The Infinite Zenith

Where insights on anime, games and life converge

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare II- Part II Review and Reflection, Two Stances on Failure Handling and A Nostalgic Return To Death From Above and All Ghillied Up

“You can embrace nostalgia and history and tradition at the same time – it has to progress or it can’t survive.” –Sturgill Simpson

While Task Force 141 push forwards towards Hassan’s compound, Shadow Company’s Commander Phillip Graves directs air support from an AC-130, providing close air support. They are able to clear Las Almas forces defending Hassan, allowing Task Force 141 to apprehend him. Hassan’s capture prompts an immediate response from the cartel, but the AC-130’s continued support allows Hassan to be secured. After a conversation with General Shepherd, Price is forced to let Hassan go in order to avoid political consequences, but the group manage to break into Hassan’s phone and learns that he had recently made a call to Spain. This leads Garrick and Price to a Las Almas-owned fish hatchery. After donning ghillie suits and cladestinely eliminating the patrols, Garrick sneaks into the facility in search of the missing missiles, while Price provides overwatch. Although search of the facility turns up nothing, Garrick discovers a map of a cave system underneath the nearby lighthouse. The pair make their way over to the lighthouse and, after picking off the guards, enter the tunnel system. They discover that the missiles were never in Spain, but instead, Las Almas had kept Russian-made guidance systems here. Before they can exfiltrate, Laswell is captured by Al Qatala forces; because of her involvement in things, Price determines that rescuing her now becomes their top priority. At this point in time, I’ve spent about four hours in Modern Warfare II‘s campaign, and having wrapped up Recon by Fire, this means that I’m about halfway through the story, and while I tend not to prefer comparisons, I will say that Call of Duty is at its best when the story is a little flashier; I am having more fun, and more engaged by the story here in Modern Warfare II than I had been with that of its predecessor’s.

Call of Duty games have traditionally, featured a wide range of mission variety and set piece moments, giving players a chance to see the story from several perspectives. Modern Warfare II continues on in this tradition, and by placing players behind the console of the AC-130’s gunner station, the game has openly become a love letter to fans of the original Modern Warfare trilogy. However, the rules in Modern Warfare II can seem inconsistent as a result of this mission variety. In the AC-130 missions, players can fail the mission instantly if they accidentally fire upon civilians or damage any buildings they do not have clearance to engage. This sends them back to their last checkpoint, forcing one to be more mindful of what they’re shooting at. Conversely, when sneaking around a Spanish island, there is some tolerance for making a mistake. If Garrick misses a shot, Price will cover for him and readily lands a follow-up shot. Similarly, when one is detected while infiltrating the fish hatchery, and the alarm goes off, the mission carries on. Price will merely comment that they’ve lost the element of surprise, but the game won’t send players back to the last checkpoint. At first glance, this can seem quite jarring and inconsistent. However, beneath the initial difference, lies a surprisingly clever storytelling mechanic: Modern Warfare II is suggesting that different roles have different tolerances for failure, and in doing so, reminds players that there are some situations where failure is not an option, while in others, one can still fall back upon a plan B if required. This aspect of Modern Warfare II comes about as a result of the game trying to modernise parts of the experience while retaining other elements from an older time. While it can come across as a little rough, the effect nonetheless works for the game’s messages and parallels a thought I had pertaining to determinism and free will from my earlier Madoka Magica discussion: while some things are likely preordained, one still has agency in other situations, and where agency is provided, it is to one’s benefit to utilise this opportunity to the fullest extent possible.

Screenshots and Commentary

  • As memory serves, Modern Warfare 3 had an AC-130 mission, and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare first introduced the concept into a Call of Duty game. Originally, players operated the guns to an AC-130H, which was armed with the M102 105 mm howitzer, but here in Modern Warfare II, Shadow Company uses the AC-130W Stinger II, which is equipped with wing-mounted pylons that allow it to carry the AGM-114 Hellfire. Switching out the M102 for Hellfire missiles means the AC-130W is afforded with precision strike capability.

