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Game Reviews

‘Astral Chain’ Review: A Sci-Fi Epic Worth Investigating

‘Astral Chain’ is a reminder of why Platinum is at the top of the Action genre. But does their new outing have the makings of a true classic?

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Though video games have only been around since the 70s, it’s hard to shake the feeling that we’ve hit something of a creative wall in the AAA space. With more games being released that are strikingly iterative, uninspired, or simply sequels and/or remakes, Astral Chain feels like a breath of fresh air in a sea of sameness. It’s not often that we get a sci-fi/action/detective mashup, but Platinum has managed to pull it off with such success that it’s shocking this version of Earth hadn’t been thought up before.

A Tale of Two Twins

The year is 2078 and humanity has all but collapsed. Otherworldly beings known as Chimera have begun hunting people down and dragging them back to their dimension, the Astral Plane. The residual effects of this dimension-hopping has resulted in the spread of a condition known as “red-shifting” where contaminated individuals suffer extreme pain and sluggishness. Those who were lucky enough managed to sequester themselves away from the rest of the world on a manmade ship called the Ark. This last bastion of hope has now begun to undergo countless attacks itself–and things are only getting worse.

Having grown up in this living hell of a future, the player and his/her twin (whichever gender you choose, your twin Akira will be the opposite) have decided to enlist as part of Ark Police’s specialized Neuron Task Force and defend the city from all manner of Chimera activity.

Astral Chain’s initial premise is bursting with potential. Though apocalyptic narratives are nothing new per se, seeing these events from the perspective of a special task force member is a refreshing twist (especially since police work is an integral part of the gameplay). The story itself, however, suffers from some pacing issues in the opening chapters that result in early dramatic moments not quite hitting as hard as they should. Many of the early story beats are also fairly predictable (though well-presented), and it isn’t until the final third of the game that the narrative feels like it’s running on all cylinders.

Where the early pacing issues hit hardest are in character development. Events in the first couple chapters rush forward too quickly for the player to truly care about their fellow Neuron operatives. Standouts like the lovably goofy Officer Marie Wentz ease the disconnect, but it really isn’t until the last few chapters that the player is surrounded by what feels like a really tight-knit, dependable crew. Luckily, the character dialogue and lore are both strong enough to make every moment worth it regardless.

astral chain

The Latest in Sleuthing Technology

Astral Chain boasts three distinct types of gameplay: investigative work, downtime/side quests, and combat. Most chapters (or Files, in this case) are comprised of a bit of each, and it’s astonishing just how well these distinct modes complement each other.

As part of the force, one of the player’s primary duties is analyzing crime scenes and gathering information from civilians. For as much as the combat is the main focus of Astral Chain, these sections are easily just as enjoyable. Walking the beat by questioning locals and scanning a scene for clues feels remarkably intuitive thanks to IRIS, an all-knowing police database packed with advanced scanning technology. It lets players identify literally everyone on the Ark, makes navigation easier in low-visibility conditions, can be used to hack into security cameras and replay footage, and more. Arguably the best investigative moments, though, come from giving the Beast Legion (effectively a large cybernetic dog) a scent sample so they can guide you through the city and help you hunt down missing persons or clues.

Once all the clues are gathered, Astral Chain requires players to mull over each and establish a lead. Threading all of this together is a blast and encourages players to pay attention during the questioning process. Some of the better detective segments even incorporate mini-quests as a way to get clues from witnesses, like reuniting a nearby lost child with his mother or playing a guessing game with a group of local children.

Bite-sized quests like these are laced throughout the game and serve as both delightful breaks from the action and a chance to get to know the residents of the Ark a bit better. None of these take more than five-ten minutes at most, but they’re all varied and well-written enough to be worth pursuing every time one pops up. It’s through these quests that players get to know more about life both at the police station and across the expanse of the city. Players looking to get right back into the action can skip nearly all of these, but they’re easily recommended for those looking for some strong bits of world-building.

Unchained Action

As one would expect from a Platinum game, the main attraction here is the flashy, combo-laden combat. As advertised, players fight every battle alongside a Legion, which is a Chimera that’s been tamed and kept under control via each wielder’s Astral Chain. There are five distinct Legions each boasting their own playstyles and special moves. Some (like the aforementioned Beast Legion) specialize in mobility, while others (like the Arrow Legion) specialize in long-ranged attacks. Similarly to competitive Pokemon play, consistently switching between all of the Legions is a must for optimal effectiveness.

