Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (4 stars)

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

Reboot of the Modern Warfare sub-series features an outstanding campaign with plenty of cinematic moments

A year on from its tentative foray into the battle royale genre, Call of Duty goes back to basics with a reboot of its most popular sub-series. Gone are the Hollywood cameos, the jetpacks and the interplanetary expeditions. Instead we have a relatively small-scale international conflict featuring fan favourite characters embarking on brand new adventures.

This year's campaign is arguably the best in the series' history and, similar to the original Modern Warfare, there's great tonal variety in the missions. A terrorist attack in Piccadilly Circus is appropriately loud and chaotic, while a historical vignette – where you play as a young child evading capture during the occupation of a fictitious Middle Eastern country – features almost no gunplay and is all the more tense for it.

In previous entries Call of Duty was a like a toddler furiously demanding your attention: throwing nuclear bombs at the player, destroying a space station and collapsing the Eiffel Tower. That's not the case here, and scaling back from the perpetual threat of planetary annihilation has worked wonders, resulting in a refreshingly personal story. Pointedly set in the days after the game's release, it's unambiguously influenced by the Syrian Civil War (albeit set in the fictional nation of Urzikstan), treading a fine line in respect to an ongoing conflict.

As a series of interactive cinematic moments, Modern Warfare is unparalleled. There's a night-time infiltration in a London tenement, a frantic chase through a bustling town, a desperate escape from an exploding cave system and a desert raid obviously inspired by Zero Dark Thirty. Throughout the mayhem a cast of supporting characters promote the illusion of stark reality, milling around with total believability thanks to a mixture of fantastic voice acting and impeccable motion capture work.

While the campaign is exceptional, multiplayer is business as usual. Although it's refreshing to see the back of the more outrée gadgets of recent editions, little has changed in the 12 years since the first Modern Warfare. Killstreaks still reward the players who need them least and camping snipers can dominate matches with very little skill. That said, the seemingly perpetual cycle of ranking up and unlocking new gadgets remains addictive, and for short bursts of play this is more rewarding than it's been for a long time. However, the much lauded larger maps – featuring vehicles and slightly more substantial objective play – certainly won't be keeping Battlefield developers up at night.

The graphics, particularly lighting and shadow effects, have come a long way and really show up last year's Black Ops 4. Crucially, every weapon is exhilarating to fire, bolstered by fantastic animation and sound design, and during frenetic firefights that audio has to be heard to be believed. It's a shame that the multiplayer remains underwhelming but the campaign is outstanding.

Out now for PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.

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