Modern Warfare 2’s campaign is a strange beast, which is a polite way of saying it’s perhaps one of the most insane things I’ve ever played.
It has the demented energy of a TikTok supercut of every ’80s and ’90s action movie, bouncing from one set piece to another like a pinball on a table designed by Michael Bay. If it were an aftershave, it would be called – non-ironically – ‘Patriot’, and the bottle would be shaped like a gun. It might even come with an actual gun. The gun would say patriot on it, too. Yes, the game takes many jabs at American foreign policy and the military industrial complex, but it also has a button that lets you admire the weapon you’re currently holding.
For most of its run time, the campaign is less like the tightly-crafted ‘men on a mission’ feel of the original, and more like a difficult second album. It feels like a medley of itself: missions start and end abruptly before zapping back and forward in time, little consideration is paid to explaining anything other than how to look down your sights, and your locales go from shooting up an airport, to the Washington Monument, to space. SPACE. Brief as it may be, that section has got ‘the drummer wrote this song’ vibe all over it.
It tries hard to live up to its illustrious predecessor, but ends up mistaking scale for importance. It has more naff speeches than a TedTalk about the power of LinkedIn. It went so big it forced the series down a dead end of endless set pieces. Where else was there to go?
Yet it’s oddly comforting, to me at least, in these strange and fraught times. Not for its content, really, enjoyable as it can be and often is. But instead for the things that sprouted up around Modern Warfare 2: the community around it when it first released, the excitement, the anticipation, throwing knives in people’s eyes after pulling them out of your own chest, the usual. Nostalgia, then, but of the right kind if that is even possible: a reminder of things that were, and things that will be again: sitting at a friend’s house playing multiplayer, laughing over Xbox Live, strange and vaguely incoherent in-person arguments about video games with your mates. The normal stuff we used to do in a world which, right now, is not normal at all.
Which is a pretty heavy thing to say about a video game which makes less sense than a Billy Madison quiz show answer, but still. Modern Warfare 2 is a game I look back on fondly. It reminds me of my first job in the games industry, arriving as I did at a magazine publisher the week after the review event for the game. (None of the writers who went there could explain any of it either.) It reminds me of feeling like I was now ‘in’ at a career I’d always wanted. It’s such a cultural leviathan that it probably reminds you of something you love, too. I’d be willing to wager that if you mentioned MW2 to people they wouldn’t just remember missions, they’d remember moments: the game-winning kill, the trash talk, the friends made and lost over MP, the fucking Akimbo 1887’s ruining everything.
It reminds me of the weird and bizarre and – at that time – all-important things we used to worry and care about. Remember the ‘whoops’ when host migration was announced via the Afghan MP level? HOST MIGRATION. The past IS a foreign country. Modern Warfare 2 may be the antithesis of empty nostalgia, which is the most pernicious drug in the world. Its flaws and failings are on show for all to see, in glorious remastered form. But unlike most rose-tinted specs, at least you can see them, and those flaws inform and elevate the actual good stuff around it, the stuff worth remembering.
As I write this piece, I find myself thinking of the many people I bonded with in those long-past days: the old housemates, the colleagues, the places and pieces of the past for which Modern Warfare 2 was a social vector, a cultural currency. I also think of the deputy editor who furiously chided me for using the Commando perk/tactical knife combo, who when told to lighten up reiterated that he was Very Fucking Serious About This, Mate. Wait until he hears about One Man Army.
I think of the lunchtime play sessions in the office, of the deranged screams of frustration from my housemates when the internet went down mid-game. The first time someone got the nuke. The heartbeat sensor, which a friend of mine said ruined his life in MP. Tantamount to cheating, apparently.
All those random players in lobbies who, every now and again, would supply moments of skill or cunning that you’d think about years later, despite not knowing their actual name. (Shout out in this regard to the journo at the COD Ghosts review event, who was known as Honey Badger after his gun of choice, and who was so good it was preposterous. I don’t know his real name. I don’t want to.) Modern Warfare 2 wasn’t just a game, it was also glue: it kept people together, no matter how far physically they were apart. Not bad for a game about destroying everything around you.
The point of all this rambling, I suppose, is that just as Modern Warfare 2 will be with us for a long time to come, via remasters, remakes, retrospectives, anniversaries, influence, production values, yadda yadda yadda, so all the normalcy around it hopefully return. Please excuse me for this, but for me MW2’s remaster is a £20 time machine, a window into parts of a world that – as I said – was, and that will be again. Take care.