Call of Duty. It's a set of games that I just don't know how to feel about. I've played most of them, but not all. I usually enjoy the campaign, but I'm rarely grabbed by the multiplayer. They just feel a bit like the lowest common denominator in video games, y'know? They're big and they're loud and they attract a lot of attention - and simultaneously they rarely evolve. They make an obscene amount of money every year, and never really offer anything new. They get a bit prettier and a bit noisier... but war? War never changes.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 dropped in the last couple of weeks. I wouldn't have touched it if I hadn't been given a code by a publisher, to be honest - in my mind, these are the video game equivalent of fast food. They're a short-term calorie hit, delicious in the moment but swiftly forgotten. And yet... I've found myself having far more fun with this than a game literally predicated on mass murder has any moral right to deliver.
The campaign, like everything else about the game so far as I can tell, is classic CoD. It's a high-octane, globe trotting roller coaster ride of explosions, set pieces and general chaos. Like its predecessor (2019's seminal Modern Warfare), it excels in its pacing - with some of its most memorable missions also being its quietest ones. That's not to say that it's lacking the noise and bombast that you'd expect - all of that stuff is absolutely here. You'll be destroying tanks with C4, rappelling down the sides of skyscrapers, and wiping out compounds from a circling gunship - just as you'd expect. Several of the set piece levels are flat out crazy, with one particular standout involving hanging upside-down from a damaged helicopter above a highway as you shoot at armed insurgents in the backs of speeding pick up trucks.
All of these moments get the blood pumping and the heart racing, tied together with some incredibly tight sound design and graphics throughout it that could melt eyeballs at a hundred yards. For me, though... the missions I'll remember the most are the ones that were paced the slowest.
Probably the slowest of them all is a late game level called 'Alone' - separated from your squad and injured, you're tasked with sneaking through a Mexican town while a company of mercenaries hunts you down - murdering anyone that stands in their way as they go. This level was a real standout, as stripped of weapons you're forced to sneak and forage your way through the rain and blood-soaked environment. There's some rudimentary crafting here - something I don't think we've ever seen in a CoD game before, and some dialogue options along the way that made me chuckle despite the danger of the surroundings. I can't help but wonder what the inclusion of those two system were moving us toward - but they felt like a welcome addition regardless. Sticking with the campaign to the end was easy; it was like playing a Michael Bay movie - and had a runtime of about 6-8 hours I'd guess. I left my brain at the door and just blasted through it like it was a popcorn movie - admittedly one that you need a controller in your hand to enjoy.
I've also found myself digging into the multiplayer - which isn't something that happens often. The last CoD multiplayer I played was Black Ops 3, which held my attention for a couple of days before I wandered back to Destiny 2. This time around though, I'm enjoying it for a couple of reasons - some of them external to the game itself.
Halo Infinite has been my go-to multiplayer FPS since I lost interest in Destiny 2 - but lately, as player counts have dwindled and rewards for engagement have all but disappeared, I've found less and less desire to fire it up. There's an expansion coming next week which will hold my attention until I've finished it up - but for now, I've been playing a lot of games that haven't involved shooting other people. Launching myself into the MW2 multiplayer has reminded me of two things - firstly, that it's something I really enjoy even if I don't take it particularly seriously. The second is that when an FPS feels good... it can be the best. MW2 doesn't feel good - it feels exceptional. Some would say this is just as well - as with the franchise about to take its first break from an annual release schedule in what feels like forever, this one needs to keep players entertained for two years.
Can it? Well, at this early stage it's almost impossible to tell. What I can say though is that this game feels more finished, more complete than most PvP shooters do at launch. In comparison to my experiences with Destiny 2 and, more recently, Halo Infinite, the PvP offering here feels incredibly well fleshed-out. There are plenty of maps and plenty of different modes - some of which I'm sure I'll tire of more rapidly than others. On the progression front, there are weapons and attachments to unlock along with perks and kill streaks - it feels like there's a LOT to do, and the battle pass (which I assume will link into the coming battle royale mode more than anything else) isn't even available yet.
Reading online, it sounds as though the pace of movement has been toned down quite dramatically from earlier entries in the series - which from the perspective of this grumpy, middle aged player is absolutely fine. So far, the PvP seems to reward methodical play - rewarding positioning and planning more than the games that came before it did. Checking sightlines and advancing cautiously seems to offer more reward than bouncing around like an effervescent bunny rabbit on a pogo stick - which feels to me more in keeping with the version of reality that the game is trying to ground itself in.
Whether or not I'll still be playing in several months' time is anyone's guess at this point. For now though, I seem to unlock new bits and pieces at a reasonable pace and I seem to be earning killstreaks more regularly (dropping a cruise missile on a section of map full of enemy players isn't something I'll get bored of any time soon) and generally feel like I'm improving. I'm enjoying the change of pace and the novelty of something new.