Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was the turning point in the series and first-person shooters in general. On the solo side, it took on the then-ongoing war in the Middle East in ways that few games had attempted to do at that point. On the multiplayer side, it introduced so many new elements that became standards for just about every competitive first-person shooter that has come since. It was close to a masterpiece when it released in the fall of 2007, and even players who were tired of the series fondly remember this title nearly 10 years later. Word of a remastered version was first met with elation, but that quickly turned to disgust as it was revealed that the game would only be packed with Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare and would be restricted to the more expensive premium versions. That would normally spell doom for a game as seminal as this, but nostalgia is a powerful thing, and with so many people tempted to pay the extra money for the combo, it would be nice to see what they're getting into.
The story remains as interesting as ever, even if you discount the sequels that continued it over the years. It opens with a car ride featuring the separatist leader Khaled Al-Asad and a drive through the town he has taken over, and it ends with a bullet aimed at you, the hostage he's abducted. From there, a coalition of international forces teams up to take him down only to discover that he's working with Imran Zakhaev, an ultranationalist who wants another war with Russia.
For the most part, the gameplay is simply a tweaked version of the first three games in the series. Gameplay is fast, almost twitch-like in nature, as you run through very linear levels until you reach the end level checkpoint that culminates in something spectacular, whether it's tons of explosions or your own demise. The twitch gameplay is contrasted by the fact that it only takes a few shots to drop anyone, while you can only take on so many hits before you have to take cover and let regenerative health take over. Firefights are fast, and there's a push in every stage to move forward as quickly as possible, something further exemplified in the training stage that recommends the difficulty level you should choose.
There are two things here that make the campaign absolutely memorable. The first is your character — or characters, as it were. Unlike other titles, where you get one soldier who travels everywhere and somehow survives all the crazy stuff happening to them, you take on several different nameless soldiers from different groups. One moment you're part of the U.S. Marine Corps, the next minute you're a fresh recruit in the SAS. This kind of thing is usually frowned upon in campaigns since it robs you of becoming better acquainted with the character, but in this case, the world-hopping and ability to take on different soldiers gives this operation a better sense of scale and provides an equal amount of gravitas.
Additionally, each level is set up like a set piece that differs in the type of tension it wants to deliver: the opening mission on the ship that goes from pretty silent to loud gradually, the U.S. invasion of the Middle East, the pressure to shoot the guy who started all of this, and the ability to stay hidden as soldiers while a tank drives by and almost crushes you. Each stage has at least one moment where you're sitting in awe of what's happening, and no stage feels exactly the same as a level you played before.
Of course, the original campaign had visible flaws if you didn't rush through it, and those same issues creep up in this incarnation. Hang back a bit, and you'll notice that enemy and ally soldiers will constantly stream through unless certain checkpoints are hit. You're never given a chance to be strategic since you'll needlessly expend bullets to kill a seemingly infinite force. Your allies are usually as dumb as bricks and constantly get in your line of fire.
As far as the remastering goes, Activision hasn't been the best publisher on this front. The Prototype duo seems to be in worse shape than the Xbox 360/PS3 originals, and the same goes for the Marvel Ultimate Alliance pack. Those fearing the worst here are in for a pleasant surprise, as this remastering is one of the best in this generation thus far. The expected lighting and smoke effects are here, but the overall look is stunning. The level layout is untouched, but the building geometry and details have been touched up, as it looks more like a modern game made from scratch instead of a touched-up version of something old. Audio has also been improved, so the guns have more punch, and everything runs at a full 60fps in 1080p. To put it succinctly, this game is a looker.
On the multiplayer side, the game is mostly how you remember it. All of the maps are here, with their layouts completely intact. The prerequisites for things like UAVs and nukes are all the same, and the same goes for guns and their relative balancing. With the game going this far back, the multiplayer is more about realistic movement, as the slides and double-jumps and wall runs are all gone. It is the purest version of the multiplayer that took the world by storm all those years ago, and like any good multiplayer shooter, it remains fun after all this time.
Aside from the presentation, the multiplayer isn't completely authentic to the original. On the good side, the title now features Kill Confirmed mode, which fits with the other now-classic modes. The December update brings Winter Crash, which is simply a winter variation of the map Crash that was only available to PC players prior to this. Customization is also here, with the addition of weapon skins and female soldiers. However, the customization also brings with it the supply drops from Advanced Warfare, and even though it was all aesthetics, it also means that microtransactions are there for those who are too impatient to unlock them through gameplay.
Even after nine years and the countless sequels that have come after it, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered shows how good the original game was. The campaign is short but so packed with memorable moments that few would mind some of the residual issues. If you can deal with the addition of cosmetics to appease players who have only come to the series recently, you'll be happy with how the original tenets of the multiplayer portion, from movement to gun balance and map layout, have remained unchanged. It really is too bad that this game won't be divorced from more expensive versions of Infinite Warfare for the foreseeable future, but if you're already committed to spend the extra money, you won't be disappointed.
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