“Realism is a bad word. In a sense everything is realistic. I see no line between the imaginary and the real.” –Federico Fellini
Following Kate Laswell’s capture, Captain Price and Sergeant Garrick head over to Urzikstan, where they mount a ferocious assault on the Al Qatala convoy carrying her deep into enemy territory. With support from Farah and her rebels, as well as Nikolai, Garrick manages to reach the front of the convoy and even manages to stop an APC defending Laswell’s vehicle. At the same time, MacTavish and Vargas infiltrate a Las Almas meeting to learn the identity of their enigmatic leader, El Sin Nombre. MacTavish ends up gaining the trust of Valeria Garza, and meets up with Vargas, where they plan to move on El Sin Nombre. After MacTavish kills Diego and fights through the Las Almas enforcers, MacTavish and Vargas apprehend Garza with support from Graves and Shadow Company. In the subsequent interrogation, they learn that Garza was formerly Vargas’ teammate. In exchange for her freedom, Garza reveals the location of one of Al Qatala’s missiles; it’s on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico. Garrick, MacTavish and Vargas joins Graves on the raid. After they clear the oil rig, Graves and Garrick discover that the controls have been removed from the launch container. They immediately make their way over to a container ship, clear out its defenders and, per General Shepherd’s orders, manage to redirect the missile such that it targets the oil rig. Vargas and his team had managed to evacuate just in time; Shepherd thanks 141 and Graves for a job well done, and the strike force prepares to head back to base. With this, Modern Warfare II kicks things into high gear: Dark Water is the single most engaging mission in the campaign so far, fully capturing the aesthetic and tenour that the franchise had become known for through its earlier games. An amalgamation of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare‘s Crew Expendable (assaulting a cargo ship), Modern Warfare 2‘s The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday (attacking an oil rig), and Modern Warfare 3‘s Hunter Killer (turning an enemy’s missile on themselves) missions, Modern Warfare II seamlessly blends together the atmosphere of these exceptional missions to create an experience that shows what’s possible with today’s technology.
Modern Warfare II‘s Shadow Company is a fantastic example of a fictional private military companies (PMCs). These organisations provide combat and security services for a cost, and in reality, are employed to act as protection for facilities and locations, as well as training a government’s armed forces; international law stipulates that use of security contractors from a PMC in an active warzone is unlawful, and today, PMCs typically provide close protection for high-value individuals, as well as assisting the military with intelligence gathering. However, because PMCs employ ex-military, their operators are often highly-trained and familiar with how a nation’s armed forces operate. Fictional works are especially fond of removing restrictions on PMCs, and in this way, Modern Warfare II‘s Shadow Company suggests that, when unbound by the same regulations and laws that a given nation’s military must adhere to, it can become possible to affect change and carry out something much more quickly. Task Force 141 is, in this way, able to seize El Sin Nombre more quickly and force an answer out of Garza regarding the whereabouts of one of the missing American ballistic missiles. When one is allied with a PMC, the work gets done, and the results are indisputable. However, the efficiency does raise interesting points for discussion, as well; fictional PMCs behave more similarly to mercenaries, which are verboten under American law. The Anti-Pinkerton Act of 1893 was originally written to forbid the use of private police organisations, but in 1977, this was interpreted as extended to any mercenary or quasi-military force for hire. To this end, any security contractor working for a PMC may only use deadly force as a last-measure in self-defense, and otherwise, if they are American citizens, will lose any protections afforded to them should they actively participate in hostilities. Shadow Company appears to not be bound to the Anti-Pinkerton Act, and as a result, are able to get the ball rolling significantly quicker. Once Vargas and MacTavish capture Garza and get the missile’s location from her, they can immediately set off and destroy it before said missile can result in any mass casualties. Being able to act swiftly is important, and in a world where things are constantly moving faster, the advantages of being able to make snap decisions become apparent.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Since the last mission saw Laswell captured by Al Qatala forces, Price decides to go off the books and pushes forward with an operation to get her back before Al Qatala can secure her. General Shepherd doesn’t bother stopping Price, and to this end, Garrick heads over to Urzikstan with Price. Here, they are joined by familiar faces: Farah and Nikolai both make a return. The mission’s first part is relatively straightforward: Garrick is armed with the TAQ-56 and will fire from the helicopter Nikolai is piloting. Once Al Qatala forces get serious and return fire with RPGs, Garrick is thrown from the helicopter and is forced to fire while upside-down, making for some amusing moments.
