(Pocket-lint) - It must be hellishly hard thinking of a name for your annual first-person shooter franchise. But even so, it was a surprise when publisher Activision and developer Infinity Ward revealed that 2019's Call of Duty game would be called Modern Warfare.

That's because 2007's Call of Duty 4 was also called Modern Warfare – and was held by many to be one of the best Call of Duty games ever. Would 2019's instalment be able to live up to its name? 

A modern vintage

Happily, the answer is yes. When you play it, you can see why Infinity Ward and Activision exhumed the name: it takes plenty of inspiration from the 2007 original – which was the game that first took the franchise away from WWII and into modern times, and thereby opened it up to a new world of possibilities.

Activision

That particularly applies to its single-player campaign which, while short, is very sweet indeed – by far the best CoD single-player campaign for many years.

Like that of the original Modern Warfare, it cleverly mixes up its gameplay, with plenty of sequences in which conventional shooting takes a back-seat in favour of activities like firing rockets from an attack-helicopter, carrying breeze-blocks to enable stealth-movement in a hostile area, keeping a US embassy employee alive by tapping into security cameras and telling her when and where to move, and even surviving a waterboarding.

A bit, um, controversial?

There are, of course, plenty of shooting sequences, running the gamut from full-scale assaults to close-in house-clearances, via mopping up after a terrorist attack in Piccadilly Circus.

The story centres on the fictional country of Urzikstan, occupied by a Russian regime headed by the brutal General Barkov. Urzikstan also hosts the (unimaginatively named) terrorist organisation Al Qatala, but much of Modern Warfare's story focuses on Farah Karim, head of Urzikstan's native resistance movement, who is assisted by various characters played by you who, in classic Modern Warfare style, mainly hail from the SAS and CIA.

Activision

Modern Warfare's storyline has attracted a bit of controversy, and you can see why: it aims to paint a picture of the human cost of a country under occupation, and at times strays towards US-propaganda territory.

Plus, it has some unduly attention-seeking moments, notably when you control Farah as a child and she has to kill two Russian soldiers, and an interrogation scene in which you can choose to shoot a child (albeit with a gun that turns out to be unloaded). Such scenes will jar with those naturally predisposed towards outrage, but you can also see how they are designed to invoke the horror of enforced occupation and conflict.

Fast-paced action

Away from the controversy, Modern Warfare's single-player campaign proves to be great fun to play: it's fast-paced, cinematic and varied. And it has loads of replay value: it's slightly more forgiving than the norm for Call of Duty games' campaigns, which encourages you to bump up the difficulty level and embark on several play-throughs. Plus, Modern Warfare has a new mode entitled Realism, which does away with the HUD altogether (and also makes it into the multiplayer).

Activision

Technically, Modern Warfare is vastly impressive. Visually, it is quite simply one of the finest-looking games ever made, and its production values are through the roof. That silky feel and responsive weaponry we expect from Call of Duty games is very much present and correct.

Beyond the main storyline and the multiplayer, there's an extensive set of four-player co-operative Special Ops missions, which cleverly reuse levels from the main storyline, while kicking off a new storyline that begins where the single-player narrative ended.

The Spec Ops missions require plenty of commitment: they are long, challenging multi-stage affairs. One drawback with them is that, at times, you find yourself in the hands of others – for example, travelling in a helicopter that has to be piloted competently. So, communication is paramount, and the Spec Ops missions pretty much demand ownership of a gaming headset. 

Multiplayer focus

As ever, the main meat of a Call of Duty game resides within its multiplayer element, and Modern Warfare's multiplayer side is pretty exemplary. Again, it takes cues from the original Modern Warfare, in that it rolls things back a few years – killstreaks, for example, make a welcome return.

Activision

Classic modes like Domination, Team Deathmatch, Search and Destroy, Hardpoint, Capture the Flag and Free-for-all feature, but some welcome innovations have also been included.

The most interesting of those are Ground War, a large-scale mode in which up to 100 players can participate, capturing and holding objectives. Ground War uses huge maps and encourages the use of vehicles, so it proves quite reminiscent of Battlefield.

At the other end of the spectrum, Reinforce takes place on small maps, with small teams tasked with capturing objectives; the twist being that only when your team secures a capture point can its members respawn.

Gunfight also focuses on close-quarters fighting, with a succession of short rounds.

Realism Moshpit, meanwhile, is one for the hardcore, with its participants forced into Realism mode. It's worth levelling up before you jump into that: Modern Warfare encourages you to pick a weapon and stick with it, since the only way of getting better sights and accessories for it is to level it up.

Activision

Although Modern Warfare also has a loot box/Battle Pass system which is rather too keen to get you to spend real-life cash. There's no Battle Royale mode at launch, but one is rumoured to be coming.

In general, though, Modern Warfare's multiplayer offers plenty for everyone. The matching seems decent, especially when you play the more traditional modes, so the old failing of getting constantly taken out by aspiring pro players when you first jump into its multiplayer appears to have been addressed. And there are plenty of hardcore modes for which you can improve your skills at your own pace.

Verdict

Along with the superb single-player campaign and Special Ops, CoD: Modern Warfare all adds up to a mighty fine package.

If there was a suspicion in recent years that the Call of Duty franchise was beginning to creak under the strain of its annual nature (albeit with a rotating roster of three developers taking turns), this game does a great job of allaying such fears.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is magnificent to behold, thrilling and absorbing to play, and very slick indeed.

Writing by Steve Boxer.