“The more things change, the more they stay the same. Boundaries shift, new players step in; but power always finds a place to rest its head. History is written by the victor, and here I am, thinking we’d won. But you bring down one enemy and they find someone even worse to replace him. Locations change, the rationale, the objective.” –General Shepherd
Ultranationalists take power in Russia and memorialise Imran Zakhaev, creating tensions between Russia and the United States. Vladimir Makarov embarks on a bitter campaign of revenge against the west. In the Middle East, Joseph Allen participates in an operation against insurgents, and General Shepherd, impressed with Allen’s performance, recruits him into Task Force 141. Meanwhile, Captain John MacTavish and Sergeant Gary Sanderson infiltrate a Russian base deep in the Tian Shan mountains to retrieve an ACS module. Allen is placed as a deep cover operative and infiltrates Makarov’s cell: he participates in Makarov’s mass shooting at an airport in Moscow. However, Makarov is aware of Allen’s presence and kills him, leaving his body behind as evidence of an American attack against the Russians. This incident precipitates a war between the Russians and Americans; the Russians launch a full-scale invasion of the Eastern Seaboard, overwhelming the Americans. Seeking evidence of Makarov’s involvement, Task Force 141 heads to Rio de Janeiro to capture arms dealer Alejandro Rojas, who provides weapons for Makarov and is suspected to have information on his whereabouts. After fighting through Roja’s thugs in the Rio de Janeiro favela, MacTavish and Sanderson learn that there is one more individual who knows of Makarov: a prisoner held in a Russian gulag. With this, I’ve begun my journey into Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2: Remastered, which released in late March 2020 to general surprise. The original Modern Warfare 2 released in November 2009, and almost immediately, became embroiled in controversy with its graphic portrayal of Makarov’s mass shooting at a Russian airport. Development of this mission was a polarising one even amongst Infinity Ward. Having known about the controversy for the better part of a decade, in my playthrough, I chose to simply walk around the mission and check out what over a decade’s worth of improvement in computer graphics has resulted in without firing a shot (shooting Makarov and his men result in a game over). Upon reaching the tarmac, one must participate in a firefight with the FSB, and here, it felt a little more appropriate to return fire. However, as controversial as this mission, “No Russian”, was, the opening act of Modern Warfare 2 holds more sinister implications about conflict.
In particular, General Shepherd’s monologues leading into the first few missions speak greatly to his views on the world: after losing over thirty thousand soldiers when Makarov detonated a nuclear explosive in the Middle East, Shepherd sought to bring glory back to the United States and restore his own reputation. Shepherd’s views are decidedly that of a Social Darwinist, someone who believes that power is an end in and of itself. Before each mission, Shepherd remarks that the United States has a moral obligation to fight in every war, that there is no option of sitting one out, because it is their responsibility to ensure that the world adheres to whatever policy benefits America. Moreover, the ability to shape the course of history is a recurring theme in Shepherd’s dialogue: what the history books say is determined by the victor, those who live to tell their version of the story. Modern Warfare 2 thus sets in motion the idea that Shepherd is obsessed with victory because he fights for none other than himself, and because he ostensibly fights with the backing of the United States military, Modern Warfare 2 indicates that the worst enemies are those backed by the state. There are parallels with the real world, and Modern Warfare 2 shows how men like Shepherd can influence events at a scale that ordinary citizens remain quite unaware of. Beyond all of the politics and speeches, there exist under-the-table deals and shadowy discussions in the corridors of power, shaping and influencing the world in a way that benefits a cabal of elites for their own ends, even if it comes at a cost to common citizens. The world isn’t so black and white as one might imagine, and while Modern Warfare 2 represents a work of fiction, the fact is that there are enough complexities in the world such that bad faith actors like Makarov and Shepherd don’t seem too far-fetched, which is saying something, considering that Modern Warfare 2 garnered more controversy than any Call of Duty title before it. Consequently, it will be interesting to experience Modern Warfare 2: Remastered for myself, such that I may see for myself what the game had been about.
