Off the record

8 Dec

For some reason, this isn’t a review of Modern Warfare 2‘s single-player campaign. Maybe it’s because I don’t want to take away from the game’s multiplayer, about which I expressed such a positive opinion. Maybe it’s because I don’t really care to discuss the co-operative spec. ops mode. It could just be because I simply cannot make this sound unbiased no matter how hard I try. Whichever it is, what follows is not a review. Call it a (spoiler-filled) rant.

Modern Warfare 2 tricked me into feeling bad about killing innocent people. I say “tricked” because I was lured into the idea that I was doing something disturbing (but for good reason) only to later find I was doing something stupid (for no good reason). I was tricked into thinking Modern Warfare 2 was about something more than killing people.

I knew feared Modern Warfare 2‘s campaign wouldn’t be fun before I played it. You see, I suffered through its predecessor, Call of Duty 4, the week before. “Suffered through” has a bad ring to it, but I don’t consider it to be an insult because I enjoyed the points in between. I had never been so immersed in a game before. The opening credits where you observe Middle Eastern chaos in first-person as a former head of state before being assassinated was enough to convince me, but Infinity Ward has to go and drop a bomb on us (literally) by killing off our American persona in a nuclear blast. The ending where your entire team is (supposedly) gunned down, and the bad guys approach victoriously in slow motion just as your dying superior slides you the weapon to exact your revenge…that was just the icing on the cake.

Call of Duty 4 was popular (apart from its phenomenal multiplayer) because it was an interactive first-person Hollywood action movie that affected people in such a way and in such numbers like no game had ever done before. It was cool, it was intense, and it even seemed thoughtful, possibly making observations about American arrogance concerning its presence in the Middle East and the futility of nuclear weapons to keep anybody safe. Of course, in the tradition of the Hollywood action movies it emulated, Modern Warfare would have to become a franchise with a bigger, better, and more badass sequel.

I will admit that I fully supported a sequel. Call of Duty 4 had great multiplayer, and Modern Warfare 2 has great multiplayer, so I’m thankful for what is probably the best online multiplayer FPS there is coming out a few weeks before the Christmas holidays. What I’m not thankful for is “For The Record”, Modern Warfare 2‘s attempt at picking up where the original left off. I think a time line of the in-game events will help to illustrate where I’m going:

  • A private in the U.S. marines is recruited by general Shepherd to infiltrate the ranks of Russian-terrorist Makarov.
  • Meanwhile, Soap (the silent S.A.S. protagonist from COD4) and new recruit Roach retrieve data from a fallen U.S. satellite in a Russian military base.
  • The private assists Makarov in murdering thousands of civilians in a Moscow airport with the assurance that he will be saving many more lives in the long run.
  • Makarov kills the private before fleeing the airport, leaving the smoking gun that killed thousands of Russians in the hands of an American marine.
  • The Russian military blocks American satellites as it uses the incident to justify invading the continental U.S., focusing on Washington D.C.
  • Soap and his group attempt to locate Makarov by freeing a knowledgeable prisoner from a heavily guarded facility.
  • They locate the prisoner who turns out to be captain Price (the superior from COD4 who is supposed to be dead), and the group escapes.
  • Price launches a nuke at Washington D.C. from a nuclear submarine and detonates it above the city, emitting a blast of electro-magnetic pulse, wiping out the Russian military’s air superiority in the area.
  • The group splits up to locate Makarov, and Price discovers general Shepherd is behind the Russian invasion, but Roach is killed by the general immediately after.
  • Soap and Price hunt down Shepherd and find out he instigated the entire conflict to whip up support for the U.S. military after thousands of his men were killed in the nuclear blast five years earlier (in COD4).
  • Soap kills Shepherd, but he and Price are now wanted terrorists, and Makarov is still alive.

In the end, Modern Warfare 2 is a video game based off the ’80s tradition of Rocky IV and Red Dawn (there’s a level titled “Wolverines”), but it’s not the end I’m concerned with. It’s the early controversial mission called “No Russian” where the marine private assists Russian-terrorist Makarov in gunning down civilians in an airport. This is Modern Warfare 2‘s equivalent of Call of Duty 4‘s nuke scene, and it had much more potential. This is where I was tricked.

