Infinity Ward's rebooted Modern Warfare 2 brings back a more classic Call of Duty multiplayer experience than we've seen in recent years, with maps better tailored to traditional 6v6 play and dialed-back movement mechanics. Modern Warfare 2's gameplay really feels like a refreshing return to old times again for Call of Duty, but unfortunately, the package as a whole feels lacking and gun customization is overly complex.
As a whole, Modern Warfare 2's multiplayer is the fast-paced shooter you expect it to be. The standard maps are scaled down for 6v6 matches this year, so there are less quiet and campy moments, and you're almost always finding yourself in the thick of the action. Modern Warfare 2 does dial back the overly fast-paced movement of recent years too, but that doesn't mean you can't choose a run-and-gun playstyle. The gameplay is just a bit less twitchy too, as the movement feels more on par with the original Modern Warfare series than the 2019 version.
Sliding doesn't quite feel as fast and fluid as Modern Warfare 2019 and the bunny-hopping movement has been nerfed a little since the beta. You can still hop around a corner, but there's not a build-up of an overly-aggressive speed that lets you start hopping all over the map. This makes the multiplayer movement feel more grounded and slower-paced than the last few entries of the franchise, which is a great change. The last few years of Call of Duty has left the majority of the casual player base at a disadvantage in trying to counter the hopping and sliding frenzy.
Modern Warfare 2 launched with the typical modes, perks, and killstreaks, but there are a few notable features missing from this year's game at launch. Call of Duty usually gives players a barracks section of the menu with leaderboards and a combat record to see how they're performing, but the barracks is completely absent in Modern Warfare 2. This is really disappointing because I've had several good games and some fairly awful ones, but I don't have any way to see my overall performance. Not having stats to judge my progress makes matches feel increasingly less rewarding over time. Yes, it's just an arcade shooter, but it's still nice to be able to see if I'm improving, or gauge my success at various game modes. Call of Duty games also usually have a whole section of boot camp and milestone challenges that can be viewed and completed for XP and calling card rewards, but they are also not included.
Another fumble for Infinity Ward is that Modern Warfare 2 is alienating a huge chunk of the playerbase at launch with the lack of a hardcore playlist, which the developer has renamed as "Tier 1" mode and says will now release on November 16 with the launch of Season 1 and Call of Duty: Warzone 2.0. There is an entire community of hardcore players that always get to play this mode at launch, who had no idea their preferred playlist wouldn't be available. All of these missing features and lack of a hardcode playlist are a bummer, because this is an otherwise refreshing return to classic Call of Duty.
One of Modern Warfare 2019's biggest flaws was the map pool being designed around massive spaces that could be utilized for all modes, various player counts, and playstyles. This was an issue because Call of Duty's multiplayer doesn't work well with a one-size-fits-all approach. Thankfully, Modern Warfare 2 provides standard maps that are better designed with the core 6v6 experience in mind, while Ground War has "battle maps" for the large-scale mode. There are a few standard maps that are also a piece of a larger Ground War map, but the standard version of the map still feels appropriately sized for core multiplayer. For example, Mercado Las Almas is a solid 6v6 map for all game modes, but the location can also be found tucked away in the Las Almas setting of the Guijarro Ground War map.
There are 10 standard maps and five battle maps. Standout maps include Mercado Las Almas, which features a small marketplace with fast-paced routes. No matter the mode you choose, there's always some action happening on Mercado. Another strong map is Crown Raceway, which is a nighttime map set at a Formula 1 racetrack. This layout doesn't quite feature a classic three-lane map design, but it's not overly complex, and the map flows really well across all game modes.
Of course, almost every Call of Duty has one unpopular or controversial map, and this year it's Santa Sena Border Crossing. This has an awkward layout, as it's just a long strip of highway congested with cars. There are a few small buildings along both sides of the highway, but the map leaves much to be desired in terms of variety. Most of the fighting takes place with nothing but the traffic jam of cars, many of which will explode from damage. It only takes one grenade or killstreak to set off a chain reaction of exploding cars, which can quickly turn deadly.
Unlike the previous Modern Warfare, which featured mostly drab maps with washed-out color palettes, Modern Warfare 2's maps include more colorful environments. These maps are much easier on the eyes than its predecessor, and the variety of map locations as well as the pop of color help avoid any overload of monotony, making the vibrancy of maps like Crown Raceway and Mercado much appreciated.
Modern Warfare 2 features 10 game modes to choose from in standard multiplayer. This includes the staple game modes like Team Deathmatch, Domination, Hardpoint, Search and Destroy, and Free-For-All, and all of these can provide a great time in Modern Warfare 2. Sadly, there are only two new modes being introduced here called Prisoner Rescue and Knockout, and they leave much to be desired in terms of objective gameplay.
