When Activision released Modern Warfare 2 in 2009, the Call of Duty franchise was still growing and getting better each year. But since then, it’s lost its way.
Despite a minor resurgence with the Black Ops series, COD basically treaded water for a decade. It suffered from one-off franchise starters that went nowhere—Ghosts, Advanced Warfare, and Infinite Warfare—before succumbing to nostalgia and the growing demands of its fading fan base with new World War II, Black Ops, and then Modern Warfare installments.
And then there are the remastered versions of the original Modern Warfare series, which tell an interesting story in their own rights.
Activision released Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Remastered in 2016, at a time when Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare was putting the final touches on the COD franchise’s collapse. To that point, Call of Duty had succeeded on a combination of distinctly different game play choices (all of which were really separate games), which originally included single player campaigns and multiplayer, but expanded over time to include more multiplayer modes, cooperative Spec-Ops and then Zombie modes, and finally battle royale options to meet the tsunami-like threat of Fortnite and its ilk.
How I play Call of Duty evolved over time, but I distinctly remember the second big shift (the first being the move from PC to console with COD2 and the Xbox 360): Through Call of Duty 4, which was the original Modern Warfare title, I played through the single-player campaign completely before even looking at multiplayer. Just as I always had.
But with that game, I realized I had made a mistake: COD4 introduced a basic version of the load-out, killstreak, and leveling up systems that we still use today and it was very complex for the day. (Today, it’s far more complex, and COD4 looks overly simplistic by comparison.) When I finally jumped into multiplayer, I realized I was way behind: I didn’t understand the new system at all, and I was playing against people who had already leveled up significantly.
Thanks to that experience, I began mixing and matching single-player and multiplayer from the beginning with each new COD release. But over time, the single-player campaigns became less and less compelling. The first two Black Ops releases were interesting, but they lacked the punch of the real-world World War II-era games and the visceral Modern Warfare storyline, which was entirely fictional but disturbingly plausible.
But the time Ghosts arrived, in 2013, I was losing interest in single player. And the next three games, in turn—Advanced Warfare, Black Ops III, and Infinite Warfare, were all duds from a single-player perspective. And Advanced Warfare and Infinite Warfare were just duds, overall. Even the multiplayer was non-compelling. I was starting to drift.
These games instituted my third major shift: I stopped even bothering with single-player over this time, aside from a few half-hearted attempts with each game. It became all about multiplayer.
But then that was the problem: Advanced Warfare and Infinite Warfare didn’t even have good multiplayer experiences so I started looking around. What I found comfort in, go figure, was older COD titles. And I spent many months those years rediscovering how good they were.
That, of course, is what made COD4: Modern Warfare Remastered so interesting. It remains a great game today, both the single-player and the multiplayer. And when I heard that Modern Warfare 2 Remastered was coming, I was all-in. I couldn’t wait to experience that game again as well. That it was coming now, during the release of the latest Modern Warfare game, was of course interesting.
I should love the new Modern Warfare. It didn’t even bother to provide a single-player campaign, I vindication, I think, of my belief that the COD series has simply evolved into being a set of first-rate multiplayer experiences, and that the real replay value is on that side of the fence, and not in single-player. But I don’t love the new Modern Warfare. It’s drab looking, where previous titles were vibrant and colorful. It’s slow, with too-large maps, and respawning is often a frustrating (virtual) mile-long walk before you’re back in the action. There’s just something … off. Wrong. And I’ve played Black Ops 4 and COD:WWII multiplayer this past season instead.
So when I heard that MW2 Remastered was coming, I was excited for something different. Old, yes, and nostalgic. But better than what Activision was giving us now. And then the bomb dropped: Unlike the remastered version of COD4, MW2 Remastered would only be the single-player campaign.
It’s clear why Activision is doing this: the remastered version of COD4 took players away from the new COD game in 2016, and they worry that this year’s attempt at jumpstarting a new franchise would falter if they provided gamers with a superior multiplayer experience from the past. So MW2 Remastered was hobbled, and on purpose.
That sucks. But there are rumors now that the code for multiplayer (and Spec Ops) is hidden inside MW2 Remastered, and that it can be enabled at any time. I hope they do it. But for now, I have succumbed to playing MW2 Remastered single player, like a savage. And it is an interesting peek at not just the past, but what COD has lost.
The MW2 Remastered single-player campaign is amazing. It’s really a rail-based game in the sense that it’s more interactive experience than game, and each level, each checkpoint, is just about getting from point A to point B. But it works. The early visceral, exciting, and fun, dammit. There’s a real sense of unease, and terror, as the world succumbs to war.
The locations are as varied as are the experiences. The game starts in the Middle East, immediately establishing itself as a sequel to COD4, and after a short training segment, you’re running down the familiar streets of a terrorist-laden Middle Eastern city, protecting a transport and looking for RPGs.
But you’re quickly transported around the world. There’s the snowy infiltration of a Russian military base followed by a thrilling snowmobile chase (which is itself a miracle, since the driving segments in COD games are often terrible).
The controversial Russian airport massacre that made headlines over a decade ago. The iconic Brazilian favela segments in which you chase down a source and then make an exciting exit, complete with an in-air hand grab as you leap at a helicopter to safety.
But the most disturbing and compelling part of the early MW2 Remastered campaign involves a Russian invasion of America in retaliation for that airport massacre, which a terrorist cell blamed on the US. Suddenly, familiar scenes of house-to-house fighting from the World War II-era titles are transported from Europe and Russia to the suburban United States in modern-day. It’s incredible. I mean, it’s just incredible.
The game isn’t perfect, in remastered form are not. I’m reminded of the more tedious things we used to endure as COD fans. The “survive wave after wave” nonsense of so many levels. And the obviously rail-driven nature of the game, where it’s really never possible to go your own way. But MW2 Remastered succeeds in a way that none of the more recent COD games ever did. The story really grabs you and you want to see it through. And I already know the ending.
Nostalgia is a funny thing. COD fans have already experienced this sensation multiple times, from the storyline do-overs of World at War and WWII, Black Ops 4 and the new Modern Warfare.
But we also see it in the multiplayer levels that have been redone, sometimes multiple times. Nuketown is the best example, but there are many others. Shipment. Rust. Carentan. Crash. So many more.
Sometimes these remakes are faithful, but sometimes they’re nuts (Chinatown, a stupid remake of Carentan in COD4, really bothers me, but Winter Carentan from WWII is just amazing). But whatever. This is what we get as COD fans.
And that’s kind of thing with MW2 Remastered. Ultimately, what I see here is a game that stands far above the more recent COD games we’ve gotten. If this thing did ship with multiplayer, I’d never look back. At least until Modern Warfare 3 Remastered arrived. I’d love a game with remastered multiplayer levels from all three of those games, really. Or a COD game that was nothing more than multiplayer with all of the levels dating back to the beginning.
For now, I can only dream. But MW2 Remastered is a peek at what Call of Duty should be. And of what it must become to survive going forward. With more and more kids, especially, turning to battle royale titles like Fortnite, and to new mobile platforms, maybe it’s time for COD to simply embrace what it is—well, was—and just do that.
Put simply, I want a lot less Warzone, which is the new Modern Warfare’s somewhat silly attempt to out-Fortnite Fortnite, from COD. And I want more like MW2 Remastered.
Tagged with Call of Duty