The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games, academia and life dare to converge

Revisiting Sunny Chernobyl- All Ghillied Up in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Remastered

“Look at this place… fifty thousand people used to live in this city. Now it’s a ghost town… I’ve never seen anything like it.” —Captain MacMillian

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare‘s “All Ghillied Up” mission remains one of the most iconic missions in the history of first person shooters, offering a change of pace from the high-paced missions up until that point. Even now, it stands alongside the first Flood mission in Halo: Combat Evolved as being one of the most innovative and entertaining missions – players accompany Captain MacMillian on an assassination mission, sneaking through the dreary fields outside of Pripyat on an overcast day to reach a sniper’s perch. Long the way, they cautiously duck between convoys of heavily armed ultranationalists, engage lone guards and climb through the ruins of Pripyat, deserted and uninhabited since the Chernobyl accident. The unique combination of being very linear mission that offered a considerable amount of leeway for deviation from the script, fantastic moments conferred by close encounters with ultranationalist forces, a beautifully constructed level and atmospherics come together to create a very distinct aesthetic for “All Ghillied Up” that allowed its original incarnation to be counted as one of the most memorable missions even amongst modern shooters. However, in the remastered version of Modern Warfare, “All Ghillied Up” takes on a new life – the skies are a moody grey, overcast, and assets on the ground have been given a total overhaul. Grasses and trees are much richer in details than before, as are the buildings, whose walls exhibit aging and exposure to the elements far more sharply than the original. Upgraded volumetric lighting, particle effects and water reflections further bring this level to life, bringing “All Ghillied Up” into the present day. The mission loses none of its charm, and with its fresh coat of paint, conveys the atmospherics and tenour of “All Ghillied Up” even more profoundly than its original incarnation.

When I wrote the original “All Ghillied Up” post five years ago, I was well into my Newtonian Physics course and had just began my MCAT course. The film, Chernobyl Diaries, had also just been released, having premièred in theatres a few days earlier, on May 25. I had seen some trailers for the film and was intrigued by the premise: the film depicts a group of travellers doing an “extreme” tour of Pripyat before finding themselves stranded, at the mercy of an unknown force that relentlessly pursues them (which turn out to be escaped medical patients mutated by the radiation in-story). I was wondering if I should watch the film, and settled in playing through the Call of Duty missions owing to time constraints introduced by physics and the MCAT, recounting my own adventures through Chernobyl (in a manner of speaking). Five years since, I’ve had the opportunity to watch Chernobyl Diaries, and my impressions are that the film was largely unremarkable, delivering a thin plot and frequent jump scares that dampen the horror aspect of the film. While the film is nothing noteworthy in execution, one aspect I did enjoy was the presentation of Pripyat and its locations, especially when the travellers enter one of the old apartment blocks and later, the different facilities around Pripyat. In Modern Warfare, there are no hostile forces quite like those of Chernobyl Diaries, and the area is desolated save the ultranationalist soldiers. It’s decidedly less frightening and more melancholy, providing the perfect atmosphere that parallels what it felt like to be studying for Newtonian physics and an MCAT while my peers were enjoying summer weather and their research projects.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • In the remaster of Modern Warfare, the clouds in the sky and lighting are far more vivid in detail. Grasses and vegetation are much more realistic, and a bit of volumetric lighting can be seen in the image’s right hand side to the upper right, by the trees. Upon Modern Warfare Remastered‘s first announcement, my immediate thoughts were “what would a fully modernised ‘All Ghillied Up’ look like?” Here, we have our answer, and already, I am impressed.

  • Upgraded graphics confers upon “All Ghillied Up” in Modern Warfare Remastered a sense of immersion far surpassing the visuals of the original mission, and even though every moment is identical, down to the scripting, a fresh coat of paint makes the game feel like a whole new title. I spent far more time admiring the visuals than I should have, right down to the reflections in the M21’s optics. However, there’s not too much time to dawdle: there’s a mission to complete, after all!

  • Supposing the recollections from my first “Chernobyl Diaries” discussion to be correct, it was a bit of an overcast day when I wrote the original post similar to the skies seen around the church (ostensibly, I was supposed to be working on a physics assignment on equilibrium and forces). The remastered Modern Warfare depicts this area as having much darker skies, and while waiting for the Ultranationalist convoy to pass later on, lightning can be seen illuminating the clouds. It’s subtle and it’s easily missed, but it is a very nice touch: whenever the clouds get this dark where I live, a thunderstorm or some form of precipitation is imminent.

