Over the past week, rumors have begun to circulate about the next Call of Duty game. At the epicenter of these rumors was a leaked pre-order card for Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare. The ridiculous name isn’t even the biggest part of the leak though. In addition to the cover art and title of this year’s Call of Duty, the pre-order card also contains text stating that Call of Duty Modern Warfare Remastered is included as a full game download.
Armed with the anticipation of a return to Call of Duty 4 on current generation consoles, I decided to take a trip down memory lane.
If you ever read through the comments section of an article about Call of Duty or a forum thread about the next big game in the series, there’s one line of commentary you’re almost always likely to see.
This series has gone downhill since Call of Duty 4.
Well…the comments probably won’t be put so nicely. Internet rudeness aside, what is it about Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare that’s kept it held in such high regard? There have been eight entries in the main series since Modern Warfare, including two direct sequels. So what keeps people continually ranking Modern Warfare among their favorites in the fourteen-game series?
Wondering just that, I re-installed Modern Warfare onto my laptop today and started a fresh play-through. I’ve always held the game in extremely high regard but, as it’s been a while since I las played it, I wanted to remind myself why.
The game’s tutorial was like an awkward walk down memory lane. I must have run through that time trial course a thousand times on XBOX 360 back when the game first came out but, playing with a DualShock 4 on my MacBook, I struggled my way through the obstacle course in just under the allotted 60 seconds. One thing I love about Modern Warfare is that it doesn’t make you feel like a badass at the start of the game in the way many more recent shooters do. Quite the opposite actually. You don’t have any special abilities or gadgets. You’re not part of a family tree filled with badass war heroes. You’re just a new recruit trying to make a name for himself.
Call of Duty 4 makes you earn the right to feel like a badass. It builds up slowly as the game goes on. For most of the campaign, you’re in the boots of Soap MacTavish as part of a squad taking orders from Cpt. Price. Now Cpt. Price, on the other hand, is a badass. He barks orders, rushes into battle, and flashes heroics at every turn. For the first half of the game, Cpt. Price is your motivation…what you aspire to become.
Then, about halfway through, the game let’s you become Captain Price.
“All Ghillied Up” is unquestionably the best mission in Modern Warfare. It comes up in seemingly every conversation about the game. The mission puts you in the shoes of Cpt. Price 20 years prior to the events of the main story on a covert operation to assassinate the up and coming terrorist leader, Imran Zakhaev. Armed with silenced weapons and a camoflauge ghillie suit, it’s the perfect stealth mission. You have the option to take out every enemy in the level if you’d like, but it’s an incredibly difficult task. Instead, the game suggests a more tactical approach, giving you orders from Price’s commanding officer, Cpt. MacMillan.
The game’s scripting works so well in “All Ghillied Up.” Upon approaching a set of two enemy troops, MacMillan gives you the option to shoot one or the other. Whichever you choose to shoot, MacMillan quickly takes down the other, commenting on a job well done. Later in the mission, you’re given the similar, albeit slightly more difficult, task of taking out four guards. Once again, MacMillan makes it your call to pick a side – this time a pair of guards – and you quickly dispatch of all four. It’s smooth and methodical. Everything goes according to plan as you make your way to the end of the mission. There, you line Zakhaev up in the sights of your sniper rifle and take the shot. You connect with a non-fatal blow. The mission is a failure…but it succeeds in making you feel like a special forces badass.
In the industry today, the term “set piece” is becoming more and more synonymous with huge, blockbuster moments in games. Back in 2007, Call of Duty 4 understood that the purpose of a set piece is to capture the player’s attention and evoke some form of emotion. Instead of trying to give you an adrenaline rush by taking you through a narrow escape from a crumbling building, Infinity Ward worked to build the tension over a longer stretch of play. Where modern shooters are often criticized for relying on flash over substance, Modern Warfare pushes for something grittier and more impactful in its set pieces.
I think that’s an excellent allegory for the entire game. Modern Warfare rarely looks for that flash in the pan moment of excitement to beef itself up. It builds a narrative deliberately through gameplay and exposition working in harmony, and it does so masterfully. While other Call of Duty games have had bigger and more controversial moments than those in Modern Warfare, none have had the same impact on me. Given its long-lasting popularity, I think that also holds true for many others.