- Nikolai will end up stablising the helicopter, and Garrick cuts himself loose. He commandeers an Al Qatala pickup truck and subsequently drives himself to the front of the convoy. When Al Qatala forces notice this, they begin deploying mines. During the driving segments, Garrick is stuck in third-person view while driving, but will automatically switch over to first-person view when leaning out of the vehicle. Timing is important here: one can only fire the Kastov 762 (basically the AK-12) while leaning out the window, but doing so means being unable to steer. Navigating this bit of the mission entails switching back and forth between the two roles.
- Once enough of the convoy is thinned out, Price appears and hands Garrick an REV G-80 (MGL). Unlike Modern Warfare, where players only receive the MGL at the game’s end, there’s actually a chance to use it here. The MGL’s 40 mm grenades will travel in an arc, but at closer ranges, they can be directly fired at enemies. Typically, two grenades will destroy a vehicle, although if one’s aim is true, they can take a vehicle out of action with as few as one shot. Although powerful, Garrick will only have a total of eighteen rounds for the REV G-80 (six in the chamber and twelve in reserve), making it imperative to aim carefully.
- Besides the REV G-80, Garrick will also have access to a SAKIN MG38 LMG. With a 100-round belt-fed system, the MG38 is compact and fast-firing, making it great for keeping up sustained fire. In games, I find that LMGs are most effective in situations where one is dealing with wave after wave of enemies; the high capacity in an LMG is offset by the fact that reloading is lengthier, so if one is caught flat-footed and can’t reload in time, using an LMG can be a death sentence. I found the MG38 to work well enough in the Violence and Timing mission, although it is the case that, if an LMG proves too cumbersome, one can switch back over to the Kastov 762.
- The trickiest part of the mission was to disable an APC that Al Qatala have fielded. In a cinematic stunt that would be ill-advised, Garrick drives a pickup truck until he’s level with it, hops out and then opens the hatch before dropping explosives in. Once the APC is out of the fight, the convoy comes to a close, and Task Force 141 secure Laswell, who brutally kills her captor. With the crew reunited, Task Force 141 exit the country, and Modern Warfare II switches over to MacTavish and Vargas’ perspective. They’ve managed to infiltrate the Las Almas and are at a swanky-looking mansion to meet El Sin Nombre.
- Vargas explains that, in order to gain their trust, MacTavish will need to be truthful in his answers. Curiously enough, I found that exposing Shadow Company didn’t feel like a betrayal at all, and after answering all of Garza’s questions, MacTavish meets up with Vargas for the next step of the plan. It turns out El Sin Nombre is actually present this evening, and while the cartel leader is supposedly faceless, the chance to capture them makes this the best opportunity to strike. To this end, I grabbed some bottles, created a minor distraction to lure a guard away, and then made my way upstairs.
- I ended up getting into Diego’s room by means of a direct path, but this left a tail of suspicious security detail in my wake. Luckily, after cracking Diego’s safe, I managed to snag a suppressed double-barrel shotgun. This would be helpful in stealth, but since I’d already blown my cover, I ended up switching back to my sidearm and blasting everything that moved. Eventually, I would find and shoot down Diego to steal his keycard. I’ve grown accustomed to achieving my aims in a non-violent manner, so it felt strange to be able to blast Diego and loot the keycard from him without failing the mission.
- Diego has a special gold-plated .50 GS (Desert Eagle), and I found myself wishing I could use it – while stealth missions are always fun because they demand creative thinking, the whole point of a first person shooter is shooting, so it’s always a bit of a shame when I pick up a particularly cool-looking firearm and must refrain from using it because of the stealth element. Modern Warfare II, however, doesn’t make players suffer through this, and even here at El Sin Nombre’s opulent mansion, there’s a chance to make use of the firearms available.
