Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare changed the landscape of FPSes for years to come. Every FPS took notes from its 2007 release, trying to emulate its style, gameplay mechanics, and multiplayer. Today we're seeing it remade for modern consoles with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered, featuring completely redone graphics that bring it up to modern expectations. Will this bring us back to an age of FPS nirvana, or will a new generation be finding out what rose tinted nostalgia goggles are?
For the most part, the graphics are the biggest change from the original. The game has received a massive graphical boost, something that's extremely obvious to anyone familiar with the Xbox 360 version. This is more of a total remake than a remaster, and everything looks beautiful. The element that got the most work has to be the lighting. One level has a fight in a greenhouse with a helicopter overhead, shining a spotlight down on you. The new lighting makes this particular scene look great, with parts of the spotlight being blocked by broken panels creating a dramatic effect. Any scene with a fire looks wonderful, and I had to stop myself from wandering around taking in all the new effects.
It's not just the graphics getting a boost, as new details have been added everywhere. In the original Modern Warfare, you started off by collecting some guns from a room that can best be described as a rack of weapons on a piece of plywood and then heading over to a dinky and empty firing range. In Modern Warfare Remastered the weapons rack is now a room, with neat lines of weapons and actual people wandering around working in the area. The firing range has much more depth, better lighting, and other people using it. In the original game, you'd then leave the firing range to an empty base with the sound of jets somewhere off in the distance, an unused fort that seemed to serve no purpose, and the hanger you need to go to. Here you'll now be seeing a much more lively base, one with soldiers running exercises and trucks driving by. That unused fort has been turned into an optional grenade tutorial range for those who need it.
New details like that are peppered throughout the game. Fans of Modern Warfare 3 may remember the revelation (and partial retconning) that Yuri and Makarov were with Zakhaev when Price shot him. Now they're actually there (complete with a new trophy for shooting Makarov during this scene) and will actually act out what you saw from Yuri's viewpoint from the later game. Shortly after, you escape the building by rappelling out the window right as a helicopter opens fire. In Modern Warfare you watched the room you were just in explode as you escape. In Modern Warfare Remastered you also watch it explode, but shards of glass, stone, and burning metal rain down around the characters. Things like this easily make the game on par with current Call of Duty releases graphically.
Outside of the graphics, everything else is basically the same. The story still follows a group of British Special Air Service and United State Marine Corps as they deal with uprisings in both Russia and the Middle East. The British story, where you play as Soap, is easily the most interesting. The supporting cast is interesting, with Price and Gaz's humor still playing well off of each other. It's the American half of the game that doesn't quite feel like it belongs. Their job to capture Al-Asad kind of feels more like one big distraction to the more interesting British half, and the only character of note in their section is the ever entertaining Griggs. Not that the American half is completely useless, the nuke is still here and just as glorious as you remember, but overall it's easily the weaker of the two.
Maybe I'm just more used to the grander plots of more recent Call of Duty games. Modern Warfare Remastered's plot just feels by the numbers now. As a villain, Zakhaev is just forgettable, unimpressive, and barely present. Nearly every antagonist in the game is basically off somewhere else until they show up to get killed. For years I've heard talk of the game having an anti-war message, but now that I'm replaying it I don't really see the message anywhere barring occasional "war is bad" quotes when you die. It's not very anti-war when it's an entire game that makes killing fun, though I would at least say it's not pro-war either. There are still some good scenes here, the aforementioned nuke, the assassination of president Yasir Al-Fulani is still a shocking and gripping way to start the game, while the ending is still a well made and dramatic moment that ties the game up nicely, but the majority of the in-between is forgettable.
The gameplay hasn't changed much either, and similar to the story it's not quite as good as you remember. The basics are still the same: shooting still has that Call of Duty feel by being smooth and easy to do. Each gun feels strong enough, and mechanics like shooting through thin barriers (something I remember Modern Warfare introducing) help reinforce this feeling. Sound design also helps with this, each gun sounding unique. Shotguns and snipers have a solid bang, while the muted sub-machine guns help convey stealth.
You'll be using these various guns in various scenarios the game throws at you. Similar to the story, levels feel like a few really good moments between a bunch of less interesting levels. The opening level sees you on a cargo ship, sneaking through and silently taking out the crew before the ship is hit by a jet, causing you to have to quickly escape and serving as an exciting start for the game. The famous pair of sniper levels serve as a great combination of stealth and action that easily leaves it the most memorable parts of Modern Warfare Remastered. The game ends with a climatic car chase, the kind of super exciting set-piece moment that Call of Duty is well known for.
