(Text originally from a video review I put together.)
I never really gave Call of Duty it’s proper due. What was once a World War II shooter made by folks who worked on Steven Speilberg’s Medal of Honor series transformed into something gaudy, a rip-roaring, ‘Murica fueled romp into the Middle Eastern theater of armed conflict. Replacing the time honored righteous fight against the Nazis were skirmishes that were morally ambiguous by design, that war was no longer a black and white affair. Putting the player in a front row seat to horrible terrorism several times over, and even kiling them on two separate occasions, made this games into popcorn blockbusters, superficial military thrillers were double and triple crosses were always expected. Call of Duty would go on to become a cultural phenomenon after the release of Modern Warfare in 200X. I viewed this franchise with a snobbish eye, expressing hipster-like lamentations that Call of Duty was cool before all this modernization nonsense. A lot of this had to do with multiplayer. Famous for its quick, high intensity action and quick death, playing online was so off putting that I channeled my inability to get a handle on it into further feelings of contempt.
And now, I stand before Call of Duty with hat in hand, ready to ask forgiveness. It may have taken 13 years but I dare say that Call of Duty Modern Warfare is the most fun I’ve had playing online in ages. I’ve developed newfound feelings of respect for Call of Duty’s style of brisk action and strong gunplay so much that I regret not doing sooner. Nothing will change the fact that the series’ campaigns are still silly, and Modern Warfare doesn’t do anything new or groundbreaking in any way, but at the end of the day what really matters most to people is the online experience, which has hooked its claws into me and refused to let go.
I’m not going to spend a whole lot of time talking about the campaign which is a kinda/sorta re-imagined remake of the first game, That’s because it’s a classic military yarn about good guys needing to kill the bad guys in a morally grey theater of conflict. It follows the classic Call of Duty narrative formula that shifts perspectives to the story’s major characters and pushes the envelope of good taste by depicting scenes of abject human misery through terrorism. Beyond killing the main bad guy, I never felt like I accomplished anything worthwhile (and how could you during a forever war) except feel slightly disgusted with myself with some of the more intimate encounters, like that time I shot a kid’s mother (who drew a gun on me) and watched him sob uncontrollably over her dead body. More reprehensible than the shoehorned morally ambiguous nature of the story was the campaign’s uneven difficulty that often put me in situations where I’m easily killed by something I couldn’t see nor predict.
No, I’d rather go into more detail about the multiplayer which became something I never thought I’d have so much fun with. If this is what multiplayer was like all along, then I’ll never stop kicking myself for missing out. I’m sure a lot of what will follow is going to be old news for seasoned Call of Duty players but I’m literally coming into this with fresh eyes and everything I’ve seen feels so new and exciting.
The biggest hurdle I had to get over was the bitterness that always followed getting gunned down by the opposite team, especially when I couldn't tell where they had come from. Gameplay is quick and unforgiving and sometimes the best defense is to run and hope for the best. Part of the problem for new players is that you’re jumping into an environment where the majority of participants have already unlocked the best mods for their guns and can walk through maps with their eyes closed. New players will always be at a disadvantage but perseverance is the key to success. In my early hours of Modern Warfare multiplayer, I’d consider myself lucky to stay alive for more than ten seconds and maintain a death count in the low 20s. I took my lumps, though. I paid attention to map layouts. I found guns I was really comfortable with and outfitted them with the best mods and perks I could unlock. I had loadouts I so greatly depended on that I went the extra step and rename them after particular maps. Over time, I really started to hold my own. I’d still get blown away with regularity but I grew more comfortable in my digital skin and trusting my abilities. I would eventually do well enough to boost my K/D ratio and even earn a few “Play of the Game” clips. Best of all, certain game modes reward players for playing the objective so while I would rarely find myself on the top spot for kills, scoring points for the team could put me up there. It may have taken a really long time to get here but I now truly appreciate Call of Duty’s online craft.
Call of Duty’s multiplayer offers a wealth of modes that come with their own unique quirks and challenges. There’s Deathmatch because of course there is though I’ve grown fond of the back and forth tug of war of Capture, Hardpoint, and Domination because they reward those that work as a team. Capture involves taking over three or more markers on a map and hold them as long as possible while they generate points. Hardpoint is a variation of that where both teams fight over one control point that moves to a random spot on the map. Domination feels a lot like Hardpoint but with the added bonus that if you’re killed, you can’t respawn until the control point moves to another location. I’m also a huge fan of Kill Confirmed because the only way to score is to collect dog tags from fallen opponents, adding an extra thrill to the chaos. There are a host of other modes, like the 2v2 Gunfight, a Battlefield-esque Ground War that drops all players inside a really huge map, Infected, and more. I don’t have too much experience with them because I’ve been having so much fun with the ones I mentioned earlier. The most fun I’ve had has been with 24/7, which cycles different modes using the same map. Specifically, 24/7 Shipment has been the joy of my life because competing against 11 other players in a map designed to fit 6 is an amazing, beautiful mess.
Whether or not your team wins the round, everyone gets experience points, which can be manipulated by using timed score modifiers that can double and even triple the number of experience points earned. Ranking up offers a host of different unlocks such as cosmetics (character skins and calling card accouterments) ad new weapon types. Weapons used during a match also level up and open up various attachments, perks, stickers, and paint schemes designed to make them look and feel unique. There are no loot boxes, thank goodness, but the game does have microtransactions in the guise of specialized packs that offer weapons and cosmetics. There’s also the Battle Pass, a multi-tiered reward system that unlocks goodies as you rank up (or spend money to work through it faster). You won’t get any of these items unless you spend ten bucks however none of the items dramatically shift the balance between players given that the majority of unlocks are cosmetics and XP boosts.
After spending years shunning the Call of Duty series, I now wholeheartedly regret missing out on it. I used to fear online multiplayer because I always felt I could never be good enough to have fun. I realize now, especially when played together with friends, that I don’t have to be as good as any pro esports player. I’m totally OK with being average because the fact of the matter is, I’m having way too much fun to really care.