I had heard about the scene before the game came out and even heard a firsthand account from my roommate who played through the mission before me. Still, I was affected by the scene in the same way many others were.

I’m armed with a light machine gun and accompanied by Makarov and several of his comrades as I exit an elevator into a crowded terminal. Makarov gives the sign and I open fire, spraying dozens of bullets from the hip into the now screaming crowd. It’s then that I immediately stop. The other gunmen start moving forward, and I decide to stick to my mission, only to find I can manage nothing faster than a slow jog.

As I catch up, I see the others have already gunned down several dozen of the fleeing civilians. A man attempts to drag a loved one from our path, but he is promptly murdered. The wounded struggle to escape. They are the only ones I can bring myself to kill anymore. I pity them.

Suddenly, a security guard rounds a corner wielding a handgun. He’s no match for my light machine gun, and I actually feel relieved to kill him, relieved that this death was at least somewhat justified. I need to finish my mission.

The hairs on the back of my neck stand on end as I approach a set of escalators descending into a lobby filled with screams. One of the gunmen has cornered hundreds of civilians and is just finishing off the last of them when I join his side.

Our job almost done, we begin to make our getaway. Special police try to ambush us, but Makarov counted on this. We gun our way through and make it to an ambulance, where I’m promptly murdered as I attempt to hop aboard. Makarov knew who I was. Of course he did, I’m a fucking private in the U.S. marine corps. My Russian can’t be that good.

I didn’t think about that little glossed over plot hole just then. It was around the time, Price, who was supposed to be dead, breaks out of prison only to launch a nuke at Washington D.C. without alerting anyone to his plan that I decided Modern Warfare 2 was ridiculous. The more I thought about it, the more disappointed I became.

A video game made me feel bad about shooting fake bullets at fake people, then asked me to get the stinger missile atop Burger Town to take out a Russian gunship somewhere over Virginia. The final missions were an insult. Not only did Russians invade the United States (did that airport not have any security cameras that spotted the unmasked, well-known Makarov?), but the American general charged with saving the country is insane and was the one who instigated the entire conflict. And he did it “fur Uh-mericuh!

Betrayal of the player’s trust and emotions aside, this is a problem because it was the plot and the way you interacted with it in Call of Duty 4 that made the game worth playing. With Modern Warfare 2‘s campaign amounting to nothing more than 24 meets Red Dawn, there’s no reason to play. Yes, that’s right. Call of Duty campaigns aren’t fun to play.

I omitted Soap and Roach’s foray into Brazil from the time line above because I desperately want to forget all about it save for the multiplayer’s “Favella” map. While searching for a lead on Makarov’s location, you murder hundreds of Brazilians intent of keeping secret the location of the Russian terrorist they supply ammo to. These militia men just keep coming and coming. As Roach, you’re separated from the rest of your team and are tasked with chasing down the militia’s leader. During this period, every single pissed off militia man knows exactly where you are and will wait all day for a chance to shoot you in the face and blow you up.

You will die over and over, but it will always play out the same in the end: Soap gets the guy just as you’re closing in. The entire time, he berates you on the radio about how you need to keep up and not lose the target, but it’s meaningless. You’re not interacting, you just earning the right to see computer controlled characters interact with each other.

During your dramatic escape from the favella, you’re unarmed. You fell…again. You fell earlier in the game, but Soap caught you that time. You fall again in the prison, but Price saves you that time. You also die three times in Modern Warfare 2. Infinity Ward makes the answer clear to the question: How do you top the game-making moment in Call of Duty 4 where you die in a nuclear blast? Easy, you do it three times; twice at the hand of people you somewhat trusted and once in space for good measure. Yes, space! How else do you expect to get a good look at the mid-air nuclear explosion caused by a man who was supposed to be dead and was just freed from a five year stint in a hellish castle of a prison?

Modern Warfare 2 is over-the-top, and I would argue that’s what makes its multiplayer good and Call of Duty 4‘s campaign great, but this new campaign is over-the-top in all the wrong ways. I wouldn’t be so worked up if it weren’t for “No Russian”. That experience shows what video games are capable of and what they will be capable of in the future, but what’s it worth when it’s part of something so shallow and so stupid?

It’s worth about sixty dollars U.S. and around 1,700 words of late-night ranting.

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