Modern Warfare 2 review: A buggy mess that requires major patchwork

Modern Warfare 2 graphicActivision

Modern Warfare 2 is another popcorn flick-style FPS that has moments of excitement when everything works as it should – unfortunately, it doesn’t always work. This year’s campaign is another decent entry in the franchise but hindered by a confounding narrative, multiplayer is occasionally fun but mostly tedious, and co-op is a shining gem let down by a severe lack of content, making the game’s launch more of a fizzle than a bang as all areas fall short of making a real impact.

Modern Warfare 2 already had a huge reputation to live up to based on name alone, and while some aspects fall frustratingly short, its issues are compounded by a litany of bugs and technical issues at launch that makes it feel like it could have done with more time in the oven.

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With staple features missing, unnecessary changes only complicating matters, and widespread bugs hindering the action, it’s a sub-optimal beginning for an entry that could be in the spotlight for two full years. Seasonal updates will certainly add missing features along the way and content drops will round out the package too, but this long-term remedy doesn’t salvage what’s here at launch. Modern Warfare 2’s state upon release is surprisingly rough.

Modern Warfare 2: Key Details

  • Developer: Infinity Ward
  • Price (PS5): $69.99 USD / £64.99 GBP / $109.95 AUD
  • Release Date: October 28
  • Platforms: PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, Xbox Series X | S, PC

Modern Warfare 2 release trailer


Modern Warfare 2 Campaign review

If you’ve ever played a campaign in the CoD series, you know exactly what to expect when jumping into another. All are fairly brief depictions of certain theaters of war as twisting narratives lead you from one explosive set piece to the next. If you’re looking for Academy-level writing or truly innovative game design features, you won’t find it here. But if you know what you’re getting yourself into and you’re eager for a more casual action game with the sharpest FPS mechanics on the market, Modern Warfare 2 certainly doesn’t disappoint.

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It’s another non-stop adrenaline rush that’ll have you dangling from a helicopter in one sequence before donning a ghillie suit and picking off targets from a distance in the next. Each chapter is varied yet familiar, as is much of the returning cast in this reimagining of the original MW series. While characters here share names and appearances with their counterparts from two console generations back – including those present in the first Modern Warfare 2 (how good are naming conventions?) – these are all new experiences and storylines.

For the most part, their journey in 2022 is just as enjoyable as the one we experienced back in 2009. However, a number of significant bugs and deeply frustrating oversights throughout prevent the full campaign from connecting with all of its ambitious shots. Infinity Ward’s sights are just off target, resulting in a decent single-player chapter but one that never quite reaches stellar.

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I’ve covered wars, you know

Taking place after the events of Modern Warfare’s 2019 reboot, this sequel brings Captain Price’s new iteration of Task Force 141 into the spotlight. With the likes of Gaz, Soap, and Ghost all joining the fight too, the accomplished group is thrown into the midst of the latest terrorist threat. Militants in Iran, members of the Cartel, Russian operatives, and seemingly all corners of the globe are linked to the central narrative, essentially pitting our batch of familiar faces against the world.

The campaign starts with a bang and doesn’t let off the gas until the credits roll, as you would expect. It’s a frantic journey from one continent to another as the good guys try to outwit the bad and claw their way to victory tooth and nail. You assume the role of many in Task Force 141, constantly changing perspective from mission to mission as the narrative demands. As a whole, Modern Warfare 2 tells a competent story that helps push the rebooted series forward once again, but this second entry avoids any major risks, playing it straight and narrow while setting up the next act.

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While the writing is about what you would expect here, some key moments might leave you scratching your head. Although this game serves as the sequel to a new string of Modern Warfare games, it’s almost as if characters recognize parts of their history from the other timeline. Two recently aligned protagonists might share some cheeky dialogue as though they’ve known each other for years. Others may scoff when they hear a particular name, as though it means something more to them.

Although this might have been intended to give experienced players a wink here and there, it’s more confusing than anything. It blurs the lines between the original and the reboot, placing the series in somewhat of a grey area where characters are supposed to be wound back to the start but continue to acknowledge parts of their rewritten history.

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Ghost returns in Modern Warfare 2 and he kind of remembers some of what happened 13 years ago, but not really. Maybe.

Similarly head-scratching is the sequel’s decision to move away from key characters that led the charge in 2019. Farah does get involved once again, though fans looking to see more of her story post-liberation in Urzikstan will be disappointed by the brevity of her appearance. Meanwhile, Alex, Modern Warfare’s lead character, doesn’t get a second of screen time in MW2. It’s here where things get even more complicated.