- Finding a plate carrier ended up being quite helpful, allowing me to take a few rounds from foes without dying, and here, I decided to make use of the MX9. This is the AUG SMG, a variant of the AUG chambered for the 9 mm round. While the firearms here only have iron sights, by this point in time, I’ve found that I’ve no longer got any objections to using them – even without optics, I am now reasonably confident in landing my shots, even from a distance. Armed with Diego’s .50 GS and the MX9, I accompanied Vargas to El Sin Nombre’s meeting, learning that Garza was, in fact, El Sin Nombre.
- Once Garza is captured, players earn from Vargas that the two were one teammates. However, during one operation to strike the cartels, Garza decided to kill the cartel leader and assumed the role for herself. While she’s quite defiant, to secure Las Alma’s future, it turns out she has no particular allegiance for Al Qatala; stating that terrorists fight for the past, she gives Task Force 141 and Shadow Company the location of one of the ballistic missiles to gain their trust and act as a bargaining chip to secure her own freedom. This in turn sends players on what I feel to be Modern Warfare II‘s most immersive and enjoyable mission yet.
- Dark Water was the mission featured in the campaign gameplay reveal trailer, which was uploaded back in June. What’s impressive is that the trailer featured in-game footage, and what’s more, the actual game itself looks even more polished than it had in the trailer. The end result is that Dark Water becomes a showcase of what the IW Engine can do: this level is said to be one of the most demanding missions in Modern Warfare II on GPUs, and if one’s machine can run Dark Water with reasonable frame-rates, the rest of the game should be a walk in the park for their hardware.
- The stormy weather creates a very tense atmosphere as MacTavish push up the oil rig with Task Force 141 and Shadow Company. This mission sees MacTavish start off with the Fennec 45, the KRISS Vector. This submachine gun has a blisteringly high rate of fire, making it a strong choice for close quarters scenarios, and here in Dark Water, it is suppressed. While the firing rate and magazine capacity limits this weapon’s utility at long range in most games, Modern Warfare II‘s Fennec 45 is actually quite useful even at range.
- The heavy rain and wind, coupled with the urgency of reaching the ballistic missile, creates an unparalleled aesthetic throughout the mission that exemplifies the sort of atmosphere Modern Warfare games excel at conveying, and I’ve long felt that the tensions in missions like these is actually reminiscent of the feelings surrounding an anime film release. In a bit of a coincidence, Makoto Shinkai’s Suzume no Tojimari premières in Japanese theatres today and, in fact, screenings would’ve begun mere minutes ago. Anime films have always been a bit of a point of contention for me because, while they are visually impressive, they also are notoriously difficult to watch.
- The average wait time between the première date and home release averages six to eleven months, and in the case of a Shinkai film, trends have shown that overseas viewers, like myself, will likely be waiting until October 2023 before we can watch this film at earliest. The wait can be a bit cumbersome, and while it’s suggested that leaving a movie running longer is supposed to yield a better return on investment for studios, in practise, a film makes roughly 80 percent of its box office revenue by week five, and 90 percent of its total box office revenue by week ten. After three months, everyone who’s wanted to see the film in the theatres will have already seen it.
- As such, it makes little sense to keep holding theatrical screenings for a half year after the première date; after four months at the latest, it makes sense to put a film out onto a streaming service, making the film available to international viewers and helping with revenue. I imagine that I’ll get a few pointed remarks saying that anime movies don’t follow the same trends as other films, and I’ll counter that with the remark that sticking to an outdated business model is one of the reasons why anime production is in its current situation; nowadays, it makes sense to leverage technology and infrastructure to reach more customers, but publishers continue to operate under the idea that anime is purely for a domestic audience, leaving overseas viewers in the dust.
- I imagine that things aren’t likely to change for anime in the foreseeable future, and while waiting eleven months for Suzume no Tojimari isn’t a hardship by any stretch, one of my own reasons for supporting a much shorter wait between theatrical screenings and home release stems from being able to watch a film while there is still excitement for it. Having said this, the lengthier wait won’t impact my own enjoyment of Suzume no Tojimari when it does come out; over the years, I’ve become rather skilled at avoiding spoilers, and this allows me to enjoy a work in full once it does become available.