Screenshots and Commentary
- The site archives indicate that last I wrote about a Modern Warfare title, it would’ve been four years ago. Time flies, but as Shepherd says, the more things change, the more things remain familiar, and despite the four years that’ve passed, I’m still here, doing what I do best. After clearing the first mission and getting familiar with the controls, I ran the pit in under 35 seconds. I’m no stranger to Call of Duty, and the game recommended that I play it on Veteran difficulty for the full experience. However, on my first play-through of anything, I prefer going on regular difficulty just so I can take in the story without dying to a few stray rounds. I’ve never actually played Modern Warfare 2 for myself, so Modern Warfare 2: Remastered would be the first time I’ve set foot in the second of the Modern Warfare instalments.
- After spawning in with the M4A1 Grenadier and clearing out hostiles attacking a bridge-layer, Joseph Allen boards a Humvee and mans a M134 Minigun. Rail-shooters missions in modern games are generally maligned – the Call of Duty franchise is infamous for them to the point where players will call a game Call of Duty-like if it has too many scripted set-piece moments. Here, players will get to watch as an airstrike levels a building: like Modern Warfare Remastered, Modern Warfare 2: Remastered has spectacular visuals while at once, retaining the classic mechanics of the original Modern Warfare 2.
- Because Modern Warfare 2: Remastered retains the same mechanics as the original Modern Warfare 2 (for this series of posts, I’ll refer to both interchangeably when discussing story, but otherwise make the distinction when considering gameplay elements), the shooting doesn’t feel quite as visceral as it does in contemporary titles. Fortunately, there is the option of enabling hit markers – while hit markers are often a sign of frustration in multiplayer matches, I primarily use them to help me know when I can turn my attention to the next target: some games have the option where killing shots colour the hit markers differently, and in Modern Warfare 2: Remastered, as soon as I get a red hit marker, I know I can switch over to the next enemy shooting at me.
- The rail-shooter segment of the first real mission to Modern Warfare 2 is a hit of a hectic one, and while playing realistically would mean firing the M134 in bursts, the way the game is set up means that as soon as the humvees come under fire, one might as well just hold down the trigger and blast away at anything that moves until the end of the sequence is reached. Eventually, a hostile will fire an RPG at the humvee, flipping it. Allen and the other USMC soldiers quickly head into the school to escape enemy fire and manage to flank their enemies.
- One of the things I enjoy most about the remastered Modern Warfare 2 was simply how stunning the weapons look under the improved lighting system. Since Battlefield V came to a close last year, I’ve not really played many military shooters – most of my time was divided between Halo: The Master Chief Collection and The Division 2. While I returned to enjoy titles at my own pace, the Battlefield YouTubers I follow switched over to Warzone, a Call of Duty battle royale that has gained massive popularity for bringing a widespread genre into a game with generally solid mechanics.
- I have little interest in battle royale games, but I admit that the level of customisation was quite appealing, and I found myself wishing I try out a newer Call of Duty titles. Of course, the campaigns are what appeal most to me: not playing competitive multiplayer shooters online for the past year has allowed me to relax a great deal more, and it strikes me that in gaming, I’m at my happiest when I’m allowed to explore virtual spaces at my own pace.
- When Modern Warfare 2: Remastered had released last year, I was a bit surprised and initially held off on the purchase, uncertain of whether or not I wanted to drop the coin for the campaign that early in. However, when I noticed that Black Ops: Cold War was on sale a few weekends ago, I realised this sale would allow me to basically buy both Black Ops: Cold War and Modern Warfare 2: Remastered for the price that Cold War goes for without a sale, and as such, I jumped on the opportunity. I did something similar with Infinite Warfare‘s Legacy Edition, which allowed me to buy Modern Warfare Remastered and Infinite Warfare for the price of Infinite Warfare alone. This sale thus felt like a bit of déjà vu: four years earlier, I picked up Modern Warfare Remastered a few months before going on a vacation out to Japan, and was blown away by how refreshed everything felt.