  • However, early in Modern Warfare II‘s mission, the gunner is only cleared to use 25 mm rounds. The slower pacing it to the player’s advantage – when the mission started, I was having a bit of difficulty with the controls, since the key mappings constantly meant I was trying to increase magnification by pressing the button for changing the imaging type, and by old muscle memory, accidentally missed targets or otherwise fired at inopportune moments, resulting in rounds hitting civilians or even friendly forces. The shift in mission parameters makes the normal imaging important: thermal imaging doesn’t show which targets on the ground are armed.

  • The 25 mm gun also has a bit of a spin-up time and is limited to a thirty-round burst, so one must be mindful of where they’re aiming, and how long they can fire for before reloading. Once accustomed to the mechanics, Modern Warfare II‘s two close air support missions proved extremely fun: fifteen years of advancement means that one’s rounds do appreciable damage to ground targets. When I played Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare‘s Death From Above mission for the first time, I had found it to be an entertaining mission that also provided an interesting perspective on warfare.

  • At three-and-a-half kilometres above the ground, blowing enemies away on a television screen made war feel like a video game in that one became far removed from the carnage below. At these altitudes, one’s cameras can’t resolve what’s happening on the ground with the same clarity that would be seen by those who are on the ground, isolating one from the horror and desolation of conflict. Adding a feeling of unease to things, the other crew’s comments in response to the gunner’s actions is reminiscent of how one might complement a friend for getting a particularly good kill in a video game.

  • The different perspectives of war is something that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare had done extremely well, and overall, the entire Modern Warfare series has been the most standout Call of Duty entries. After I finished the first of the missions, and Hassan is secured, the AC-130 would fly on over to continue escorting Task Force 141. Unlike the first mission, players are able to start firing on targets almost right away; after a cursory scan of the ground forces, it becomes clear that Las Almas and Al Qatala forces have overrun the area and are making it difficult to extract.

  • Having not used the LTM missiles in the first mission, where collateral damage was a very real mission-ending possibility, the heavy enemy presence in the second close air support mission means that these Hellfires become an indispensable asset. I did find myself favouring the 40 mm rounds, much as I had in the original Death From Above mission – players have up to ten rounds to work with, and the Bofors 40 mm cannon balances firing rate with damage, allowing one to place their shots with fair precision against soft targets like light vehicles and infantry.

  • To help with navigation, waypoints mark out critical landmarks, and in a clever callback to Death From Above, the crew on the AC-130 will tell players not to fire on the church, as there may be civilians inside. By the second mission, I was a shade more accustomed to the controls, but the splash damage that the weapons did were something that took a little getting used to. While trying to pick off RPGs targetting Task Force 141, I sent a few stray 25 mm rounds into the church’s walls, causing me to fail the mission instantly and prompting me to be a little more cautious on my next attempt.

  • Towards the end of the mission, hostile ground forces will begin firing anti-air missiles at the AC-130. Death From Above had ground forces completely vulnerable to the AC-130’s arsenal of weapons, giving players a sense of invincibility, but in reality, the slow-firing gunship is vulnerable to shoulder-fired anti-air missiles. This is, fortunately, easily countered – the AC-130 is equipped with flares that can throw missiles off. The large flare payload that AC-130s carry result in a very distinct pattern that is referred to as “angel wings”.

  • Once a friendly helicopter arrives to pick Task Force 141 and their prize up, the mission draws to a close, and here, in order to slow a convoy down, I fire on the truss bridge, destroying it completely and sending the armoured vehicles into the river below. Task Force 141 are later told to let Hassan go, with Shepherd citing political reasons being the justification for why things must happen in this way. As unfavourable as things are, Price’s team do manage to put a bug on Hassan’s phone before reluctantly setting him free, and while Hassan walks for the time being, the bug does give Task Force 141 something to go off of.