In the closing moments of the 2019 reboot, Alex seemingly sacrificed himself for the cause, remaining in the heart of battle to ensure explosives went off as planned. While that could have been a fitting end for the character back then, developers made the choice to overrule this thread and bring Alex back as part of Warzone’s seasonal narrative. Now, three years on from the first MW and the events that followed in the battle royale, it almost comes across like Infinity Ward didn’t want to acknowledge the story’s progression in Warzone. Which, in some respect, is fair enough. Hardly anyone is playing the online BR for its story and fans of the single-player journey definitely won’t be caught up if they missed a random cutscene from the season three patch back in 2020.

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The choice to all but ignore what millions experienced over the past few years is still a surprise. Perhaps we’ll see Alex make a return in Warzone 2 alongside some other iconic figures in the franchise but, as it stands today, there’s a questionable gap in the campaign experience at launch that can’t be patched.

CoD will always be CoD

When it comes to moment-to-moment gameplay, CoD is the king of the FPS genre for good reason. Very few titles come close to matching its refined mechanics or its incredible production value. From the snappy shooting we all know and love to the outrageous set pieces that could only fit in this franchise, moving through each chapter never grows dull.

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That’s especially true in Modern Warfare 2 thanks to the many diverse locations and mission types on offer. Whether you’re sneaking through the streets of Amsterdam with syringes full of poison or carefully clearing properties neighboring the Mexico-United States border, the game’s captivating presentation never ceases to impress. Graphical fidelity is top-notch here as you would expect from a title that employs the efforts of thousands around the globe across a dozen studios.

Modern Warfare 2 amsterdam gameplayActivision
No one can fault Modern Warfare 2 for its visuals. The game is simply stunning.

Piggybacking off the hype surrounding 2019’s Clean House mission, Modern Warfare 2 doubles down on the breach and clear recipe. Almost every mission features a close-quarters sequence wherein you and a few others trawl through a house room by room, checking behind doors and under every bed for targets along the way. Just as it was in the original, this approach to combat is sensational and seldom lets up.

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Each time around you’re on the edge of your seat, anxiously scanning the area for a hole in the wall that might be resting a gun barrel, a piece of clothing sticking out from behind cover, or even an enemy waiting to jump you from behind a shower curtain, it’s always intense and always a highlight.

New to this entry are a few systems and features that mostly feel half-baked at best and infuriating at worst. Dialogue options and crafting mechanics certainly fit the former description, with both only becoming prevalent in the second half of the game and feeling entirely inconsequential. Players are given three or four lines to pick from in a handful of moments, but more often than not, they’re irrelevant and do little to advance the story. For the latter, Infinity Ward has all but hit copy and paste on the flow of The Last of Us.

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In a few missions toward the end of the game, you’ll be without weapons for a decent stretch of time. In their place, your job is to gather scraps from the environment and craft a few deadly tools. Metal, wax, glass, you name it, you can pick it up and use it to build a makeshift smoke bomb, explosive, or shiv. While it may sound neat on paper, these sequences are often tedious. Players are shoehorned into finding a certain piece of equipment from their surroundings, rather than actually moving forward and focusing on the mission’s specific objective.

Modern Warfare 2 gameplayActivision
Breaching and clearing is the name of the game in most Modern Warfare 2 missions.

Another deeply frustrating feature comes with the arrival of armored enemies (think Juggernauts but more agile). At first, hearing the familiar Warzone ‘crack’ was nifty and a strong audio callback. With just one or two of these targets present in early combat rooms, it didn’t present a major issue. But as the story progresses, these characters become more and more common, to the point where you’re eventually thrown into rooms full of them. It’s extremely tiring, especially with limited ammo. Making matters worse is the fact you yourself can only armor up once or twice in the entire campaign.

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That said, there is one new addition that did actually improve the experience, Modern Warfare 2’s campaign gives players a backpack. No really. It’s just a simple backpack that allows you to swap between various types of lethal and tactical equipment on the fly and it is fantastic. Rather than having to drop a throwing knife to equip a stun grenade, for instance, you can just carry both and trade them out as you need. It’s so basic yet so incredibly effective and we can only hope this feature makes the jump across to Warzone 2 as well.

A frustratingly buggy campaign at launch

Although a good amount of the Modern Warfare 2 campaign rolled on without a hitch, a number of game-breaking issues halted progress at various points. In the worst cases, this led to full mission replays, as key sequences broke apart and failed to function as intended.

