That Time Call Of Duty Let You Shoot Up An Airport

That Time Call Of Duty Let You Shoot Up An Airport

Few games give you the option to skip over a mission before you play it, but Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2‘s controversial “No Russian” mission is one of them. Even today, the stage that made players terrorists remains remains shocking.

Yes, that actually happened.

Here’s the image greeting players before the single-player campaign started:

That Time Call of Duty Let You Shoot Up An Airport

There’s no context here whatsoever, but it suggests there’s something coming later in the game. That turned out to be the “No Russian” mission.

Pretty early into Modern Warfare 2‘s campaign, players assume the role of an undercover CIA agent who’s seemingly infiltrated a group of Russian terrorists under the leadership of Vladimir Makarov. Players are not sitting around a table and sipping vodka, however. Instead, they have joined Makarov and several others to menace a Russian airport, where they plan to mow down innocents. The mission’s title comes from Makarov; the whole reason they’re targeting the airport — and not speaking — is to ensure Americans are blamed for the incident.

The opening scene, as depicted in the GIF above, is brutal. Bullets unload on an unsuspecting crowd, and the body count quickly begins to rise. Most players, thinking they needed to play along, probably decided to start shooting — at the time, I did. But the game never forces you do anything, and it’s entirely up to the player whether a single shot is fired from their gun. Dozens of people will die, regardless of what you decide to do, but active participation is left to the player.

This made some players feel awful, resulting in memes like this:

That Time Call of Duty Let You Shoot Up An Airport

Modern Warfare 2 developer Infinity Ward said little about “No Russian” at the time, allowing the game to speak for itself. But years later, game designer Mohammad Alavi did speak with writer Matthew Burns about the response:

“It isn’t really relevant whether that makes you enjoy the entertainment experience even more because you’re being naughty (à la Grand Theft Auto) or it engrosses you further into the story and makes you resent your actions. What’s relevant is that the level managed to make the player feel anything at all,” he says.

“In the sea of endless bullets you fire off at countless enemies without a moment’s hesitation or afterthought, the fact that I got the player to hesitate even for a split second and actually consider his actions before he pulled that trigger — that makes me feel very accomplished.”

When the mission became public leading up to the released, it caused waves. In Japan and Germany, the game was altered to trigger a mission failed screen if players decided to shoot the civilians. In Russia, it was straight up removed.

It also caused the usual hyperbole about the impact of violence in games. Per a MCV article from 2009, it was debated on the BBC One’s The Big Questions morning show. Here’s retired Bishop of Hulme, the Reverend Stephen Lowe:

“If you are in that role, which is a terrorist in a game killing other people with massive violence coming back at you on the screen, and [you’re getting a] thrill from that, I think that’s actually sick. We need to sort that out.

“I don’t think it should be in a game, because gaming for me is not about that sort of process. When I was young, [society was] worried about horror comics — because they were going to pollute the minds of young people and make them violent. This is very different from that; this is taking on the role of a terrorist in a way that relates to the news — what we actually see on our [TV] screens. That is fundamentally different. It somehow says: ‘Maybe this is all right.’ It isn’t.”

For players who felt uncomfortable with the scene, Infinity Ward tried to sidestep problems by removing any unlockables from “No Russian.” If you skipped past it, you could still get every achievement in the game.

The point of the brutality, according to the mission’s architect, was to feel:

“I’ve read a few reviews that said we should have just shown the massacre in a movie or cast you in the role of a civilian running for his life,” Alavi continues. “Although I completely respect anyone’s opinion that it didn’t sit well with them, I think either one of those other options would have been a cop out… [W]atching the airport massacre wouldn’t have had the same impact as participating (or not participating) in it. Being a civilian doesn’t offer you a choice or make you feel anything other than the fear of dying in a video game, which is so normal it’s not even a feeling gamers feel anymore.”

Mission accomplished.

The Call of Duty series has seen many games since then — Modern Warfare 3, Black Ops, Black Ops 2, Ghosts, Advanced Warfare — but nothing in those games have caused anything like the heated conversations that came out of “No Russian.”


