McMillan’s Codex #49 by C.T. McMillan
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Since reviewing Advanced Warfare, Call of Duty (CoD) has been on my mind. Infinite Warfare is just months away and all I can think about is where everything went wrong. In the past I explored how the series has evolved and decayed with each installment. Because the last truly great entry was nearly a decade ago, I have become used to the mediocrity. I have spent so much time talking about why CoD is no longer good that I have failed to mention what made the series so compelling. Modern Warfare 2 is arguably the last best CoD, but looking further back I realize the game’s predecessor is far greater.
What makes Modern Warfare (MW) exceptional is simplicity. Each level consists of you shooting people and moving to an objective marker to shoot more people. Along the way you defend an area, plant explosives, or sneak past enemies. At the game’s core MW is as basic as Doom (2016), but not as incredible.
The set pieces are probably the best handled. Instead of being short vignettes to tease players because the developers hate you, they take up whole levels. The famous “Death From Above” mission is an extended sequence where you play a C-130 gunner providing covering fire for a ground team. You are put into the guts of a gunship and your vision switches to infrared.
The plane rumbles while the crew fills you in on the situation. The entire mission is you flying over a town covering the ground team with three available weapons. The spotter calls out shots and enemy movements that play out in real time. The crew also reacts to what is happening on the ground in a casual manner while the team will radio in as a gunfight plays out in the background.
“All Ghillied Up” is another great set piece that became copied and pasted throughout the series. The level is a flashback to an assassination mission in Chernobyl where you play one of two snipers sneaking into the Exclusion Zone swarming with Soviet troops. You wear the titular ghillie suit, a camouflage garment that makes you look like a Wookiee, and crawl through the overgrown foliage with rifle in hand.
Your partner provides instruction as you come upon guards to take them out quietly. At one point you encounter an army marching towards you and must lie in a field to avoid them as they walk over you. Later you move into the heart of Chernobyl where the environment has taken over. You pass through the Swimming Pool Azure, set up a firing position in a worker’s housing block, and exfiltrate from the Pripyat Amusement Park.
MW also does the modern warfare aesthetic well before the concept became a joke in videogame culture. The game takes the CoD signature of playing multiple characters, across multiple theaters of war, and applies a modern context. Instead of fighting in an open field or small town like in past games, the sections where you play an ordinary soldier take place in urban environments. Firefights are close and intense with a lot of exciting moments like a tank rolling through the streets and a nighttime battle.
When you play as an operator in the SAS, your missions are low-key and far more complex than those of the ordinary soldier. You are always alone with your team without an army to back you up. You work behind the scenes, taking care of the small problems that lead to bigger ones. In one instance you infiltrate an active combat zone that you are not directly involved with to rescue an informant. Towards the end combat becomes more intense where you fight off a small army and a helicopter while riding in the back of a truck.
Returning to the first Modern Warfare reminded me of what once made Call of Duty great and what the new games get wrong. Too long has the series wallowed in a monotonous slog of pointless gameplay features on top of hollow set pieces and broken promises. Modern Warfare proves that you do not need more to be good, and that having more could mean stagnation in the long run.
C.T. McMillan (Episode 169) is a film critic and devout gamer. He has a Bachelors for Creative Writing in Entertainment from Full Sail University.
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