  • The resulting information pulled from Hassan’s phone sends players over to an island off the coast of Spain, and here, Modern Warfare II expertly brings Call of Duty‘s most iconic mission, All Ghillied Up, back to life in a modern setting. Although lacking Pripyat’s moody aesthetic and the grim threat of radiation, Modern Warfare II‘s iteration brings back the same tensions; right out of the gates, players must wait out an entire contingent of hostile forces, and if they’re stepped on, a firefight will break out, typically resulting in death.

  • Unlike All Ghillied Up, which started players with the M21, Modern Warfare II gives players a suppressed Victus XMR (AW-50). Firing .50 calibre BMG rounds, this weapon is absolutely devastating, and increasing the weapon’s efficacy, this particular Victus XMR comes with a thermal optic that also has a range finder. Altogether, the Victus XMR is ideally suited for long-range engagements: it is silent but hits hard, and the thermal optics make it far easier to spot foes in the foggy weather. Modern Warfare II further gives players an assist by equipping Price with an infrared laser, allowing one to immediately spot what Price is referring to.

  • The overcast, misty skies brings to mind the sort of weather that had been present in All Ghillied Up, as well as the weather that had dominated the earlier months of the summer a decade earlier, when I first began to study for the MCAT. This story is old hat to long-time readers; when one of my friends went on vacation and asked me to idle for Team Fortress 2 hats with his accounts, I only needed to idle for a few days of the week, and was otherwise free to try some of the games out. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare had been so engaging I beat it within the space of a week.

  • Since then, I’ve found that of the Call of Duty games, 2007’s Modern Warfare remained the most enjoyable with its campaign, setting the bar very high. However, the host of other Call of Duty titles I’ve played since then have been fun in their own way. Modern Warfare 2‘s best missions are The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday and Gulag, while for Modern Warfare 3, Hunter Killer is easily the most memorable mission. The Cold War games have the Yamantau missions, and Infinite Warfare was actually quite enjoyable despite the negative reception.

  • After sneaking past all of the Las Almas and Al Qatala forces, it’s a straight shot to the cliff edge for an overwatch position. Unlike the post-apocalyptic remains of Pripyat, Modern Warfare II‘s mission is set in an area that feels more like a provincial park. There’s a little less tension, and admittedly, the banter between Laswell, Price and Garrick served to lighten the mood up considerably. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2 had been all business, creating a much greater sense of urgency. There is a tradeoff here; a game that’s too serious will feel devoid of life, while games with humour in the wrong place will seem irreverent.

  • Modern Warfare II seems to be a little more relaxed than its predecessors, but considering the campaign is generally serious, some humour in the right spots remind players that, while Price and Garrick are elite special forces, they’re also human. These elements were absent in the earlier titles, which conveyed things a little differently. Upon reaching the overlook, it’s time to get to work. Previously, Modern Warfare had only required players to place shots at ranges of under 100 metres, so All Ghillied Up had been an easy mission. However, the overlook is up to half a kilometre away from the fish hatchery below.

  • Price will help Garrick out and call how much to compensate for gravity by: two-and-a-half notches roughly corresponds to three hundred metres, and anything further than 450 metres is four notches. Once players have a rough idea of how much compensation is needed, they’ll be able to place shots with reasonable confidence, although in the event one misses, Price will helpfully follow-up and comment on how grateful he is to be the better shot of the two. The only tough shots to place are those where one must hit two targets with one bullet. The .50 calibre BMG ammunition is helpful here, and Price will indicate that Garrick needs to manoeuvre into a better spot.

  • Once the patrols are thinned out, Garrick will move, alone, to the fish hatchery below. To assist with things, Garrick is equipped with a heartbeat sensor. In reality, a heat sensor would make more sense, but since its introduction in Modern Warfare 2, it’s become an iconic part of the series. Unlike the heartbeat sensors of earlier games, Modern Warfare II‘s incarnation has a limited charge and will slowly drain over time. However, here in the campaign, one’s usage of the heartbeat sensor is sporadic enough so that running out of power shouldn’t be a problem.

