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‘Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered’ Is A Fun But Dated Romp Of Beautiful Nostalgia

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered starts with the alluring grip of nostalgia. The screen greets you with the Infinity Ward logo, then a shot of a soldier in full gear holding his gun, a shot that’s became so iconic it’s now generic. The Modern Warfare series has always been interesting because most hardcore fans agree that Call of Duty 4 is the superior game, but Modern Warfare 2 is when the franchise exploded. It was a phenomenon and one of those major hits alongside Halo 3 that helped push video games into the mainstream.

Modern Warfare 2‘s 2009 release was genre-changing in that other FPS titles tried to emulate it for years to come. But in the 11 years since its release, video games have evolved. Even Call of Duty itself. And so it’s inevitable that last week’s Modern Warfare 2 Remastered release is viewed through that lens. The game is a 1:1 remaster of the original with improved graphics and a campaign many remember long after they finish playing.

Modern Warfare 2 was novel in that shooters, specifically military shooters don’t attempt anything too drastic in their stories. Campaigns generally run through a level, shoot the bad guys, and win. The first Modern Warfare went beyond this, though, successfully playing out a drama highlighted by a playable main character dying in a nuclear explosion. Modern Warfare 2 followed suit by upping the ante in its own way, to a different result.

At Modern Warfare 2’s best, it’s a satirical take on America’s military obsession. At its worst, it’s a glorification of it. This game isn’t meant to be a political commentary, but the game’s “No Russian” campaign struggles with that duality, especially 11 years later. The plot has the player switching between two scenarios: One is with U.S. Army Rangers and another with Special Task Force called “141.” The campaign begins with Joseph Allen, a PFC with the Rangers. After a successful mission in Afghanistan, he’s brought into the CIA, which wants to put Allen into the inner circle of a terrorist named Vladimir Makarov. Allen’s next mission is assisting Makarov in a mass shooting at a Russian airport. The player can choose to participate, or they can do nothing. The game won’t punish you either way, a departure from the ordinary rules that deem it a failure for shooting civilians and/or teammates.

“No Russian” is completely skippable with no penalties, trophies or achievements attached to it, but that doesn’t change that it’s a game in 2020 that lets you participate in a mass shooting. But without it, the story doesn’t advance. Makarov is able to put the blame for the incident on the United States, which sets off a Russian invasion of the U.S. and in turn the rest of the events of the game. It’s a passive mission, but one that can be uncomfortable in the context of 2020 and something the remake doesn’t take strides to work around.

That mission also sets a tone for how the rest of the game will choose to approach its high points. If Modern Warfare was intense, then Modern Warfare 2 is bombastic, with twists and turns and set-piece moments spread out that allow the game to really shine. Call of Duty has always been about the big moments, but Modern Warfare 2 had some of the best in the franchise. It features snowmobile escapes, running downhill through a flurry of gunfire and driving a speedboat while helicopters chase you down. Everything is meant to be big.

It’s also an effort that trips the game up in its attempt to create this magnitude. The twists become absurd and the huge moments make little sense. There’s one at the end of the game that 11 years ago I was confused about and to this day I still don’t understand.

These are among the consistent reminders of the game’s age. Gameplay itself has segment of slog and the deaths becoming frustrating. I played through on one of the higher difficulties and that felt like a mistake. Some of it was just that I am not as good at this game as I was 11 years ago, perhaps, but some features were missing that have become standard in modern shooters. I frequently could not locate where I was being shot from, with certain set pieces leading to my death over and over again in what felt like a war of attrition. At times it was exhausting to walk into a room, seeing waist-high cover and knowing what would happen next. In a lot of ways this is a remaster, not a remake. A modern version of a game with flaws and all.

That means it’s far from bad, it just also includes the things that no longer hold up. Cinematically this game is perfect. Every camera shot, every mission introduction, and even the lighting is perfect and the improved graphics only made them all even better. It even made the playable cutscenes look cooler.

There were so many cool moments in the original game that were simply breathtaking this time around. One moment where, shortly after recapturing the White House from the invading Russians, your character James Ramirez looks over a burning Washington D.C. This was a cool moment in the original game, but with the improved graphics, it’s now arguably the most powerful moment in the entire game’s story.

Modern Warfare 2 is still one of the best first-person shooters ever made, but it’s really difficult to play today and not see the age that surrounds it. If you played back in 2009 then the remastered version is a fun nostalgic romp with an old friend. It’s only $20 and the campaign is a quick 5-6 hours if you know what you’re doing. Just be prepared for a few understandable and expected now-retro headaches along the way.