Modern Warfare 2 potato mode

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 potato mode
(Image credit: Activision)

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.

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 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.

(Image credit: Activision)

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.

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 which has been featured in the singleplayer campaign and multiplayer map.

This article is no longer supported and remains purely independent.

Dave James
Managing Editor, Hardware

Dave has been gaming since the days of Zaxxon and Lady Bug on the Colecovision, and code books for the Commodore Vic 20 (Death Race 2000!). He built his first gaming PC at the tender age of 16, and finally finished bug-fixing the Cyrix-based system around a year later. When he dropped it out of the window. He first started writing for Official PlayStation Magazine and Xbox World many decades ago, then moved onto PC Format full-time, then PC Gamer, TechRadar, and T3 among others. Now he's back, writing about the nightmarish graphics card market, CPUs with more cores than sense, gaming laptops hotter than the sun, and SSDs more capacious than a Cybertruck.