The next Call Of Duty remaster snuck up on the video game world like Soap MacTavish snaking silently through a snowy tundra.
Not exactly hot-on-the-heels of 2016’s remastering of the original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare – not to be confused with 2019’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare reboot, obviously – is such lack of fanfare ominous? When films are quietly released it’s usually because they’ve got all the expectations of a three-legged horse in the Grand National placed upon them…
Thankfully, CODMW2R, to give it a succinct name rather undermined by these extra words pointing that out, remains a blast to play. As with the previous remaster this is no mere lick of paint. While not quite as pretty as 2019’s eye-searing entry in the series, this latest old new game at least looks like it belongs on a PS4 Pro, offering HDR output to boot; Xbox and PC users will have to wait until 30th April to see how their version compares to the 2009 original, given the timed exclusivity – yep, they’re still a thing – for this surprise release.
If you’ve played a minute of Call Of Duty’s campaigns then you know what to expect. If not, then here is a chance to experience a renowned series at the peak of its powers: gruffly spoken cut-scenes featuring war men speaking war men things like they’ve been lifted straight out of a B-movie, tight FPS maps filled with action bombarding you from all sides, and quieter areas requiring varying degrees of stealth, at least until everything goes Tango India Tango Sierra Uniform Papa.
CODMW2R is rightly regarded as one of the Call Of Duty franchise’s top tier campaigns, and is an ambitious follow-up to its predecessor. The game is relentlessly blockbuster, one specific scene during a trip to a Russian gulag evoking the doomed shower scene in The Rock, while the overall plot echoes 80s alternate reality Red Dawn, with many more moments throughout the six or so hour campaign feeling suitably Hollywood.
The remastering includes newer, more cinematic angles of those ever-so-earnest cut-scenes on top of the main games visual polish, adding to the sense of scale. Visually it feels as though Beenox has rebuilt the game from the ground up, and while graphics are not always directly proportional to enjoyment, the effort here to provide much improved rendering and animations certainly makes the campaign an even more impactful experience, whether it be charging for cover between franchise restaurants at a war-torn strip mall or ducking and weaving through claustrophobic favelas.
A quick word too on the audio, which has also been souped up. Particularly when played through headphones the game is a phonic treat and it would be remiss not to applaud the extra effort to further heighten immersion.
And what of, well, y’know, that level? Has that former controversial hot potato now been expunged to mitigate against a fresh new uproar in a non-gaming media who might be quick to interview Jack Thompson for his completely rational thoughts or vox pop a pearl-clutching parent who sheepishly admits to having never having heard of, “that Claw of Doodie game”?
Nyet. No Russian remains present albeit with several disclaimers and opt-out points for those who would prefer to avoid the level altogether, on top of the game being 18-rated.
As a moment it retains shock value even though the initial impact of the scene feels somewhat diminished by an ever-increasing desensitisation of gun violence in western media. Still, it would be reckless to dismiss the moment as not still requiring caution. As mentioned, the game is rated 18 but younger eyes will inevitably view the scene, rendered even more realistically than it was over a decade ago.
However, in the context of the campaign story being told, the level is no more bloody or violent than much of what bookends it: the subsequent, aforementioned run through a Rio favela is arguably more intense and is certainly more prolonged.
Crucially, in the airport the player has complete agency over whether they pull a trigger when their gun is aimed at the clustered innocents, and that freedom of choice is a powerfully unique option video games have at their storytelling disposal. The medium too often get lambasted for the immaturity of its writing but revisiting No Russian serves as a reminder that while mature themes can be presented in the format the hysteria around doing so is often pre-determined.
Beneath the satirical jingoism that may or may not be recognised by sections of the fan base that plays these games remains a story that aimed ludicrously high and now actually now feels much darker in tone given how the world has shifted in the 11 years since its original release. It is manic, frenetic, morally questionable and never less-than-thrilling; if it were a cinematic release it probably would be directed by Paul Verhoven and misunderstood by many, much like his ridiculously over-the-top Starship Troopers.
Of course there are plenty Call Of Duty players who skip the series’ storytelling altogether and head straight to the multiplayer menus. Here they will be disappointed as this is purely a remaster of the campaign and the campaign only, hence the relatively budget nature of the title. Instead, expect more classic maps to be added to 2019’s Modern Warfare, which Activision intends to grow as a chief money-maker in the coming months and years.
Overall this remains at the upper echelons of CODs campaigns, perhaps even more impactful than it was over a decade ago. On hardened difficulty and above it provides a robust FPS challenge, which is as intense as it is enjoyable. Not all of our beloved games need a remaster to remind us of their brilliance but when the quality of work is as noticeable as this, the chance to relive revamped moments from gaming’s past are entirely welcome.