- Back in Modern Warfare II, I’ve switched over to the FTac Recon, a semi-automatic battle rifle chambered for the .458 round. This version is suppressed and comes with an ACOG sight, making it suitable for picking off foes at medium ranges. When MacTavish reaches the oil rig’s deck, the open areas makes the FTac Recon a viable choice: although its ten round magazine is a little limiting, here on the oil rig, foes don’t appear in such numbers, and one is afforded with plenty of time to reload in between engagements.
- While the FTac Recon is counted as a battle rifle, it handles more similarly to a marksman rifle. On the oil rig’s deck, Al Qatala forces will hide behind the extensive cover and fire from windows. Manoeuvring into a range where the Fennec 45 is effective will expose MacTavish to a great deal of fire, so it is logical to switch over to the FTac Recon and pick off foes before pressing ahead. One detail I particularly liked was the accumulation of water on the weapon model. Rendering has come a very long way, and I remember being highly impressed with how Battlefield 1 had depicted water, mud and even blood on the weapon in response to actions like swimming or running through mud.
- Modern Warfare II does not have real-time ray-tracing, but the game itself looks fantastic at every turn. More so than any mission, Dark Water really showcases what the IW Engine can do. Here, I’ve reached the far end of the rig and are about to prepare for a bit of close-quarters engagement in order to reach the ballistic missile, which has been armed and is now preparing for launch. The number of foes on the rig are not overwhelming, and a combination of good positioning and a steady hand will allow one to prevail.
- The mission’s combination of manoeuvring into cover and firing at foes means that, despite the Fennec 45’s high rate of fire, one should still have plenty of ammunition left by the time they reach the ballistic missile. It is easy to panic and empty an entire magazine out at one foe, but since the focus in Dark Water isn’t on fending off wave after wave of enemies, firing short, controlled bursts will be enough to handle individual enemies. In this way, I cleared the oil rig’s upper deck and climbed up the stairs to reach the stolen missile.
- Unsurprisingly, when MacTavish and Graves reaches the container, they find that all of the controls have been removed. Graves immediately deduces that the controls must be located on board the cargo ship nearby. The pair board a boat and dynamically push their way onto the cargo ship, beginning the mission’s second half. While Modern Warfare 2 had the longer oil rig segment, Modern Warfare II‘s approach with its missions appear be to showcase how dynamic individual levels are. Rather than placing all of the action on the oil rig, the mission is broken up to show how seamlessly the IW Engine can transition between two locations.
- Upon hitting the cargo ship’s deck, MacTavish must fight across and reach the bridge on the other side. The choppy seas mean cargo containers on the deck will constantly shift, and being caught in one’s path will either result in being crushed or pushed overboard. There’s a bit of finesse and patience needed to navigate the deck, since Al Qatala forces will also be doing their best to prevent MacTavish from succeeding. While it’s tempting to simply rush across the deck and shoot anything that movies, shifting containers and poor visibility means there’s more merit to play it safe and do things slowly, methodically.
- The intense rainfall here actually reminds me of the weather in Weathering With You, and I am reminded of a conversation I’d read in the months after the film’s release in Japan. AnimeSuki’s Toukairin had expressed disappointment that the film didn’t get nominated for any categories in the Academy Awards, feeling that Japan needed to make a more concerted effort in making their films Oscar-worthy. While Toukairin was likely just conveying his love for Japanese animation, I strongly disagree with the implications – members of the Academy Awards committee might not always be fully aware of nuances in Japanese cinema and culture, which is why anime movies get skated over.
- If anime films were to become something that gets a nomination, it is likely the case that a work would need to compromise its artistic direction, in turn diminishing its impact. As it is, I don’t believe that the Oscars are a good metric for anime, which are enjoyable on their own merits. It suddenly hits me that I never did get to read Toukairin’s thoughts on Weathering With You; Toukairin was banned from AnimeSuki before the BDs were released. To this day, I have mixed feelings out this; on one hand, AnimeSuki has become a ways more peaceable since Toukairin’s ban, but on the other, Toukairin and I share common interests, and I therefore wonder if we might’ve shared good conversations under different circumstances.
