I have a problem. Like millions of teenagers before me, I am addicted to Call of Duty. Weirdly, the last time I obsessed like this over Activision’s annual FPS was 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. How has 2019’s Modern Warfare clawed me back? And what does over ten years of extensive hand and brain growth do to a soldier's performance? Time to find out.
The first change that chimes with my bigger brain is weapon-mounting: click the right stick next to a bit of scenery and you’ll rest your firearm on it. This could be a doorway, dumpster, or car bonnet. Not only will doing so reduce recoil and keep your aim steady, but it makes you the smallest possible target as you angle your vitals out of sight. You can even reload while aiming down sights to maintain a constant watch over the battlefield. Weapon mounting has turned this headless chicken into a trapdoor spider.
It changes everything. No longer do I run around getting shot in the back then quitting after a few frustrating days, as I’ve done with every Call of Duty since 2007. Now I take my time, standing sentry over high traffic zones and letting off controlled bursts when necessary. I feel lethal and wise, like an owl with a gun.
The revised map design goes hand in hand with weapon-mounting. No longer tethered to a three-lane structure, they’re more like organic areas you feel could actually exist. The poky confines of Hackney Yard, for instance, reward you for seeking out esoteric positions on which to prop your gun, like the top of an oil drum, or the side of a shipping container. In Modern Warfare, you can become a phantom of the night, only one who strikes from the lid of a big bin.
As a result, Modern Warfare morphs into a more intimate shooter, not unlike Rainbow Six: Siege. Body movement doesn’t matter as much as minute adjustments and precise angles, at least for me. A tiny shift is now a sweeping gesture. Move a bit while prone and you might as well broadcast your position with a megaphone.
I used to play Call of Duty like a wild man, jumping and strafing in efforts to beat my opponents with speed and reflexes. It was a brute force method. Over a decade later I take a more cerebral approach, lying low and waiting for flickers of motion through my reticule. Time has changed my tactics, and Modern Warfare facilitates that change.
Louder footsteps are another adjustment sympathetic to my cautious new playstyle. Now, no one can get within ten metres of me without their clumping feet giving the game away. It’s a boot-based early warning system, alerting you to threats when hunkered down. This isn’t necessarily a feature designed to safeguard campers, either. You can muffle sound by crouch-walking, which means anyone too reliant on keeping still and listening to creaking floorboards is caught off-guard when some fleet-footed opponent sneaks up behind them. Footstep sounds have of course been in Call of Duty for years, but never this loudly, and it adds texture to close-range encounters.
The straightforward act of opening and closing doors in Modern Warfare similarly alters the dynamic of interior fights. I like to shut doors behind me when I’m sniping so I can hear when an opponent opens it, especially in Piccadilly's JD Sports knockoff, since the entrance is down a flight of stairs which allows me time to react. Strong door play is almost a meta game in itself. If you wait behind a closed door, you’re obviously more secure, but it’s a dead giveaway to your opponent the room is occupied. Leave the door open, on the other hand, and your opponent may assume the room is empty, while unbeknownst to them you’re perched in the corner with a shotgun.
Players are learning the ancient door arts. In the rug shop on Azhir Cave, you’ll see people gently prod the door using X/square and waiting around the corner. This baits the soldier on the other side into shooting, thereby revealing their presence. Alternatively, leaving a proximity mine on the other side of the door gives an explosive surprise to anyone bold enough to charge straight through. And, of course, when someone shoots you in the back, there’s nothing better than sprinting for a doorway, launching into a slide, then slamming it shut behind you. In Modern Warfare, seemingly innocuous extras have radical implications.
Perhaps the major part of Modern Warfare’s appeal is accessibility. Gone are the overwhelming amount of specialised weapons, operators, and abilities. Instead, stripped-back options prompt tough choices. I’ve seen criticism about the lack of maps and the removal of certain perks, but for me this cull just makes everything easier to get my head around. I’m forced to learn maps I’d usually skip, experiment with the perks that ordinarily wouldn’t interest me.
The focus, therefore, turns to behaviour. How can you efficiently shoot and not get shot? In Modern Warfare the best way to do that is by taking advantage of its new mechanics: mounting your weapon, minimising your body mass, reloading while aiming, closing doors, listening to footsteps, and thinking about your surroundings.
This might all sound simple, but it’s stuff I never appreciated in my initial obsession with Call of Duty in 2007. Back then, I played with tunnel vision. Now I treat the game like proper warfare, Sun Tzu-style. How do I catch my enemy off guard? What moves are they likely to make? Will they fall for my ingenious door trick? Smarts compensate for the skill shortfall, and a dozen years on from my first obsession Call of Duty has pulled me in all over again. And, you know, it’s not such a problem after all.