Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered Review
Reviewed on Sony PlayStation 4Also available on PC and Microsoft Xbox One
It has been nearly ten years since the first Modern Warfare instalment graced our consoles. It arguably set a whole new standard for first person, multiplayer gaming and brought a whole new level of emotive storytelling to the usual guns-blazing, first-person shooter genre. Now, two direct sequels and seven further Call of Dutys later, how does the Remaster of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare shape up against its modern descendants? To address that question, it is key to be retrospective over the hype around the game, and what it stood for to a whole generation of gamers.
Before Modern Warfare, the Call of Duty series centred on 19th century war scenarios, which remain a favoured genre topic among the gaming community. Following the events of 9/11, the popularity of contemporary war games increased dramatically; people were no longer content with the regurgitation of the historic war settings with Nazis as the default enemies. The Taliban were the new world threat of our era, and this presented an array of untrodden narrative journeys about the Middle East to explore. Modern Warfare arrived on the scene, striding straight into the East versus West conflict.
The game develops around a simple premise; stop a Middle Eastern separatist group and its vindictive, West-hating leader Khaled Al-Asad. This man must be stopped at all costs, driving the US to invade his country. Along the way, a plot is discovered that connects Al-Asad to the sadistic Imran Zakhaev and his Russian ultranationalist following. The overarching story is clearly very tightly knit with the world events of the early 2000s. The fact that it was so referential to current events of the time forced the player to draw upon their own attitude to the war that was taking place in Iraq. The player was no longer allowed to remain impartial, but put directly into a present-day situation. A video game about ‘modern warfare’ brought forward a more immediate sense of conflict in the player; not only must they contend with the war-like simulation, but also the ethical practice of their actions. Even today this subject matter is still central in most people’s thoughts. Evil dictators and covert terrorist sects are as relevant now as they were a decade ago, though like most subjects, these are no longer as stimulating as they once were. This remaster is a throwback to a time when they were fresh and unexplored.
In Modern Warfare, you are placed into the shoes of a variety of soldier characters; from a SAS recruit, to an USMC Sergeant, whose stories run parallel and crossover periodically. Each level is treated as a new chapter from another character’s perspective, allowing the player to be shifted effortlessly from one location to the next. This clever narrative skipping keeps each location fresh, with new places to explore and mechanics to play with without leaving the player feeling disjointed. It isn't just a shooting game; it is a dramatic onslaught of genuinely fun events and interesting locations. The gameplay is incredibly paced and is in no way impaired by the narrative. In fact, it is bolstered by it at every turn. This game opens up so many gameplay elements to keep you enraptured: Stealth operations in the ghostly remains of Pripyat, remotely manning an AC-130 using a thermal view, facing enemy troops head-on on the ground, night-raids on an enemy camp using night vision goggles and evading enemy choppers - but regrettably, it only offers a mere taste. The campaign is so short that it simply leaves you wanting more. Nowadays, players are left despondent by a game of this length and will often feel cheated. But, then how many players purchase Call of Duty titles for the single-player experience these days… right?
New generations of hardware are pushing gaming experiences to be ‘better’. This includes graphical advances, increased speed in controls and movement, verisimilitude, style, method of control and connection of players. Each Call of Duty game since Modern Warfare has been treading in the dark shadow it cast, each one having to become more innovative than the last or risk failure. That meant, that even this remaster was bound to come under great scrutiny in comparison to itself.
Fundamentally this game is the same experience that most players fell in love with all those years ago, but with a twist. Most remasters these days are assessed by how large the leap in visuals has been since the original, but often the observed changes are minimal at best. It is certainly not something to pass lightly for Modern Warfare Remastered. Raven Software has gone above and beyond to get the most out of the latest console hardware. Visually, this is now a whole new game, but with the same gameplay under the hood. This remaster runs at a native 1080p resolution on the PS4; coupled with the new asset and texture upheavals, it shames most of the recent ‘remastered’ games that have been popping up like daisies from the dead classics. Here, no corners have been cut, you will find cutscenes clearly have improved camerawork, and even background action during play has been crammed with shiny new models, refined effects and upgraded lighting. Even during the fast-paced sections of gameplay you would be blind not to notice the huge enhancements. Slow down and look around, and you’ll find a trove of wonderful new high resolution textures to behold.