Battles themselves are slightly reminiscent of Bayonetta in that they’re fast-paced, stylish, and have a high skill ceiling. Though controlling two characters might look intimidating at first glance, Director Takahisa Taura (possibly pulling from his experience on Nier: Automata) wisely streamlined everything by having the Legions attack autonomously once directed towards an enemy. A quick lock-on trigger makes this a snap and is a downright necessity for most fights due to Astral Chain’s somewhat unruly camera.

It didn’t take long to get into a good rhythm of going in close to deliver a few blows, quickly rolling out of the way of an attack, changing Legions for a different approach and diving back in. This natural chemistry is enhanced all the more by flashy team attacks where a variety of stunts can be pulled off depending on the Legion and the weapon the player is wielding (be it a light sword, heavy sword, or gun). Deeper combos can be unlocked further down each Legion’s individual skill tree, providing a tempting incentive to try and collect as many Gene Code Points as possible (which are earned by completing missions and side quests, taking down enemies, and recycling around the city when possible).

The drastic differences between Legions lead to a welcome diversity of approaches to combat. For instance: After an extensive gauntlet of tough battles, I was forced to face a major boss at 1/3 of my health without any healing items. Despite this, I was able to use a combination of my gun, my autonomous Arrow Legion, and plenty of evasive maneuvers to take the boss down from a distance. It might not have been the most optimal way to go about the fight, but the fact that it was a viable option made the depth of Astral Chain’s combat system that much more impressive.

A Whole New World

It’s hard to believe something this pretty (and that isn’t a first-party Nintendo game) is running on the Switch. Though the little hybrid lacks the raw horsepower to implement things like anti-aliasing around character models, the technical feats that PlatinumGames has accomplished here are nothing short of stunning.

Not only do Masakazu Katsura’s character designs pop off the screen with surprising clarity, but the art direction in general perfectly conveys the story’s drearily optimistic sci-fi aesthetic. The police station is a trove of technological eye candy that truly seems like it could exist 60-odd years in the future. Sci-fi tones are everywhere, from the customizable holographic HUD, to the endearingly creepy talking vending machines, to the enemy holograms that players can fight in the training room. It’s clear that extra effort was made to detail the remains of this dystopian civilization in a way that comes off as fully realized and believable.

It’s a shame, then, that the Astral Plane is so uninspired by comparison. Whereas the gaudy sheen of neon lights and a healthy amount of location variety help keep the real-world environments feeling fresh, the lack of environmental detail and any distinguishing landmarks results in the Astral Plane always looking the same no matter when it’s visited. The area does at least manage to stand out from a gameplay perspective thanks to environmental puzzles that make use of the Legions’ abilities in (mostly) satisfying ways. In terms of visual design, however, it’s quite disappointing that this vast dimension from which the Chimera hail is only comprised of a single backdrop with some slight variations in terrain. For as much time as the player spends there, it never manages to elevate beyond a simple eerie setting to fight Chimera and solve puzzles. Compared to the rest of the game, the lack of environmental storytelling here is jarring.

While its visual design has its highs and lows, Astral Chain’s score is sonic euphoria. The way mellow exploration themes ramp up once an encounter occurs is not only seamless but a genuine joy to listen to (as an example, listen to the progression from Ark Mall to Ark Mall/Combat Phase). Every electric guitar-infused battle theme elevates the organized chaos on screen into something seriously dire. Naofumi Harada’s use of a choir in some of the game’s most memorable boss themes is equally as masterful. And yet, lead composer Satoshi Igarashi’s electropop-laden background music heard at the police station might just be one of the most loopable tracks from any video game, period. On another audio-related note, there’s a absolute wealth of voiced dialogue here. It ranges from great to poor (the voice of the male Akira is especially grating), but by and large it does nothing but enhance the already cinematic experience.

astral chain

A Planet Worth Saving

Like many of Platinum’s games, Astral Chain doesn’t feel quite like anything else out there. It’s fairly long for an action game (20-25 hours depending on side quests) and dips its toes into several different genres over the course of its runtime. Some are more successful than others (the half-hearted top-down puzzle sections in the Astral Plane don’t quite make sense), but the overall result is an experience that rarely lets the player get tired of doing any one thing for too long. The addition of difficulty settings that can be changed at the start of every chapter and loaded save (including an “Unchained” difficulty option for those purely interested in the story) is also welcome for players who want to get their feet wet with the combat before cranking things up a notch.

