The Modern Warfare 2 campaign seeks to strike a balance between provocation and pleasure

The Modern Warfare 2 campaign doesn’t want to make you uncomfortable, it just wants to wow you. This is good news – 2019’s Modern Warfare campaign had a few missions that were, quite frankly, tasteless, and it seems Infinity Ward is keen to avoid such controversy with the sequel. During a visit to the studio to see Modern Warfare 2, creative director and co-studio head of Infinity Ward Patrick Kelly says that a tone shift has been a key focus for the sequel: “There was a lot of stuff that was, at times, more provocative and uncomfortable. We’re trying to focus a bit more on entertainment and having fun in this one.”

He tells us this shortly before I’m shown several missions in Modern Warfare 2, which picks up three years after the conclusion of Modern Warfare 2019. The missions show off the visually impressive and sonically bombastic cinematics and gameplay you’d expect from a Modern Warfare title, tuned to absolute perfection. Everything is bigger and louder in this sequel, and Infinity Ward’s desire to wow players with set pieces worthy of a Hollywood blockbuster shines through. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is teed up to be exactly the sequel you’ve been waiting for – and one that seems to be somewhat more appropriate (or at least more tactful) for our current socio-political climate.

The missions 

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

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Infinity Ward shows several missions during our hands-off preview, all of which take the series’ familiar formula and inject it with nitrous oxide. Night War is a version of the fan-favorite night vision missions. It begins with an Apache helicopter, glowing eerie green, that slices through the sky before a lightning-bright streak of a mortar takes it out a few yards ahead. As the squad fights their way through a series of small spaces and open fields, the mission vacillates between pitch darkness and blinding bright light in a way that is clearly designed to disorient. By the time they get to the downed helo and search for incoming hostiles standing out against a wall of fire in the night, there’s a decidedly horror-like tension that has my heart pounding. 

Wet Work takes players to Amsterdam, and makes use of Infinity Ward’s impressive new water mechanics. “Water is part of the DNA” of Modern Warfare 2, according to game director Jack O’Hara, and the team has spent a lot of time ensuring it impresses. During the mission, I’m suitably impressed as Gaz dives underwater and I’m able to see the rows of Dutch buildings reflected with picture-perfect accuracy on the surface. Enemies react to Gaz’ presence when he’s closer to the surface of the water but lose him as he plunges deeper into the murky depths. The team wants you to use water as a stealth feature, and Wet Work is the mission where you’ll embrace the wet.

Modern Warfare 2

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Then there’s Tower, which takes the skyscraper rappel mission from Call of Duty: Ghosts and quite literally turns it upside down. Players can choose to rappel down the side of a skyscraper either toes up or toes down, the former of which means you’ll play through sections completely upside-down. You can swap between the approaches as you make your way down the building – which you’ll want to do, as each offers its own advantages and disadvantages. I also saw a new vehicle chase mission, which will not only let us actually drive the cars, but jump out of and between them on a busy, moving highway. I can’t wait to try it for myself.

According to Negus, the designers are “always trying to push the bar, gameplay-wise and features wise” and as a result, Modern Warfare 2 “has the most wide-ranging types of gameplay” yet. And although I don’t get a chance to go hands-on with Modern Warfare 2’s campaign, the visual and audio fidelity and innovation in terms of mission design are obvious. Modern Warfare 2019 gave players grounded action, powerful weapons, and difficult missions, and from what I’ve seen the sequel will deliver that with an extra kick or two.

Pleasure and provocation

Modern Warfare 2

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Three years after its formation, Task Force 141 (led by the perpetually bucket-hatted Captain John Price) has been doing its thing all over the globe, taking part in top-secret missions that would have you questioning the legality of their operation. He’s joined by familiar faces Sergeant Kyle “Gaz” Garrick, Lieutenant Simon “Ghost” Riley, Sergeant John “Soap” MacTavish, and CIA Station Chief Kate Laswell (who will finally get some field action in the sequel). Rounding out the team of guys you don’t want to see knocking on your door are two new characters: Mexican Special Forces Colonel Alejandro Vargas and private military contractor Corporal Phillip Graves. 

Everyone is as hoo-rah and as badass as you’d expect, because this is a Call of Duty game, of course, but there’s some more nuance to these characters than in earlier iterations. Narrative director Jeff Negus tells me how excited he is to “reimagine some of these older characters and classic characters in a different way so that [Infinity Ward] can build out their personalities. Maybe they don’t all see things eye-to-eye, and they have something different to learn and take away from the same things that they’re going through together.”

Whereas Modern Warfare asked us to wonder where to draw the moral line when engaging in war with terrorists (and frequently stepped over many of our imaginary lines), Modern Warfare 2 is cleverly leaning into the power of its cast to tell its story. “A great team is greater than the sum of its parts,” says head writer Brian Bloom. And the story itself, while kept relatively under wraps during this preview, will “focus on military operatives versus military operatives,” says Kelly. 

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

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I’m not going to tell you there aren’t places in the game where there’s obviously civilians and stuff like that. I’ll tell you that you’re not engaging them.

Creative director Patrick Kelly

That means there (hopefully) won’t be anything like Modern Warfare 2019’s Clean House mission, in which players have to run through a terrorist-occupied townhouse that is, unfortunately also full of innocent people. “I’m not going to tell you there aren’t places in the game where there’s obviously civilians and stuff like that. I’ll tell you that you’re not engaging them. And we strongly, strongly discourage to the point of failing you if you decide you want to do that kind of thing,” Kelly says, adding: “There’s no place for that.” Considering the last game in the series traded out insta-failing when killing civilians for a “collateral damage” system that let you kill them while negatively affecting your score, it’s nice to see Infinity Ward is taking a somewhat more tasteful approach this time around.

But Modern Warfare 2 isn’t completely turning away from provocation. “It’s part of the DNA of Modern Warfare specifically to be provocative,” Negus tells me when I ask about the current political climate and IW Poland’s vicinity to the war in Ukraine. But the team is using these iconic characters “as a conduit through which to see things. Their perspectives come into play in how they see the world… we look at it more in terms of drama, and what’s right for the story in the conflict between characters.”

The future

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Although Patrick Kelly says that Modern Warfare 2 is focusing a bit more on entertainment and fun, it’s clear from my preview and subsequent conversations with the dev team that there will still be some tense moments. “Fun is such an interesting word,” Bloom says when I ask about Kelly’s promise. 

“It’s a simple word but totally subjective, obviously. We’ve been feeling this out lately – ‘fun’ really means a lot of different things in an experience, like on a rollercoaster. Part of that is being uncomfortable, part of that is losing your stomach, and part of that is feeling triumphant over getting through a part. It’s the hair-raising, palm-sweating, aspects of that. Our whole team thinks this is similar to that, in terms of what fun really means.” 

Check out more of the best FPS games list, which MW2 will surely end up on. 

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