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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the latest annual entry in Activision’s mega-popular first-person shooter franchise. Developed by Infinity Ward this year, the game serves as a direct sequel to the 2019 reboot.

The crew of Task Force 141 is back, including fan-favorites SAS Captain John Price and Lieutenant Simon “Ghost” Riley. This time they’re joined by new faces such as Mexican Special Forces Colonel Alejandro Vargas alongside Sergeant Major Rodolfo Parra as they travel across the globe to stop a conspiracy involving an Iranian Quds Force officer, Mexican cartels and some stolen missiles that could possibly be aimed at United States soil.

Besides the single-player campaign, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 features a heavy dose of new competitive multiplayer features from Prisoner Rescue to modes that even allow third-person perspectives. Players who want to enjoy online co-op with friends will also be delighted by the return of Special Ops.

The game is out now for PlayStation 4/5, Xbox One/Series X|S and PC, and we tested it on the latter. On the fence about Modern Warfare 2 after lackluster entries like Black Ops: Cold War and Vanguard? Here’s what we thought after more than 20 hours of playtime.

A return to form for the popular shooter series
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2's single-player campaign is a return to form, and the multiplayer retains everything fans loved about the previous iteration while adding much more. It's a great jumping-on point for those who have been let down by recent entries.

What we liked about it

Single-player campaign is filled with exciting beat-by-beat moments

SPOILER ALERT: This review contains some slight story spoilers for Modern Warfare 2.

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Regardless of era or setting, there are high expectations for explosive set pieces in any Call of Duty game — and Modern Warfare 2 delivers them in spades. The opening mission, titled “Strike,” serves as a pump fake with a playable Ghost literally walking through a canyon to watch an illegal arms deal in action.

After placing a marker on an Iranian general, players are put in control of a missile strike that serves as a camera movement tutorial. For the first time in a Call of Duty game, the first mission leads to the opening title line without the player shooting a single gun. However, controlling the missile still feels like an exciting moment that only gets better throughout the eight to 10-hour single-player campaign.

The following mission, “Kill or Capture,” is where the campaign really gets started. Feeling like a graceful evolution of the tense night vision perspective “Clean House” brought in 2019’s Modern Warfare reboot, this mission sees players defend a downed chopper while they attempt to hunt down primary antagonist Hassan Zyani. It sets a tone for how dynamic the missions become throughout the single-player campaign as players defend the downed chopper and sweep buildings.

There are other standouts, including “Violence and Timing,” which is a chase sequence that players fully control. For the first time in the series, players can control a vehicle and lean out of the window to shoot enemies at the same time. When automobiles are nearly destroyed, there’s a feature that allows players to hijack nearby vehicles similar to both the Just Cause or Uncharted series.

Despite many Call of Duty fans dismissing last year’s Vanguard, the final “The Fourth Reich” mission was considered a favorite for how it seamlessly switched perspectives for various team members. That idea returns during the “Prison Break” mission, which has Task Force 141 collaboratively rescuing a captured Colonel Alejandro Vargas. Once he’s freed, the game makes a clever callback to Modern Warfare 2019’s “The Embassy” mission where players control Vargas through security cameras.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s set pieces are full of edge-of-your-seat thrills that are more in line with summer Hollywood blockbusters than the more tense grounded inspiration of its predecessor.

The most clever stealth sequences in the series yet

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“All Ghillied Up” from the original 2007 Modern Warfare has long been the gold standard for Call of Duty stealth sequences, and Modern Warfare 2 makes a bold attempt to not only up the stakes but introduce some new concepts through “Recon by Fire.”

One of the longest missions in Call of Duty history at around 45 minutes, there’s a nice amount of tension building toward the closing. By the time players reach the rather large base of operations, there are numerous ways to approach mission objectives in a way that feels fresh for the series.

Another key feature is the new set of ways that water reacts to the player. A mission appropriately titled “Wetwork” that has players picking off enemies from a lake does a great job pushing some of the cat-and-mouse gameplay inspired by Sony’s The Last of Us that Vanguard hinted at. Moving through water, shooting some enemies and diving back as bullets penetrate the water before planning the next set of actions is just cool.

In another nod to The Last of Us, Modern Warfare 2 introduces a crafting system to make improvised weapons. It’s a key part of standout missions like “Alone,” which does a phenomenal job of making players powerful while handicapped in toolsets and movement.

Big shoot-outs and explosions have become a signature of Call of Duty single-player campaigns. It’s nice to know that the slower, methodical moments pack in plenty of excitement alongside some refreshing player-focused experimentation.

Multiplayer is filled to the brim with options

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Call of Duty’s multiplayer serves as the meat that’ll keep players coming back once the single-player campaign is over. This year’s installment takes that concept and expands it into one of the largest in the series’ history, offering series staples like Team Deathmatch and Domination alongside some truly exciting new additions.