Again, this is an area Call of Duty has vastly improved on in future entries. The end game car chase is a rush, putting your reflexes and aiming to the test as you fly through traffic, avoiding explosions while taking out RPG-wielding enemies. Then I look at, say, Modern Warfare 2 which opened with a car sequence of its own, had a snowmobile chase a level later, and was capped off with a boat soaring down the river. These are the scenes I come to expect from Call of Duty and they're noticeably absent here. It's not even just car chases, but any kind of major or minor change to the gameplay. The mountain climbing and EMP of Modern Warfare 2, the dragon-shell shotgun and helicopter sequence of Black Ops, avoiding sniper fire and cutting apart an airplane from Advance Warfare, even the underwater and space segments of Ghosts. All of these changed up the basic "get from point A to point B" shooting in small or large ways, and Modern Warfare Remastered doesn't have enough of them.
Instead, Modern Warfare Remastered is full of hold-overs from 2007. Remember when enemies would spawn behind doors you couldn't see, and would just keep doing so until you moved forward enough? Modern Warfare Remastered remembers. It's one of those things Call of Duty (and other FPS) have largely stopped doing. A few levels quickly reminded me why. One level asking you to take out an AA gun, so a helicopter can provide covering fire, sees you fighting through an endlessly respawning group of enemies to get to it. Another has you climbing a hill to reach a safe house and features the same. A few levels later you'll march back down that hill and through another swarm of infinite enemies.
I know I'm sounding harsh on Modern Warfare Remastered. Honestly, when it's at its best it's still a solid competitor to the current crop of FPSs. The sniper levels, for example, are two of the most well-designed levels in gaming, providing a solid mix of stealth, story, and action that most FPS can't manage to achieve. The problem is that the game has a lot of low points. Back in 2007, even these low points were far and away better than almost every other FPS on the market. It's just, now it's 2016 and they're extremely noticeable. Modern Warfare was revolutionary, but the revolution has continued and left it behind.
After you finish the campaign you unlock the oft-forgotten arcade mode. Here you'll play through the game as normal, but with a point system, lives, and a time limit. Your goal is to get through levels as quickly as possible while racking up points by shooting enemies and destroying cars. You can get combos by killing enemies quick enough which can earn you extra lives and a multiplier for more points. It's a really strange departure from the usual Call of Duty tone, which may be why it hasn't carried over to future games. It may also be that arcade mode isn't really that much fun: it doesn't live up to future zombie survival modes, co-op missions, hoard modes, and other extras that Call of Duty has included, instead just being replaying the campaign with points. Intel cheats are still around as well. Finding intel can unlock cheats that range from silly filters to turning grenades into cluster bombs. It's a silly but welcome bonus and does far more for replay value than arcade mode does.
For better or worse, the multiplayer also holds over all of its elements from 2007. Ten maps from the original game are included, with the other six planned as free DLC later. All of the original game modes are here, with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3’s popular Kill Confirmed mode being added to the mix. Old School mode, a free-for-all with crazy physics, double health, and weapon pick-ups, has now been spun-off into its own playlist which allows you to play with either Team Deathmatch or Kill Confirmed. Overall some little bonuses, but if you enjoyed something about the original Modern Warfare’s multiplayer then there’s a very good chance it’s either here or coming.
Of course, it still has things that drove me nuts back then and still does today. There’s a create a class system that allows you some customization in your loadout, but the system is locked until you hit level 4. Until then you’re stuck using the not-so-good default classes, something that becomes especially annoying if you get put into a map that favors long range play early in before you have access to a sniper class. Other systems that would have made the early game leveling much easier, like bonus-XP granting optional missions, also remain locked until level 9, and most of them don’t unlock until level 12.
There’s nothing wrong with the online gameplay itself, at least, once you can start making your own classes. Grenade launchers aren’t nearly as overpowered as I remembered, and there’s the tradeoff of not being able to take your first perk to get a grenade launcher. I actually found snipers to be a bigger problem than grenade launchers, at least depending on the map. Teams of snipers would drive me mad, and some of the bigger maps definitely feel made for that. If it was a balance issue in the original game, it’s a balance issue here too. It can be fun, it can be frustrating, but it is a blast from the past in a way I was happy to see.
I’m just not sure that’s really enough, though. If you've ever had a friend that told you "every Call of Duty game is the same", then sit them down with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered. It's a really nice time capsule of 2007 gameplay wrapped in 2016 graphics, but Call of Duty has done better. It has done campaigns better, it has done multiplayer better, and it has done extra bonus modes better. Modern Warfare Remastered is good in a series of better, and while it’s a fantastic bonus for Infinite Warfare, it’s one I’d only suggest getting if you’re really into Infinite Warfare as well.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a copy purchased by the reviewer. It is also available on PC via Steam and Xbox One. This piece was originally published as an Impressions, but has been updated with thoughts on multiplayer and scored as a full review.
Once upon a time Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was the cream of the crop when it came to FPSes. Nine years later and Modern Warfare Remastered reminds us that FPSes have come such a long way. At its best, it's still a genuine competitor to current FPSes, but Modern Warfare Remastered isn’t at its best enough.
- Absolutely Lovely
- Everything from the Original is Here
- Classic Missions That Still Hold Up
- Missions That Don't Hold Up
- Abundant Infinite Spawn Rooms
- Frustrating Multiplayer Progression