its characters.