“Modern Warfare II’s” multiplayer is just about what you would expect from the latest installment of the Call of Duty series — with some minor twists. It’s still the classic first-person shooter that offers weapon customization, but its new engine and gameplay mechanics have added more realism. That’s either good or bad, depending on how fast-paced you like your Call of Duty.
“Modern Warfare II” hews closely to the formula set by its predecessor, 2019′s “Modern Warfare,” but has added some new mechanics, weapon customization options, game modes and polish. The changes are enough to keep the players who buy the new installment each year coming back for more.
The past two years have seen Call of Duty return to the Cold War era and World War II with two different developers — Treyarch and Sledgehammer Games. But “Modern Warfare II” can feel like a different series at times, as Infinity Ward’s game design and norms from modern combat infuse the classic first-person shooter (FPS) with touches like in-depth gun customization, water interactions and more realistic recoil patterns. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. For me, it’s a welcome change with a certain nostalgia factor, as the original “Modern Warfare II” was the first Call of Duty I ever owned.
Players have a myriad of choices in how they want to play “Modern Warfare II.” You can select the classic team deathmatch, domination, hardpoint, or free-for-all modes that we all know and love. You’ll be rewarded for rushing around the map, dropping a few enemies, dying, and respawning to do it all over again. Or you can opt for larger-scale maps on Invasion or Ground War, leaving ample room for snipers and camping. You can still run and gun in these modes, of course, but it’s quite frustrating when you run to a point for five minutes only to get mowed down by entrenched enemies.
It is also worth mentioning that a third-person mode has been added to Call of Duty. This allows you to have better vision and the new perspective looks great, but the gunplay feels awkward. Players have a sight advantage around certain corners and you can only scope in with higher magnification optics. I think most players, like myself, will opt for the classic FPS feel.
“Modern Warfare II” is built on a new engine thanks to a collaboration between Treyarch, Sledgehammer and Infinity Ward, and the level of realism brings the screen to life. Water in the backdrop shimmers, vehicles have levels of destructibility and movement seems more true to life (no one is really sliding across the map, at least for now).
The interaction with the environment is also much improved in the “Modern Warfare II” multiplayer compared to older Call of Duty games. Swimming through water is more fluid (no pun intended) than in past games. Weapons, lethal, and tactical grenades all have unique effects when exposed to water, creating steam or electrifying the water around you.
But in an effort to maintain realism, some movements are quite frustrating. Now, to mantle walls, you have to hit the button or key twice — once to hang from the ledge and twice to vault over it. It takes longer as a result, and the likelihood of getting shot while doing it increases. The plus side is that you can shoot your sidearm as you hang, leading to some interesting 1000 IQ plays.
Also, slide-canceling, where you refresh your tactical sprint by entering a quick slide and standing back up, is gone. Some creators, however, have figured out ways around it. As it is now, you can refresh your tactical sprint by meleeing. The absence of slide-canceling helps the game feel more realistic and reduces a mechanic that had you repeatedly pressing a button or joystick and wearing out your controller or keyboard.
It also seems like Infinity Ward took some player feedback from the beta to heart. The red dots that show enemy positions are more frequent, and enemies are easier to spot (in some cases too easy — you can see people’s nameplates through the wall). Footstep audio is definitely louder, but not as over the top as it sometimes felt in “Warzone.” In larger game modes like Ground War, it’s a little bit harder to hear over the roar of jets, explosions of mortars and rolling of tanks. Perks are still the same as in the beta and are awarded based on points.
New vehicles make it easier to close gaps in game modes like Ground War, but thankfully they don’t feel as overpowered as they did in 2019’s “Modern Warfare.” Shooting these vehicles can cause visible damage like popped tires and broken doors, while also impacting the handling. Given the new game engine will also be used in “Warzone 2,” I’m hopeful that being run over won’t occur as much when the battle royale releases on Nov. 16.
The addition of troop transport helicopters also allows you to spawn, parachute down and take enemy locations. I feel like a real-life special operator when I death-from-above people by standing in the middle of the chopper and raining down fire from the sky. But be aware: deploying your chute is clunky, and there’s a delay.
One of the more noticeable changes comes with the gunsmith, where you can add attachments and tune your weapons. As you level up base weapon platforms like the M4, you unlock different receivers that change how the weapon operates. You’ll eventually be able to use receivers that turn the M4 into a DMR, a sub-machine gun or a classic three-round burst M16. This system makes progression slightly faster: as you level up a base weapon, the attachments you unlock work with other receivers.
Unfortunately, “Modern Warfare II’s” user interface isn’t intuitive at all. It took me a couple of minutes of clicking around to figure out how to switch between receivers and find certain attachments. The scroll wheel can be used to view the next weapon levels, but you can’t scroll back. Additionally, the daily challenges pop-up blocks the squad screen in the pre-game lobby. It was only by accident that I discovered that and closed the challenges window. I’m not sure how anyone new to Call of Duty will figure it out without frustration.
“Modern Warfare II” is back to five weapon attachments, which is refreshing after having to deal with 10 in “Vanguard.” But the complexity is still there: Once you get to level 20 and unlock all attachments, you have the choice to tune each attachment. There is a slider on the x and y coordinates that allows you to adjust statistics like aim down sight speed, accuracy, and damage range. But upping the slider on one end means the other weapon stat is decreased.
The multiplayer maps are set in Al Mazrah, a city in the Middle East, and Las Almas, a region from Mexico — both featured in the campaign — and a handful of locations across the rest of the world. Most maps are evenly balanced and have some verticality. One of the most popular, Farm 18, features a close-quarters interior surrounded by bombed-out buildings and containers. There are a number of ways to take certain points of interest, making it feel like a fair battle.
But other maps left me scratching my head. Santa Seña Border Crossing is a single lane full of stopped RVs, cars, trucks, and semis. Your life depends on where you spawn. I found myself unintentionally spawned behind enemy lines over and over on this map. And trying to call out enemies is next to impossible here, unless you want to get down to the make and model of a vehicle.
“Modern Warfare II” keeps the same feel as its predecessor while adding myriad new features. Most improve the game, but some — like weapon tuning and the vaulting mechanic — don’t feel strictly necessary.
With a new engine and mechanics, the “Modern Warfare II” multiplayer is a taste of what’s to come, not only for this game but for the entire series. We’ll see what happens when the heavily promoted DMZ game mode, said to be like Call of Duty meets “Escape from Tarkov,” and “Warzone 2.0” arrive Nov. 16.