When the first video was released showing off the Amsterdam campaign level in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 the most common reaction was a collective 'wtf?!' It looked for all the world like a tech demo of some far-off game engine and we were all astounded that a CoD game could actually look that realistic.
Surely some dumb shooter has no right to look that good.
oh my god amsterdam looks *incredibly* realistic in the new call of duty — almost can’t believe this is a video game pic.twitter.com/KVI9Ay5dIkOctober 21, 2022
Now that we've got it on our own rigs… well, it's just not quite as impressive in the digital flesh. I mean, just look at these images. It's blocky, full of weird graphical artefacts, and I no longer look at the game feeling like I can smell the entwined stank of canals, marajuana, and PVC bondage gear that pervades IRL Amsterdam. And those character models look like someone pulled them straight out of Oblivion and put them on display, in all their potato-faced glory, in Modern Warfare 2.
Alright, I'm only messing, this is just what the game looks like in strictly enforced potato mode. Though, interestingly, the people still look like root veg when you slap the game into 'Extreme' mode. Though maybe that's just Infinity Ward's social commentary on the Dutch.
To be honest, it's interesting you can drag the game right back to the PC gaming dark ages by dropping the display resolution to a paltry 640 x 480. In fact, you can drop it even lower by reducing the resolution scaling below 100%. Purty… I'm not sure anyone is going to be thinking about playing at that res; if you've got a system that's DX12 compatible I'm sure you're going to be okay running it higher than that. But it's sweet of IF to give us the option to play with for potato mode fun-times.
By sticking the overall settings to the bare minimum you can then get the gloriously retro visuals you see here. Though with frame rates above what you would have experienced in the '00s. That said, with the RX 6800 XT (opens in new tab) GPU sat inside my office PC (cos that's how we roll on PC Gamer) I was still only getting an average of 137 fps. Though, to be fair, the game was only actually using about 45% of my graphics card at best, sometimes dropping down as low as the 20% mark.
In short, the RDNA 2 GPU could barely be arsed to render the scene.
Pushing things back up to maximum again, and with a more reasonably modern resolution of 2560x1440, you can easily see why folk have been so impressed with the level. For the most part, I feel it's the lighting of the scene which lends it the most realism. Infinity Ward has eschewed the standard Hollywood lighting aesthetic, in favour of a brighter, whiter level of lighting. It's like the shader-level mods the internet has been awash with in the name of making GTA V look realistic (opens in new tab).
It is also worth stating that the surface-level realism does fall away if you do anything more than follow Laswell through the streets and over the canal. Or actually take a look at the models rather than the high-res textures applied to them.
There are obvious tricks the game engine uses to create its reflections. You can see a certain halo-ing around objects with reflective surfaces behind them, for example. And the image is actually kinda noisy on closer inspection, too. The water, and attendant surface elements look a bit ropey too, and we've already mentioned those character faces.
But Call of Duty has long been the master of fakery; making an experience look and play better than it really ought to given its limited, linear scope. And as much as the facade can fall away quickly when you start poking around in Modern Warfare 2, the impact of those visuals when you are just focused on playing the game in front of you is actually pretty profound when it first loads in.
Though it must be said the Amsterdam level has caused some consternation with a certain hotel (opens in new tab) which has been featured in the singleplayer campaign and multiplayer map.
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