  • Was I the only person who didn’t shoot during that mission? and didn’t Spec Ops: The Line do a better job conveying the message?

    What I did enjoy though is that the mission ends with you stepping into a van before getting shot. But if you try to avoid it he’ll just pull out a gun and one-shot you regardless.

    • I didn’t shoot either. Spec Ops did a decent job showing this sort of stuff too, but the problem with Spec Ops is that the story treated you like you’d been gunning down civilians the whole time even if you hadn’t. And that one time you had no choice in the matter is actually a really morally complex issue, but the game never delves into it in sufficient depth.

      • It does, you just don’t think it does. It’s strange how incapable people are of actually being in the moment in a game, considering what a game is asking you to consider and then blaming it when you refuse and pretend it doesn’t exist.

        “The story treated you like you’d been gunning down civilians…” So you’re offended at the content to the point of misrepresentation. The game did nothing of the sort, it clearly defined the moral implications of conflict, engagement and belief. It’s almost like you didn’t accept anything from the game if it wasn’t spelled out exactly the way you wanted it to. Did you consider the role of agency, photography, perspective, violence, colors, lighting, angles etc.? Because it is one of the few games that actually uses film techniques WITH agency to support the subtext and narrative.

        • The game demonised Walker’s actions, and wanted the player to feel bad for them, while at the same time offering the player a choice in how to react to things. You didn’t have to shoot civilians and you could save lives, except those choices were ignored because of one incident where player agency was removed and an action was forced on you by the game.

          The other side of the white phosphorus incident, which is if Walker hadn’t used it, is never really dealt with. Using the white phosphorus was the “wrong” choice, but the game doesn’t sufficiently, in my opinion, explore the morality around the “right” choice. If Walker hadn’t used the white phosphorus civilians would have been saved, yes, but he was acting in an attempt to save civilians. If he hadn’t used it, while the end result would be good, the motivation behind not using it would have been Walker willing letting civilians die.

          I think the use of white phosphorus being a choice by the player, just like many other incidents in the game, would have been a great way to explore the idea of motivation versus result, and how much information you need before taking action. But because it wasn’t a choice given to the player it was unable to explore such issues sufficiently.

          The game is good, but it has problems, and discussing those problems isn’t a bad thing.

    • I fired over the heads of the people because I assumed that if I didn’t fire I’d be executed if I didn’t do something.

      I much preferred Spec Ops: the Line for its message though. People criticise it for making you out to be the bad guy and not giving you a “choice” (at lease during the WP mortar section), but I think it gave you choices where it mattered. When I got to near the end and unlocked the “A Line… Held” achievement, I felt a very real surge of emotion. Pride? Relief? I don’t know. But it was powerful.

    • I did the mission as I was supposed to… because the mission was stay undercover. It was all about getting to Makarov and bringing down the seized Russia. In a way, the end goal was more important. That’s what made it such a powerful moment. This was the guy who attacked the US east coast and sponsored terror attacks all over Europe.

      Spec Ops was probably the only other game I’ve played that had a similar level of emotional distress throughout the story. The thing that killed it for me in Spec Ops was that the setting wasn’t as relatable, which made it all a bit too fake.
      Most of us can relate to being in an airport and we know all about terrorism these days. But not many of us can relate to being in a ruined, sand covered Dubai.

      Updated for those who have never been to an airport.

      • Wait, so you will just refuse a story about a place if you’ve never been there because you’ll just think it’s all fake? WTF? How do you process the news? You think terrorism and conflict is more common in the western world?

        • Clearly you didn’t understand a single word I wrote.

          I cant believe the mental gymnastics required to turn my comment into such an absolute statement and assume I can’t process the news. I have no words.

    • I didn’t shoot. But I still felt that I should either be shooting the innocents or the terrorists. Just a feeling that I should just be standing there.