What shortcomings Platinum’s latest outing has in poor pacing and predictable story beats is more than made up for by the game’s final chapters. Even so, this isn’t the type of game that necessarily requires a overall stellar story to succeed; it simply needs deep and visually impressive combat, a memorable cast, and a fully realized world that keeps players immersed and eager to keep explore. Astral Chain has all of this in spades and then some.

Brent became infatuated with manga and anime after randomly stumbling upon Vol. 3 of Yu Yu Hakusho on a childhood roadtrip. Today he has a soft spot for colorful JRPGs, cozy anime, and both games and shows that indulge his innate love of adventure. Find him (im)patiently waiting for Animal Crossing: New Horizons and incredibly fulfilled by Fire Emblem: Three Houses @CreamBasics.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Rogerio Andrade

    August 29, 2019 at 12:46 pm

    I do understand that videogames can be used to tell good stories, but I always think about the story in videogames as something that must be just a support of the gameplay, and not the opposite.
    That said, it´s very hard, in any genre or gameplay mechanics, to come with a story that fits well in a game, for the simple fact that, in order to have a product that can be called a “game” it´s necessary to always present challenges for the player. So, I never expect the pace and writing of the story in videogames to be in the same finesse level of what we see on movies/theater or literature. These media are purely contemplative, while in videogames, the story must rely on the player´s skill and intervention to be revealed.
    I´ve seen a lot of criticism towards Astral Chain and Fire Emblem 3 Houses story/writing… Having personally played both games, I must say that these problems don´t annoy me a single bit. I try to see the story in these games just as something to support the gameplay challenges that the game offers me as a player and a consumer. At best, I feel like watching an seinen anime when playing videogames, never expecting something too deep or elaborated.

    • Brent Middleton

      August 29, 2019 at 1:46 pm

      Hey Rogerio, appreciate you taking the time to comment! I actually think your view on story in games is quite similar to that of Patrick Murphy, our Films Editor.

      I think the primary difference between us here is that I’m naturally someone who loves good narrative design in a game. You mentioned Fire Emblem: Three Houses. While some (perhaps like yourself) might like the game primarily for its tactical gameplay, I absolutely love it for its characters. The way they’re written, their support conversations with others, how they grow into their own over time; it’s all really well done. With a case like Three Houses, the battles actually support the character and world building aspects of the game for me (as opposed to story supporting gameplay, like you proposed). It’s really just a matter of what you care about.

      In terms of the pacing issues, take a look at something like Xenoblade Chronicles 2. Its story obviously won’t win any awards for innovation in storytelling or exceptional writing, but it was told well enough and at a good enough pace that key moments usually left an impression when they were supposed to. Because the opening chapters of Astral Chain feel rushed, I wasn’t able to be affected by events in that same way. When they happened it all felt rather hollow and lackluster.

      I get that story/writing quality doesn’t bother you in a game; I’m sure a ton of people feel the same way. It especially makes sense in the context of Astral Chain, since this is an Action game first and foremost. But when Platinum puts so much effort into trying to tell a compelling story full of drama, highly-produced cutscenes and plot twists, I think it’s worth factoring that part of the game into the overall discussion.

      • Patrick Murphy

        August 29, 2019 at 8:36 pm

        You’ve got me pegged when it comes to not caring about story in games, for sure. And yet…in a weird twist, I absolutely love the characters in Three Houses; unlocking supports and paralogues are definitely huge incentives for me playing each house.

        Still, I expect this to be a momentary lapse. No doubt Astral Chain will have me back to my dialogue-skipping ways in no time.

      • Rogerio Andrade

        August 30, 2019 at 6:28 am

        Thanks for taking your time replying me.
        Nice points, Brent. At the end of the day, as consumers, we all have different approaches and expectations towards the same games. I personally think that´s awesome that videogames reached such level of design and production that people may look each production in a different way and enjoy them in different ways. Some play for the storytelling, some play for the skill challenges. Some for both.
        By the way, your review was a pleasant read. I personally think that Astral Chain is a great game and it´s good to se writers giving attention to this game.

        • Brent Middleton

          August 30, 2019 at 7:58 am

          Glad you enjoyed the review Rogerio! I completely agree; it’s great that we can all enjoy games in different ways. Thanks for such a fun discussion about a great game.

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Game Reviews

‘Destiny 2: Shadowkeep’ Review: Moon’s Haunted but Still Shines

‘Destiny 2: Shadowkeep’ returns to a familiar destination but Bungie is reworking Destiny with each expansion and Shadowkeep is no exception.

