Revisiting Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Being a longtime fan of the Call of Duty franchise, there’re two games that I always go back and forth on when thinking about my favorite entry – World at War and Modern Warfare 2. It’s hard not to feel nostalgic about Treyarch’s breakout Call of Duty game that brought players to the booming world of World War II, as well as introducing Nazi zombies to the franchise, or the stellar sequel to the franchise’s most iconic entry – Modern Warfare. However, while I desperately wait for anything World at War related, Infinity Ward and Beenox recently teamed up to remaster the Modern Warfare 2 campaign to alleviate some of the cabin fever fans are feeling from the coronavirus. That’s right, just the campaign.
While the news of a return for one of the greatest Call of Duty games of all time is incredible for any fan, the added news that multiplayer and spec-ops were going to MIA definitely took the wind of out the remaster’s sails. There would be no no-scoping on Highrise, no noob-tubing or nukes, no 1v1’s on Rust, or even teaming up with friends to earn stars in spec-ops missions. In some ways, it’s really hard to say that Modern Warfare 2 is back, but with the campaign still intact, it’s also hard to say that it’s a total loss.
Just like its predecessor, Modern Warfare 2 Campaign Remastered maintains this cinematic feel to it with visually stunning set pieces that have players survive firefights in a Russian gulag, an aircraft boneyard in Afghanistan, and even in Washington D.C. as EMP blast leaves it in a total blackout. The environments even play a major factor in missions like Cliffhanger and Second Sun and look even better than before with the remastered graphics. The character designs look much more realistic than when they already did and the main theme score from the legendary Hans Zimmer and overall music composed by Lorne Balfe comes across better than ever because of the improved sound design. As expected, even with just the campaign, the remaster maintains and improves a lot of technical qualities of the original – but does that mean it’s worth playing again.
Now, when I first started playing it, I questioned if there was enough for me to really talk about for a full review because, after all, what am I really going to say. Nothing really changed much with the story, so Modern Warfare 2 Campaign Remastered is the thrilling campaign it was before – with some updated graphics. However, with the Modern Warfare series being rebooted last year by Infinity Ward and the remaster being available for PlayStation Plus subscribers for August 2020, it’s actually a great time to reflect on the Modern Warfare 2 campaign and why it’s such an impactful entry for the franchise.
*Full Spoilers Ahead for the Modern Warfare 2 Campaign*
Other than maybe Alex Mason and Frank Woods from the Black Ops series as well as Reznov from World at War and Black Ops, Modern Warfare 2 contains some of the franchise’s most popular characters. Not only do we get the epic return of Captain Price (voiced by Billy Murray) and “Soap” MacTavish (voiced by Kevin McKidd), but we also get some new faces. With Price secretly stuck in a Russian Gulag for about the first half of the game, we get to see that Soap is working with a new crew. He has a badass second in command in Ghost (voiced by Craig Fairbrass), a new rookie of his own that players take control of in Gary “Roach” Sanderson, and he is commanded by General Shepherd (voiced by Lance Henriksen) as they hunt down the series’ main protagonist Vladimir Makarov (voiced by Roman Varshavsky).
While there isn’t much to talk about with Roach, since he doesn’t say a whole lot, Ghost has easily become one of the fan-favorite characters of the franchise and playing the game again started to remind me why. The great voice work from Fairbrass and having Ghost’s face trapped behind a balaclava with a skull a marking to create a sense of mystery with his character is truly iconic to franchise. For years, people wanted to know so much about him and even I have a poster of him that I snagged a New York Comic Con a couple years back because he’s simply that awesome. There was even a six-issue comic series developed by Wildstorm called Modern Warfare 2: Ghost that focused on his backstory. I, along with many other fans, even hoped that Call of Duty: Ghosts would possibly bring the character back, but it looks like we’re going to have to wait until the next Modern Warfare game. What made Ghost, and even Roach, so ingrained into the minds of fans though, is the shocking death that came on the Estate mission as Shepherd revealed his traitorous colors.
