The Infinite Zenith

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare- Part IV Review and Reflection, Lessons on the Price of Aggression and The Costs of Conflict With Unstated Goals

“We get dirty, and the world stays clean.” –Captain Jonathan Price

Upon arrival in St. Petersburg, Garrick and Price break up the Al-Qatala meeting and manage to capture Jamal “The Butcher” Rahar. Interrogation is unsuccessful, so Price steps things up by threatening to shoot his wife and son, forcing Rahar to answer their questions truthfully. Although Garrick is tempted to execute Rahar, he ultimately lets him live, accompanying Price over to Baurci, Moldova, where Hadir has planned an offensive on General Barkov’s estate. While Price provides overwatch, Garrick investigates several locations and ultimately finds Hadir, who reluctantly tells the pair the location of Barkov’s chemical weapons facility in Borjomi, Georgia. The Russians demand that Hadir be remanded into their custody, and while Price complies, he asks that they be allowed to hang onto the intel Hadir had. With Farah and Alex, Garrick and Price mount an attack on Barkov’s facility with support from American forces and link up with Price’s contact, Nikolai, to retrieve explosives. The accompanying detonator is damaged during the fighting, Alex volunteers to stay behind and set them off, while Farah sneaks on board a helicopter and manages to kill Barkov. In the aftermath, the Russian government disavows Barkov, and Price works with Kate Laswell, a CIA Station Chief, to discuss the formation of Task Force 141 so that they can prepare for a major operation against the terrorist Victor Zakhaev. With this, Modern Warfare‘s campaign draws to a close, and while perhaps a more unconventional experience in that Modern Warfare‘s missions play out more slowly, the game nonetheless tells a compelling story about warfare, specifically how those who engage in conflict without an aim beyond subjugation and the destruction of a people will be doomed to failure: in an Israeli parable, a hunter tasks his dog with pursuing a rabbit so that he may have dinner, and while the dog was an apt hunter, the rabbit runs for its life, outpacing the dog, who was merely running to serve the hunter. Here in Modern Warfare, Barkov is portrayed as being someone who wished to eradicate Urzikstan and its people: his decade-long campaign against the nation is met with frustration because Farah and the country’s people are fighting for their lives, to preserve their home against a foreign aggressor. While Barkov only fights for glory and some twisted view of the world order, Farah fights because Urzikstan is the only home she’s ever known, and in this way, she and her rebels simply have the superior and resolve to outlast their foe.

While the outcome of a given conflict is determined by many factors, including equipment, training and tactics, historically, warfare is also fought on morale and motives. Quite simply, a nation or faction that wages war with a clear objective in mind, and has a plan for achieving these objectives will have the motivation to fight the war swiftly. Conversely, if no objective exists, and no plan exists, warfare becomes protracted, and the longer a given war drags on, the more likely it is that the instigator will lose. In Modern Warfare, Barkov’s motivations are self-serving and callous; he seeks to dominate and subjugate Urzikstan. From the player’s perspective, Farah and her people are fighting for a legitimate reason: she simply wants her homeland free of Barkov’s occupation. In knowing what’s at stake and what stands to be gained from resisting Barkov, Farah and her people are able to fight with uncommon resilience and determination. The same trends can be observed in reality time and time again: during the Vietnam War, the United States sent soldiers over to Vietnam to “contain communism”, whereas North Vietnam was simply trying to rally the nation together and survive. In the Soviet-Afghan War, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan out of concern that Hafizullah Amin was planning to support the United States and create an opening to install Babrak Karma, a Soviet-friendly leader. In both cases, the Americans and Soviets failed to account for the locals’ determination to resist and make their own way forwards, resulting in protracted conflicts that proved unpopular with the people back home. With parallels in history, Modern Warfare warns players about the futility of warfare. Generally speaking, one should not endorse warfare where diplomacy is an option, and further to this, those who do desire open conflict with another nation are likely those with the least understanding of how severe consequences can be for all parties involved. For instance, social media users tend to revel in warfare, seeing it as a treasure trove of footage for farming retweets and upvotes. Such a world-view is one completely lacking in empathy and represents poor conduct, standing in stark contrast with works of fiction that place people in the shoes of those who fight wars to emphasise how people should count their blessings where there is peace, and to never willfully wish for or instigate conflicts.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • Upon arriving in St. Petersburg, Garrick is given a choice of sidearm. I went with the Desert Eagle: although harder to control than the other pistols, its stopping power is unparalelled. The aim of this mission is simple: capture Rahar. Killing him will end the mission, so one must be careful in their shot placement, and as soon as the meeting between Rahar and the other Al-Qatala members is disrupted, Rahar will take off, occasionally stopping to take a few potshots at Garrick and Price. In reality, the Desert Eagle can be suppressed, but the results won’t be quite as pronounced as video games.

