A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this game.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is a graphic and gritty military first-person shooter for the PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Windows PCs. Players take on the roles of several soldiers ranging in gender, nationality, and ethnicity who are fighting a global terrorist threat with events that seem plucked from current headlines, including a terrorist attack in London; men, women and children slaughtered in a fictional Arab nation; orphaned kids attempting to hide from a raging, murderous soldier; scenes of torture and execution; and the use of a highly controversial chemical agent called white phosphorous. Players are strongly incentivized to avoid civilian casualties and exercise "trigger discipline," but the deaths of some bystanders are impossible to avoid -- as in one case in which an innocent man is strapped into a suicide vest with a short-lived timer. Some scenes call on the player to make moral decisions, such as whether or not to participate in the torture of a brutal enemy by using his family as leverage. The heroes are loyal to each other and determined to succeed, repulsed by the evils of war, but sometimes also willing to step into morally gray areas in order to accomplish what they perceive as a greater good. Combat involves a broad range of realistic military guns and explosives that cause enemies to bleed, burn, cry out in pain, and flail and sprawl in authentic ways. The experience is designed to be harrowing and hair raising, but the game's developers have also glorified the violence, and want players to feel exhilarated by the rush of battle. Parents should note that very strong language is heard throughout the campaign, that several characters smoke and drink, and that images of cannabis leaves and deep cleavage can be seen in multiplayer modes.
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What's it about?
CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE, a reboot of one of the most popular subseries in the Call of Duty franchise, puts players in the boots of several soldiers tackling a growing global threat. Players take on the roles of an American soldier, a UK operative, and a woman leading a militia in defense of her home, a fictional Arab country, which is under siege by both terrorists and a corrupt arm of the Russian military. Through their eyes, players experience an enormous range of atrocities that result in the near-genocide of an innocent civilian population, terrorist attacks on western targets, and scenes of torture and execution, all of which feel as though they are based on recent real-world events. Players are largely propelled through a predetermined story, though a few key scenes allow them to make important decisions as to what they will or will not abide. An important part of the game is "trigger discipline," which essentially means avoiding civilian casualties at all costs, including holding fire on men and women who may or may not be your enemy until they reach for a weapon and become an active combatant. The five-hour campaign serves as a means for players to grow accustomed to the game's mechanics, which are mostly traditional for a first-person shooter, though there are a few novel concepts -- such as being able to mount weapons on solid surfaces for steadier aim and improved cover, and using hyper-authentic night vision to gain an advantage in the dark. Players can put these tactics to use beyond the campaign in both a cooperative mode that continues the story and in the franchise's renowned competitive multiplayer.
Is it any good?
This one isn't for the faint of heart. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's campaign is among the darkest and grittiest the franchise has yet produced, thrusting players into a first-person perspective to experience such things as horrific waterboarding torture and the terror of being a little girl chased by a murderous Russian soldier intent on exterminating every man, woman, and child in her village. And by making us carefully select targets prior to pulling the trigger, developer Infinity Ward has taken its simulation of the modern military experience one step further, forcing players to do the moral -- and life-threatening -- thing by hesitating until we are certain that targets are enemies. It makes for a harrowing, yet also strangely compelling, experience – assuming you have the stomach for it. It's worth noting, though, that the game's message and sense of authenticity is undercut, to a degree, by its glorification of violence. While some scenes are so horrific that most players will be glad when they end, others are undeniably thrilling. This is the seemingly unavoidable conflict based in military first-person shooters.
Of course, any sense of authenticity is pretty much thrown out the window once you move into multiplayer, which is where the vast bulk of players will spend most of their time. The new four-player Special Ops cooperative game type, while story-based in theory, is essentially a run-and-gun mode that serves up fast-paced action with a focus on teamwork and little in the way of any serious moral quandaries. It's undeniably fun, but not nearly as emotional as the campaign. And competitive multiplayer, which is just as entertaining, essentially abandons any pretense of battlefield realism. From its wildly fast-paced combat to its chaotic and large scale new Ground War mode to its reliance on fun-first mechanics -- including kill streaks that unlock special abilities (including the controversial white phosphorous chemical attack) -- it's designed for competition and esports rather than simulating a war experience. It's as finely tuned as any competitive shooter and will be wildly popular among avid genre fans -- and probably furiously challenging for the rookies and casual players who go up against them. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare succeeds very well in being the game it wants to be. Now it's up to individual players to decide whether it's what they want.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about violence in media. Is the impact of the violence in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare affected by the realism of the gameplay, which feels ripped from the headlines? What is to be learned from the gritty and authentic depiction of terrorism and modern military combat?
Do good guys risk turning into bad guys if they begin using reprehensible tactics such as torture? What might be an alternative?
- Platforms: PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One
- Price: $59.99
- Pricing structure: Paid
- Available online? Available online
- Developer: Activision
- Release date: October 25, 2019
- Genre: First-Person Shooter
- Topics: Adventures
- ESRB rating: M for Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language, Suggestive Themes, Use of Drugs
- Last updated: November 19, 2019
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.