It’s pretty impossible to not talk about Shepherd when talking about the fates of Ghost and Roach since, well, he plays a direct hand in their demise as he reveals his own plans. Just as Ghost is carrying Roach to safety after he’s injured running through a minefield, Ghost thinks that putting Roach into the hands of Shepherd is safe, but it ultimately puts a bullet into their back as Shepherd executes them both with his revolver and has his men burn their bodies into ash. For fans, it was so unceremoniously cruel how Shepherd took out these two and it’s a moment that’s become iconic for fans as one of gaming most brutal betrayals. There were so many theories that went around about Ghost still being alive, like that Shepherd only had Roach’s body be burned or that he was only shot in the shoulder, and even I believed for quite sometime that he could pop up somewhere in the future. Alas, it was just false hopes and seeing both of them fall to Shephard’s brutal betrayal still hurts just the same.
Frankly though, Shepherd’s betrayal doesn’t hurt too much since it’s still an awesome twist that resonates well to this day. In some ways, it’s easy to see how Shepherd became the more prominent threat over Makarov since he had a bigger presence than him as he commanded both sides of the story throughout the game as well as acted as the main narrator between missions. Other than being a commander, it’s hard to pinpoint what his role exactly was and once you find out, it changes your whole perspective on him. His motivations for betrayal, being that he wanted to cement his status as a national hero by prolonging the war efforts against Russia as revenge for losing him men in the nuclear explosion seen in the previous game, make him very unique and it creates an incredibly fun and memorable twist that leads into an even better finale.
The final mission title “Just Like Old Times” is a perfect representation of what we get as players take control of Soap as he and Price go on a “suicide mission” to put an end to Shepherd. The nostalgia of that moment still hits the same beats as before and the final boat chase after Shepherd is just as thrilling and epic. Not to mention, the moment of Soap pulling the knife Shepherd used to stab him with and throwing in Shepherd eye from far away still reigns as one of the best final kills of any game. It’s purely a “cherry on top” moment that still hasn’t been touched in the series and easily one of the franchise’s most memorable endings. It’s even better when Nikolai (voiced by Sven Holmberg) shows up to save the two and perfectly sets up their big finale in the story. Not to mention, they’ve even added an achievement/trophy into this remaster for shooting him in the head in the first mission of the game, which I actually got instinctively without knowing that it was a thing, and it’s a great acknowledgement of the great twist that legitimately changed the game.
Honestly, outside of Shepherd’s turn and the action-packed finale, there’re still plenty of memorable moments of Soap and Price’s story that are just as amazing as ever. Moments like Soap and Roach climbing up an icy mountain and having a fast-paced snowmobile getaway, getting the surprise reveal of Price being the prisoner that you’re sent into a Russian gulag to rescue, the escape from the gulag that gives a whole new meaning to “soap on a rope,” and even weaving through Makarov and Shepherd’s soldiers during a chaotic battle in an airplane graveyard still get your heart pounding and offered the kind of cinematic approach to storytelling that would be influential to many of the action-adventure game we’ve seen lately. One of my favorites is still the “the enemy of my enemy” discussion between Makarov and Price as they acknowledge Shepherd as a greater threat and give the looming presence that make his sudden rise to villainy so impactful. Not to mention, Infinity Ward managed to keep the gameplay incredibly fresh as taking control of vehicles, utilizing a heartbeat sensor attachment during cliffhanger, and even grabbing a riot shield is still an absolute blast.
However, there’s one side of the story that, after playing it again, doesn’t get the credit or the acknowledgement it deserves. When players aren’t playing as Roach, Soap, or anyone in Task Force 141, they take control of Private James Ramirez of the US Army 75th Ranger Regiment. Although he’s another silent protagonist, Ramirez embarks on a slightly more horrifying mission as he defends against the Russians invading the U.S. Yes, it’s basically a more action-packed interpretation of Red Dawn, but that doesn’t make it any less epic. From dodging enemy fire as Ramirez and the group moved between different restaurants in order to give the Americans an upper hand to taking control of a Predator missile to knock out large groups of enemies, this part of the campaign contained much higher and more terrifyingly real stakes.