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Destiny 2 Shadowkeep Review

Destiny 2: Shadowkeep may be a return to a familiar destination, the Moon, but Bungie continues the trend of reworking Destiny with each new expansion, and Shadowkeep is no exception. Replete with a reworked season pass system, progression systems, customization options, sandbox re-tuning and quest interface, Shadowkeep is both a welcome iteration and extension of the existing Destiny 2 experience offering more RPG-esque player agency than Destiny has ever seen before. While the game is still haunted by some overly familiar issues, Shadowkeep is a welcome expansion and a promising start to the third year of Destiny 2.

Old Haunting Grounds

The Moon isn’t the only familiar face in Shadowkeep. Keeping with tradition, Eris Morn has returned from a long absence for another dark, lunar expansion (the first being D1′s The Dark Below when the character was first introduced) as she investigates a disturbance deep within the Moon. Quite literally haunted by the past, Eris has called upon the Guardians to assist her in finding the source of the phantoms plaguing the Moon and vanquishing “Nightmare” versions of familiar visages from the past.

All is not entirely as old players might remember. An immense hive structure, the Scarlet Keep, now overshadows previously unexplored territory on the Lunar surface. New Lost Sectors hide in the depths of the Moon, and new secrets a la the Dreadnaught or the Dreaming City lie waiting to be discovered by inquisitive players. And at the very center of the expansion an ancient, unknown threat lies in wait, an ominous foreshadowing of the trials ahead.

While the expansion does a decent job ensuring the familiar haunts don’t feel overly recycled, it’s hard to say Shadowkeep makes the most of the Moon. The campaign opens on such a high note as players storm the moon in an unexpectedly matchmade sequence before individual Fireteams independently uncover an unanticipated twist that absolutely shatters expectation. Unfortunately, the narrative quickly devolves into uninteresting fetch quests that fail to live up to the intrigue of the initial mission nor live up to the narrative heights of some of the most memorable missions the Moon previously housed including fan favorites The Sword of Crota and Lost to Light to name a few. That’s tough company to keep, and Shadowkeep fails to measure up.

Similarly, a bit of that intrigue is reintroduced in Shadowkeep‘s final mission, but, like the campaign as a whole, it’s over before the player knows it and fails to live up to the precedent set by previous, lengthier campaign conclusions. More mileage is gotten out of the narrative and destination in the post-game in the way of a new weapon farming system, a new activity known as Nightmare hunts that play like mini Strikes, and a Strike proper, but that does little to alleviate the disappointment of an overly terse campaign that reads like a teaser for what’s to come over a distinct, fleshed-out story.

A New Era, a New Season

Part of that is presumably courtesy of a shift in Bungie’s approach to content releases. While the previous expansion, Forsaken, similarly opted for procedurally released content over the course of the season, Bungie has doubled down on that strategy with Shadowkeep ensuring there’s something new to be experienced each week that players sign in. While certain activities have alway arrived post-launch including raids, dungeons, and exotic weapon pursuits, Shadowkeep and its “Season of the Undying” has seen new PvE and PvP activities launched after the expansion’s initial drop, adding to an already lengthy list of Destiny to-dos.

Central to the season is the new PvE, matchmade activity, the Vex Offensive, which pits six players against waves of Vex combatants paired and features some minor puzzle elements, all for the sake of earning a series of weapons exclusive to the mode. While the Black Garden locale of the mode is certainly eye-catching, the Offensive, with its recycled mechanics and familiar enemies, doesn’t leave much of an impression beyond that. It might pale in comparison to activities introduced in past seasons (like Warmind‘s Escalation Protocol, or last season’s Menagerie), but is intentionally terse, intended to match this new seasonal philosophy, and will be removed from the game after Season of the Undying (though the exclusive arsenal will still be available in the loot pool obtainable through undisclosed means). Like the Vex themselves, the Vex Offensive might not seem like much independently, but collectively is a piece of a greater whole challenging and rewarding players for participating within the specific season.

Bungie is further defining each season with the inclusion of a seasonal artifact and a season pass system. The artifact, again only available for the season, offers players an avenue for additional, limitless Power gains while also offering unlockable gameplay mods encouraging players to utilize specific classes and builds. The Oppressive Darkness mod, for example, debuffs enemies hit by void grenades, encouraging players to construct discipline-oriented, void builds. Another mod, Thunder Coil, increases the power of arc melee attacks by fifty percent, giving all new life to the Hunter’s Arcstrider subclass. Meanwhile, the season pass operates similar to that of Fortnite or any number of games and replaces the previous cosmetic only level up system of Destiny 2‘s past. From the season’s outset, any and all experience goes toward unlocking rewards from the pass including new armor, armor ornaments, exclusive weapons and exotics, and engrams. The experience requirement for each level is static, meaning progress is fair and steady throughout and never feels throttled. Both seasonal systems are fantastic new additions that reward players for playing the game while making experience gains more purposeful than any other time in Destiny‘s endgame.

