Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 review: A fun but familiar firefight

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 delivers some of the best competitive multiplayer on current hardware

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 keyart
(Image: © Infinity Ward/Activision)

Tom's Guide Verdict

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 packs one of the best multiplayer suites in the franchise’s history. That’s no small feat when you consider that this Modern Warfare (2019) sequel is the 19th mainline Call of Duty game. However, a lackluster campaign and bland co-op diminish the overall package.

Pros

  • +

    Engaging shooter gameplay

  • +

    Full-featured multiplayer

  • +

    Invasion mode is a fun addition

Cons

  • -

    Forgettable campaign

  • -

    Frustrating unlocks

  • -

    Few new ideas

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 review: Specs

Platforms: PC, PS4, PS5 (reviewed), Xbox One, Xbox Series X
Price: $70
Release Date: October 28, 2022
Genre: First-person shooter 

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (2022) shares its name with one of the most beloved first-person shooters of all time. The original Modern Warfare 2 released in 2009 and became an instant classic. Living up to such a legendary namesake must have been a daunting task for developer Infinity Ward. And yet, 2022’s Modern Warfare 2 succeeds in recapturing much of the same magic. 

The new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 doesn't quite match up to its forefather. Still, this continuation of the rebooted Modern Warfare sub-franchise is impressive in its own right. Or at least, it’s impressive when it comes to competitive multiplayer. Unfortunately, the single-player campaign and co-op mode both fall short.

However, if you’re looking for a slice of Call of Duty multiplayer escapism this year, Modern Warfare 2 is almost guaranteed to delight. It combines fluid and frenetic gameplay with an expansive progression system. The Call of Duty franchise has used this winning formula for more than a decade, and it remains highly appealing today. Read on for our full Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 review.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 review: Campaign  

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 offers a bombastic five-hour campaign that plays out like a cross between a Michael Bay movie and a propaganda ad for the United States military. 

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 screenshot

(Image credit: Activision)

Several characters from 2019’s Modern Warfare return, including Captain John Price (Barry Sloane), Sergeant Kyle “Gaz” Garrick (Elliot Knight) and Sergeant John “Soap” MacTavish (Neil Ellice). Lieutenant Simon “Ghost” Riley (Samuel Roukin), a fan-favorite character from the original Modern Warfare, gets a reimagining here, too. The humourous interplay and macho camaraderie between these likable squadmates are easily the most enjoyable parts of the campaign’s narrative. 

Unfortunately, the actual plot is decidedly less interesting than the main cast. You jump right into the thick of things, with slick briefings about stolen missiles and clandestine terrorist cells, but it all feels very one-note and predictable. I was tempted to hit the "skip cutscene" button in-between missions.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 screenshots

(Image credit: Infinity Ward/Activision)

At least Modern Warfare 2 is anything but one-note when it comes to gameplay. Previous Call of Duty campaigns have amounted to little more than a thinly connected series of shooting galleries, but in Modern Warfare 2, almost every chapter has something different for you to do. If anything, there may be a lack of missions that focus on just shooting bad guys.

There’s a mission where you hop between high-speed trucks while chasing an armored convoy. An obligatory sniper mission has you creeping from perch to perch, and two back-to-back chapters place you inside a military plane as you provide air support for your squad on the ground. There’s even a section where you’re stripped of your weapons and must craft DIY tools in order to survive as enemy forces hunt you down. 

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2

(Image credit: Infinity Ward/Activision)

The varied gameplay is commendable, but it does lead to a campaign that lacks cohesion. Many mechanics appear for only a single mission, and barely feel fleshed out. If you’re a Call of Duty campaign aficionado, then a playthrough is probably worth your time. But if you opt to jump straight into the online modes, you’re not missing much. 

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 review: Multiplayer and Specs Ops 

The crown jewel of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is its competitive multiplayer component. After flirting with various gimmicks over the last decade, the Call of Duty franchise has refocused itself around classic boots-on-the-ground gameplay, and Modern Warfare 2 wisely continues this trend. 

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 screenshot

(Image credit: Infinity Ward/Activision)

At launch, there are 15 multiplayer maps available: 10 for smaller 6v6 matches, and five for the large 32v32 modes. However, the game incorporates some of the smaller maps into the larger ones. The collection of maps on offer is certainly not the most geographically diverse, but it’s a solid handful of arenas, with only a couple that you’ll dread appearing in rotation. 

