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Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (multiplayer) review: slick shooting that rarely misfires

Let's talk about those revamped weapon unlocks, though

Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2's multiplayer - not including Warzone 2.0 - brings out the best of COD's excellent gunplay on an array of colourful maps that largely deliver. And it tones down the pace of movement too, making for a measured experience that certainly rewards speed, but doesn't make it an athletics competition.

And while the game's multiplayer is a slick refinement of what's come before, its gun unlock process is messy and excessive, even if it offers plenty of options for all types of player. Oh, and make sure you've got the game installed on an SSD...

Infinity Ward clearly wants COD to move in a more methodical direction, eschewing the tricks of the military trade that players in MW1 adopted to outdo each other: the slide cancelling, the bunny hopping, the jumping through doorways. Before, you could just sprint about and get away with it, to the point where the more you resembled someone who'd consumed a Red Bull stew drizzled with honey then washed it down with a macchiato, the more you'd see success.

Ed recounts his favourite thing from Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2's campaign.Watch on YouTube

MW2 tips your Red Bull stew over your controller and knocks your macchiato onto the carpet. It needs you to calm down and clear rooms with precision – you're only allowed a flat white and a packet of pistachios before you strap on your boots. It's a contentious thing, stripping the game of its movement tech and paring it back to basics.

And while I've heard many arguments for and against the removal of the likes of slide-cancelling, I'd honestly say that the game is better off without them. Sure, there are some matches where you're spawning and dying at lightspeed, but there's a nicer ebb and flow to proceedings as everyone's largely on a level playing field when it comes to zipping about; shoot first and you'll come out on top. This might be the first COD in a while where I've felt there's been a consistent ratio of time spent alive and doing shootybangs, to time spent with a bullet embedded in my skull.

A soldier wearing a red mask holds a massive sniper rifle as a helicopter flies overhead in Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
Perks come in "Perk Packages", which are a bit confusing. Base perks are active from the get-go, while bonus perks activate after a certain amount of time and depending on your in-game performance. It's a bit overcomplicated.

Good maps have helped the game's rhythm too, as it's hard to identify many duds no matter if you're playing the larger Ground War modes, your traditional Team Deathmatches, or newcomers like Prisoner Rescue. I'm no architectural whizz, so it's difficult to ascertain exactly why the game's maps work so nicely, but they seem to flow well, or at least channel action into spaces which don’t feel too restrictive, letting you approach them from more creative angles if need be. In fact, I can pick out a few of my favourites already, like Mercado Las Almas and its colourful corridors, or Crown Raceway that's sees you do battle on a Formula 1 racetrack.

While the game has chopped away excess in favour of simplicity when it comes to movement, the same can't be said for the gunsmith. This is best summed up by a message I received from RPS vidbud Liam the other day entitled: "Having a very normal time trying to unlock a gun in COD", which came paired with a screenshot of an Excel spreadsheet he'd made to track exactly which guns he'd need to level, in order to actually unlock the gun he wanted.

Modern Warfare 2 image showing a soldier aiming over a wall with their gun, while wearing a rucksack full of cash.
Nerf gun
Thing is, COD multiplayer – like many others – constantly shifts and changes as patches drop, which means that my gunsmith gripes could be moot in a few weeks.

The age-old adage of "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" applies to MW2's gunsmith, as it's always been fairly simple: 1) You like gun?; 2) You play with gun; 3) You get attachments for gun! But MW2 forces you to use other guns to level up your favourite, which means dizzying bounces between weapons as you trace your fingers over their puzzling family trees. Sure, it encourages experimentation and ensures players must experience everything in the game's arsenal, yet in doing so, it exacerbates the feeling of weakness that comes with lifting a naked weapon for the umpteenth time. Not to mention that at the most basic level, it seems like a slightly annoying way to elongate progression and ensure players can't max out their favourite guns as easily.

Admittedly, there is something nice about having a wealth of weapon attachments to choose from once you've figured out its complexities. And each attachment seems more meaningful too, as their effects are immediately obvious, owing to the increased heft and feel of MW2's guns. You can't just go slapping on five attachments and counterbalance their downsides to create a literal laser beam. Instead, you must be conservative with your options, which forces you to engage with a system that can't necessarily be exploited anymore.

The range of weapons on offer covers all sorts of playstyles too, and even if the meta dictates that a handful are the best guns statistically, many are more than viable. And multiplayer upholds COD's title as one of the best around when it comes to multiplayer slickness, from the hit marker noises to the excellent gun feel; you won’t find a better blend of arcadey shooting and punchy military warfare than COD.

MW2 tips your Red Bull stew over your controller and knocks your macchiato onto the carpet.
Modern Warfare 2 image showing Task Force 141 in cover behind a large orange truck, with a smoking tower in the background.
The game is home to the usual suite of modes, with a couple that take inspiration from Counter Strike (or many other similar games) that involve no respawns and hostage rescues. These are - for me, personally - where COD shines. Hardpoint is a great option for pure chaos, especially if you want to rack up those killstreaks.

There is a caveat to the game's smoothness, though. I'm blessed with a solid rig that's home to a RTX 2070 and more than enough of everything else to meet the recommended system requirements – not to mention that I still game at 1080p. And yet, MW2's multiplayer ran awfully for me at first, with constant micro-stutters that made the game uncomfortable on the eyes no matter how low I turned the settings down. I largely cranked every setting down to zilch, so it looked like my Kindle could run it fine and I checked my drivers more than Christian Horner at the Monaco Grand Prix. And yet, the problem still persisted.

After some online sleuthing and Slack messaging, I narrowed the problem down to my hard drive, a regular 1TB HDD I stored all my games on. Having now transferred MW2 to an SSD (James' recommendation as one of the best SSDs for gaming), I've seen the frame hitches disappear entirely and I'm able to slap all the settings back up to High with zero consequences. Honestly, it's baffling that an SSD isn't in the recommended system requirements because it absolutely should be.

Close up of a soldier aiming in Modern Warfare 2. They're stood outside near a radio tower, with other soldiers around them.
I can't see the Spec Ops missions being supported for much longer, honestly.

On the topic of disappointments, the game's Spec Ops co-operative missions return and... they're not great. Only three missions are available at the moment, each with three-star ratings to encourage replayability. Thing is, they each seem like afterthoughts that take sa slice of what looks like Warzone 2.0's upcoming map and slap some objectives on it. Before, they were interesting mini-missions that emphasised communication between you and a pal. Now they're sandboxy zones filled with the sort of gormless AI that stream up flights of stairs and straight into your crosshairs or just, well, do nothing. One mission saw Liam and I drive a car about in a manic frenzy which was fun! But otherwise, our communication boiled down to maniacal laughter as we stood on top of towers and dropped everyone in the vicinity.

It might sound like I'm pretty down on MW2's multiplayer after all that, but trust me, I think it's a strong time! Aside from a couple of overcomplications, the game still excels at delivering an arcadey shootybang that's paced well, with a wealth of modes and weapons to satisfy all types of player.

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Ed Thorn avatar

Ed Thorn

Reviews Editor

When Ed's not cracking thugs with bicycles in Yakuza, he's likely swinging a badminton racket in real life. Any genre goes, but he's very into shooters and likes a weighty gun, particularly if they have a chainsaw attached to them. Adores orange and mango squash, unsure about olives.