Modern Warfare Demands Your Attention, But It Might Not Deserve It

It opens with a suicide bombing. You are in a van full of terrorists, nervous, silent, about to do something awful. The van arrives, and a man with a bomb strapped to his chest strides out into a crowded urban space, detonator in hand. He moves to pull the trigger, and we smash cut to the title: Modern Warfare. 

As an opening statement, the scene is doing a lot of things in very little time. I don’t feel good about any of them.

First, the obvious: Modern Warfare demands your attention. It’s a play for shock and awe, the developers telling you to put your damn phone away because they aren’t fucking around. Look a little deeper, and there’s another thing this scene says: This is what modern warfare is like. People in a van with bad intentions ready to violently collide with your life at any moment. This is what our soldiers are fighting, and what you will fight over the next few hours of this game. The phrase Call of Duty is missing from that title card, suggesting that what you’re about to experience isn’t so simple as the franchise title would suggest. It’s also a challenge—do you think your morals can make it through a complicated situation like this intact? Do you know what you would do? Would it in fact be the right thing?

I’m only a few hours into Modern Warfare’s campaign, but from the start, it is writing some exorbitant checks, and I’m not confident that it can cash any of them. It’s a feeling that only grows in the second level: a mass shooting in London’s Piccadilly district.

This is all in the first 20 minutes.

I’m not saying that such events should not be depicted in a game, but that 10 years after Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s “No Russian” level, there is little to commend for merely “going there.” We’ve been there. The challenge is providing a compelling reason for doing it.

I’m not confident that one will arise, because more than anything, Modern Warfare endeavours to be a Call of Duty game. It’s a sprawling military thriller with brilliant pacing and a cast of characters who each bring a different perspective to a complicated, amorphous conflict. There are chemical weapons on the loose, and the elite military forces of the United States and the United Kingdom find themselves on the same asymmetrical playing field as Russian extremists, a barely fictional terrorist organisation called Al-Qatala, and the local resistance from the fictional Middle Eastern nation of Urzikstan.

Call of Duty games have traditionally postured as if their brand of military thrill ride has something meaningful to offer outside of a white-knuckle action story, that depicting the realities of conflict is a noble end in and of itself. If that were true, we’d probably have noticed it sometime over the last decade. Instead, Call of Duty’s influence has been most widely felt via EXP meters added to a genre of video game that never really had them before.

If there’s a sliver of hope, it’s that this time around, I know the characters. They make an impression, and in very little time. The CIA operative Alex, the British police Sergeant-turned-SpecOps liaison Kyle Garrick, the Urzikstani resistance leader Farah, her brother Hadir: I know their faces and voices, I understand their role in the grand scheme of things. They’re introduced well, and with great economy. At times—particularly when Alex begins to assist Farah’s resistance—Modern Warfare seems interested in criticising previous games in the series, casting you as a sympathetic version of the guerrilla fighters that other Calls of Duty had you mowing down. Other times, its only real interest in depicting an even more “realistic” take on combat than before seems to be simply because it’s fuckin’ cool, man. There is hubris in this.

I want Modern Warfare to be more than an expensive, meticulously-rendered shock jock act. Because it’s easy to get someone’s attention with arresting imagery ripped from the headlines, but it’s harder to keep that attention—especially when you haven’t earned it.


Comments

    Best COD campaign in a long time. It is pretty dark and gritty but not for everyone, especially if you are easily offended

      I'm sure polygon has several all ready for publishing

    I'm quite curious, I'm keen to know if it actually deals with the uncomfortable realities of modern warfare or if it's just more US war porn propaganda with extra shock value and a darker jacket on.

      I'm two thirds of the way through watching it, and I'm going with B right now.

        Damn, everything I've seen pointed to B but some of the stuff they were saying had me thinking they were at least gonna try to be more about A

          They do try to do A, but it suffers from
          Stereotypical villains (with some exceptions)
          Standard CoD jumping back and forth between characters, so you never get any narrative flow
          What ambiguities they try to introduce just aren't explored for long enough

          That being said, the parts of the story that focus less on the Western soldiers and more on the native 'freedom fighters/terrorists' (quotes very deliberate) are probably the most compelling, both in terms of plot and characters, so there's that.

      it would be nice to see the former rather than more war porn, i don't play COD or any FPS really and haven't for years. Given a gritty game set in the modern era that properly dealt with the realities of our time would be amazing.

      It feels like pipe dream unfortunately, i think it will either end up as a love letter to western interventionism or some kind of bitch fit attempting to tie everything bad back to US and UK "imperialism". Such is the state of games these days everything gets knocked of course into a political statement of some kind.

      The standard war porn scenario would probably become nostalgic after witnessing what would happen to the genre if it tried to go in that direction. Again if someone did manage to make that game i would definitely enjoy playing it but i just don't think it is possible to make it at the moment.