  • Yeah, the latest installments of the series have played it VERY safe compared to the nuke scene in MW and that mission in MW2

  • When I played through it, I only shot one person; Makarov. Unloaded on him, and he and his buddies just turned around and mowed me down. Turns out he’s unkillable in that mission.
    After that I just strolled through the level, because killing unarmed civilians just isn’t very sporting, in my opinion.

  • Movies explore this, books also, but games are not allowed to because you’re the one pressing the button? I think they had balls adding things like this. I still can’t believe this was allowed in the Australian version of the game yet if a game names a drug morphine they are requested to change the name before release.

    I think its up to the viewer to decide if its right or not, simply skip the level or not play the game. For some reason imho I think games have this idea that everyone should be able to play every game and enjoy/love it. I think publishers do this too, they say to the developer, O you can’t have that in the game it will only appeal to X number of people… So games are made easier and more politically correct.

    While some movies are made with only money in mind a lot of the greats aren’t. They where created for art, to show expression and idea or ideal. Not crafted specifically to be enjoyed by the masses and its a shame this is the direction publishers and developers have taken.

    I for one would love to see more games take steps like this, to try and make a statement even if it means I enjoy less new releases each year because they are not my thing.

    • Ditto. It isn’t often a game hits me right in the feels, and the fact a freaking Call of Duty game managed it was very unexpected.

  • Loved that mission, was the first time a game stood up and went, this shit occurs in everyday life, and in the movies/books, why the hell not games.

  • I loved that Infinity Ward was brave enough to do this. It was a very powerful part of the story. Having the same event touched on briefly in a cut scene would not have the same effect.

    Modern Warfare 1 and 2 had some truly amazing single player moments that I haven’t experienced again since. For a game that seems rather simple and shallow on the surface, there were some very deep and emotional aspects.

    Another really powerful moment for me was escaping from Chernobyl with the wounded partner. That was a very stressful mission as you cared about his life as well as yours. Having accurate real world locations instead of generic factory #1 also helps the immersion.

    It also explored situations which were rarely covered in other war games. For example, US being attacked on it’s own soil. US losing battles…

    Hats off to IW for creating such a powerful and memorable experience. It’s things like this that make me remember games not how many achievements I have or how pretty the graphics were.

  • ive not played this game, but why did so many people get up in arms over when games like GTA and Just Cause and almost any open world game allow you to kill innocents?
    im not saying its justifiable, im just interested in how they differentiated it from other games.

    • In sandbox games the objective is not usually to kill civilians, they’re usually caught in the crossfire or happen to be stupidly walking on the sidewalk you’re using as a shortcut in your stolen sports car. They’re collateral damage and the level of carnage is up to you as the player. The game doesn’t really judge you for it.

      MW2 put you in a situation where the whole objective was to, at the very least, passively observe as the big bad of this particular story committed an act of terrorism. As the game progresses you discover not only was this a setup on his part to make it look like the US was involved (since you’re playing the level as a CIA mole), but that one level above that, the US general who planted you knew this would happen, and it was his excuse to start a full-scale war as revenge because the events of Modern Warfare 1 apparently drove him completely around the megalomaniacal bend.

      • cool. thanks for the rundown.

        i get that because it is a story driven mission its intense.

        but from a violence point of view, i feel GTA V is probably just as bad. the amount of times you just end up blowing the shit out of civs, because you can, and then in turn, the cops because they are there.

        ah well. im not sure how i would have acted playing the MW mission. it may have been a focused and engrossing moment that made me feel horrible if i’d shot a civ.

        crazy how one game can effect you emotionally and ethically and yet in another game, doing similar acts of violence leave you feeling powerful like your having the time of your life. scary stuff really.

  • I shot innocents but stopped after I realized that it meant nothing within the game (only did it because I thought I had to maintain my cover). I was bored with it very quickly, seemed to be a stupid gimmick to me, you couldn’t get the mission done quicker, you just had to watch the Russians walk through slowly and murder everyone they could. Didn’t really understand why the producers chose to put that in there.