New Duds to Boot

Shadowkeep also marks the debut of Armor 2.0, a new system that allows players more agency in character customization than ever before. Whereas armor previously rolled with random perks and a roll of only three stats (Mobility, Recovery, and Resilience), Armor 2.0 comes with no perks and six stats as Destiny 1‘s Intellect, Discipline, and Strength (determining the charge rates of player’s super, grenade, and melee abilities) make their triumphant return. Instead, Armor 2.0 has slots for modifiers so players can pick and choose whatever perks they want just as long as they’ve unlocked those mods. Mods are acquired from most activities, while enhanced mods (better versions of certain traditional mods) are exclusive to some of the game’s more challenging content. While the grind for mods seems excessive in the face of the rest of the game’s grind, it’s a one-time affair, some of the best mods are unlocked via the seasonal artifact, and the payoff is astounding, providing customization like never before.

Convoluting the process, unfortunately, is a messy elemental affinity system where certain mods can only be slotted into armor of a matching elemental type. Mods relating to pulse rifles, for example, are exclusive to Arc armor, so a piece perfectly rolled to a pulse-rifle-inclined player’s preference with a solar affinity won’t do them any good if they were hoping for pulse rifle perks. It was undoubtedly an intentional design decision to generate an arbitrary grind since players won’t need to chase armor with perfect perks any longer but is ultimately a mar on the face of an otherwise pretty great new system.

Convoluting the process, unfortunately, is a messy elemental affinity system where certain mods can only be slotted into armor of a matching elemental type. Mods relating to pulse rifles, for example, are exclusive to Arc armor, so a piece perfectly rolled to a pulse-rifle-inclined player’s preference with a solar affinity won’t do them any good if they were hoping for pulse rifle perks. It was undoubtedly an intentional design decision to generate an arbitrary grind since players won’t need to chase armor with perfect perks any longer but is ultimately a mar on the face of an otherwise pretty great new system.

Axe to Grind

Speaking to the grind, Destiny has often struggled and failed to find the perfect balance of meaningful power climb and tedious grinds recycling the same old activities. Luckily, at the outset of the climb towards max power, Shadowkeep strikes a much better balance centered on beloved ritual and new and or seasonal activities. Power drops now operate on a clearly labeled, tiered system, incentivizing players to prioritize new or challenging activities for maximum gains. Ritual activities (Strikes, Crucible, and Gambit), though tier one, retain their relevance by offering multiple weekly powerful drops for match completions, vendor bounties completed, and rank progression. Previous, otherwise irrelevant avenues towards power have been retired, but this is a welcome reduction and there is no shortage of powerful drops in the climb to max power. That isn’t to say that the grind couldn’t be shorter ensuring more players can participate in endgame activities when they first arrive, but progression generally feels smoother than any time in Destiny‘s past.

Conversely, content flow might overwhelm casual and even dedicated players as there’s simply too much to do and grind for players tight on time. Bungie now considers Destiny and MMO with proper RPG mechanics, and, in terms of time commitment, that really shows with Shadowkeep. On a certain week, a player might have an accomplished week in-game after sinking only three to five hours into the game. Other weeks the game seems to demand closer to the ten to twenty-hour range. One week, for example, saw the release of the new dungeon, a new Crucible game mode, an exotic quest, a new public event, and the start of the Festival of the Lost, a limited time, Halloween event. That’s simply too much, feels like poor pacing, and favors streamers, Destiny content creators, and hardcore players for whom Destiny is their exclusive hobby, a burgeoning theme with Season of the Undying. While it’s certainly exciting that there’s always something to do in D2, it doesn’t seem true to the game’s roots as a hybrid, a shooter with MMO elements, that could be taken at a more casual pace but still offered an engaging endgame for the dedicated audience. Now, there’s only an endgame with no end in sight.

