Another year, another Call of Duty. But Modern Warfare 2 feels a lot more important than its predecessors — for the first time since 2005, there will be no Call of Duty title in 2023, which means we’ll be getting two years of Modern Warfare 2.

This year’s iteration is a sequel to 2019’s Modern Warfare, and a reboot of the 2009 title. It follows the same formula as its predecessor, but with a complete overhaul of certain key elements like the Gunsmith and movement mechanics.

A new selection of maps also helps freshen things up, complete with gorgeous visuals and new audio effects that make every headshot sound absolutely delightful.

Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer plays a lot slower

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2
Credit: Activision Blizzard

Compared to last year’s Vanguard, Modern Warfare 2 adopts a much slower pace. The nerfed movement mechanics incentivizes camping and holding angles, with bunny hopping removed from the game just prior to launch.

After all, why risk sprinting around the map and getting caught with your pants down, when you can just wait for someone to run into your crosshairs?

The way sliding works has also changed. You can no longer slide-cancel, which is when you refresh your tactical sprint by sliding and then standing up again. At the moment, you can attempt to perform the action by aiming down sights and then meleeing while sliding, but it isn’t quite the same as before.

What’s more, you cannot shoot while sliding, and sliding around corners leaves you vulnerable because of the long delay needed to get your gun back up again. There is now little benefit to sliding, which contributes to the slower pace of the game.

More often than not, you’ll find yourself getting mowed down by someone who is posted up in a window, or lying prone in an infuriating corner.

Map design is an uneven affair

Map design is also a whole different matter altogether. While fans were quick to complain about the maps in Modern Warfare, Infinity Ward’s seeming aversion to traditional three-lane maps hasn’t gone away. The game has 10 core maps (not including the Valderas Museum which was in the beta but is missing at launch), many of which can be described as a discombobulating warren of rooms, corridors, and doorways.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2
Credit: Activision Blizzard

Confusing spawn logic — I have had enemies literally spawn into my crosshair more than once — makes these maps even more difficult to navigate. It felt difficult to control the pace of the game or tell where enemies were spawning, which made it nearly impossible to even know where to look, such as when attempting to capture a point in Domination.

Compared to 2019’s Modern Warfare, I found myself getting shot in the back a lot more frequently.

The Santa Seña Border Crossing map is particularly mind-boggling. It is best described as a single long lane jam-packed with the burnt-out husks of cars and trucks. There are two ways to play this map — simply post up at the long corridor next to the Truck Lane, or run around like a frenzied bunny in the hopes that you can flank unsuspecting enemies hiding behind the cars (if you can spot them, that is).

Having said that, flanking could be difficult, considering how loud footsteps are in Modern Warfare 2. Map control also feels like a non-existent concept on this map, seeing as how the entire map is basically one lane.

Fortunately, some of the other maps play a lot better. Zarqwa Hydroelectric, Al Bagra Fortress, and Crown Raceway are bright spots in the map pool. You can take a dip in the waters around Zarqwa Hydroelectric and flank your opponents, or even make a quick escape.

The game’s unique water physics, where bullets, lethal, and tactical grenades all react differently with water, are also prime fodder for showing off the new game engine and focus on realism.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 Crown Raceway map
Screenshot by Koh Wanzi/ONE Esports

Meanwhile, Crown Raceway is a faithful rendition of Singapore’s Marina Bay area and F1 night circuit — you get to hear the cars whizzing by, and the Marina Bay Sands hotel and Singapore Flyer are a sight to behold.

Satisfying gunplay

The game’s saving grace is its satisfying gunplay. Bullets land with a punch and headshots are particularly satisfying, with the sound of armor shattering. Modern Warfare 2 is still a Call of Duty game at its core, and it still serves up spades of mindless action that is enough to keep me coming back for more.

The SP-R 208 marksman rifle is one of my favorites. The feeling of a quick scope kill at close range never gets old, and it never ceases to make you feel like a complete badass.

The zero-stakes gameplay — every death is followed by an instant respawn in most modes — means that you can just switch your brain off and chase frags down.

I’m not a fan of the new Gunsmith where you have to level up virtually every weapon in order to unlock all the attachments, but I can live with it. It encourages players to try out new guns, and I can see the benefit in that with more varied gameplay.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 M4 attachments
Screenshot by Koh Wanzi/ONE Esports

To be sure, there’s a lot Infinity Ward still has to fix. A bug with profile customization prevents me from changing my player emblem or calling card, and I am sometimes randomly sent back to the game lobby while fiddling around in the Gunsmith.

The new weapon tuning system was also removed in the wake of crashes when players had five attachments equipped.

Good ‘ol Call of Duty

But Call of Duty remains one of the best-selling FPS franchises for good reason. Infinity Ward will have plenty of time to tweak its game and fix all the bugs. In the meantime, Modern Warfare 2 continues to serve up exhilarating action and gunplay, thanks to the fast time-to-kill that allows you to pull off outrageous multi-kills.

And when you get a quad-kill with a VTOL, it’s difficult to imagine any other game coming close.

Love it or hate it, Modern Warfare 2 is what you’re getting for the next two years. It lays the foundation for Warzone 2.0 as well with a new game engine, effectively paving the way for the future of Call of Duty.

For all the complaints about skill-based matchmaking and lackluster maps, few games will match Modern Warfare 2 in terms of polish when it comes to its core gameplay loop. It maintains just the right degree of familiarity with its predecessor, while shaking up things just enough so they don’t feel stale.

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