It paints a horrifying picture of what an invasion of the U.S. would look like as all hell is breaking loose throughout Ramirez’s side of the campaign. Everything becomes even more of a horror story when Ramirez makes it to Washington D.C. and a ballistic missile that’s sent by Price detonates in the upper atmosphere causing an EMP blast that puts Washington D.C. in a total blackout. It’s legitimately absolute chaos as helicopters are falling out of the sky and the mission turns into a more tension driven battle as Ramirez and his group attempt to get to rally points through the eerily quiet streets. The setup to all of this is incredibly epic as well as the small, in-between mission where players take control of an astronaut in space still looks amazing, even more so now, and watching the missile explode in space is as unsettling and daunting as ever.
It’s actually strange to me how this part of the campaign is so under-discussed as it’s the most unique and features some familiar voices. Hearing iconic voices like Keith David as Sergeant Foley and Barry Pepper as Corporal Dunn makes every step of the journey much more cinematic and seeing them in this part of the campaign is great as it ties the game’s opening in perfectly. It was honestly even better playing through this section again and fans will definitely get a sense of slight horror and satisfaction fighting through the Russian invasion again as there really hasn’t been anything like it in the series since.
There’s still one thing, one big thing, left to talk about with Modern Warfare 2 and it’s still remains to be one of the most controversial aspects of the entire game – No Russian. For those that have somehow not heard about this mission, players take control of Joseph Allen (voiced by Troy Baker), an undercover agent for the CIA sent in to get dirt on Makarov, and partake in a terrorist attack with Makarov as they shoot up a Russian airport. Many found this mission to be incredibly disturbing and cite it as a moment that glorifies violence in video games. There’s even a real-life account from a terrorist, who enacted a domestic terrorist attacks in Norway in 2011, that cited in his manifesto that he used this section of the game as “training.” It’s actually so disturbingly real that Infinity War put in a content warning and an option for players to skip the mission entirely if they wanted to – which is thankfully still an option in the remaster.
Even now No Russian still remains a hot topic of controversy when conversations about violence in video games come up, but it’s still also remains an important and pivotal part of the game. It’s certainly not a mission I look forward to because of how viscerally gruesome it is, but it’s hard not to kind of respect Infinity Ward for creating a complex element to the Modern Warfare 2 narrative that’s even more compelling now. From how Allen, as an undercover CIA agent, is willingly enacting an act of terrorism to “protect people” to how players are put into the middle of gruesome bloodbath and aren’t able to do anything to stop it, there’s a lot to unpack No Russian that still makes it impactful and touches on a horrifying reality that many forms of media rarely will touch with a ten foot pole.
It’s the kind of moment that’s touched on again in Modern Warfare 3 with Yuri’s involvement with Makarov being fleshed out and contains a realistic brutality that’s maintained last year’s reboot. Not to mention, the ending of Makarov killing Allen because he knew that he was a spy plays is both a total shock and an incredibly important plot point as it’s the main reason that Russia ends up invading the US in Ramirez’s campaign. At the end of the day, is No Russian still just as controversial as it was all those years ago – definitely. However, that doesn’t take away how impactful it is and how it’s remained one of the most talked about moments of Modern Warfare and Call of Duty as a whole.
So, even with an equally iconic multiplayer and spec ops being absent, Modern Warfare 2 Campaign Remastered is still a stellar nostalgia trip for fans that brings players back into worldwide warfare better than ever. It’s the kind of nostalgia trip that not only gives players a fitting look back at a narrative high point for the series, but also finds new things to appreciate about one of the more undervalued aspects of modern Call of Duty games – the campaign. With Infinity Ward’s reboot of the series last year reigniting hope in the fanbase for more thrilling adventures with Price, Soap, and even Ghost, there’s no better time than now, especially for PlayStation Plus subscribers, to head into one of the best war campaigns in Call of Duty and video games – as a whole.