A Better Destiny Awaits

That’s not necessarily a bad thing for players who want to pay a minimal price for seemingly unending content, and in that regard, Shadowkeep is a steal. A sensational new raid (minus some finicky new mechanics), a foreboding dungeon, an immense new arsenal to grind for, and a better tuned PvP and PvE sandbox in which to enjoy them mean Shadowkeep will keep Guardians’ attention the whole season long and is an excellent proof of concept for the seasonal structure going forward. If Bungie can keep this pace up, year three of Destiny 2 could easily be the best year in franchise history. As a general caution though, Destiny 2 now clearly caters to the hardcore, requires MMO levels of commitment, and is best enjoyed with a regular group; casual, time-restricted, and solo players beware. It might not be the best single expansion release in franchise history (that’s still a toss-up between The Taken King and Forsaken), but, beginning with Destiny 2: Shadowkeep, the third year of D2 is the closest the tumultuous title has ever come to Bungie’s ambitious vision for the shared-world shooter and the game fans have been waiting for these past five years.

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Game Reviews

‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’ Multiplayer Offers Classic Gameplay with a Couple of Twists

Love it or hate it, ‘Modern Warfare’ multiplayer is back and as nostalgic as ever, with a few twists.

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Call of Duty Multiplayer

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare often gets a bad rap as a formulaic franchise, especially when it comes to multiplayer. From the original Modern Warfare to more recent titles like WW2, the experience has often felt like a fresh coat of paint on an old, yet addicting, model.

This approach is not always a bad thing though. For fans of the series, the nostalgia and consistency is often the main selling point, and they are always ready to bring the same skills back into a new title’s running and gunning action.

So when Infinity Ward announced that the campaign of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare would focus on revolutionizing the franchise with realistic gameplay, no one was really sure what to expect. Naturally, fans were eager to see how this new combat and action would translate to a multiplayer experience but also wary of whether a radical change would ruin the experience they craved.

Well—love it or hate it—Call of Duty: Modern Warfare multiplayer is back and just as nostalgic and familiar as ever, although the update brings a couple of new twists. While it’s light years away from perfect, this newest installment in the franchise still offers up classic gameplay with a couple of interesting alterations. For longtime fans, these changes might be positive or negative, but Infinity Ward at least deserves some credit for trying.

Getting tactical

To put it simply, the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare multiplayer gameplay leans more towards what some would call a tactical, cover-based style of combat. In theory, this sounds like a fairly fresh approach to the run and gun style of the past. This new style forces teams to work together to slowly climb up the map, holding various chokeholds while pushing up on enemy positions.

With Call of Duty: Modern Warfare taking a more realistic approach to combat, it’s natural the multiplayer strategies will change as well. Like the campaign, guns feel more realistic and powerful, resulting in quicker kills and more damage taken. Combined with the new “mount” cover system, this often means that players get mowed down pretty quickly.

But—full disclosure—this new multiplayer gameplay generally means that the game rewards staying in one place for a majority of a match. For lack of a better word, camping. While past COD games placed a heavy emphasis on speed and movement, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare wants players to find a strong, defensible position and hold it.

Modern Warfare Multiplayer

Sure, running and gunning still have a place in Modern Warfare, but it’s definitely not as functional as it has been in the past. Often times, it means just blindly stumbling into the same quick death and missing out on those killstreaks. While not perfect—and a little unbalanced—switching the style up is an interesting move that could be successful with future updates, although no promises.

There’s no list like the quick playlist

It should come as no surprise that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare multiplayer’s best quality is its Quick Play maps. While the gameplay has shifted to a certain extent, this mode still is a grab-bag of the old nostalgic favorites that pretty much sum up the past decade or more of Call of Duty online. This option has all the old favorites—the traditional Team Deathmatch, Control, and Kill Confirmed—plus a few new additions.

For most COD veterans, these modes are the bread-and-butter of the franchise, and Infinity Ward has really boiled FPS fun down to a science. It’s that perfect video game balance of being both incredibly frustrating and insanely addicting at the same time, sucking players into a cycle of “yeah, okay, one more game.” The lobby keeps the matches coming, the ranks keep the unlocks rolling, and the stats make it all feel worthwhile.

No trouble with doubles

The newest Call of Duty: Modern Warfare multiplayer element, Gunfight, is absolutely a highlight of the experience. In this new mode, two teams of two duke it out in a close arena-style, last-team-standing match. Every player starts with the same gun and class and spawns in identical positions, and the first team to six wins takes the match. It’s a great example of leveling the playing field and letting the most skilled team win, and it is absolutely intense.

Like the rest of the gameplay, this mode seems to reward patience and teamwork. While running headfirst into danger is always an option, staying back and letting the enemy make the first move seems to be the best tactic and leads to the highest success rate.