    I Actually felt bad for the developers because it is a bit sick, I would have probably refused to put that in the game and started some sort of legal action. I don’t think developers get enough say about what actually ends up in a game. Also I don’t think they should be defending why they did it, there are some moral limits that we shouldn’t be trying to break down.

    If it had no bearing on the game why put it in at all.

    I mean defending the stance by saying I was trying to make the player feel something just means the next game that decides to put something shocking in a game e.g. a player instigated rape scene can just use the same defense. We open up a whole world of hurt by allowing morally wrong things to become the norm in our games. Just to make it clear killing enemy’s isn’t in the same boat as that’s a conflict although many would argue that it is morally wrong.

  • > “In the sea of endless bullets you fire off at countless enemies without a moment’s hesitation or afterthought, the fact that I got the player to hesitate even for a split second and actually consider his actions before he pulled that trigger — that makes me feel very accomplished.”
    I love this and it is exactly why I am glad the mission exists. A while ago when Hatred was announced, I actually joined in the outcry for its restriction. But after taking a step back I realised that was a silly position to take. Movies, books, games, etc. are there to be enjoyed, yes. But these mediums also exist to allow us to test our beliefs and resolve.
    EDIT: I should clarify that I do still think there should be restrictions, but only to the point of what currently would qualify a particular piece to be restricted in the first place (ie. actual violence (physical or sexual) against a real person or animal, child sexual abuse, inciting violence, etc.).

    • I’m with you with the exception of Hatred support. That game used the unwarranted violence as a gimmick and a selling point – it held no message whatsoever.

      • See, that’s why I originally joined in the call for its unclassification. There was no real message. It was just violence for the sake of violence and used the ensuing media blasting as advertising.
        But I then realised the bigotry (not sure if right word) to that logic. It didn’t contain anything that otherwise would get it banned, just an R18+. The game revolved around you killing civilians. Yet how many other games have I played where you have the option of going on a murdering rampage? The only difference is this game makes it an objective. Is that enough of a difference to bend our classification laws? And where do we go from there?

  • I took the opportunity of a level where I wasn’t under fire to take a good look at Infinity Ward’s environment art.

  • This mission sucked because you couldn’t run. Could have killed a lot more people if they let you run.

  • I had a WTF am i doing” moments in GTA IV of all games, i was on the roof of the museum having a shootout with the cops and sniping any passers by, there was a guy cowering and whimpering behind a mailbox, then came the WTF moment. i stopped playing the game for months.

    For the first time playing a video game, i felt genuinely bad.

  • I didn’t shoot either. The moment I realised what was happening I just said No. Halfway through I baulked and restarted, trying to kill the terrorists as soon as the elevator opened. Once it became clear that the scene was on rails and I would have to go along with it in order to proceed, I just followed along behind and cursed them.

  • Already been discussed above, but makes me think of Spec Ops : The Line. Damn that was an incredible game. Made all the more powerful because I went in not knowing what was going on. I avoided for ages, assuming it was just a 3rd person military dudebro shooter. Glad I got around to playing it and went in blind.

    Haven’t had a game hit me so hard emotionally before, or since.

    Also mad props to Nolan North for his VA in it too – I never liked him all that much, and got sick to death of him being in every video game ever – but Walker’s voice was great. Especially loved how it just degenerated as the game went on – ever so subtly becoming lower and more growly/sweary as the game progressed. By the end of it, they’re basically grunting like cavemen.

  • I actually thoroughly enjoyed this mission yes i did kill the innocents with no hesitation I didn’t even feel bad i laughed through it but yeah i know its only a game and would never commit to something like that in life…

  • I didn’t shoot anybody.

    Mind you, I also try to completely avoid vehicular damage in GTA games.

    • *hard brakes too late and accidentally dings the back of another car at 1km/h*

      Welp, this one’s ruined.

      *carjacks the next thing to pass by, drives around fifteen minutes looking for another sports car before finally continuing on mission*

  • I haven’t played Call of Duty since COD 2 (the world war 2 one) on PC back in the day. I hear good things about MW2 though. Might give it a shot.