      @alexwalker can you please take this auto moderation nonsense off me, it is incredibly annoying and serves no purpose.

      Does it do it as much as we would want to?

      No

      Does it do it much more than every single other cod game?

      Yes by far.

      The campaign is fantastic.

        I was on the fence about picking it up, I'm going to but I want to know if the campaign is more than 4 - 5 hours long? If it's only 4ish, I'm just going to borrow it from a friend. I don't multiplay COD (Yeh, I'm *that* dude) and can't see myself getting into it much. But if it's around 8 - 9 at least I may pony up?

          From what ive heard its around 5 hours. But dont that as gospel.

          I watched a video of it from start to finish, and it was about 4 hours with deaths edited out, so 5 seems like a good average.

          Watching it as a movie is surprisingly entertaining, btw.

    this is absurd.

    As an opening statement, the scene is doing a lot of things in very little time. I don’t feel good about any of them.

    No explanation required i see, getting pretty sick of this in Kotaku articles. My guess is someone got triggered because they didn't have #notallmuslims watermarked in the corner.

    there is little to commend for merely “going there.” We’ve been there. The challenge is providing a compelling reason for doing it.

    COD needs a compelling reason for level design? wth no it doesn't it's an FPS game and FPS games live and die based on gunplay and mechanics, the story does matter but not very much.

    Anyone else getting the impression that this guy is not the target audience and it all really comes down to "why aren't America and Britain being correctly portrayed as genocidal imperialists that are ultimately responsible for all conflict across the globe"

    Last edited 26/10/19 2:44 pm

    I honestly dont know if I am having fun. I personally find the TTK to be too damn fast, though I do wonder if that has more to do with with crazy lag. Too often i am getting one shot, then when i watch the kill cam, nope that was an assault rifle. Its a bit concerning.

    I am not the best CoD, indeed the only one I have really like in years was WW2, so many judgement is not the best for long term fans.

    The oher issue I had was the inclusion of night vision maps in the core quickplay without a way to disable them, from a medical point of view they were painful to play. Indeed, in the first hour of playing I had those maps four times, the single worse introduction I have had to game in years. Thats how much I hate them. They seem to be removed at the moment, hopefully they add a toggle for them in the quickplay settings menu.

    I havent played the campaign yet.

    Not going to comment on the story, because I'm not very far in, but already the balance has been bugging me enormously. In previous CoDs, at least the ones I've played (which is a fair few), checkpoints were fairly spaced out in a lot of areas, so that you had to do entire combat encounters in one go without dying. It now seems that there's a checkpoint approximately every 4 seconds, almost after every single kill sometimes. To compensate, they've made Veteran (which was already very unforgiving in previous CoD games) even more unforgiving in terms of player health, I think in the name of trying to make the amount of damage you can take "realistic," which is a bizare choice in a game that's so arcadey in terms of movement and weapon handling. As a result, Veteran is a chore to play because you die almost instantly and need to trial and error every encounter piece by tiny piece. Hardened has no tension and is basically a joke because, although you're no longer dying every 2 seconds, when you do die there's absolutely no consequence.

    The story could be amazing, but these gameplay design choices are really hurting my enjoyment.

    ...Kind of the same deal in the multiplayer, actually. Lots of design decisions that seem to be built for a more realistic game, but then other aspects that are still incredibly arcadey. I'm not hating the MP, but it is in kind of a weird place in terms of feel.

    This is an interesting article. I think the original Modern Warfare's campaign got closest to really deserving attention for telling a relatively realistic story on the dirtiness of modern warfare. From MW2 onwards, it went more towards "its only real interest in depicting an even more “realistic” take on combat than before seems to be simply because it’s fuckin’ cool, man." as the article says.

    The raw potential was always there, and not in the places most people seem to think (like No Russian), but the execution always went towards big set piece actions and events that were more for the "this looks epic" vibe. If CoD campaigns were also sold as separate, cheaper options i'd probably still be playing them.

    It kinda sucks that Medal of Honor kinda fell by the wayside as it always did storytelling much better than CoD but couldnt compete because everyone's obsessed with multiplayer.

    Played and finished over the weekend. Enjoyed the campaign, very cinematic, especially on ‘realistic’.

    I don’t play CoD for the geopolitics... So can’t comment on the wokeness of it’s message

    I bought it and am currently playing the campaign so I can experience it before it gets censored to buggery.

    There are certainly some eye-opening scenes in their, but nothing I believe should be censored.

    Egads the user score is getting totally bombed on Metacritic. It's down at 4/10 so far against an 84% critic score. I've not played it so I wouldn't know but it seems a perceived anti-Russian narrative has a lot of people very upset.

Join the discussion!

Trending Stories Right Now