Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II review - a greatest-hits world tour

Modern Warfare II is all killer, no filler  (Call of Duty)
Modern Warfare II is all killer, no filler (Call of Duty)

If 2019’s Modern Warfare was Call of Duty’s comeback album, the sequel is the equivalent of a greatest hits world tour.

The Task Force 141 band of classic CoD is back together, with Johnny ‘Soap’ MacTavish and Simon ‘Ghost’ Riley joining Captain Price and Gaz, and they’re on an extended run of gigs that will take you from the Middle East to Amsterdam and the borderlands of Mexico. They’re playing all the favourites – smashing through doorways, blasting the bad guys, and sneaking and sniping in camouflage suits. Levels deliberately echo the highway chase and air-support scenes of the series’s golden years.

You’ve heard the hits before, but never quite like this. The PS5 and Xbox Series X versions look incredible. It’s become a cliché to say that Call of Duty is a playable action movie, but most blockbuster action movies aren’t as powerful and immersive as this. Early scenes set in an Amsterdam street you can almost smell are one thing, but some of the blockbuster battles later are honestly jaw-dropping in their violent scale and imagination.

What’s more, there are some new numbers on the setlist, including levels that put your hero alone and on the run, crafting improvised weapons, and some larger, open sections you’re free to tackle in your own way – even if there’s constant chatter in your earpiece to suggest how you might like to do so.

Not everything works, but the game moves so fast that it’s hard to notice. While small sections can be clunky or frustrating, there’s always another satisfying set-piece around the corner.

Don’t come for the plot. There’s more momentum than coherence, and it wouldn’t be Call of Duty without a few moments that are woefully misjudged. Instead, dig in and enjoy the new stars and familiar faces and the chance to brush up on your Spanish obscenities. Like the best greatest-hit sets, this one’s all killer, no filler.

It’s a similar story with the multiplayer. As far as the feel goes, the pace is slower and more tactical than in, say, the Call of Duty: Black Ops titles. It pays to explore carefully, use your ears, and keep an eye out for an ambush. Death tends to be fast and frequent, with gun battles over within seconds of taking aim.

Yet the maps are tightly built and packed with different routes to explore, and the range of modes means there’s something for everyone. Fancy large-scale warfare? Jump into the 64-player Ground War and Invasion Modes. Looking for something tense and more strategic? Prisoner Rescue has you covered, taking inspiration from Rainbow Six: Siege and Counter-Strike, for a spot of hostage-carrying, respawn-free action – though at least you can be revived by friendly troops. There’s even a new set of third-person modes for those who miss the viewpoint of PUBG and Fortnite. There’s nothing here that’s truly revolutionary, but this is a generous package that plays to Call of Duty’s strengths.

And that’s the story of this year’s model. If you’re tired of the series, Modern Warfare II won’t change your mind, and it’s arguably not as smart or inventive as the 2019 reboot. Yet it knows what players want and keeps on dishing it out at high volume. It’s not trying to convert the haters; this one’s for the fans.