  • There’s a cache of Stinger missiles inside the church that can be used to shoot out the Russian Hind, although I’ve never actually tried to do so for myself as of now. Some folks have tried “All Ghillied Up” without adhering to the stealth components, and there’s a trick to besting the Hind; one needs to get off two shots in quick succession. The first shot will always miss, since the Hind will deploy flares, and retaliation is swift as it unleashes a barrage of rockets, leveling the church. If players can evade this and get a second shot off, the Hind will be destroyed, prompting MacMillian to remark that Price is now showing off.

  • Depending on one’s perspective, five years can be a lot of time, or it can be a little time. When I played through Modern Warfare for the first time, the game had been out for five years, and was showing its age slightly against period titles, such as Battlefield 3. However, in atmospherics, it was unparalleled, and looking through my old archives, I was so engrossed in Modern Warfare that I beat the game in just over a week.

  • I’m actually not too sure how I developed an interest in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, but it might have stemmed from seeing trailers for Chernobyl Diaries on television, subsequently looking up ghost stories surrounding Chernobyl and Pripyat and then coming across an article about ghostly voices of children in Modern Warfare at Tango-Victor-Tango. Closer inspection led me to learn more about the Pripyat missions, and once I found some YouTube footage, I felt that this was something I could enjoy playing. This would have been April, during which term was still on, and I was watching Angel Beats! while trying to do my best to stay afloat in biochemistry.

  • This is probably the tensest part of the mission, and I’ve died here more times than I’ve cared to keep track of because one of the ultranationalist soldiers stepped on me while I was still in the grass. MacMillian suggests anticipating their paths and keeping movement to a minimum, and with enough experience, it is possible to remember where the soldiers will go. While I love this mission, I’ve not yet memorised the soldiers’ scripted paths, so I usually make for the left and hide behind a tree until everyone’s gone.

  • What caught my eye in the trailer were shots of Pripyat covered in a fog, as well as the interiors of apartments and other buildings in Pripyat. While I had been interested in checking out the movie, a physics course and cold reception to the movie upon its release meant that my interest in the film waned. However, this year, I decided to give Chernobyl Diaries a spin just to see if the film was as poor as reception had presented it to be. Overall, I found that the narrative was a bit generic and the movie counting solely on jump scares to convey its horror moments meant that the fear soon gave way to wondering how the characters would react when they ran into trouble next. The fact that the source of the horror game from mutants also lessens the impact of each scare.

  • Having said that, there were some things the movie did reasonably well: the initial tour of Pripyat with Yuri and the initial fear conveyed by uncertainty as to what the cause of frights would be meant the film’s initial build-up was fun to watch. In particular, the moment with a fog covering Pripyat conveyed a perfect sense of suspense. By comparison, the best (and only other) horror movie I’ve seen was Dark Water, which scared me to no end because of both how the build-up was so well done, the fact that the specter’s physical appearance was quite unsettling and the implications the film imparts about human selfishness and cruelty long after the denouement was presented.

  • Even today, I’m still too much of a wuss to go back and re-watch Dark Water. By comparison, Chernobyl Diaries certainly is not scary, and perhaps if the mutants were in the open a bit more, in conjunction with at least a handful of survivors as opposed to total casualties, the film might be considered an adventure or survival film instead. Most of the deaths in Chernobyl Diaries were not too gruesome, minus Yuri’s: his abdominal cavity was torn open and mutilated by the mutants. Similarly, the presence of mutants rather than other supernatural entities meant that in theory, a good set of weapons could be sufficient to confer survival. Back in “All Ghillied Up”, I’ve reached the point where I must crawl under some parked vehicles. It’s a thrilling point in the mission, as suspenseful as waiting for the ultranationalist convoy to pass.

  • With this in mind, I contend that Chernobyl Diaries is not an equivalent experience to playing through Modern Warfare. Barring actually travelling to Pripyat, the remastered version of Modern Warfare is the most immersive experience of exploring Pripyat possible, and here, I’ve finally cleared all of the convoys and points in the game where there are large numbers of soldiers. There’s a lone sniper on the stairwell, but he can be dealt with quickly. Returning to my old post on “All Ghillied Up” will find a screenshot taken at the same location: the differences are dramatic.

  • In my original post, I only had ten images and focused predominantly on events after clearing the convoy. That post was written well before this blog became my preferred place to write: in 2012, I still maintained a website at Webs.com, where my reviews lived. By 2013, it became clear that the limitations of Webs.com (mainly with respect to maximum number of visitors possible and a difficult-to-use web interface) meant that I would slowly migrate here. After trying my hand at lengthier posts with Vividred Operation, I became accustomed to WordPress and have used it since.

  • Hence, readers who do choose to explore this site’s archive will find blog posts from 2011 and 2012 that deviate greatly from the way I currently do things. Posts take a considerably more substantial effort to write now, as opposed to being put together within the space of half an hour, and I often plan an outline for each post in my mind a few days or even weeks before putting fingers to keyboard.