Prisoner Rescue is a 6v6 mode that requires players to take turns either trying to defend or rescue two prisoners on the map. Knockout is a very similar 6v6 round-based mode, with fast rounds in a best-of-five match, where both teams fight to hold a bag of cash. Both Prisoner Rescue and Knockout are no-respawn modes, but players can revive their fallen teammates to get them back in the match.
Both new 6v6 modes are underwhelming, and it's a shame that both new modes added this year are so similar to one another. Knockout or Prisoner Rescue both play out similarly, usually devolving into rounds of Team Deathmatch with very few teammates ever bothering to play the objective, which can often happen in Call of Duty modes. Unless there are measures in place to entice players to play the actual objective, matches can often lead to becoming a kill fest that goes to time instead of score. Both modes seem to be meant to introduce a non-respawn mode that plays faster than Search and Destroy, but both lack any real creativity compared to some of Call of Duty's past modes, such as Black Ops 4's Counter-Strike-like Heist mode.
Conspicuously absent are any new 2v2 or 3v3 objective modes, such as Modern Warfare 2019's 2v2 Gunfight mode or Vanguard's Champion Hill. Gunfight was one of the most pleasant surprises of Modern Warfare, and it provided a much more adrenaline-fueled and tactical challenge than you get in the higher player count of Knockout or Prisoner Rescue. Not only does Modern Warfare 2 not introduce a new mode like this of its own, but Gunfight is absent–at least at launch.
Ground War returns for those who want a bigger fight than 6v6, again providing 32v32 large-scale warfare played on sprawling maps. There are two Ground War modes available with the choice of standard or Invasion mode. Standard Ground War is much like Modern Warfare 2019's successful mode, serving as an oversized Domination match with five control points to capture and hold for points. This standard mode is chaotic fun, with tank battles, air support, boat fights, and underwater combat. This truly feels like Call of Duty's sandbox mode, and there's something for everyone here. Ground War has a really strong map pool, with each featuring plenty of building variety and verticality to cater to all playstyles and weapon types. Ground War: Invasion, meanwhile, is a Team Deathmatch-style mode with a point system that goes beyond just getting kills to rack up a score. You're also awarded points for shooting down enemy killstreaks or destroying their vehicles. Unfortunately, this feels like the weaker of the two modes.
Invasion is a scaled-down 20v20 experience, with Ground War maps shrunk down accordingly, cutting away the areas of water and much of the open ground. This leaves you to primarily fight through the streets and buildings at the center point of the map. Taking out the swimming and extra vehicle opportunities is a bit of a bummer because the water combat is a blast and works so well for Ground War. Another low point is that Invasion is also padded with bots. Each team has a set of AI soldiers, and this doesn't really add to the experience. The AI is a weak opponent, and those fights feel so unrewarding. It's also a bit jarring to easily take out a bot, but then immediately get smoked by the human player rushing up behind them. This will be a game mode that best serves new players just dipping their toes into Call of Duty, but otherwise, it is a place more seasoned players will likely come to just bot farm and level up their weapons.
Another major addition is the ability to play Modern Warfare 2's standard maps in third person. This is a separate playlist with mixed respawn modes. Previously, in our beta impressions, I mentioned finding myself with a bit of motion sickness while playing. Thankfully, the third-person mode has one of the most notable changes from the beta, as Infinity Ward has adjusted the perspective while aiming, so you'll only switch from third-person to first-person perspective when aiming-down-sights with scopes over 4x zoom.
The change in perspective does help, and I find myself now able to play and enjoy the mode without feeling queasy from the constant swap of perspective. There is still a slight character bob while in third-person, but nothing that's prevented me from playing. This is a much more enjoyable experience than the previous style of constantly switch between perspectives. With some closer to the traditional third-person perspective of 2009's Modern Warfare 2's third-person Team Tactical mode, this now feels like a playlist I can see myself revisiting just to break up the monotony of standard matches, and it will be nice to view the fancy operator skins I'll acquire from future battle passes.
Although Modern Warfare 2 takes us back to the past with classic movement and traditional map design, one component Infinity Ward pushes further is the Gunsmith weapon customization feature. This year's Gunsmith adds a new layer of complexity for unlocking weapons and crafting the best build. The Gunsmith's new Platform system is essentially created to eliminate the grind of unlocking the same attachment over and over for different guns, which sounds great in theory, but it actually ends up being a different type of time-consuming headache.
Unlocking guns and attachments is no longer a simple process of just leveling up and using the weapon you want. Instead, you're forced to use weapons in other classes just to unlock attachments and additional weapons. For example, I couldn't just level up and use the M4 to get everything I wanted for it. Some attachments were locked behind the use and leveling of a sniper rifle and battle rifle. For context, I'm almost level 48 of 55, and there are still so many guns and attachments locked behind other gun requirements. I would have most of my weapons already unlocked in previous games.