  • After taking down the first foes of the mission, I picked up a P90 for additional firepower. On missions where improvisation is the name of the game, I tend to ditch the staring pistols immediately: automatic weapons and their large capacity make it far easier to deal with multiple foes at once. As Rahar beats a hasty exit, Garrick and Price follow him into the streets of St. Petersburg. There’s a distinct chill in the air about this day, and while the firefights in this mission are brief, it was a novel experience to have a running gunfight in a location I’ve previously never visited in a video game.

  • While games are intended to entertain, first and foremost, they do offer topics for conversation, as well. Once Price and Garrick corner Rahar, they will interrogate him: the stakes mean that Price has no qualms in using Rahar’s wife and son as bargaining chips. While the consequences of letting Rahar walk are doubtlessly severe, there is something reprehensible about threatening Rahar’s family to get the required intel on Hadir’s location. The moral ambiguity shown in Modern Warfare is a reminder to players that in warfare, good and evil is a matter of perspective, and moreover, even the so-called “good guys” will occasionally commit acts of dubious morality in the name of the greater good.

  • Seeing these messages in fiction is meant to show players that things are rarely as clear cut as they seem, and this is why in general, I don’t like making any judgements about foreign events. Tragedies and conflict stem from complex causes that interact to create a perfect storm, and it is often the case that the media will abstract out these causes, causing people to assume that warfare results from simple terms. The reduction of conflict to an “us versus them” mindset is deleterious and leads to dehumanisation of one’s opponents by removing important details from an issue.

  • Thus, when Modern Warfare gives players the full agency to shoot Rahar in the head during the interrogation, a part of me felt that, as one operative in the picture, it wasn’t right for Garrick to make this call. One aspect of Tom Clancy novels I’ve always respected is the idea that one’s enemies are worth more alive than dead, at least from an intelligence picture. Given that dead men tell no tales, it makes sense to keep someone around as a resource if they appear to be someone who may possess the key towards stopping worse atrocities. As it was, I decided to spare Rahar.

  • With Hadir’s location found, Price and Garrick head on over to Moldova. Garrick begins the operation with a suppressed EBR-14 and a suppressed X-16 pistol. Both weapons are whisper-quiet in the game, so when coupled with using darkness as cover, allows one to sneak through dim areas undetected. This mission offers some flexibility as to how one wishes to complete things, but the outcome will always be the same, with Hadir eventually being found. The EBR-14 is an excellent weapon, and because of how important stealth is here, there is actually no reason to switch off the starting weapons initially, since unsuppressed weapons will instantly give one’s position away.

  • The EBR-14 is most useful for taking out foes, while the X-16 pistol is a nice way of snuffing out lights that may give the player’s position away. During this mission, Price will alert players to the presence of a light detector on the left-hand side of the screen. When the meter increases, one is in a brighter area and is at risk of coming under enemy fire. IRNV goggles are used extensively in Modern Warfare, to a much greater extent than previous games, and while this emphasises the clandestine nature of special forces operations, this also precludes players from appreciating the visuals in Modern Warfare.

  • As memory serves, Modern Warfare is one of the first Call of Duty games to incorporate real-time ray-tracing into things. Without ray-tracing, some lighting effects look a little cruder: while ray-tracing often degrades performance, I’ve read that allowing the game engine to handle the calculation of lighting effects actually simplifies things for developers, who no longer have to go in and bake everything in. This, at least theoretically, would free developers up for other tasks. In Modern Warfare, real-time ray-tracing is very subtle, but in some games, like DOOM Eternal and Metro Exodus, the differences are night and day, warranting a revisit of these older titles.

  • I would eventually make my way over to the church to investigate the site, while Price stays behind to provide covering fire. On a few occasions, Price also will helpfully shoot out lights, creating more darkness that covered my advance. Upon arriving at the church, I managed to find a suppressed shotgun. Although with a lower rate of fire than the X16 pistol, it felt nice to have a reliable weapon that could one-shot any foe silently at close quarters. Indoors, I removed the IRNV goggles to get a better look at things, although given that some areas are quite dark even when lit, it became apparent that it was easier to keep my goggles on.

