TL; DR(eview) - Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered is a well-designed game with a surprisingly strong story for a genre that tends to rely heavily on the same few war tropes. The multiple viewpoints explored throughout the campaign help this story rise above other, more forgettable fare.
For the Throwback Thursday of Shooter Week here on Trevor Trove, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered seemed like the perfect choice. Originally released in 2007, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is widely-viewed as one of the best titles in the franchise and a turning point for the series, bringing it out of the World War II era into the modern age. The themes and theaters of war are almost eerily more prescient in today’s uncertain climate than they were when the game originally launched nearly a decade ago.
Unlike the straight-forward and mostly linear narrative of yesterday’s/this year’s Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare (side missions notwithstanding), Modern Warfare Remastered pieces out its narrative over multiple playable characters and even incorporates a flashback mission to provide additional backstory.
* Minor story spoilers to follow.
In the (then future) year 2011, Russian separatists are trying to revert the country back to Soviet-era power while their Middle Eastern allies have taken over an undisclosed “oil-rich” country through a coup d’état. In an interesting tone-setting “level” you play as the Middle Eastern President who is overthrown. The entire sequence is scripted with you captured by by one of the game’s antagonists Khaled Al-Asad. Only able to control the character’s head, you can look around as they drive you through the city, watching the brutality of Al-Asad’s regine as they gun people down in the streets, before you yourself are eventually executed in very public fashion at the hands of Al-Asad.
Coming fresh off of Call of Duty’s latest title, this sequence did a much better job setting up the world than the Infinite Warfare prologue so forgettable I neglected to include it yesterday. Later missions in the game continued to be filled with unique settings and standout moments. Fighting Middle Eastern insurgents in the run-down streets and alleys of the unnamed country was appropriately terrifying as I was very clearly on their home turf and they easily overwhelmed me by jumping down off of buildings and flanking me on all sides.
Another sequence worth mentioning was the aforementioned flashback mission to 1996 Pripyat, Ukraine near the infamous Chernobyl disaster. Playing as one of your characters’ commanding officers Captain Price (back when he was a Lieutenant), you are introduced to the story’s real big bad: Imran Zakhaev, the leader of the Russian separatists. Sneaking through the level based on the real-life abandoned city is haunting, especially in the context of this story, wherein one of your other playable characters was killed in a nuclear detonation just a couple levels earlier. Additionally, with more nuclear threats looming in the game’s final chapters, these images are a sobering reminder of the stakes at hand.
The Call of Duty gameplay in Modern Warfare Remastered is understandably solid, possibly even moreso than Infinite Warfare if for no other reason than it’s streamlined. Whereas the years of additive elements have made Infinite Warfare perhaps over-stuffed with unnecessary elements like wall-running and spaceship combat, Modern Warfare is largely confined to straightforward urban combat. This focus of design means there simply isn’t much in the way of superfluous fluff that feels out of place.
The chaos of the battlefield feels at times overwhelming with enemies relentlessly taking you out before you can even identify where the fire is coming from. Yet other times, you wind up with the upper hand, bunkered down behind cover and picking them off one by one. Some sequences seem designed specifically to remind me that I am not a one-man army and that I should let my AI allies take point sometimes. While others just featured squadmate after squadmate getting gunned down. This seeming randomness would be infuriating, if it didn’t seem like it was by design to give you a greater sense of satisfaction upon completing a particularly tricky sequence.
The pacing of the game is handled well with occasional “other” sections coming in at just the right times to break up the standard run-and-gun norm. Descending upon the Middle-Eastern city manning the helicopter’s turret provides a bit of on-rails overpowered fun. Similarly a section involves you basically playing as a character controlling a gunship’s weapons via thermal imaging. This sequence, part on-rails shooter, part escort mission has you cracking jokes with the rest of the crew as you tear apart the town trying to clear the path for your friendlies.
And going back to the Chernobyl section, the fact that those missions are a covert operation, the stealth prioritization that comes into play in the first half is a great change of pace compared to every other section where you just shoot everything that moves. And the second half of the mission relies on needing to be smart and strategic as you fight off enemy forces while you wait for your evac helicopter in a very low-cover environment where you’re effectively backed into a corner and have to play it very smart to not get immediately overwhelmed.
It’s not hard to see why Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is often touted as the best of the series. The story was, and remains to this day, incredibly topical and relevant as a war game in the “war on terror” era. It features big, explosive (literally) memorable moments and did so before those moments became stereotypical tropes of the franchise. And the gunplay - from a simpler and most-focused era - doesn’t suffer from the sometimes overwhelming amount of extraneous bells and whistles of the current games, which seem to be in their very own arms race to always have more than their competition.