Overall, it's nice not to need to unlock the same attachments over and over again, but the complexity of how the entire Platforms system is designed could be overwhelming for new or casual players. I'm not a big fan of snipers or light machine guns, but I'm essentially being forced to level them up to get some of the attachments I want for my assault rifles and submachine guns. Additionally, some people are going to want to hop on with a preferred weapon or two and not want to use guns they don't like just to get the optic or barrel attachment they want.
Another Gunsmith complexity comes from Modern Warfare 2's new fine-tuning feature. Once you reach the max level with a weapon that can be customized, you unlock the ability to fine-tune each individual attachment. For example, you can choose to reduce recoil when using a specific attachment, but at the cost of reducing the weapon's handling. This could be overwhelming for a casual player, who doesn't want to worry about the hassle of building the "meta weapon," but this is great for the hardcore fanatics looking to make the most of their favorite weapons. On another note, Modern Warfare 2 is dialing the customization back with a limit of five attachments, which is down from last year's 10 attachments in Vanguard. So, this is one good regression in an otherwise overly-complex weapons customization feature.
The game also adds a shooting range, where you can now go to test out the guns you've spent time building. This is something the community has been asking for, and it's great to have the option to test out different attachments to better find something to suit your playstyle. Modern Warfare 2's guns also look and sound great, with the reload animations and gunfire audio up to par with Modern Warfare 2019's stellar quality.
As alluded to earlier, Modern Warfare 2 also adds new maneuverability mechanics, such as swimming, mantling, and hanging from ledges or the sides of vehicles. These new features are best utilized in Ground War, where mantling and ledge-hanging can be great for when you're parachuting down on a building and want to make a sneaky rooftop play. The new options can really make for some interesting plays, and it can be very useful to hop up and catch a ride on the exterior of an already full vehicle.
Modern Warfare 2 also comes packaged with Spec Ops mode, which is a two-player co-op experience of large-scale missions taking place in Al Mazrah, the new map location for Warzone 2.0. There are three missions available with more to come post-launch. So far, my time with these missions makes the mode feel somewhere in between the original Spec Ops experience in 2009's Modern Warfare 2 and Modern Warfare 2019. These missions are a little more open-world than the smaller set pieces used in the fan-favorite 2009 version, but this reboot is not as buggy nor plagued with the same overwhelming enemy spawn system that Modern Warfare 2019 had.
Once nice throwback for fans takes place on the Defender: Mt Zaya. This is a survival mode that requires you to defend a location from increasingly difficult waves of enemies, and the map setting is a larger version of Modern Warfare 3's Dome map, which also features a survival mode. Beyond that, however, there's no particularly standout here, but it can be a fun co-op experience and a nice break from multiplayer matches.
Modern Warfare 2's version of Spec Ops also introduces a new layer to the mode with Kits, which is like having a set loadout of perks, field upgrades, and killstreaks tailored to fit the role you choose. For example, the Assault Kit lets you equip an extra armor plate, and leveling up the Kit will get you additional benefits, such as faster reload, stims, and additional armor plates. You can easily get through all three Spec Ops missions without having to utilize these Kits at all, but they are beneficial if you're going for fast completion times. Hopefully, the Kits will be more beneficial for the game's seasonal content, as they don't really feel worth the grind to level up, yet. Activision says the Kits will also be used for Modern Warfare 2's upcoming Raids feature, which the publisher described as a three-player cooperative mode with a mix of combat and puzzles, and maybe they'll be better utilized there.
I'm playing Modern Warfare 2 on PlayStation 5, and the first two days were rough with frequent freezes and crashes, but an update has dramatically reduced the number of crashes for me. Others have experienced various bugs, Spec Ops glitches, and features like pinging and the weapon tuning are currently disabled due to game-breaking issues. Taking all of this into account, I am still having a really great time playing Modern Warfare 2, despite the rough launch weekend. However, it just can't be ignored that the overall package is missing those core multiplayer features. It's definitely the gameplay and classic feel that saves the experience for me.
Modern Warfare 2's gunplay and the fast time-to-kill all feels very much the same as Modern Warfare 2019. However, Infinity Ward definitely improved a lot on what worked and didn't work in the previous game. The scaled-back maps definitely make for better pacing, the less hectic movement is not so overwhelming, and all the new maneuverability features make the game so enjoyable from match to match. No one should load into a match expecting this game to be anything like the original Modern Warfare 2, but all issues aside, this rebooted version's gameplay does serve as a positive successor to Modern Warfare 2019.
Editor's note: Given the staggered release of Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2's campaign and multiplayer, as well as Warzone 2.0, GameSpot will be publishing three separate reviews to ensure our verdicts can be delivered in a timely manner, while also giving each of these experiences the focus they need. You can read our Modern Warfare 2 campaign review here.