  • Throughout the Moldovan safehouse, Garrick will encounter hostages, both dead and alive. Each area will have one live hostage that Garrick will speak with, and initially, there won’t be any evidence of anything unusual going on. Players attempting to speed-run the mission won’t be successful: similarly to Bad Company 2‘s Sangre del Toro mission, one must hit all of the objective areas to learn the intel needed to get into the central house of Barkov’s estate. At this point in the mission, the number of foes increases dramatically, and semi-automatic weapons are less effective.

  • Fortunately, foes begin dropping suppressed automatics, and picking these up gives players a better chance of dealing with numbers. For individual foes, the EBR-14 remains more than adequate. One point of curiosity was that, no matter what weapons one picks up in this mission, all of them have the infrared laser sight module and suppressors. Although it gives the mission a bit of an unrealistic feeling in a game that is otherwise quite committed to realism, the tradeoff is that it gives players more options. For me, this meant, once I got my hands on an automatic weapon, the concern with being entirely stealthy evaporated, since I could now shoot my way out of tricky situations.

  • While Battlefield and Call of Duty traditionally feature campaigns that allow players to go loud, recent instalments have placed an emphasis on stealth. It is not lost on me that notions of stealth go hand-in-hand with the idea that military operations are supposed to be surgical in precision and minimise collateral damage: the fewer bullets one fires to accomplish their objective, the better things will be. Of course, the best solution is to negotiate things out so bullets don’t need to be fired at all. However, in a video game, intense firefights are what players come for.

  • Players seeking to experience this level of combat will still find it in the multiplayer modes: campaigns are designed to be introspective experiences. Here, I’ve gotten my hands on an AK-47 with an extended barrel, suppressor and 75-round drum magazine. With more than double the capacity of the Famas rifle, I felt confident in dealing with whatever stood between me and the objective. I did end up trying the Famas, but Modern Warfare configures it so it’s a burst-fire weapon only. Burst fire weapons have always been tricky to use in video games: in reality, they’re excellent because they allow for rounds to quickly be put on target, but games balance them out by making individual shots weaker.

  • Price and Garrick eventually capture Hadir, who was acting out of desperation: he saw the chemical weapons as a means of taking revenge on those who devastated his homeland and Farah’s life. However, Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous quote captures the consequences of this best: one must not become a monster when fighting monsters. Modern Warfare shows how even the most well-intentioned people can be compelled to commit atrocities in the name of their cause. However, there’s no time for argument: Barkov’s helicopters begin hammering the area with rocket fire.

  • The last segment of this mission abandons all stealth: one must get to a tunnel’s entrance in order to finish the mission, and in the chaos, while soldiers will fire upon Garrick, Price and Hadir, there’s no time to return fire. This is where an automatic weapon becomes useful: one can quickly deal with anyone between them and the exit. In the end, Hadir is captured and turned over to Russian authorities after Price negotiates for their being allowed to keep the intel from Hadir. Hadir’s story is that of a tragedy: while he wanted to avenge his people, in the process, he resorted to acts of extremism: one can understand where Hadir’s coming from, but this doesn’t make his actions defensible.

  • Modern Warfare‘s final mission is befitting of Call of Duty: in conjunction with the US Armed forces, Price and Garrick, Alex and Farah participate in a full-scale offensive on Barkov’s secret chemical weapons facility. As Alex, players begin with Hadir’s custom rifle and an M4A1 armed with an M203 under-barrel grenade launcher. This segment of the game is brutal: enemy fire fills the air, and I don’t mind admitting that I fell to enemy fire as a result of carelessness on several occasions here. This speaks to the importance of playing tactically, although I note that the allowance for respawns made every death a learning moment.

  • Respawning in games (or a lack thereof) are a core part of the mechanics: games that disallow for checkpoints and respawns are unforgiving and demand players to approach things with caution. Whether it be through the story or the mechanics, games can act as superb metaphors for life. However, there is a limit to this: those who cannot differentiate between reality and games will be met with frequent setbacks. One example that is especially vivid was a 2020 publication to The Economist, where an interview was conducted with activist Wong Chi-Fung. Chi-Fung an activist who also happened to be an avid fan of Gundam Versus, cited the game to be a parallel is his own efforts and stated that “when you get knocked down in one game, you just have to start another”.