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Take, for instance, the Violence and Timing mission roughly halfway through the narrative. In this ambitious level mirroring a sequence from Uncharted 2, Gaz is flung from a helicopter and forced to commandeer a vehicle down below. What ensues is designed to be a fluid mix of both in-vehicle gameplay and regular on-foot shooting mechanics.

Modern Warfare 2 gameplayActivision
Despite a few good additions, Modern Warfare 2 had a tendency to fall apart due to its many moving pieces.

Not only are you able to lean out the window of your vehicle to fire at enemies, but you can freely climb out to the roof for a better shot. If your ride gets damaged, you’re supposed to jump to another and continue forward without much of a hassle. However, that wasn’t the case at all during my playthrough. On my first go, the camera locked up halfway through. From that point on, my reticle was stuck when leaning out a window and I could only hipfire, meaning I had to line up perfect shots from within the car before taking them. As you can imagine, this only worked for so long.

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Having to restart 20 minutes back, I then made it most of the way through a second attempt before disaster struck again. This time, my vehicle was on the verge of exploding right after a checkpoint hit. For whatever reason, exiting the car instantly led to a mission failure. No time on the roof, no chance to find another car, just a swift game-over screen before reloading the checkpoint and having it happen all over. It was an inescapable cycle that led to yet another full restart. Fortunately, the third time worked a treat, but that particular mission was just one of a few I had to restart due to malfunctioning mechanics or flawed checkpoints. A game that should take around five hours on an average run pushed me just north of seven, with a good chunk obviously spent replaying the same slice.

Modern Warfare 2 gameplayActivision
Time spent with MW2’s campaign is brief and mostly forgettable, but a few highlights will certainly stand the test of time.

Modern Warfare 2’s campaign won’t blow you away with its storytelling and there’s no denying it’s buggy at launch, but when it’s firing on all cylinders, there’s still an enjoyable single-player experience on offer here. It’s one that feels designed to set up a more promising third act in the coming years.

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Modern Warfare 2 Multiplayer review

Struggling out of the gate

While it’s still early days yet, Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer experience at launch is extremely rough around the edges. Inexcusably weak map design, needlessly convoluted UI, questionable design choices pivoting away from tradition, rapid TTK, and game-breaking performance issues are just some of the things hindering the online component as it stands upon release.

In my first days spent grinding multiplayer on PS5, Modern Warfare 2 struggled immensely. Before almost every match the application would freeze in the lobby screen. Occasionally, this would resolve itself after roughly a minute or two. Though in certain cases, this problem led to an outright crash, forcing me back to the PS5 home screen and having to reload into the game. Things have improved over time but that in itself is indicative of the full multiplayer offering this year – lackluster at launch with improvements and additions on the horizon.

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Modern Warfare 2 PS5 crashThis PS5 error screen quickly became a common sign as Modern Warfare 2 crashed on multiple occasions.

While Modern Warfare 2 obviously still features the tactile FPS mechanics the series is famous for, with every round fired just as satisfying as the last, it’s in the broader design surrounding these core systems that this year’s release leaves us stumped more often than not.

Map design in Modern Warfare 2019 certainly wasn’t a high point for the franchise. With bizarre layouts, problematic spawns, and more doors than you can count, fans were quite vocal in their displeasure with a vast majority of the layouts on offer. Unfortunately. Modern Warfare 2 has seemingly continued forward without much care for this concern. Doors are still everywhere, standard three-lane maps are few and far between, while poor layouts lend to confused spawn systems as players get shot in the back more often than not.

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One map in particular, Santa Sena Border Crossing, is a prime example of where Infinity Ward’s priorities seemingly lie. This map looks great, as teams battle through a deserted freeway with half-destroyed cars blocking lanes throughout. It’s completely original in that sense. But looking and playing are two different things. In practice, this map is a complete nightmare when it comes to moment-to-moment combat. Enemies can be behind or on the roof of any vehicle. Without much in the way of real structures or proper terrain to flank through, it’s just a scrappy sequence from start to finish whenever it appears in rotation. The same can be said for more than a handful of Modern Warfare 2’s launch maps. Many are highly illogical and more frustrating than fun to play through.

Who asked for any of these changes?

When it comes to progression, the early experience also leaves a lot to be desired. Overhauled this year is CoD’s Gunsmith system. Where once we simply slotted in an attachment or two and called it a day, weapons now have their own leveling tracks but this ‘upgrade’ does more harm than good for both casual and experienced players alike. Using an SMG, for instance, provides access to new attachments for that weapon as always. But now, it also gives those same attachments to similar weapon types under the same umbrella, while also getting you closer to unlocking other frames for that weapon, so you can morph it into an LMG or an AR, for example. What this also means, however, is that certain desirable attachments can’t be unlocked by using that very same weapon, so unlocking the strongest Barrel for your favorite SMG might require you to use a random AR for a few hours. As an example, you need to use no less than 10 different weapons to unlock every Muzzle for the M4.