- However, on Cliffhanger, superior graphics don’t really make too much of a difference initially; Sanderson and MacTavish infiltrate a Russian base high in the Tian Shan Mountains (a redundancy, since 天山 literally means “Sky Mountains”), but the entire area is blanketed by a ferocious blizzard, concealing everything. Players begin the mission with a suppressed ACR that has a heartbeat sensor, which allows for hidden foes to be detected. This piece of technology is a fictional invention: real heartbeat sensors must be in contact with a user to detect their heartbeat, and it feels like an infrared or motion sensor would be more plausible here.
- Indeed, the uniqueness of Modern Warfare 2‘s heartbeat sensor was called out in Bad Company 2, when Haggard references the heartbeat sensors and suggests that they’re for weaklings. Haggard also laughs at the idea of using snowmobiles to reach an exfil point. Bad Company 2 released in March 2010, a few months after Modern Warfare 2 came out, and contrasting the all-serious, grim and dark campaign of the latter, Bad Company 2 was all laughs as the group of misfits embark on an adventure to stop an electromagnetic weapon from falling into the wrong hands.
- MacTavish and Sanderson have a much simpler assignment: under the blizzard’s cover, both sneak into the Russian base and manage to locate the building holding the ACS module from the fallen American satellite. This mission reminds me a great deal of a similar level in Bad Company 2, where Misfit company deliberately crashes a satellite to retrieve a component used by the scalar weapon. In a curious turn of events, this past weekend, the stage on a Chinese “Long March” rocket returned to Earth and splashed down in the Indian Ocean. In the days leading up to the re-entry, media outlets like CNN and BBC made exaggerated claims that there was a high probability of the debris landing in populated areas.
- The reality is that space programmes will de-orbit spent rocket stages in a way so that they impact over oceans, and China, being a signatory on the Space Liability Convention, is no exception. With this being said, getting stuff to land where one wishes is to is a challenge, and in video games, it is only through pure storytelling that allow things like satellites to land in convenient places to advance the plot. Here in the warehouse, the Russians have successfully removed the ACS module: after MacTavish investigates the satellite remains, he instructs Sanderson to head upstairs and see if he can’t find it.
- Sanderson locates the ACS on short order, but MacTavish is compromised: Russian soldiers order him to surrender, but fortunately, the pair have an ace-in-the-hole: Sanderson had placed explosives on the aircraft fuel pumps earlier, and setting them off creates enough of a distraction to take out the soldiers. MacTavish and Sanderson beat a hasty exit, all pretense of a stealth mission abandoned. The blizzard’s let up by now, and while visibility’s improved, the level still looks quite simplistic. Of the missions in Modern Warfare 2: Remastered, Cliffhanger appears to have received the fewest updates simply because snow is covering everything. We’re now a ways into May, and while this means spring showers for most folks, in my area, the snow continues to endure.
- While MacTavish will indicate that picking up an unsuppressed weapon could be disadvantageous early in the mission, once the bullets start flying, I immediately dropped my suppressed USP for a Kriss Vector. Although dealing the weakest damage per round of any PDW in Modern Warfare 2, the weapon has a very high rate of fire and great accuracy. I’ve long been interested in the Vector for its unique appearance, and occasionally run it in The Division and its successor, The Division 2: as a PDW, I find it generally reliable for CQC, although the base weapon only comes with a 25-round magazine, so I immediately modify it to use extended magazines, which adds arounds at the expense of reload speed.
- After passing over the runway, MacTavish and Sanderson immediately fend off soldiers rocking snowmobiles and commandeer them for a frenzied ride down the mountain. To take out the pursuers, Sanderson has access to the G18, an automatic pistol that is effective in its role. However, the greater challenge in this portion of the mission is managing the snowmobile: on my first few attempts, I took a bad turn and crashed into a tree, dying instantly.
