Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer on Xbox Series X is just as good as you remember

Modern Warfare 2 is dead. Long live Modern Warfare 2.

Playing Modern Warfare 2 in 2021 on the Xbox Series X, I’m reminded of a scene from Pixar’s Ratatouille. It’s the one where the jaded food critic eats a dish that his mother used to make and the nostalgia is so powerful that it transports him back to his childhood, coaxing out several vulnerable emotions.

I was 14 when Modern Warfare 2 came out in 2009 and yes, I did take the day off of school to quick scope my fellow “sick” classmates in a virtual airport. The months after Modern Warfare 2’s launch were a formative cultural moment in my teens, one that still resonates with millions of people today. The idea to play it in 2021 started as a joke between friends – a rose-tinted lurch into the past to deal with a fleeting dissatisfaction in the present.

You see, Modern Warfare 2 is an important game, not just within the legacy of Call Of Duty but online multiplayer lobby culture as a whole. This was the game that popularised the 360 no scope and the Rust 1v1. It nurtured thousands of overproduced dubstep-laden YouTube montages, and by proxy, gave rise to the post-modern twist of montage parodies. Its lobbies were legendarily toxic, providing cacophony after cacophony of pre-pubescent gurgling and malicious jokes. Apocalyptic anger and ear-piercing static would fly out of budget microphones in the intermissions between matches. But instead of leaving in frustration, you’d just get liberal with the mute button, because the gameplay was too good to quit.

Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Credit: Infinity Ward

Like many of my previous nostalgic gaming experiments, I thought it would be immediately fun but ultimately disappointing to revisit. After a few hours, I thought I would realise how far we’ve come and pivot to something more polished, but Modern Warfare 2 humbled and surprised me this week. Even 12 years later, it plays like it came out yesterday on the Xbox Series X, especially with the aesthetic benefit of Auto HDR. I’m addicted and fully embracing my inner 14-year-old, and I think you should too.

The only problem is that right now, it’s a ghost town. You can get into games with some patience if you’re playing solo at peak times, but don’t expect full Ground War lobbies. If you’ve got friends who could dust off their old copies of the game, it will make things much easier. If not, it’s only £25 for the digital version, a steal for one of the greatest shooters ever made. The best thing you can do once you’ve assembled a crew is search for a Free-For-All match individually like you’re queuing for an old-school Tactical Insertion boosting lobby. But if the idea takes off and you’ve got a foursome ready to go, you could even get into the more complex modes like Team Deathmatch, Search and Destroy or Domination.

Once you’re in there, I’m confident that Modern Warfare 2 will surprise you. It’s just as haptic and frantic as ever, with all of its unbalanced guns and ridiculous killstreaks. If you’re using the same Xbox account as you were in 2009, the game will even drag all of your progression through, including your custom classes and your embarrassing, marijuana-referencing calling cards. We laughed, raged and reminisced – and as we climb up the addicting level ladder, it’s proving to be one of the most rewarding gaming experiences I’ve had in a long time.

For extra nostalgic effect, you can even use the emulated Xbox 360 party chat instead of the one baked into the modern Xbox Series X UI. This drops the bitrate and gives every voice a crunchy filter – just like old times.

If you’re a Modern Warfare 2 veteran, you might even surprise yourself with the leftover muscle memory. I found myself recalling neat camping spots on timeless maps like Highrise and Terminal, and a dormant part of my brain came to life during quick scoping private matches on Rust. The inimitable crack of an Intervention firing is going to keep me up over the next few nights after spending hours trying to trickshot my mates.

Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Credit: Infinity Ward

Perhaps the biggest surprise is that it’s not full of hackers. The servers aren’t perfect connection-wise but after several hours of play, I’ve still not encountered any cheaters. Matches have been fair and in many cases, hard-fought and challenging. In absence of hackers, I’ve certainly encountered plenty of noob-tubing, claymore-using invertebrates though. Old habits really do die hard…

You’ll meet some serious characters too, and start anime-style rival narratives with the small pool of players still at it. We met a lovely guy called MADMIKE who refused to use anything but an RPG, but later spent hours trying to dethrone one ObiWanGinobili, our Akimbo Glock-wielding nemesis.

The unreliable but dedicated player base I’ve found twelve years later suggests that a remaster of Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer would print money, but after going to all the effort of playing it on a next-gen console, I don’t think it really needs one. It really is just as good as you remember.

If the community could come back to this game and breathe into it the life it deserves, we could have a renaissance on our hands. So do us all a favour and boot it up if you have the means to. If I’ve convinced you to join the server repopulation effort, look for MrOlomano in the trenches – just watch out for my silenced UMP-45…

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