    • I really enjoyed MW1 and MW2 for the story. I only play through MW3 to finish the storyline. It wasn’t as good as the first two but still decent.

  • I smoked all these fools. Its not like I was pulling the trigger on actual people. You know because I am a decent human being and can tell the difference between real life and a video game.

  • This bit both intrigued me for the very reasons others have stated but also disappointed me because:
    – It makes no difference gameplay wise: Shooting or not affects nothing, there’s no actual tasks here that the player must contend with; just a decision to act or not. When I realised that I could intentionally shoot and miss I thought I discovered the best moral/gameplay solution but it was only worth the same.
    – It makes no difference story wise: The decisions value to the story is isolated to the players moment of choice and nothing more. There’s no branching paths or opportunities to see the consequences of their actions. Interestingly enough, in fact all players are delivered absolution or punishment in the exact same way through the ending sequence of the level: the bad guy discovers you’re a spy and kills you anyway. So if you shot and and felt guilty, or didn’t but watched the terrorists shoot, you are absolved; if you shot and liked it, or felt like not shooting made you an unconvincing spy then you are aptly punished.
    A bit of a cop-out if you ask me.

  • The fact that some of you fired over their heads shows how great a level this was. In a game renowned for being a dude bro celebration of violence and they managed make you feel emotional, and actually act on your emotions.

    Personally I shot the shit out of those people, but I went for legs. Not because I felt like that’s what the game wanted me to do but because that’s what I felt was right. Your characters mission was important. His cover was important. By not firing you’d blow your cover. I instinctually felt that was the right course of action. No hand holding. No quest marker making me do it. Just great game design.

    • Agreed. Whether or not the choices and outcome affected the game or it story is irrelevant. The fact the level made so many people feel so many different things and act in different ways is what made it so interesting.
      Yes it was basically a glorified cut-scene, but it was presented in a way that made you think about your actions instead of just watching.

    • I go for legs too sometimes. Only because it prolongs the AI’s death in most cases, though. I find it amusing as they’re struggling and wriggling and hngggging, then popping them in the head. :/. straight up headshots are boring.

  • well the writer was right it did make me hesitate.. i hesitated so much i never touched a single call of duty game after MW4

  • As games that see the player participate in shocking, terrible acts go, MW2 isn’t the worst perpetrator, just the most infamous one.

    While the its two sequels took a more “Saturday morning cartoon” approach to the violence of war, Command & Conquer: Red Alert 1 was actually kind of dark and gritty. The first mission of the Soviet Campaign gives you the task of going to a remote village in Poland, and murdering every single person in it.

    There’s no ambiguity to what you supposed to be doing; the objective isn’t to “follow so-and-so’s lead”. You are told exactly what you are to do before the mission even starts: “Go at once to Torun. Destroy everything, and everyone. No prisoners, no survivors.” And there’s no option to skip the mission or not complete the objectives; doing so is the only way to even begin the Soviet Campaign.

    Of course, the impact on the player probably isn’t as great when the innocent people you’re killing are only five pixels tall, and have no in-game dialogue…which is why the mission was followed up by an FMV of a group of screaming women and children being strafe-ran by a Yak fighter plane. Naturally, the FMV ends with a close-up shot of a discarded teddy bear.

    The slaughter doesn’t stop with that level either. Later Soviet missions feature civilian villages in out of the way places that you can casually raze with no consequences; while Red Alert’s expansion packs feature more missions where all you have to do is massacre civilian dissidents. One mission in particular sees you kill the personnel in an enemy base by poisoning the river that serves as its water supply…a supply also used by a nearby town, which suffers the same fate.

    You can see the first Soviet mission in question here:

    Skip to 2:06 to see the part where you are actually given your orders.

  • I shot the people……I also shot the wounded crawling on the ground. Personally I found my fellow terrorists were doing a sloppy job. They totally forgot to clear out all the shops and hunt around for people hiding……which is why I felt really hurt when they shot ME at the end of the level……the second play through I did not shoot anyone.

    I kind of liked the level. It would be good if more games took risks like that. Though not all of them….

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