  • Without the prospect of being shot at, “All Ghillied Up” takes on a different feel as Price and MacMillian wander through the deserted apartment blocks of Pripyat. Unlike Chernobyl Diaries, there are no mutants or large animals: players only encounter a wild dog that’s best left alone (killing it will result in a pack of dogs showing up, although it is possible and somewhat entertaining to extricate oneself from the situation). The absence of unknown enemies means that this short walk through Pripyat is a melancholic, moody one that brings to mind the dangers of knowledge and their consequences.

  • In my original post, I mention haikyo, a Japanese term for “ruins”. Having put some years between the present and when I last counted myself as a student, I can finally confess that I was never much of a student in my undergraduate studies until my fourth year, and one of the things I did instead of applying for summer scholarships or studying D vs L configuration of acyclic monosaccharides was browsing through old ruins in Japan. Since then, I’ve also found websites showcasing ruins of Russia, and more recently, Taiwan. The images are hauntingly beautiful, and there’s a strange appeal about derelict human constructs.

  • Here, I step into an abandoned room that appears to have once held a cafeteria; the remaster makes fantastic use of volumetric lighting and particles to give a dusty sense, while the peeling paint and detrius on the floors mirror the lack of a human presence. There are many hazards associated with exploring old ruins that images alone cannot capture: broken glass, asbestos, mold, crumbling infrastructure and feral animals, plus the ever-present risk of being detected and held for trespassing are very real threats that hang over the heads of urban explorers. Urban explorer Alexander Synaptic remarks that his preferred way of exploring haikyo is to start from the roof and work his way down, minimising the risk of detection.

  • Synaptic’s travels are largely focused in Taiwan, and while he does visit other locations, there are a host of excellent haikyo sites out there. Japan is where my interests were first piqued: I found an anime magazine showcasing the derelict roller coasters of Nara Dreamland, and since then, I’ve been drawn to reading about urban exploration.

  • Hearing ghostly voices of children’s shouts here is the only out-of-the-ordinary experience in “All Ghillied Up”, and it is here that Captain MacMillian’s quote is made, capturing the other-worldly feel surrounding the Chernobyl disaster. After the meltdown in 1986, liquidators stepped in to clean up and contain the spread of radioactive particles, while Pripyat’s citizens were given orders to evacuate. They were told only to bring necessities, as they would be coming back in a few days, but that never happened, hence the remnants of personal items in Pripyat.

  • A tragedy in every sense of the word, there have also been some rumours surrounding the Chernobyl disaster, ranging from the conspiracy theories to the downright supernatural. One of the most interesting is the “black bird” of Chernobyl, which was alleged to have been spotted in the days leading up to the disaster. Inducing horrific nightmares in those who’d spotted it, as well as causing said individuals to be the recipients of threatening phone calls, this “black bird” was seen hovering in the radioactive smoke after the disaster and was never seen again. Similar to the Mothman of Point Pleasant, this makes for a fantastic story until one realises that “black bird” sightings were only reported conveniently after things had concluded. My inner skeptic says that the myth was transplanted over to Pripyat as a derivative story, albeit a rather intriguing one.

  • Returning to the 1024 by 768 screenshots in my original “All Ghillied Up” post (and even the 1920 by 1080 screenshots from last year), the differences between the original Modern Warfare and its remastered incarnation are dramatic. I noted that this mission would be more enjoyable than watching Chernobyl Diaries, and after five years, I’ve vindicated that particular claim.

It is quite evident that experiencing Pripyat through Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, although eclipsed by visiting Pripyat, is much more comprehensive and exciting an experience than watching Chernobyl Diaries. While the film is a linear adventure, players have more freedom in Modern Warfare – they can elect to follow MacMillian’s orders, which is the most efficient way to complete the mission, but should they be compromised or feel particularly adventurous, can go weapons loud. The game will uncharacteristically not punish the player; instead, MacMillian will either comment on the player’s inability to comprehend the definition of “stealth” or even remark that they’re showing off, should they succeed in using the M21 to fend off numerically superior enemies. It stands in stark contrast with the hand-holding seen in other missions. Already a fantastic mission in its original form, playing through “All Ghillied Up” in Modern Warfare Remastered is akin to playing a completely different game: grasses get pushed aside as players crawl through it, and cracks in the peeling paint are visible in the new version. It is an experience that very nearly commands the price of Modern Warfare Remastered (itself only available in the Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare Legacy Edition), being quite worth it for the fact that I could experience this wonderful mission again with a completely revitalised and renewed feeling.

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