While playing with a friend is always the best way to go, Gunfight is still an intense and fast-paced mode with a random partner. Yeah, it can be frustrating at times if players are paired with inexperienced or uncooperative teammates, but Infinity Ward seems to understand matchmaking fairly well.

Not all is perfect

Trying to keep up with other franchises, one of the major selling points for the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare multiplayer was the introduction of the new modes Special Ops and Ground War. While these ideas work on paper, they don’t exactly play out in practice.

Special Ops, the newest coop mode, feels a lot like Infinity Ward’s answer to the social shooter “Strikes” of games like Destiny 2. In teams of 4, players must work together to battle through waves of enemy bots and bosses to achieve different mission objectives and unlock more of the “story” (sort-of). In theory, it sounds awesome, but it’s mind-numbingly awful in execution.

In Special Ops, every objective is incredibly far apart, enemy bots feel both endless and worthless, and the incentive to keep continuing is nonexistent. Unlike Destiny 2 “Strikes,” there is no real coherent narrative that moves players from one objective to the next. Instead, it’s just cookie-cutter “shoot this character” or “stand by this area” quests that feel like huge wastes of time. Combine that with a large empty map and boring enemies, and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Modern Warfare Multiplayer

Similarly, Ground War—while a little more interesting—is just as much of a swing-and-a-miss. Taking a few pages out of the Battlefield franchise’s playbook, this mode has 32-man teams and vehicles fighting for control of strategic positions. Again, great in theory, but terrible in execution.

With this Call of Duty: Modern Warfare multiplayer game type, it isn’t that everything works poorly. It just doesn’t really sync up into a coherent experience. Ground War plays out exactly as one would expect with vehicles and a larger map, but it still somehow devolves into a convoluted mess of hallways shooting and rapid, almost random deaths. Simply put, its biggest issue is just an incompatibility between the Call of Duty and Battlefield models. The combat just does not feel well-suited to the style of gameplay and the mode just lacks the polish and balance of the Battlefield games.

Where’s the royale?

While many may still disagree, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare multiplayer feels like it needs a Battle Royal mode to round the whole experience out. As always, multiplayer quickplay is fun for a time, but having something else to break up the repetitive team deathmatch routine would be a welcome addition.

Infinity Ward could even try to mix their experience up a little bit by making a duos Gunfight-style mode the highlight of their BR offering. While single-player is probably the simplest way to play, adding an element of cooperation might make for an interesting and fresh experience.

Rumor has it that this multiplayer mode is in the works and coming in a later update, and it feels like a natural fit. The way that guns are upgraded in the class menu makes finding weapon parts a logical next step. Hopefully, this mode can revitalize the player base of Call of Duty once the holidays roll around.

More of the same

Overall, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare multiplayer is a slight variation of the traditional Quick Play-style gameplay that the franchise is known for, and that’s not always a bad thing. For diehard fans of the franchise, it’s the same old Modern Warfare package with a fresh coat of paint. Sure, the gunplay and combat changes do take a while to get used to, but after a few hours of mindlessly running through maps, players should be well on their way to 20 kill games.  

For those looking for a fairly basic Call of Duty multiplayer experience with some slight gameplay tweaks, this one is for you. But if you want something new and revolutionary, take a different route.

Check out our review of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s campaign mode.

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Game Reviews

‘Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’ Campaign: Finally Shooting in the Right Direction

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Modern Warfare campaign

Let’s face it, not many people buy Call of Duty: Modern Warfare titles for the story anymore. With the dominance of the multiplayer modes, it’s almost like the campaign has become a tacked-on bonus to play if there is ever a problem with the WiFi connection.

A lot of that has to do with the narrative direction of the franchise—it has felt downright cookie-cutter in the past. Every year, COD offers the same old thing. Some generic serviceman is sent to a war-torn 3rd world country to save the free world from a random insurgent leader, military dictator, or rebel group. Sprinkle in some nuclear launch codes, chemical weapons, and futuristic military technology, and there’s the go-to formula for the series.  

With that said, imagine everyone’s surprise when Infinity Ward announced that they were reimagining the Modern Warfare franchise by rebooting its defining title. To establish this entry as a turning point, their new vision for the game would be bold, unapologetic, gritty, and realistic. By moving in this new and unexplored direction, the veteran developer believed that this was THE opportunity to create a new title that could change the landscape of AAA narratives forever.