The recommended level of difficulty is based on your accuracy and speed in the initial level. This, above all else, is usually a scaling of the effort the player is expected to put into the game for completion. The soldier-in-training-style tutorial system still stands the test of time. The first few levels, though somewhat slow, help to ease you into the world, setting the stage for the rest of the game. The pacing of the game allows the overall difficulty to increase over staggered intervals. There is often a difficult gun fight to escape or timed event to complete, followed by a slower stealth section, offering players a respite from the adrenaline, and often, frustration…
Difficulty ranges from ‘Recruit’ level for beginners, to ‘Veteran’ for experienced players. The best way to play any first-person shooter is to go hard or go home. Unfortunately, there is no better exhibition of Modern Warfare Remastered’s age than to play on Veteran mode, which seems to inflate the base mechanical issues of the game. Enemy bullets hit their mark with pinpoint accuracy through objects. The accursed grenade-spamming enemies that continued on to plague the series into World at War and beyond, are excessive. Infinite enemy respawn points can only be suppressed by pushing forward, but once you see this, the immersion of war is forever broken. Companion AI neither contributes to eliminating enemies, nor draws the fire of the enemy characters, seemingly regardless of proximity. Plus, the frustratingly ‘friendly’ characters seem to want to stand right in your line of sights after you have begun to aim. All of these issues are a painful reminder of how dated Modern Warfare now is and no amount of visual polish can hide the aged foundational mechanics.
The pacing of its interlaced narrative and gameplay, and the core mechanics are still as solid now as other contemporary shooting games. Regrettably though, interaction with the environment feels clunky, the navigation of objects frustrating and the UI antiquated. These are issues that its successors have addressed and the mechanics have evolved greatly since the previous console generation. Modern Warfare Remastered is sorely missing the polished controls of the sequels. Elements such as smooth vaulting over obstacles and skidding to the ground enter a prone position.
Its basis is that of contemporary and advancing warfare, which is becoming more reliant on digitally based technology. War games always attempt to give closeness with the reality of war and simulate the experience to the best of their ability, allowing us to question our own actions – even within a digital environment.
As software and hardware evolve, this should not mean that narrative and gameplay should be left behind. They too must evolve. You aren't just ‘super-solider-shooty’ man; the characters you play as are a noticeable, believable representation of a soldier who must overcome, or realise, betrayal, loss, reconciliation and affinity with other characters. On a few occasions you are thrown into a situation that you literally cannot survive and though that is a difficult concept to overcome at first, it is strangely satisfying. The blood splattered screens are more startling than memory serves of the original. During climatic sequences, the gameplay is slowed down for dramatic effect. Where the excessive particles and blurred screen effects were once used to cover up the low-resolution textures and empty level space, now in these final few moments the game screen is left uncluttered, allowing you to appreciate the more detailed set pieces, strengthening the cinematography.
Rose-tinted glasses now fully pushed away. The remaster certainly shines as a renewed reminder of a long-forgotten ‘golden age’ for Call of Duty games. The buggy gameplay and environment interaction, as well as the decrepit enemy AI, quells the nostalgia. The aim assist feels clunky in comparison to the sequels, likely due to its age. Differently from the original, the remaster is certainly buggy. On several occasions – mostly during scripted events – the character would get stuck in the environment, or fail to trigger an event on completion; failing the mission in both cases.
A common misconception about current games is that single player-modes are unimportant to drawing in an audience to an FPS title. If single-player campaign modes are so unimportant to the players, then why has the series been falling into a rut since its historical-war and modern-war heydays? The emergent multiplayer and wide variety of mechanics that Infinite Warfare offers surpass that of Modern Warfare, yet Infinite Warfare lacks anything meaningful to say about contemporary war. Prior to competitive console online-multiplayer, players purchased shooting games for the entertaining single player experience. Now, playing versus AI sits on the back burner in comparison to the competitive and fast-paced online multiplayer against real players. Perhaps to make such huge strides as Modern Warfare did, the Call of Duty franchise needs to readdress its subject matter and consider themes of consequence once again.
We as gamers, will never be as accepting of a game’s flaws as we once were. Expectations are high. Consumers hang on every marketed word like a promise. This game boasts ‘high definition’ graphics and does not disappoint. The facelift rejuvenates the title, and brings with it everything that made it great to begin with. Despite its flaws, the wonderful balance of old and new that Modern Warfare offered back in 2007 is renewed once again in this remaster. It is no wonder that players have been calling for the series to return back to its ‘roots’ after taking long strides towards a sci-fi shooting genre that nobody asked for. One of the most disappointing aspects of the distribution of Modern Warfare Remastered is that it has not been released separately. To get a shiny new copy of this game, you will need to take out a small loan and pick up one of the Legacy, Legacy Pro, or Digital Deluxe editions of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. Had this been released as a stand-alone re-release, there is no doubt that this would have rivalled Infinite Warfare in sales.