Written by Nic Barkdull | Edited by Rachel Mangan

I played Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Campaign Remastered (CoDMW2CR) and – hold on a minute. Let’s just stop right there. We’re seriously going with this title? Isn’t this all the red flags? I mean, apparently not, because this release is breaking franchise records right now due to a captive audience, but should we as consumers settle for this? Long, clunky names that serve as the smoking guns of cash grabs? I say no. I say remasters should probably have strong motives behind their creation. And if you disagree, then keep walking. Because this is going to get ugly.


From the title CoDMW2CR, you would think that the game is about, well, modern warfare, but “modern” apparently means the year 2009. Which, in turn, seems to mean that at the tail end of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the US had invented new weapons that they’d need in their fictional struggle with an extreme nationalist Russia. Actually, more than a decade later and we still seem to be at the tail end of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, so maybe that premise isn’t so outdated after all…

Either way, the Modern Warfare series exists to showcase all the fancy weapons developed in those decades-long struggles, so you pilot drones and play with other toys meant to titillate prospective recruits to the US military. If you don’t believe me, just Google it real quick – the military-entertainment complex is an evergreen topic for journalists. Call of Duty devs advise the military, the military advises the devs, the military uses games to recruit, they use Xbox controllers to pilot drones, and everyone is a big happy family. Even in the unlikely event that the military had nothing to do with this particular title, it’s still very much a part of that economy.

So, while playing this campaign it’s impossible not to feel like you’re playing a piece of propaganda, but the message you’re supposed to take away is pretty scrambled. Which is weak, because this is a campaign remaster (you don’t get any multiplayer out of this cash grab), so the narrative should carry the experience. But the story is difficult to follow at best. You know generally what is happening, but the motivations behind those actions are almost entirely lost. “Just keep killing people and don’t think about it too much,” the action seems to say.

But I can’t get past that stuff. A nuclear detonation is a huge deal, even in the fictional timeline of this game. I want to know why the hell it happened. The burden shouldn’t be on me to put the pieces together after the fact.


I have no problem with violence in video games. I have no problem with watching fictional innocent people die, or with military thrillers. Tom Clancy’s games include some of my favorites. But CoDMW2CR fumbles hard when it comes to morality. It’s frankly an irresponsible piece of artwork, and the makers know this.

You know they know it, because they make their controversial “No Russian” mission optional due to disturbing content. “You won’t be penalized for skipping it,” you’re assured, while the point is missed entirely. Because I’m not disturbed by acts of terror, or seeing civilians die. What is so disturbing about this mission is that you’re encouraged and in fact required to shoot civilians and law enforcement personnel so that you don’t blow your cover as a member of an American task force.

“The ends justify the means,” the game seems to take for granted, and you’re expected to agree with that sentiment. But there is no narrative reason even given for why you need to do this. What are the ends? To stop the antagonist Makarov? He’s standing right in front of me, and when I kill him, I fail the mission! Why? Because otherwise there wouldn’t be a cool twist!


I refuse to be morally implicated in your story because you couldn’t think of a better way to write it. And I refuse to miss out on that story if I choose the censored version. It shouldn’t have to be censored in the first place.

But this isn’t the only time you’re expected to buy into the idea that any and all means are justified by the ends of the military. Twice you see either the prelude or the aftermath of brutal torture, presented casually and in a way that expects you to say something like, “Haha, awesome.” Keep in mind that 2009 was the culmination of a years-long debate and investigation into US leadership about torture techniques. Including them so casually here, and then a decade later in the remaster, isn’t just tone-deaf, it’s entirely deaf, dumb, and blind.

Amongst all this, your briefings talk about American military exceptionalism to justify interference on several fronts across the globe as the death screens quote contradictory and confused words at you by Ronald Reagan and Gandhi on the topics of nationalism and freedom, patriotism and peace, and how many millions of dollars you’re wasting if you misuse military equipment. The ending then attempts an Apocalypse Now style twist that makes everything a meaningless parody of itself. The game ends with the resolution of the twist while the antagonist is completely ignored and nothing relating to the main conflict is explained or considered.

But ironically it’s all so fitting. Because jingoistic military fanaticism indeed doesn’t make any sense. The confused narrative of this game is in some ways the ultimate satire. But it’s not intentional, it’s just a careless coincidence.


The action sequences of CoDMW2CR are impressive, with huge moving set pieces and choreographed battles. While not enough to hook me on its own, the sheer amount of polish will bump up my score considerably. It’s an impressively-made game, with countless talented people behind it.

But the gameplay doesn’t reach the heights of other first-person shooters, even from years earlier. For example, who in their right mind would put the gun scope on toggle? And there are those (by now cliché) story beats where you are supposed to think you’ve been killed but you’ve just been knocked unconscious, and positioning the player into these moments is an infuriating balance that requires constant real deaths due to no fault of your own. This game is plagued by the classic CoD problem of death-by-unseen-shooter. It kills the immersion and makes me scream at my monitor. I shouldn’t have to make it through missions by trial-and-error.

And few of the characters have memorable personalities. For the most part, they’re interchangeable buff white dudes. One of the few standouts is the character played by Keith David Williams, who you will recognize as the only black voice actor from everything, because everything only has one black character. Including this game.

Oh, except the enemies. Yes, there are plenty of foreign people of color, and as you might expect they’re all presented as exotic and dangerous. Cool.


I might be a purist. In my opinion, art should probably go unchanged because art reflects the particular point in history in which it was made. That’s how it becomes art; by conveying meaning. If something is remastered, it better be situated in the present and translated for a new time so that a new generation can enjoy something and add to it. 

I’m not opposed to remasters on principle, and in fact have enjoyed quite a few of them. When it comes down to it, there’s just no reason for this remaster. In fact, the emotional appeals it makes as it shows American suburbs and national monuments under attack by Russians fall flat in a time like this. Of course, the devs didn’t plan for there to be a pandemic right now making it all seem so absurd, but they didn’t plan anything else, either. That’s the whole point.


The Verdict: Fair

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Campaign Remastered feels simultaneously like propaganda and a meaningless cash grab. It isn’t situated in any sensible way in this particular period of time – it just attempts to force (im)moral sentiments on the player from the Iraq War era that have not stood the test of time. It’s a decade-old game re-released without any multiplayer functionality in order to squeeze a few more dollars out of a tired franchise. The clunky title is enough evidence of that.

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