Early favorites include Mercado Las Almas, which offers a good range of long-distance and close-quarters encounters, and Zarqwa Hydroelectric, which features an underwater section for engaging in aquatic combat. Crown Raceway is probably the most visually distinctive map — it’s set on an F1 racetrack — but there are too many spots for campers. However, the worst of the bunch is Santa Sena Border Crossing, due to an abundance of exploding vehicles that often result in cheap deaths. 

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 screenshot

(Image credit: Infinity Ward/Activision)

Modern Warfare 2 has launched with the vast majority of modes you’d expect, as well as a couple of new ones to spice things up. The new offerings are Prisoner Rescue and Knockout but both are no-respawn modes that play quite similarly. The simplicity of Domination or the intensity of Search and Destroy remain unrivaled, and these classic modes will likely have the true staying power as the game evolves in the coming months. 

You can jump into the large 32v32 player modes if you want a break from Call of Duty’s traditional zippy combat pace. But these experiences are a mixed bag overall. The returning Ground War mode apes Battlefield’s iconic conquest mode, but the combination of large maps with lots of sight lines and a short time-to-kill is a frustrating one. Plus, some of the capture points are poorly placed, making them a little too easy for a dominant team to hold. 

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 screenshot

(Image credit: Infinity Ward/Activision)

Thankfully, the new Invasion mode fares a lot better. In Invasion, teams of 20 players compete to score the most points by earning kills or destroying vehicles. Both teams come from opposite sides of the map, which makes an unseen enemy shooting you in the back a blissfully rare occurrence. Plus, there are AI soldiers thrown into the mix, allowing even unskilled players to farm some kills and contribute to their team's score. 

Modern Warfare 2 also lets you switch to a third-person perspective and enjoy Call of Duty’s signature shooting from a different vantage point. This isn’t the franchise’s first attempt at a third-person mode, but it's the most successful effort yet. Hopping into third-person makes for a nice change of pace, and is finally a legitimate feature rather than a gimmick.  

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 screenshot

(Image credit: Infinity Ward/Activision)

The cooperative Special Ops mode returns, but it’s no substitute for the iconic Zombies modes that usually come in the Black Ops games. Right now, Modern Warfare 2 offers three individual missions to play in two-player co-op, but none of them are worth more than a cursory glance. 

The objectives in Spec Ops are straightforward, and shooting wave after wave of generic AI-controlled enemies becomes mundane very quickly. To make matters worse, Spec Ops is the glitchiest portion of the game, too. I encountered a bug where an objective failed to trigger, so my partner and I decided to see who could jump the furthest in an abandoned combat jeep instead — which turned out to be more fun. 

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 review: Progression 

An expansive progression system ties Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2's various online modes together, and ensures you’re always unlocking something new. Issues crop up when you want to unlock something specific, rather than just grind XP and weapon levels to see what you get.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 screenshot

(Image credit: Infinity Ward/Activision)

In previous Call of Duty games, obtaining a new attachment for your weapon of choice required either leveling up that weapon or completing specific challenges. However, in Modern Warfare 2, attachment unlocks are often tied to leveling up a completely different weapon. For example, to unlock the Cronen Mini Pro attachment for the standard M4 assault rifle, you must reach weapon level seven with a shotgun. 

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 screenshot

(Image credit: Infinity Ward/Activision)

I presume the developers implemented this change in an effort to encourage players to experiment with the game’s entire arsenal. However, being forced to use a weapon that doesn’t suit your playlist is never fun. 

Modern Warfare 2 also adds the ability to fine-tune your weapon with an impressive level of precision. But this is probably only a feature that the most invested players will use. Casual players most likely won’t want to obsess over degrees of weapon recoil. 

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2: Verdict 

If you’re primarily interested in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for its competitive multiplayer, then the game will almost certainly satisfy you. Its collection of (mostly) well-crafted maps, solid gameplay and engaging modes coalesce into one of the series’ best overall multiplayer offerings.

Unfortunately, Modern Warfare 2 falls a little short as a complete package. The campaign has thrilling moments, but throws too many half-baked ideas at the wall. The Spec Ops cooperative mode also feels like an afterthought. Nevertheless, so long as you view these as merely side attractions to the main event, you’ll probably find yourself hooked on Modern Warfare 2 like it's 2009 all over again. 

You can currently get a Cyber Monday deal on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II, which is $55 at Walmart.

Rory Mellon
Deals Editor

Rory is a Deals Editor at Tom’s Guide based in the UK. He covers a wide range of topics but with a particular focus on deals, gaming and streaming. When he’s not scouring retailers for PS5 restock or writing hot takes on the latest gaming hardware and streaming shows, he can be found attending music festivals and being thoroughly disappointed by his terrible football team.