Two things have really surprised me while making a return to the new, remastered edition of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's campaign: Firstly, how on-point and pertinent its plot remains, and secondly, just how much I enjoyed playing through it for a second time. I thought it might feel somewhat clunky and old-fashioned, but nothing could be further from the truth.
Sure, FPS campaigns have evolved considerably since Modern Warfare's launch back in 2007, but Infinity Ward's progenitor nevertheless has a very contemporary feel about it in terms of its presentation and general gameplay. There's also something very honest about the way the game comes across. It doesn't feel like it's intentionally trying to shock, or one-up a previous iteration of the series, and there's little in the way of bombast. Modern Warfare's focus is instead on making its multi-character story and globetrotting action truly exciting. It does incorporate some spectacular set pieces, but they don't necessarily feel overblown or like they're trying too hard – something that latter-day entries in the franchise have been guilty of.
The proceedings open with a training session that first teaches you the basics of gun-toting, and then challenges you with a simulated mission whose outcome results in a recommended difficulty setting for the campaign. It's a very nice piece of design that the very recent Titanfall 2 pretty much apes for its own introductory training mission. Perhaps that's something to do with the fact that both games share the same designers.
Once you're up to speed on the basics, you're thrown into the thick of the action as you infiltrate a cargo ship in the middle of an ocean. I was immediately reminded of just how much Modern Warfare focuses on squad play. In this first mission you're very much following orders given by the AI characters, and while it makes you feel a little less like a one-man army, I like the realism it articulates – like you're an actual part of a military operation. The communications chatter is very convincing, and helps make the sweep through the darkened ship quite tense. Doors are breached, corners checked, and there are some minor firefights as the squad eventually reaches its objective deep inside the ship – and then has to engage in a mad dash for freedom through the ship's superstructure as it begins to sink. It's a great introductory level that neatly encapsulates what the game is all about, while also giving you the chance to get to grips with its controls and general cadence.
That inaugural mission is essentially a prologue, and the game starts proper with an extended cinematic cut scene that comprises a lengthy drive through a Middle-Eastern city that's in the midst of a coup. It's very well crafted, and punctuated by quite harrowing scenes as the car wends its way down body-strewn streets where marauding gangs are executing people. It's genuinely shocking, but doesn't feel contrived – it's just a gritty piece of storytelling that effectively sets the tone for the game.
As the action progresses, the game switches between characters and locations, putting you at the center of key multinational military engagements around the globe over a period of successive days – as well as a flashback assassination mission set some 15 years prior to the game's events. It's a smart piece of design that delivers a wide-ranging set of challenges that, despite all essentially being shooting galleries, feel varied and interesting. Some levels are quite linear in their structure, but feature sufficient width to cleverly funnel the player so that the limitations of their maps don't ever become apparent. Others are more open, giving you the chance to skirt around a central point and flank enemy forces. This creates a series of different circumstances that require their own tactical approaches.
Early on, there's a night raid on a terrorist encampment that first involves sniping at enemies from afar to support your comrades as they attempt to advance, and then donning night vision goggles to join them in a house-to-house search for a captured informant. It almost feels easy as you take out the unsuspecting enemy, but it's strangely satisfying. Successful actions are rewarded with audio prompts from your squad members that make you feel an important part of the proceedings. It's a mechanic that's used repeatedly throughout the game, and it works really well.
The action then changes up with a chaotic battle through Middle-Eastern streets, where enemy fire seems to be coming from all angles. It's difficult not to feel an adrenaline rush as you work through cluttered back alleys, moving from cover to cover, peeking around corners and peering at upper-storey windows in search of the enemy. Intensifying the action are some great audio effects – soldiers yell, explosions detonate all around you, and there's the constant sound of small arms fire as bullets whizz and zing by. It just sounds incredibly realistic.
The tension continues to build with room-to-room clearances, and culminates in a running gun battle through an open-plan television station. It's at this point that the game's penchant for hurling a nearly overwhelming volume of enemies at you comes to the fore, and you really need to have your wits about you to survive the onslaught. This is where Modern Warfare shows its age a little. The enemy AI isn't particularly sophisticated, relying on numbers, rather than cunning to bring you down. But despite the tangos sometimes feeling like cannon fodder, that doesn't make the gameplay any less enthralling.
Perhaps my favorite aspect of the game comes a couple of missions later – a flight high above the battlefield in a C-130 where you play a gunner charged with assisting a group of SAS soldiers as they fight through enemy territory to reach an exfiltration point. Using three different calibers of weapons while switching between authentic-looking white hot and black hot infra-red camera modes, you have to clear the way, taking care not to fire on the friendly soldiers and the church they're using for shelter. What makes this sequence memorable is the dispassionate comms talk. It's really quite chilling as your co-pilots laugh and joke while you mow down the enemy without fear of reprisal.
Another highlight is the aforementioned flashback assassination mission. It's a great piece of scripting where it's all about being stealthy and largely avoiding combat as you and a superior slowly advance through the irradiated ruins of Pripyat in the Ukraine – scene of the Chernobyl disaster. Again, the chatter really draws you into the action, with your Captain curtly explaining what you need to do, and reacting accordingly to how you fare. The tension is palpable as you work your way through enemy-infested territory, sometimes lying inches from the opposition as you try to remain undetected. The mid-level objective is to eliminate a terrorist in a very challenging long-distance sniping sequence where you have to take into account the wind, which constantly shifts as you zero in on your quarry. It makes for a high-pressure situation that involves precision and timing to pull off the perfect shot.
Successfully hitting your target results in your position being compromised, alerting your presence to an army of enemy soldiers, who chase you as you retreat pell-mell through abandoned apartment buildings on your way to a pick-up point. The action builds to a nail-biting standoff in which you plant claymore mines around the perimeter of your position to help thin the advancing enemy ranks, and then try to survive what seems like an almost endless assault. It's basic shooting gallery design, but somehow still manages to be riveting thanks to the fact that the enemy is constantly closing in. There's a genuine sense of relief when your rescue chopper finally arrives.
The game maintains its momentum throughout its latter stages, with a fierce extended firefight through a Russian village, the timed pursuit of a target as he attempts to escape into a well-defended town, and a multi-part operation to enter and then secure a subterranean nuclear bunker. It’s only in the finale where the game really goes over-the-top, with another breakneck chase, this time involving you shooting from the back of a truck at a fleet of enemy-filled vehicles that are in hot pursuit. It's pure action-movie stuff, and makes for a breathtaking finish to the game.
Although the campaign clocks in at a relatively short six-odd hours, it nevertheless feels substantial and challenging. The sheer variety of the content, and the spectacle of its set pieces make for a tight and satisfying experience that feels devoid of filler. And, like I said at the start of this piece, the story hasn't really dated. It feels relevant to today's world, where covert operations, Middle-Eastern troubles, and the specter of nuclear weapons are never far from the headlines.
Add to that Modern Warfare's impressive graphical makeover, and you have a game that defies its age. What works particularly well are the atmospheric effects and lighting. Filters are effectively used to make the game's air feel thick with smoke and dust, and the character and landscaping textures have been nicely updated to feel contemporary: Not quite cutting edge, but plenty good enough to disguise their prior-generation roots.
Ultimately, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered's campaign is a combination of brilliant design and forward-thinking storytelling that delivers a genuinely tense, exciting, and gripping FPS experience. The only downer is that you need to buy Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare Legacy Edition to play it. It's a shame Activision didn't let Modern Warfare Remastered stand on its own merits - it most certainly deserves to.