As I noted earlier today, PlayStation 4 gamers who pre-order Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare can download and start playing the bundled Modern Warfare Remastered today. Doing so is a great reminder of why the COD games are so great.
This is good timing. As I just observed in my Gears of War 4 review and day-two follow-up, it’s not always easy keeping an ongoing game series fresh. Gears 4, like its immediate predecessors, features a repetitive and tedious single-player campaign. And while some may find replay value in Gears 4 multiplayer, I happen to prefer the more frenetic multiplayer options offered by Call of Duty. To each his own.
Anyway, this morning I downloaded and installed Modern Warfare Remastered on my PlayStation 4 (after installing a system update as well; I don’t use it all that much). Booting up the game for the first time, I was hit by a wave of all-too-common nostalgia: As I’ve experienced in revisiting older Call of Duty titles many times, my memories of the virtual worlds in these games are quite real, like memories of real life. And my experiences in these games, both single- and multiplayer, have really stuck with me.
This notion of “virtual worlds, real memories” is a topic I’ve been meaning to write about more generally and maybe still will. But for now, it’s likewise interesting to me that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, as this game was originally called, presents an excellent example of the argument I was trying to make in my Gears 4 write-ups. And that is that it is possible, and desirable, to evolve game titles in a series over time, and that in doing so, you can retain existing fans while always making subsequent games better and more diverse.
Let’s put this game in perspective to see what I mean.
The original Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare arrived in 2007 and was the first to break from the World War II settings that had defined previous games as well as related games and off-shoots like Medal of Honor and Battlefield. At that time, the decision to move the battle into the modern day was somewhat controversial among COD fans, but the stunning presentation, immerse single-player story line, and incredibly expanded multiplayer capabilities won over gamers quite quickly. Modern Warfare is now correctly considered a high-water mark for the series, as is the entire three-game series.
So here’s the funny bit. The *Modern Warfare *single player game is every bit as much a rail game as is any Gears of War game. It is every bit as repetitive and tedious, with driving, “run to point B before the clock expires,” “protect this point over x waves of attackers,” and other sequences that stress me out just thinking about them. It’s just as bad in the same ways.
So why is Modern Warfare and/or the COD series more generally superior to any Gears of War title? Simple: Activision and the two-to-three game studios that have been making these games at any time have done something that Epic and now Microsoft have only rarely done with Gears: They keep evolving it and making it better.
As I wrote in Gears of War 4 Review: A Quick Follow-Up, the latest Gears game only belatedly offers a small glimpse at how that series could evolve: In the fifth and final act of the game, 8 hours into an 8.5 hour single player experience, we finally get a new and different gaming experience. We get to leave our normal position huddled on the ground and tower over the landscape in giant mechs. It’s freeing and wonderful.
Call of Duty has been making these kinds of changes all along. It has offered an incredible expansion of multiplayer capabilities over each game starting with Modern Warfare, has added Zombies modes (and, in some ways, Zombie-like modes), and offered diverse single-player campaigns in which to experience ever-new storylines, sights and sounds, and
Gears, meanwhile, plods along in the same world. Everything looks the same and works the same. In Gears 4, the enemies from the previous trilogy are just replaced by new enemies that look and operate the same. It’s the same boring old Gears, all over again.
COD changed the script with Modern Warfare. In 2007. Almost a decade ago.
It has offered new story lines in the Black Ops three-game series, and in Ghosts, Advanced Warfare and, soon, in Infinite Warfare, which will likely evolve into a new series. In each, the multiplayer capabilities have expanded, often dramatically, and Black Ops 3 is now the best-yet, improving nicely on the jet pack stuff that debuted in the previous title.
Looking back on Modern Warfare today, I can clearly see how Activision took its beloved franchise and pushed it forward. And in doing so, I can see even more clearly how stale Gears of War is in comparison. The game was immediately familiar, in 2007, to those who had loved the WWII games, and it starts off the same way: You go through a little training course where you learn how to use the new weapons. And the first post-credits level could have been pulled straight from WWII: It’s a night level, and a nice transition from the past into what becomes, over the course of the game, increasingly modern scenarios. By the time you’re rappelling into a Middle Eastern city, you’re ready for the new.
The makers of Gears could and should learn from Call of Duty. Love it or not, that series has evolved wonderfully over the years while staying true to the things that COD gamers love the most. So, yes, it too can be tedious and repetitive—I never even finished the Black Ops 3 single player campaign, a first—but at least they keep trying new things. And Modern Warfare Remastered, despite being almost 10 years old, is a much better game than Gears of War 4. That says a lot, I think.