Coming after the mixed reception to 2018’s Call Of Duty: Black Ops 4, Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare already has one plus on its side from the off: a fully-fledged story campaign. While many might argue whether narrative modes have much of a place in an era of battle passes and games as a service, Modern Warfare proves a story mode still has a place at the table if it has something worth saying. Serving as more of a reboot of the series rather than a prequel or sequel, we follow a younger Captain John Price and co as they attempt to thwart a terrorist crisis on a global scale. It’s typically jingoistic in places, but with some solid performances from the cast it serves up one of the most enjoyable campaigns since Infinite Warfare’s sci-fi romp.

Mission types are varied in style (stealth, defensive waves, etc – you know the drill), and while it doesn’t attempt to break its mould too much, it taps back into its own familiar canon just enough to make the series feel fresh and interesting once more. It wouldn’t be a Modern Warfare game without a mission that courts controversy, and the one this time around focuses on a pair of terrified children attempting to fight off a Russian soldier in their home. It’s effective in its sense of claustrophobia and immediate danger, but whenever the series attempts to pull off these types of scenarios they just end up smacking of ‘Press F to Pay Respects’. Still, with a brand new graphics engine under the hood, facial animations and lighting effects are easily their best yet – and at the end of the Xbox One’s life cycle, no less.

Zombies Mode takes a well-earned breather this year despite attempts to reboot it with 2018’s Black Ops 4, and in its place returns the Spec Ops mode first introduced in Modern Warfare 2 over a decade ago. This co-op mode is fun, but it’s easily Modern Warfare's least appealing offering. A horde-style mode, it utilises large maps (similar to those used in multiplayer’s new Ground War mode – more on that shortly) and sees a squad of four players working together to complete objectives while fighting off endless waves of AI opponents. It’s fun, but as a PvE experience it’s Modern Warfare's most forgettable mode.

Of course, multiplayer is where the vast majority of your time will be spent (alongside the recently launched and semi-standalone battle royale mode, Warzone) and it’s here that Modern Warfare makes some of its biggest changes. Overall, it presents a faster and more frenetic online experience. TTK (time to kill) is lower compared to Black Ops 4, so while it is easier to die yourself, a few well-placed critical hits should be enough to secure a kill. Respawns are also much faster, so you’re able to jump straight back into the action in seconds. Headshots are, on the whole, easier to line up, but there are now longer animations between sprinting and ‘gun up’. You can also reload while in ADS (aim down sights), a popular addition for those defending objectives or sniping.

Gun customisation is also a big thing for the franchise this year. You can still build a loadout as per normal, but now you can do the same for each of your weapons. Each gun has over 150 levels, which grants access to everything from new attachments to special camos. Each new attachment brings with it a benefit (reduced recoil, faster ADS, etc) but also a corresponding limitation (reduced accuracy, slower weapon switching, etc). As a feature it’s hardly groundbreaking – Ghost Recon introduced a mostly similar system way back in 2012 for Future Soldier – but it does make personalising your loudout far more nuanced and rewarding for dedicated players.

Map designs are, sadly, a little inconsistent in quality. As with previous entries in the series, developers are still obsessed with bringing back maps from yesteryear so the likes of Shipment, Rust and more have been reworked. Some work, but most – like Shipment – simply don’t fit the faster pace of Modern Warefare's meta. The new maps vary in creative layout, with the likes of Hackney Yard being one of the better ones for more traditional modes. The introduction of Ground War brings some of the franchise’s biggest maps (yes, even bigger than Call Of Duty: Ghosts’ giant ones), adding in vehicles for the first time. Anyone who’s played Conquest in the Battlefield games will know what to expect. Multiple objectives to take and defend; 64 players in one match; tanks and helicopters to pilot; all out chaos.

As you’d expect, it’s a haven for snipers, but playing on a bigger scale does suit the series - as evidenced by Call Of Duty: WW2’s enjoyable Operations mode – and doing so on much larger maps adds a new dimension to the forgiving gun mechanics COD has built its name on. Sure, you’ll still probably get sniped and caught by claymores in much the same way as you would in Battlefield, but neat options such as the ability to hack enemy mines does help redress the balance somewhat. Those bigger maps also make for a large-scale take on Infected (one of COD’s better modes of late) where one team of players fights off another team of ‘infected’ opponents. When you die, you join the infected team, resulting in a madcap match where a group of survivors attempt to stave off a horde of attackers like a hilarious zombie plague.

Being a modern shooter in a post Fortnite world has also profoundly changed Activision’s approach to rolling content updates. Much like Battlefield V, Modern Warfare has no premium season pass so all new maps and modes for multiplayer and Spec Ops are free for all players. With cross-play between all platforms also introduced for the first time (with console players only matched with controller users on PC), there’s no longer that frustrating need to wait longer to find a match because you didn’t own a particular new expansion. However, all this free content comes with a caveat.

Loot crates in all their forms are out, but in their place is a battle pass (a first for the franchise) and premium packs with themed items and gear. The battle pass offers 100 tiers based on accrued XP, with everything from weapon blueprints and alternate operator costumes to watch designs and double XP tokens. Battle passes certainly suit F2P games such as Fortnite or Apex Legends, especially as you usually get around five or six ‘seasons’ per year, but it’s still a tough sell for a premium triple-A game such as this. Especially so when most of the blueprints and skins are often meagre in design compared to those in the premium packs. However, with the second season underway this is likely to be the new normal for the series going forwards.

Conclusion

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare serves up the freshest take on a stale formula in years, with a new engine and revitalised multiplayer mode that takes full advantage of a finely-tuned weapon customisation system and some welcome changes to ballistic mechanics. While Spec Ops fails to deliver much long-term attraction, the story mode proves there’s plenty of justification for a narrative element in a modern shooter. Free maps and updates bring everyone onto the same page in multiplayer, but Infinity Ward's take on the battle pass template still needs some work.