- It took a few runs to get things right, and here, I prepare to ramp down a steep slope to build up the necessary speed in order to clear a chasm. Once this chasm is cleared, MacTavish and Sanderson will reach the exfil, where a friendly CH-46 Sea Knight awaits them. The Sea Knight is an American tandem-rotor helicopter that first saw use during the Vietnam War, and I know it best as the helicopter used to lift MacMillan and Price out of Pripyat during the events of Modern Warfare. With the second of the missions done, I thus turned my attention to the level that entangled Modern Warfare 2 in controversy: “No Russian”. I first heard about this mission before a data structures class ten years earlier, when some of my friends were discussing controversies in games. Back then, Modern Warfare 2 had been out for two years, and while Infinity Ward had intended the level to demonstrate the extent of Makarov’s evil, many felt the game had gone too far, suggesting the level should have taken place from the perspective of a FSB unit or airport security guard.
- Listening to my friends talk about the level piqued my curiosity, but the conversation also reminded me of how fortunate I had been to be there in the classroom with them. Not six months earlier, I had been entangled in an unfortunate incident that jepordised my undergraduate degree: during the last computer-based quiz of the year, my machine, running Windows NT 5 with Internet Explorer 6, suffered from an unusual malfunction that led the instructor to assume I’d been in violation of exam conditions. Despite my clear and consistent explanations, the Department of Chemistry had intended to put me on academic probation and assign me a failing grade in the course. Fortunately, with help from my supervisor and the student ombudsman, I was able to resolve the situation after speaking to my home faculty’s associate dean, who determined that I had not been in the wrong – they would not take any action in regard to the situation.
- Ten years ago to this day, I received the letter from the Faculty of Science informing me of their decision: the outcome of their only action would be a zero grade on the quiz (which had no impact on my final grade). Together with my home faculty dismissing things, I was free to partake in my research project and continue on in my program, leading to what became one of my most memorable summers. This incident is now decisively in the rear-view mirror, and I’ve resolved to never get in a situation where such mistakes might be repeated. As term began and my friends began their conversation, my curiosity was piqued: I looked up the Call of Duty franchise and ended up learning about All Ghillied Up, which led me to develop an interest to play the series for myself. This wish was fulfilled a few months later, when a friend of mine lent me his account to help him idle for Team Fortress 2 items while he was on vacation: I still vividly remember playing Modern Warfare in between studying for my physics and MCAT summer courses.
- During play testing, some players refused to participate in No Russian, leading Infinity Ward to implement an option to skip the level outright. At the opposite end of the spectrum, players who felt that video game ethics do not correspond with real-world decisions participated in the level. I elected to hold my fire as I walked through the airport, only walking around to check out the details in the level. There is no penalty for not firing a single shot, so I chose to do just this. In reality, not shooting would blow Allen’s cover: JackFrags shot at some signs to maintain the illusion of helping Makarov. However, can’t actually shoot Makarov or his cronies (regardless of how tempting it may be to do so), otherwise, the mission ends with a friendly fire notice.
- Seeing things happen for myself allowed me to understand why Infinity Ward had included such a mission in Modern Warfare 2. The level succeeds in conveying why Makarov needs to be stopped, and this made killing him in Modern Warfare 3 all the more satisfying. However, while I only regard No Russian as a level to beat, the mission is one of those items that remain so controversial that even today, video game journalists tend to use it as an argument for why all high-budget FPS are unethical, promoting unsafe thoughts and whatnot amongst players, claiming that people should instead devote themselves to playing indie Twine games if they wish to be well-adjusted.
- Upon leaving the concourse, the FSB begin appearing, and since they’re armed to the teeth, it was time to finally utilise my weapons: the FSB units bring out riot shields, and those are quite resistant to damage. In order to progress, I dealt with them with a combination of flash bang grenades and the M240, or the M4A1’s under-barrel grenade launcher. Modern Warfare 3 reveals that Yuri had been in league with Makarov until this massacre: Makarov shoots Yuri and leaves him for dead, and he would later join Task Force 141. Players can actually see him here in Modern Warfare 2: Remastered, but aside from some rudimentary animations, Yuri won’t do much, and Makarov’s team actually won’t react to his presence.