These include modes that exclusively utilize a third-person perspective, which is a series first — as is Prisoner Rescue. Think of Prisoner Rescue as Capture the Flag but with an actual non-playable character. Regardless of which mode you choose, multiplayer matches and maps are top tier. Performance during matches is buttery smooth, and building up killstreaks couldn’t be any more gratifying. Of course, players on the losing end of the spectrum with multiple deaths can use deathstreaks for a possible comeback.

There are also plenty of customization opportunities for both playable operators and guns through the revamped Gunsmith. Like previous modern Call of Duty games, each match improves the character’s rank level and the gun used throughout the match. Outside of various firearm modifications players can earn, leveling them up can lead to getting new weapons. The cool thing is that many of the new maps take advantage of the new water physics and vehicle abilities as well.

Players who want to avoid competition will enjoy Spec Ops as a co-op extension of Call of Duty’s single-player campaign. Some of the missions have players stealing intel or eliminating targets with dynamically changing objectives. There’s no better thrill than coordinating attacks on enemies back-to-back as mission objectives are completed.

That doesn’t even count other upcoming maps and modes slated for the future split between both free and season pass content, including the highly anticipated Raid mode. There are dozens of hours that players can put into Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer mode, to the point where it’s almost overwhelming. And if you’re a fan of the wildly popular free-to-play battle royale shooter Call of Duty: Warzone, you’ll be able to connect your Modern Warfare 2 progress for even more in-game goodies.

Standout visual and audio design regardless of platform

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For a multiplatform release across PC alongside current and past-generation consoles, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 looks stunning throughout both single-player and multiplayer. There isn’t a better example than the “Tradecraft” mission set in Amsterdam, which has gone viral due to how photorealistic it is.

Everything from the character and art design to the lighting is top notch. Moreover, the water detail on missions like “Wetwork” and “Dark Room” is simply fantastic due to the water simulation system implemented through the latest IW engine. Improvements to destructibility throughout the various environments really make the destruction action set pieces come alive. Some of the missions, including “Recon by Fire,” take place in a vast open area and the engine kept up fine.

Though your experience with the PS4 and Xbox One versions may vary due to the limited system capabilities, performance on PC and current-gen consoles is admirable. There wasn’t a hint of slowdown during gameplay during single-player or multiplayer. The number of effects and explosions on-screen didn’t affect frame rates at all. Like the last Call of Duty release, PS5 and Xbox Series X owners can get frame rates as high as 120 frames per second (fps), which definitely helps for players who want a competitive edge.

The sound design matches the beautiful visuals perfectly. Players with a quality gaming headset or intricate speaker setups will be immersed in all the explosions and gunfire Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has to offer. Adding to the beautiful character models is convincing voice acting, including standout performances from María Elisa Camargo as cartel leader Valeria Garza, who leads one of the most unique missions in the game.

What we didn’t like about it

Some annoying bugs during single-player

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Though quality oozes at every angle of the single-player campaign, there are some problems that we noticed. Because of the multiple ways objectives can be tackled during missions, checkpoints can feel a bit misplaced.

This is definitely noticeable in missions like “Recon by Fire” and “Alone,” which restarted us in front of enemy platoons after dying — and that’s simply unfair. Considering both of those missions are pretty long, the checkpoints are already far apart, making things worse. Then there were other issues like the player or enemies getting stuck in walls.

Single-player axes a key feature

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The grounded feel of the 2019 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare reboot introduced a system to address collateral damage done during missions. Players received a letter grade for not shooting innocent civilians and it added a bit of replay value to the single-player campaign.

Despite there being consequences for accidentally shooting innocent people, there’s no acknowledgment or score, which is a bit disappointing. This leaves replay value to replaying missions in different ways, finding secret safes that require codes and upping the difficulty. Most Call of Duty campaigns are known for being short, considering multiplayer is the main meat of the game. However, it would have been nice to have something similar to the side missions that Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War provided.

Multiplayer lacks Gunfight at launch

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One of the fan favorites from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2019 was Gunfight. The then-new mode featured a 2v2 match in a small arena until one of the teams was destroyed. Each match even started players off with a random set of guns. It was a fast-paced mode that provided a level of tension unseen in the series until then.

Gunfight served as a precursor of what would become the Gulag in Call of Duty: Warzone. Unfortunately, it’s missing at launch, which is a huge disappointment. While the modes available are totally adequate, it seems strange to remove such a standout and series-changing multiplayer mode.

Bottom line

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the best first-person shooter released this year and comes as a return to form. The single-player campaign features some of the most dynamic moments in the series’ history. Meanwhile, multiplayer options are so plentiful that it makes sense for Call of Duty to skip 2023. If you’ve been disappointed by the last few Call of Duty entries, now’s the time to jump back in.