Take the tactics and fast encounters of Counter-Strike, then strip away the consequence of death and throw it into an arena shooter shell. Now give it some of the most influential and important feedback systems in FPS design ever created—it’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, a game I remember fondly. And it’s back in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Remastered, a complete overhaul of the game engine with the same campaign and multiplayer modes intact, mostly.
Remastered is a weird thing, only available if you buy the deluxe version of Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, which Tyler didn't like much at all. It’s also at odds with itself. Modern Warfare may have been influential, but its contributions to FPS design have been iterated on and bested by its sequels and many other games since. Going back is a strange exercise in nostalgia with the rose-colored night vision goggles of the visual upgrades bolted to your head for a fun, gorgeous, but clearly withered experience.
The singleplayer campaign feels the same, plays the same, and looks a whole lot nicer. The engine has been upgraded with improved lighting and high resolution textures. I swear, I could make a home in Price’s high-res moustache. Get a fire going, curl up with a nice book, and let the war pass me by. It’s a pretty way to experience the campaign that’ll make it look right at home on a nice monitor, just make sure you have a decent PC or the patience for patches. Performance has been fine, but to really take advantage of all the lighting and post-processing effects, you’ll need a strong PC.
If you can run it at 60 fps or higher without completely turning off the new graphical tricks, it feels as good as it did back then, the caveat being how tired shooting an endless stream of whack-a-mole enemies has become. With its age in mind (it’s nine years old!), revisiting Modern Warfare as a relic from another time is still a hoot. It was experimental ground for set piece moments, forcing the player into exciting but heavily scripted scenes like the tense sniper crawl of All Ghillied Up or the eerie (especially now) unattached violence of Death From Above. They’re still a good time, even if they’ve been riffed on by every Call of Duty since.
Old fashioned warfare
The multiplayer is largely the same too, with one huge exception. There’s no server browser, which is where most of the charm in Modern Warfare came from for me. Custom servers made it easier to find a map rotation, mode, and community of choice. Meanwhile, Remastered’s queue menu feels cold and empty by comparison—literally, too. Being locked behind the deluxe version of Infinite Warfare, a game most players probably have more interest in, is sucking the population dry. I’m almost certain Remastered will have a standalone release in the future, but there’s little incentive to give the multiplayer attention with such a low player count. It’s just not worth the long queue times.
Either way, it plays like it always has. In a multiplayer environment, preserving Modern Warfare’s old systems as they were is great for archival purposes, but a pileup of small legacy issues prevent it from having the everlasting charm of a Quake or Unreal. Traversal is awkward and weighty, and collision is a major problem. If a friendly runs by, expect to get jostled around until the game figures out where your player model belongs. And if there’s an ankle-high fragment of rubble in your path, expect it to stop your sprint and hold you prisoner until you manage to wiggle on by.
I remember loving the quick cycle of victory and defeat in Modern Warfare, the satisfaction of seeing someone before they saw you or having the edge in a surprise encounter where small errors in accuracy and timing meant everything. I still enjoy it, but without the crouch slide and wall run introduced by Titanfall and the Call of Duty sequels, maps are a flat tangle of corridors and sightlines without much variance in how they can be traversed. They’re routine and uninspiring by today’s standards, especially if the only way you can enter a room is by sprinting there. Cycling your focus on entryways gets tedious quickly.
I can’t exactly fault Remastered for holding onto the same problems, but it’s definitely dated and frustrating in small ways for it. However, approached as a window into the last 10 years of shooter design, it’s a curious, cool thing. Remember when hit indicators felt like a revelation? Now they’re an art. But you don’t need to drop $70 to play Modern Warfare—the original version is $20 on Steam, includes a server browser, and while it may not look as nice as the Remastered version, it’s a more honest way to revisit mid-2000s shooter design.