- The remastered No Russian mission has a few interesting Easter eggs in it, reflecting on how Modern Warfare‘s story evolved over the years – the remastered games would bring back elements from the new titles to tie everything together, and for many players, the Modern Warfare era represented Call of Duty at its best. From 2011 onwards until 2019, the Call of Duty franchise lagged behind DICE’s Battlefield in visual fidelity and gameplay quality. With Battlefield V failing, however, Infinity Ward has stepped up their game: 2019’s Modern Warfare was a return to form for the series, and Cold War Battlefield 6 has a lot of expectations to fulfil if DICE expects their flagship title to regain its reputation.
- In order to get my attention, Battlefield 6 needs to have a solid and consistent set of core mechanics, good player visibility, a clear plan for content delivery, a steadfast commitment to quality, and an effective anti-cheat solution. Battlefield V‘s main strength was the consistency and satisfaction of firefights, as well as armoured combat, but beyond this, the lack of anti-cheat, bizarre decisions (such as TTK reverts) and no exploration of iconic WWII theatres made it difficult to really root for DICE and hope they’d turn things around. When Battlefield V neared the end of its support, DICE finished putting out content for the Pacific Theatre, and I had hoped this was the turning point: the gameplay was solid, the maps were excellent, and the experience was immersive to the point where I felt Actas should look to Battlefield V as how to properly capture armoured warfare.
- As it stands, Battlefield 6 has a lot of expectations to meet, so for me, I’m in the “cautiously optimistic” camp for the present. Here, I begin the first of the favela missions, which brings the first act to a close: the goal is the capture Rojas, an arms dealer with connections to Makarov. This was the first mission I ran with Windows 10 and DirectX 12: FRAPS no longer appears to work for screenshots, so I’ve switched over to MSI Afterburner and the RivaTurner plugin. The plugin gives The Division 2 trouble, so I’ll need to switch that off when playing The Division 2, but for the time being, this setup works well enough: the resulting screenshots are of a satisfactory quality.
- I will need to figure out a way of reducing the screenshot sizes in the future, but for the time being, I’m glad to have found a setup that works for me. I began preparations for the update last weekend, and spent the better part of this past week reinstalling software; this is why I’ve not had any blog posts since my talk on 86 EIGHTY-SIX. A week later, my machine feels as good as new, and I admit that it feels fantastic to have a rig that performs as though I’d picked it up from the manufacture yesterday. My desktop PC is now eight years old, and while its age shows in some areas, it generally still feels responsive and powerful.
- The successful upgrade to Windows 10 from Windows 8 means that I should be able to get another two to four years of life out of this desktop, saving me around 1500 CAD while I await the release of next generation Intel and NVIDIA hardware. Among the advantages of extending the operational time of my desktop is the fact that I’m now able to play Halo: Infinite once that releases. Being able to put off building a new PC now is for the better, since the microprocessor shortage and unlawfully aggressive cryptocurrency miners have made it much more difficult to find parts for a build.
- The favela mission proved to be a thrilling mission, if unexpectedly challenging because of the fact that enemies could come from all directions. Playing this for the first time meant being unaware of the mechanics: I initially tried to rush through the narrow alleys and rickety stairs of the favela because I was under the impression that I needed to capture Rojas myself, and for my troubles, exposed myself to enemy fire. Sanderson begins the mission with the ACR and the M1014 shotgun. The ACR is Sanderson’s default weapon for most missions, and it is an extremely versatile weapon because of a balance between ammunition capacity, low recoil, firing rate and damage.
- The M1014 acts as a superb secondary weapon for close quarters firefights, possessing unmatched stopping power that makes it great for dealing with unexpected foes. The reload is a bit slower, on account of each shell needing to be loaded manually, so I chose to leave this weapon for situations where I was caught mid-reload with the ACR and needed to deal with a foe at close quarters. After I realised that I wasn’t on any sort of timeline, I played more methodically, picking off enemies from a distance before following the waypoint to Rojas’ location.