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On paper, this overhaul might sound neat, with more unlocks just for playing the same as you normally would. But given the game’s overly convoluted UI, this system quickly falls into disarray. It’s exceptionally confusing checking through the menus after each game just trying to figure out what you’ve unlocked, and how to acquire the one thing you do actually want. Perhaps a neater presentation would help, but as it stands, Modern Warfare 2’s Gunsmith is needlessly complex, and that’s all without mentioning weapon tuning for each individual attachment. Buckle up because it’s hard to see a future in which balancing isn’t going to be messy in the months to come. With dozens of weapons, hundreds of attachments, thousands of variables (and infinitely more with tuning now in the equation), Infinity Ward are going to have their work cut out to make sure that there are no broken combinations.

Modern Warfare 2 gunsmithActivision
You need to use no less than 10 different weapons to unlock every Laser attachment for the starting AR.

Perks also function differently this time around, with standard selections no longer possible. Instead, every class must equip a particular Perk Package. This divides in-game abilities into even more categories than usual, but it comes with a bizarre tradeoff not one person in the community asked for – perks now unlock throughout the course of a match, rather than always being in effect.

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In certain situations, you might only get a few minutes to actually play with your full kit as a match winds down. Further yet, it hinders S&D strategy across the board as class swapping is punished unless you maintain the same Perk Package for different roles. It’s this type of change that perfectly encapsulates the disconnect between players and developers. Be it radar tweaks, Dead Silence as a Field Upgrade, or Perks unlocking during a match, we might spend the next year waiting for it all to be swapped back or overhauled again.

Making matters more frustrating at the launch of Modern Warfare 2 is the lack of essentials. Absent are the typical challenges. Gone is the barracks screen. Leaderboards of any kind are yet to appear. There’s not even a means of checking over stats from your previous match while sitting in the lobby. Instead, this year’s release takes multiple steps back but gives us a mobile-centric feature on the home screen in the form of daily challenges. Again, on paper, this is a non-issue. But laughable oversights make it one. Across multiple days we were left unable to progress these daily challenges as the requirements asked us to play with certain equipment still locked away. If this were a developer’s debut game, you’d brush it off, but it’s not. Modern Warfare 2 is still facing these issues despite its pedigree.

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Modern Warfare 2 Co-op review in progress

A good time while it lasts

Cooperative play in Modern Warfare 2 is fairly limited at launch. Just three co-op missions are available right away, dropping small teams into bite-sized chunks of Warzone 2’s Al Mazrah map. One has you attempting to stealthily navigate a mountainside, another is action-packed chaos from start to finish, and the last is a simple wave-clearing tower defense mission. They’re all diverse and all simple fun on the first few runs, but that enjoyment is short-lived.

There’s currently no variation to these missions whatsoever. Each and every time you load in, it’s the same set of objectives in the same location. No unique elements in play and no difficulty options to ramp things up. So once you’ve finished these three missions, the only thing left is to chase faster completion times which, if you’re not a speedrunner, serves very little purpose given the lack of in-game leaderboards.

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Modern Warfare 2 coopActivision
Co-op is a genuinely fun time, making its short supply of content a real shame at launch.

A ‘star’ system exists to help you unlock new ‘kits’ for each run, but at release is yet again half-baked. Only three of these kits exist, Assault, Medic, and Recon, and even with slightly different capabilities, there’s no purpose to any of them. Without any added difficulty, there’s never any need for a Medic on the field to revive players faster. Without more intense levels, there’s no demand for an improved Assault class to mow down waves of enemies. It’s all a bit pointless for now but we’re sure to see more character types added in the months to come in order to flesh things out.

The same can be said for co-op on the whole. No doubt we’ll see multiple new missions added moving forward. In a year or two, there could be enough for a full afternoon of fun with more incentive to jump back in and replay them too. But for its current state, there’s no reason to spend more than an hour with Modern Warfare 2’s limited co-op offering.

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The Verdict – 5.5/10

Modern Warfare 2 can be exciting when it works. Whilst the campaign’s narrative flaws can’t be fixed, major patchwork is needed to get the multiplayer (the most important aspect) to a good place, and co-op is in desperate need of extra content. Big games just shouldn’t be in this state at launch.

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