  • Price will give Garrick several options for clearing out the buildings of interest. The more direct route is to plant C4 on the door ways, then throw flashbangs and thin out the foes within, but since Garrick is also equipped with tear gas, Price suggests climbing to the roof tops, tossing a tear gas grenade in and capitalising on this to flush out the occupants. Pushing them outside gives players more options to engage them tactically, whereas entering the buildings could be risky, since foes could utilise cover and hide more effectively.

  • In classic video game fashion, the first building players search will be empty. Aside from typical traces of cartel activity (there’s a container full of narcotics and money), there’s no sign of the ballistic missile anywhere. For engaging targets at close quarters, Garrick carries the M4 with a suppressor and hybrid thermal sight. At closer ranges, the thermal sight can be disengaged, allowing one to use the holographic sight. The M4 is a mainstay in Modern Warfare: it’s a fair all-around weapon, and I remember how in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Task Force 141’s preferred service rifle is the M4A1 SOPMOD.

  • Once the first building is cleared, and it’s abundant that there’s no missile anywhere, Garrick pushes ahead to the next building. Armoured foes begin appearing, and these foes show up at the most inopportune times during a firefight, demanding that players adapt their strategy to overcome them. Since I was equipped with a .50-cal rifle here, I was able to back-pedal and instantly take an armoured soldier down, but only after engaging the unarmoured enemies first. Armoured enemies can, in theory, be downed by firing at them until the armour breaks, but aiming for the head and targetting their helmet is a more efficient route.

  • In a firefight where an armoured foe appears alongside unarmoured enemies, I prefer thinning things out first: armoured enemies are powerful and armed with heavier weapons, but three submachine guns firing at me from three different angles is still a greater threat than one light machine gun. In these cases, using the flashbang grenades or fragmentation grenades are most effective. These enemies mix firefights up enough to keep the campaign engaging, and it’s not lost on me that Recon by Fire is really just a combined mission that includes All Ghillied Up and One Shot, One Kill in a slightly less linear set-up.

  • The inclusion of more open campaign missions is a slight departure from tradition: most FPS campaigns are dominated by linear missions, and even games that provide some player choice (such as Metro: Exodus‘s open areas and Bad Company 2‘s Sangre del Toro mission) still end up corralling players back once their objectives are done. However, adding more options does create a more immersive experience, and in this way, Modern Warfare II adds to the campaign’s ability to sell the idea that sometimes, deviating from the “happy path” won’t result in immediate mission failure, giving resourceful players a chance to rectify mistakes.

  • Linear games have often been seen as being too strict: Call of Duty tends to punish players immediately for any missteps, but on the other hand, the franchises’ best-remembered missions have been tolerant of mistakes. In Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare‘s All Ghillied Up, Captain Macmillan will remark that Price “leads a charmed life” if players alert guards to their presence but manage to fend them off, and similarly, if players attempt to shoot down the Mi-24 with Stinger missiles, Macmillan will comment on how Price is “just showing off”.

  • As it turns out, there are no missiles here at the fish hatchery, but instead, Garrick finds a map depicting an underground tunnel system by the lighthouse, and as the operation wears on, they find Russian PMC forces present. The Modern Warfare franchise has portrayed Russian ultranationalists as an antagonist in earlier games, but Russian moderates also act as allies. The choice to use PMC forces is perhaps a reflection of the current geopolitical state; this move ends up being a thoughtful way of avoiding controversy, especially in a franchise that has a history of portraying contentious things.