- The remastered version makes the visuals of the favela especially apparent; favela refer to low-income informal settlements characterised by high density and the presence of organised crime. Intrigue in favela is why the location is the setting in works of fiction, and since the 1990s, tours of the favela are offered, allowing visitors to see for themselves the culture and daily lives of residents. I feel that favela would be no different than Hong Kong’s Kowloon Walled City: while both have high population density, low income and organised crime, for the most part, citizens lead ordinary and peaceful lives.
- I ended up sticking with the ACR and M1014 throughout the whole of the mission: in general, the starting weapons players have are more than enough to get the job done, although I have noticed that Modern Warfare 2‘s weapons, compared to its predecessors, are much more varied. Of note is the fact that players can pick up dual pistols, and at some point, even dual-wield Desert Eagles: this pistol is the most powerful available Modern Warfare 2, being able to drop enemies in a single shot, but because of recoil patterns, the weapon favours precision aiming.
- Having finally linked up with Simon Riley and MacTavish, who’ve captured Rojas, this first act draws to a close. I am going to be looking to wrap up Modern Warfare 2 at a relatively brisk pace, and will return to write about the second act during the Victoria Day Long Weekend (Super Cub and Yakunara Mug Cup Mo‘s halfway point talks are coming up). For now, it is time to call it a night: today was a snowy and quiet Mother’s Day, during which we celebrated with a standing rib roast, fully-loaded mashed potatoes, par-seared garlic shrimp and cauliflower.
Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2: Remastered marks the first time I’ll be going through a game with DirectX 12: for the past eight years, I’ve been running Windows 8 on my main desktop. When I’d built this machine back in 2013, to counteract the fact that I had a small SSD, I redirected the user profiles wholly to my secondary storage: this machine had other users, and for their convenience, I used Microsoft’s Sysprep to install Windows 8, then wrote an XML answer file to redirect the profiles. This approach had served me well, but had the side-effect of blocking all updates. As such, I sat out the Windows 8.1 and eventual Windows 10 free upgrade programs when they became available in 2015. While merging the user profiles back onto the C Drive was possible, I concluded that a clean re-install of Windows 8 would’ve been preferred. However, I had the unfortunate case where I’d packed away my installation media, and without the activation key, a clean install and reactivation would’ve been impossible. Moreover, Microsoft began phasing out Windows 8 in favour of 8.1, so I would’ve needed to obtain a Windows 8.1 key to get started. This proved demoralising, and to the me of six years earlier, was an insurmountable challenge. However, more recently, a sale for Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War prompted me to finally bite the bullet: Cold War is DirectX 12 only, and Windows 8 is limited to DirectX 11, requiring that I upgrade. This time around, three things allowed me to make the upgrade. First, Microsoft still allows Windows 8.1 users to freely upgrade to Windows 10. Moreover, Windows 8.1 can be activated by a Windows 8 product key, and finally, there’s a way to extract the Windows product key from the BIOS. With this in mind, and the fact that I have a few terabytes of external storage, I was able to back up all of the important files off my machine, do a clean Windows 8.1 install (which I activated using my Windows 8 key), and then transition over to Windows 10. The process proved very smooth, if a bit lengthy, and I ended up reformatting my secondary disk to flush the Windows 8 user profiles from it. With this done, I’ve found a noticeable improvement to my machine’s performance: startup time is reduced to 20 seconds, and I am able to start using Chrome in another 10 seconds. I’ve gained back a terabyte of storage on my secondary drive thanks to the cleanup, and overall, the machine feels a lot more responsive. With this update done, I am quite ready to continue on with my Modern Warfare 2 adventure and begin Cold War; while this seems like a great deal of effort for one game, it was high time I upgraded to Windows 10 and capitalise on the benefits of a more modern, secure operating system anyways – this should extend the life of my desktop by another few years, and leaves me in a good spot to pick up Halo: Infinite, which I imagine would also be a DirectX 12 only title.