  • The problem with seeing life as a video game is that real life tends to be unforgiving, and one cannot undo mistakes made in reality by loading a previous save. The Economist interview speaks to Chi-Fung’s immaturity – the interview was conducted while Chi-Fung is actively playing Gundam Versus, during which he is barely able to maintain his focus on the interviewers’ questions. As it turns out, Chi-Fung’s interest in Gundam is less about the mobile suits and more about the politics: he replies that “[Iron-Blodded Orphan‘s protagonists] embody the problems burdening each one of us” and indicates how his view of the world is vindicated when “the heroes are defeated, but the vanquishing regime adopts democratic reform anyway”.

  • It becomes clear Chi-Fung plainly modelled his brand of activism on a misconstrued interpretation of what is seen in Iron-Blooded Orphans and glorifies sacrifice even when it is meaningless. However, in other Gundam works, things aren’t so clear-cut: Gundam SEED‘s Kira Yamato abhorred violence and only fights with the minimum force needed to disable his opponents. In Gundam 00, Setsuna F. Seiei eventually works out that there are more ways of fighting than cutting down his foes with the Exia and 00 Raiser. Setsuna’s Gundams becomes one tool amongst several towards building a better future. Chi-Fung’s stubborn refusal to acknowledge that there are other ways to achieve long-term aims is shown when the interviewers ask about his thoughts on whether or not violent actions are justified.

  • Chi-Fung replies that he refuses to denounce violence because he empathises with their brand of thinking, and by tacitly endorsing violence as a legitimate means of achieving one’s aims, it is clear that Chi-Fung completely failed to understand the themes of Gundam. Similarly, publications can become out of their depth when dealing in these topics. The separation between fiction and reality is important because, while fiction often is a commentary on reality, they are crafted in such a way as to convey a specific idea, as well as showing the consequences of specific actions.

  • A part of this includes simplifying politics and abstracting out parts of a system so they fit the story better. The end result is that well-written stories are tight thematically, but they also make many assumptions in order to convey their themes. This is why when I go through stories, I always stop to consider the creator’s intents and their thoughts on a specific topic that the story covers, rather than attempting to cherry-pick elements to fit my own world-views. As it was, I found that The Economist’s article ends up being an endorsement of an unhealthy mindset: to the well-adjusted mind, fiction is about entertaining people, not about encouraging people to embrace violence for one’s own gratification.

  • I remark that, if The Economist desired an insightful and thoughtful conversation on games and the merits they bring, I’d probably be the better choice, although admittedly, my profile is much more unremarkable (for one, I’m a software developer). Back in Modern Warfare, I’ve finally cleared the seemingly endless waves of soldiers Barkov has at his disposal and finally enter the chemical weapons factory. Because the strike teams have no idea what they’re up against, they don gas masks. At this point in time, I was beginning to run out of .308 Lapua rounds for Hadir’s rifle and discarded it for an SVD equipped with FLIR optics.

  • The logic of doing so became clear shortly after: Barkov’s men disconnect the power, plunging the factory interior into darkness and giving the defending soldiers the upper hand. Having FLIR optics levels the playing field, allowing me to methodically locate and pick off foes without wandering into a trap. In Call of Duty, most missions can be completed without switching up one’s starting loadout, and in previous titles, I’ve gotten by reasonably well. However, this can create complacency, which in turn results in frantic moments if one enters a situation they’re not prepared for. Conversely, folks willing to experiment a little and capitalise on whatever options are available to them may have an easier time of things should a situation shift suddenly.

  • After exiting the factory’s power plant, Alex returns outside to link up with Nikolai, who’s provided both explosives and a detonator needed to bring the factory to the ground. Nikolai has featured in previous iterations of Modern Warfare, being a Russian informant who has infiltrated Imran Zakhaev’s faction and provides assistant to Price. In Modern Warfare, Nikolai’s role has changed somewhat: he’s now the leader of a private military company and has a strong sense of morality, doing what he feels is right to stave off chaos.

  • The biggest surprise in the finale mission was the appearance of a Juggernaut. This foe is probably the single toughest enemy in the whole of Modern Warfare, capable of absorbing an insane amount of damage thanks to their heavy armour. Luckily, this Juggernaut is only armed with the PKM, and is vulnerable to flash-bang grenades. I ended up defeating the Juggernaut using a combination of flash-bangs and the DP-12 incendiary shotgun, whose flammable buckshot deals damage over time. The Juggernaut’s appearance knocks Alex back and wrecks the detonator.

