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Modern Warfare 2 Is Best When It Isn’t Digging Up The Past

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 features the series’ finest campaign since 2016’s Infinite Warfare, boasting solid character writing and myriad set pieces that understand the necessity of shaking things up across each and every level.

While some moments outstay their welcome, a willingness to experiment with mechanics wherever possible meant I was constantly enamoured, ready to be surprised by each trick up its sleeve right until the credits rolled. This is an absolute banger, and not just because Soap and Ghost are cute military boyfriends throughout. Yes, I ship them something fierce.

This is also a reboot of a beloved classic, and thus there is an expectation for it to revisit iconic characters while reimagining characters we have long committed to memory. That’s a tall order, and an arguably impossible goal to meet when you consider how much reverence the 2009 shooter holds in the minds of so many. Simply repeating the same set pieces and expecting us to clap like obedient little seals is impossible, yet the game does just that time and time again in spite of itself. Cargo ship in the rain? Check. Sniping baddies in ghillie suits? Check. A prison escape to rescue your comrades? Check. It all feels like old hat.

I almost knew what was coming despite never playing this campaign before, and that made each new surprise far less impactful. The thing is, there is more than enough original meat on its bones to step out of this shadow altogether. A central narrative revolving around the cartel, private military companies, and a plot to recover a few missiles was grounded for the most part, unfolding in smaller skirmishes and situations that didn’t involve saving the world from annihilation or thwarting a super terrorist, but covert operations from a tight-knit group of soldiers who do this sort of thing on the daily. Makarov rears his head by the end in preparation for the third entry, but by the time he rolls around I was ready for the big reveal.

Being so aware of what awaited on the horizon was oddly bittersweet. The Modern Warfare trilogy is brilliant, and I adore seeing its finest moments reimagined for a new audience even if so much rings hollow. This new campaign makes a clear effort to splice together certain moments into single missions – such as the cargo ship and oil rig from the first two games – but that only serves to further highlight a lack of original ideas. The sniper mission that has Captain Price and Gaz don sniper suits to infiltrate an island filled with cartel goons is dry as hell, lacking in atmosphere compared to Chernobyl and filled with stealthy busywork that goes on for far too long. It pales in comparison to what came before, and would have been better served trying something new. At times, it supersedes the original game, but much too often it settles with a pale imitation. Shepherd's betrayal is still treated like a huge twist, as is the reveal of Makarov, but we all knew these stingers were coming, and acting like we didn’t is borderline disrespectful. Give us more credit and subvert those expectations.

Soap sneaking unarmed through the slums while nursing a critical wound amidst perpetual rainfall is thrilling, and forcing us to craft unique items and use whatever weapons are at our disposal results in some wonderful moments, while earlier stealth missions in Amsterdam and a chase sequence across Uzbekistan are excellent fun, and better yet, fully original in their execution. Yet it is always leading to old territory, or levels from the previous trilogy jazzed up for the modern age with just enough new context to justify their existence. This is a soft reboot of sorts I suppose, relying on the past while also distancing itself from what came before at every given opportunity. I had a blast with this campaign, but I wish I didn’t spend so much of it anticipating moments I’d seen so many times before.

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