Where were you when Infinity Ward conquered the console shooter scene with Call of Duty 4 and its equally revolutionary sequel, Modern Warfare 2? Operatives everywhere toured Chernobyl’s dilapidated theme park in nothing but a ghillie suit, stumbled through the residual radioactive smog of a detonated nuclear warhead, stormed an Antarctic stronghold under intense blizzard cover, and saved the world with a single, well-aimed throwing knife.
Seemingly overnight, Modern Warfare established itself as a household name, defining the coming generations of competitive multiplayer experiences and intense, single-player campaigns. A recent preview event confirmed Infinity Ward’s core tenets – accessibility and innovation – so it’s no wonder one of the most recognizable and esteemed IPs in the industry continues to find an avid audience decades later.
I traveled to LA, walked down the trophy-laden halls of Infinity Ward HQ, and got an early look at Modern Warfare II‘s story mode coupled with some juicy multiplayer deets. Here’s an action-packed sampler of what awaits returning players and curious newcomers.
What’s a mustachioed SAS Captain to do when the world is in dire need of a covert squadron of soldiers? Start an elite task force, of course. Call of Duty veterans will likely remember the colorful members of Task Force 141: Price, Gaz, Ghost, and Soap. They’re back and more dedicated than ever as whispers of Russian-led terrorism initiatives become more and more concrete. At the end of Infinity Ward’s 2019 adventure, Captain Price and Chief Laswell discuss the gradual rise of Victor Zakhaev (ring any alarms bells?) and the need for a boots-on-the-ground contingency plan. In Modern Warfare II, that plan has been in effect for three years, as the heavily-armed heroes are deployed into increasingly dangerous situations only they can handle.
Head writer Brian Bloom and narrative director Jeff Negus told me that reimagining the franchise began with an important question, “How can we most successfully honor the original game and take it further without diminishing both?” The answer lies in the characters, which are more fleshed out this time around to parallel Infinity Ward’s commitment to weaving heroic and human stories. The developers handcrafted new faces like Corporal Phillip Graves and, more specifically, Colonel Alejandro Vargas from hours of interviews and extensive research. Modern Warfare II’s story is meticulously designed, from the various gameplay choices in a given environment to the overarching plotline. Players will secure warzones across the globe, and, yes, the different missions will be appropriately fierce and explosive.
THE THEATER OF WAR
The pre-alpha footage I watched began with a nighttime op. Ghost and Soap prepare their loadouts in the passenger bay of a moving helicopter and disembark into a field of swaying bentgrass. The aircraft takes off but is quickly shot down a few miles away by an RPG. The vehicle erupts in the distance as the two press on towards a nearby building where the close-quarters combat that made “Clean House” so provocative returns. Enemies ambush the player from around corners and trap doors. Others are hidden in plain sight behind tables. When the structure is secured, the team fends off waves of combatants at the helicopter crash site, bullets ricocheting off the metallic hull and burning bright like miniature firecrackers.
That same gameplay intensity and visual fidelity were also apparent in the next mission. Price and Gaz head to a port in Amsterdam to find an al-Qatala smuggling partner. By approaching adversaries from underwater, the player can trigger flashy executions with a dagger or take them down the traditional way: a few well-aimed shots with a silenced pistol. However, in Modern Warfare II, water affects weapons ballistics, so routing opponents from beneath the rippling surface requires more than one bullet. When Price and Gaz reconvene on a nearby boat, the narrow corridors and eerily-silent rooms (save for the creaking of the floorboards) bring momentum to an atmospheric halt. The level design kept me on the edge of my seat, shifting from explorable hubs to claustrophobic spaces and back again.
Throughout the showcase, Infinity Ward stressed the importance of variety. Brief snippets of other engagements flashed across the projector screen. In one clip, the player maneuvered from vehicle to vehicle on a freeway, driving, climbing, and leaping from numerous military-grade trucks in a genuinely exhilarating loop. In another, the player rappelled down an occupied skyscraper, keeping positioning in mind – should one expose their body for effortless eliminations or opt for a toe-up approach, revealing less vital points but firing from an upside-down position? Bloom and Negus stated that these tactical decisions are all about player agency, “We wanted to create an authored experience but still leave room for the player to discover what they want to do and feel.”
THE RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
From a multiplayer perspective, Modern Warfare II is getting several innovative changes, like AI advancements in Warzone 2.0, a gunsmith that provides a newfound level of weapon customization, and default classes meant to appeal to a wide range of players. Co-design directors of multiplayer Geoffrey Smith and Joe Cecot focused on expanding the outcomes of PvP battles. They implemented numerous bodies of water players can swim in or drive amphibious vehicles through, a dive mechanic to complement the classic slide physics, ledge-hanging, and more specialized equipment. Tactical cameras allow players to surveil/detect enemy movements, drill charges fire grenades through surfaces (like Fuze in Rainbow Six Siege), DDOSes are miniature EMP devices that can even affect killstreaks, and the inflatable decoy is the perfect jumpscare for unwary foes. With Warzone slated for a mobile release, players will have multiple avenues to access and interact with their favorite competitive FPS.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II launches on October 28 for PlayStation 5, Xbox Series X/S, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. As someone who grew up playing the original trilogy, I can’t wait to see what plot twists and multiplayer features emerge this fall.