  • One thing I’ve not mentioned until now about Modern Warfare II is the soundtrack, and it suddenly strikes me that the music here isn’t anywhere nearly as noticeable as it’d been in earlier Call of Duty games. I’ve found that Call of Duty games have excellent music; Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare‘s incidental music was iconic, and I still greatly enjoy pieces like “All Ghillied Up”, “Heat”, and even the “Main Menu” theme to this day. Besides the Modern Warfare series, Black Ops also had some fantastic pieces. In fact, Cold War‘s “This Ends Now” is one of my favourite pieces of Call of Duty, being a highly suspenseful piece that spoke to the gravity of Cold War‘s final assignment.

  • I haven’t found any information about Modern Warfare II‘s soundtrack, and in fact, a cursory search for the soundtrack only returns results from 2009’s Modern Warfare 2. The music in that game had also been superb, with “Coup de Grace” being the strongest piece in the album; it’s played when players kill General Shepherd during the game’s final moments. Back in Modern Warfare II, I managed to clear the houses around the lighthouse out despite setting off an alarm with my sub-par marksman skills, and ended up locating the tunnel leading underneath the lighthouse itself.

  • The final segment of this mission was reminiscent of similar levels in Modern Warfare, and this time around, since I’m rocking an RTX 3060 Ti, there’s no artefacts showing up in my weapon models. This was a very real issue when I was using the GTX 1060, making it difficult to capture screenshots in darker locations, or areas where there was a stark contrast between light and dark elements, but at present, this is no longer an issue. Without this issue, I found it much easier to get good screenshots, and here, I stop to admire the lighting inside the tunnels before pressing forwards with Price.

  • Upon reaching a small cave at the end of the tunnels, I engaged in a brief firefight with the remaining Al Qatala forces. Once the cave is cleared, Price will relay their findings back to Laswell, but before they can rendezvous with her and extract, Al Qatala will appear and abduct her. There isn’t anything one can really do to stop this, even if they break out the XMR and do their utmost to pick off the militants. With Laswell gone, the priority shifts towards recovering her before she’s lost in Al Qatala territory. The outcomes of this mission sets the stage for what comes next, and I’m now technically halfway through Modern Warfare II now in terms of missions.

  • Overall, it took me about 70 minutes to complete Recon by Fire, since I was exploring (and made a few mistakes that led to my demise), making this one of the longest Call of Duty missions I’ve ever played. I’m thoroughly enjoying the campaign, and from what I can tell, Modern Warfare II hasn’t even hit its stride yet. There’s still a ways to go yet before the missiles are recovered, but what is clear is that there remains a great deal of globe-trotting left to do. While sending players to so many places in Modern Warfare II might be seen as distracting, it also offers the game a chance to really show the IW Engine’s capabilities off, and for me, represents a chance to see how the RTX 3060 Ti is holding up to the latest and greatest titles.

The missions leading up to Modern Warfare II‘s halfway point will be a trip down memory lane for folks who’ve played Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Modern Warfare 2, being chock-full of callbacks to the original games. The use of close-air support in Close Air and Hardpoint creates the same aesthetic as did Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare‘s “Death From Above” mission, while crawling around fields to avoid patrols in a ghillie suit is a callback to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare‘s “All Ghillied Up” mission. Previous Call of Duty games have included close-air support missions and missions involving a combination of stealth and marksmanship, but it had always felt that Modern Warfare had done it best. Here in Modern Warfare II, however, the missions do capture the spirit and tenour of the originals in terms of gameplay and aesthetics. In the close air missions, the controller’s dialogue has several references to the original Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, such as telling players not to fire on a church. Price reminds Garrick to move slowly and avoid making sudden movements when they find themselves along the path of some hostile Las Almas enforces whilst in Spain. The mission also gives Garrick access to a heartbeat sensor, a contraption that Modern Warfare 2 had become known for. In this way, Modern Warfare II is celebrating the aspects that had made the earlier instalments so enjoyable, while at the same time, integrating iconic experiences into a new story to remind players that, while Infinity Ward is aware of their fans’ past experiences and is working to ensure that their latest title is what they’d hoped for, the newer titles will also strive to innovate and do things in creative ways to keep the experience fresh for players without changing what has made things enjoyable in the past.

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