  • While Alex prepares to set off the charges manually, Garrick and Price have headed over to the pipelines. Garrick is initially armed with the FN SCAR-17 and an MGL-32 multiple grenade launcher. They come under heavy fire, and I responded by immediately ducking off to the side. At these ranges, I found the SCAR to be unsuited for combat and quickly switched over to the MP7. Although it takes a few rounds to down each soldier, the increased mobility and the fact that its hip-fire accuracy is reasonable makes it a better choice.

  • Per advice from Price, I ended up taking cover using the pipes and managed to close the distance to the gunner keeping allied forces pinned down. This allows everyone to push on forwards to the pipes that lead into the facility. In the end, I never ended up using the MGL, which only appears in the campaign. While it’s a powerful weapon, great for clearing crowds, Garrick doesn’t carry any more ammunition for it, beyond the six rounds it initially comes with. Here, I also found an M134 minigun; it comes with 320 rounds to start and is effective at close ranges, but the weapon also leaves one highly exposed in the campaign.

  • The Juggernaut killstreak, on the other hand, turns players into devastators in the multiplayer. I’ve noticed that it’s a bit of a Call of Duty tradition to save all of the most powerful weapons for the end of the campaign and only allow them to be utilised sparingly: besides ensuring the campaign stays balanced and satisfyingly challenging in the right spots, their appearance is probably also to entice players to venture into the multiplayer, where these weapons can be utilised.

  • Once Garrick reaches the pipeline, he will place the explosives onto the pipeline, and the mission will change over to Farah’s perspective. This is a classic Modern Warfare tradition: prior to Modern WarfareCall of Duty 4: Modern WarfareModern Warfare 2 and Modern Warfare 3 all featured a finale where players had to fight their game’s main antagonist in a desperate situation. Here in Modern Warfare, Farah sneaks on board Barkov’s helicopter and ambushes him. A lifetime’s worth of vengeance comes into play here, and while she’s much stronger than she had been the last time she and Barkov met, fighting Barkov still gives her some trouble.

  • In the end, Farah manages to kill Barkov. In his dying moments, Barkov continues to maintain his goal was to eradicate terrorism, and Farah kicks his corpse from the helicopter. The others subsequently detonate the charges, destroying Barkov’s factory and bringing Modern Warfare to a close. It seems that my timing for Modern Warfare was spot on: while I’d been busy, I still managed to finish prior to Modern Warfare II‘s launch. Overall, while Modern Warfare represents a change of pacing from earlier titles with respect to how the campaign is structured, it presented a very engaging story, and the gameplay was solid. With Modern Warfare in the books, I’ll probably spend a bit more time in Battlefield 2042 so I can unlock the Avancys and also resume my journey through Ghost Recon: Wildlands.

Although Modern Warfare represents only one perspective on warfare, it remains a very visceral presentation of things in a way that stands out from its predecessors. In this way, Modern Warfare‘s campaign gives players insights into why some wars unfold the way that they do: despite being significantly slower than the Call of Duty campaigns I’m familiar with, Modern Warfare ended up being surprisingly immersive for forcing players to move tactically and make calculated decisions about their next move. While I felt that Modern Warfare‘s campaign places more emphasis on night missions than its predecessors, and the scale of missions is far smaller than they’d been earlier, the characterisation and stakes are less grandiose, reminding players of how even the simplest of tasks require utmost coordination and patience. At the end of its campaign, however, Modern Warfare signifies that the story isn’t over yet; John “Soap” MacTavish is one of the operators that Captain Price is interested in recruiting, and the return of iconic characters in the future proved most exciting, especially in the knowledge that Modern Warfare II will be releasing later this month. At the time of writing, while I’ve had the opportunity to play the Modern Warfare II open beta and ascertain that my machine will run it without any problems, as well as how the game appears to be reasonably stable, I’m still deciding whether or not it would be worthwhile to pick the game up shortly after launch: at present, I am reasonably confident that I will have time to enjoy and write about the game in the upcoming months, but at the same time, I’d like to hold off and see what goes down in the campaign before determining whether or not the game joins my library. Previously, I bought Call of Duty games a few months later when they went on sale, and since I tend to play Call of Duty games only for the campaign, waiting for the discount is a logical choice. Modern Warfare II might prove to be the exception on account of how much fun I had during the beta, and while even the standard edition costs 10 CAD more than games would typically do at launch, paying about a third more to start my experience a half year earlier sounds reasonable if I am going to get into the Invasion mode earlier. For the time being, however, I am content to wait a little and see if the campaign and Invasion in the retail game will merit the additional cost of admissions, as well as explore Modern Warfare‘s spec ops missions and private lobbies further.

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