So how did they do with this fresh direction for the Modern Warfare campaign? Actually, surprisingly well given the franchise’s history of forgettable stories and lackluster single-player experiences. The new 2019 Call of Duty: Modern Warfare campaign is actually an interesting and inventive take on the series and sets the table for some killer opportunities for future success if handled correctly. While it’s not without a few missteps along the way, overall Infinity Ward delivers on their promise and serves up a unique war experience unlike any in recent memory.

Finally, a story worth playing

Taking place in fictional Urzikstan, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s campaign puts players in the tough moral situations of war, asking them to consider what makes a “righteous” cause, an enemy combatant, or a war crime. Initially, the story seemed to follow the traditional COD trajectory, as players start as a CIA ghost tasked with finding a stolen shipment of chemical gas, but the story takes a quick turn into uncharted territory. This usually translates to showing gamers a glimpse of the much darker world of the present day, having players respond to a major terror attack, protect a stormed embassy, or stalk terrorist ringleaders through tunnel mazes.

Sure, these plot devices may feel a bit similar to past campaigns, but it’s Modern Warfare’s murkier presentation that elevates these elements to new heights. Instead of having the feeling of mowing down hundreds of faceless, generic computer bots to advance to the next mission, there is a weight to the combat and atmosphere that adds a certain gravity to the narrative. It could be because of the new focus on characters or just the general atmosphere, but this new aesthetic goes a long way in creating a more immersive Modern Warfare campaign experience.

That being said, while the campaign is solid, it’s no Black Hawk Down or Homeland. The story arc of the main characters, Alex and Kyle, play out far too abruptly and lack the nuance of deep development. It almost feels like a few things were cut for time from the original script or just got lost in translation to favor gameplay. As a result, some of the larger “critical” points about terrorism and morality fall a little flat as the story progresses. Sure, Infinity Ward deserves some credit for ambitiously trying to make some deep statements in video game form, no small feat for a AAA dev, but these complex issues require complex stories to flesh them out and do them justice.

Mostly killer, a little filler

What really sets this title apart from past entries is its willingness to experiment with level design, making for some really unique gameplay moments. Of course, the campaign has all the COD staples—the generic sniper mission, the protect the base objectives, etc, etc. But it’s the new stuff that creates some excitement for the future of the franchise.

Most memorable of these Modern Warfare campaign levels were the missions involving nighttime raids on suspected terrorist cells. As players slowly move from floor to floor with their tactical squad, they are forced to quickly assess whether characters are enemies or civilians. When corners are quickly turned, some of the people react in fear, some pull weapons, and others make a long con to distract while danger lurks nearby. To make things even better, these whole missions take place in dead silence and through night vision, giving it a vaguely Outlast-ey feel. Hopefully, Infinity Ward will be brave enough to bring more of these types of levels into the future of the series.

Modern Warfare campaign

Also, the Modern Warfare campaign seems to be less afraid of letting players choose their own path through the mission. Varying weapon types are available from the get-go and objectives can often be addressed in multiple ways, giving players more freedom. While the narrative doesn’t exactly feel non-linear (although that would have been even more interesting), it certainly opens up possibilities for a little more replayability than previous campaigns.

The devil is in the details

There was a healthy skepticism when Infinity Ward first promised that the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare campaign would be gritty and realistic, but they truly lived up to their word. Civilians and enemies both drop at a similar rate, takedowns are visceral and brutal, and the subject matter of the game can be downright sickening. There are times that will actually have players think, “I’m too soft for war,” which is absolutely the feeling that Infinity Ward is going for.

To achieve this depth, all the assets and cinematics work well in tandem. The gunplay is visceral and realistic, giving some of the best FPS feelings in the current-gen. The cinematics is also awe-inspiring, literally light years away from the Uncanny Valley. To be quite honest, it actually makes one wish that there were more cinematics in the game. 

Finally shooting in the right direction

Although not a perfect game, the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare campaign might be one of the bigger surprises of the year in terms of expectations. With a franchise that has been running this long on such half-hearted narrative experiences, the stakes for the title were incredibly low. But Infinity Ward has delivered something worth playing that truly feels like the vision that they promised. Sure, the campaign is not without flaws, as it would be great to see a tighter story and even more diverse gameplay elements, but it is absolutely worth a play just to experience its better moments.

Even though the Modern Warfare campaign is no Game of the Year contender, it’s nice to know that the franchise is finally headed back in the right direction. Who knows? Maybe one day people will pick the game up for the campaign over the multiplayer, instead of vice-versa.

Speaking of multiplayer, check out our review of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s multiplayer mode.

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