Call of Duty Modern Warfare campaigns used to be big dumb action spectacles

The Modern Warfare series of Call of Duty games features some of the best campaign missions in the entire franchise and leave a lasting impression on players over a decade later. Thanks to the remastered versions of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2, I had an excuse to go back and compare their campaigns with the 2019 Modern Warfare reboot. Unfortunately, there’s no Modern Warfare 3 remaster and I don’t own the original on PC, so I didn’t play through the end of the trilogy.

Call of Duty 4’s campaign is like a warm-up act to Modern Warfare 2. “All Ghillied Up” is by far the most memorable mission of Call of Duty 4 and features the use of a ghillie suit and suppressed weapons to sneak past Russian soldiers.

The ghillie suit, which camouflages them almost perfectly with their surrounding environment, creates opportunities for the player to feel like they’re invisible. When the player unexpectedly encounters Russian soldiers and tanks, all they have to do is drop to the ground and stay still. It’s like having a superpower as soldiers walk mear inches from the player without having any idea they’re right under their noses.

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What also makes “All Ghillied Up” memorable is its setting, which is just outside the abandoned town of Pripyat, Ukraine. Pripyat was built to house the tens of thousands of nuclear power plant workers of Chernobyl, but was abandoned after the disaster in 1986 according to the New York Times.

Modern Warfare 2 cranks up the action to another level. There’s an escape from a Russian mountain base on a snowmobile with automatic pistols, Russia invades America and a prison breakout of a Russian gulag. If Call of duty 4 is “The Fast and the Furious,” then Modern Warfare 2 is “Furious 7” in all it’s car jumping from a skyscraper glory.

In “Cliffhanger,” the player, Gary “Roach” Sanderson, and Capt. John “Soap” MacTavish of Task Force 141 infiltrate a snowy Russian mountain base using suppressed weapons and heartbeat sensors. “Cliffhanger” begins with Capt. MacTavish smoking a cigar on a steep cliffside as fighter jets pass overhead. After scaling the mountainside, the player stealthily navigates through the Russian base with a suppressed assault rifle and heartbeat sensor. After being discovered, the player and Capt. MacTavish fight to escape on a snowmachine with Russians chasing after them. “Cliffhanger” perfectly blends stealth and action in an arctic setting, which is one of my favorites.

As part of the invasion of America, Russia has taken control of the White House in the mission “Whiskey Hotel.” The player fights with a group of Army Rangers to take back control. The invasion of America makes for an unsettling backdrop to firefights. In previous missions, the player fights through residential neighborhoods, which is unnerving enough, but to see the White House, a symbol of America’s government, half-destroyed with trenches dug in front of it, is something else.

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Beside a later mission involving a nuclear submarine, breaking out Capt. MacTavish’s previous Captain, John Price, from a Russian Gulag is about as close to an over-the-top blockbuster action movie Modern Warfare 2 gets. It starts with the player in a squadron of Little Bird helicopters using snipers to clear guards off the castle towers. As the player and their squad fight deeper into the gulag, they fight past levels of cells arranged in a circle with a guard post in the center.

After fighting through the showers and initiating a breach and clear slow-motion sequence on the bottom level, the wall explodes to reveal Capt. Price choking-out a guard with his handcuff chains. “The Gulag” is an epic mission that reintroduces a fan-favorite character.

The Modern Warfare 2019 reboot is much more grounded in reality in comparison to the games it’s inspired by. The missions might not be as over the top, but they’re certainly still pulling inspiration from movies such as “Zero Dark Thirty” and “13 Hours.” In the mission, “Clean House,” the player raids a two-story residential home suspected of housing terrorists responsible for the bombing of Picadilly Station in London with their squad. The player uses night vision to slowly clear each room of threats. They must make snap decisions to exercise restraint or use force when assessing if a person is reaching for a gun or a crying baby for example.

Screenshot by John Novotny.

In “The Embassy” terrorist forces are attacking a U.S. Embassy and the player must extract a VIP from a safe room. Molotov cocktails fly and trucks crash through walls. The office setting is reminiscent of Modern Warfare 2’s America under attack setting in that it’s unsettling seeing workers rush to destroy important documents as tension mounts. It’s clear that it’s only a matter of time before the attackers get inside.

These three campaigns are a blast to play through. They’re all around 4-6 hours long, so it’s easy to play through in an afternoon, or go mission by mission.