- It is exceedingly rare to encounter people with a similar set of interests to myself – we both enjoy things like The Dark Knight trilogy, Lord of the Rings, Gundam, Tom Clancy novels, Battlefield, and Call of Duty. I wonder if Toukairin’s had a chance to give Modern Warfare II a go; unlike 2019’s Modern Warfare, Modern Warfare II is chock-full of references to the original games, and this has made it incredibly entertaining to spot the callbacks. Here, I push closer to the entrance into the bridge, and as memory serves, the gameplay reveal trailer ends here with MacTavish placing charges on the door. At this point in time, I’ve still got a few magazines of ammunition left for the Fennec 45. When I was watching TheRadBrad’s playthrough, I was surprised to see him down to his last magazine by the time he hit the cargo ship.
- Once inside the cargo ship, I found myself thinking back to Mighty Ships – I pass through the dining area and galley here. It’s nowhere nearly as modern or clean as the galley inside something like the Emma Maersk or North Star, but even then, I thought back to the remark that a good galley is the heart of a good ship, since sailors look forward to a delicious meal after a hard day’s work. With Al Qatala on the ship, I’d imagine that this cargo ship is more of a temporary home than a workplace; the ship doesn’t have the same vibes as the ships showcased in Mighty Ships do.
- It’s close quarters for the duration of the mission, and fortunately for me, I still had plenty of .45 ACP left for the Fennec 45. After reaching the stairwell leading to the bridge and neutralising two targets, a grenade came bouncing down the stairs. I immediately returned it to the sender, before climbing up the stairs cautiously. Despite having played Call of Duty games for over a decade, I’ve never really understood the grenade indicators. These show the rough direction of where the grenade is, but in the games I’ve played, there’s no sense of proximity, which has led me to die more times than necessary.
- On the other hand, having been around Call of Duty games for ten plus years means that I am able to make reasonable guesses of where foes are. Here, I arrive at the bridge, and feeling that there were some hostiles, I tossed in a 9-banger to stun them. This bought me enough time to neutralise the remaining Al Qatala gunmen. With the bridge secure, Graves arrives and locates the controls. After he patches in and puts the system in diagnostic mode, he finds that even though the launch is already set. Shepherd indicates it’s still possible to redirect the missile, but anyone left on the oil rig has one minute to evacuate.
- MacTavish must help Graves with the process by pressing the right buttons to enable diagnostic mode, and then read back one of the codes to grant Graves access. When I was watching TheRadBrad play, he got the code right in one go, whereas with JackFrags’ playthough, it took JackFrags several tries. Moments like these are always fun to watch: JackFrags is an excellent FPS player, whereas both TheRadBrad and I have a background in computer science, and therefore, have dealt with consoles full of hexadecimal codes previously.
- The build-up throughout the level is fantastic, and the pay-off is enormous, making this a highly memorable experience. There was something incredibly satisfying about turning the missile against the oil rig, and in the aftermath, both Task Force 141 and Graves are impressed with their handiwork. It’s hard to see Modern Warfare II topping this level, but I’ve learnt to never make such judgement until the whole game’s done. It goes without saying that I’m excited to see where Modern Warfare II is headed next. Having said this, I imagine that readers would rather see me write about anime than games; so readers have a very clear idea of what’s upcoming, I’ve got two more posts on Modern Warfare II campaign before I finish.
As the story to Modern Warfare II continues, it becomes clear that, more so than its predecessor, Modern Warfare II inherits the franchise’s bold, bombastic campaigns over the slower, methodical and realistic missions that were present in Modern Warfare. The end result is that Modern Warfare II‘s campaign ends up being much more memorable. Missions stand out with their distinct set-pieces, and there are moments that simply take the players’ breath away, acting as the game’s opportunity to show off what the IW Engine is capable of, as well as setting the scene for what’s at stake. The effort of clearing out an oil rig of hostiles, and then immediately riding over to a cargo ship to secure its bridge is rewarded with an immensely satisfying outcome; players are able to watch the ballistic missile launch, rise into the sky and then flip back over before slamming into the Al Qatala oil rig, decimating it in a fiery explosion worthy of the Jericho Missile seen in Iron Man. Moments like these make the campaign worth playing, and in this way, Modern Warfare II‘s campaign is a respectful callback to older games. Newer players will have no trouble warming up to Modern Warfare II through the story missions, while older players will appreciate the references to older titles that they grew up around. Modern Warfare‘s campaign was more realistic in this sense – plots of losing missiles are less probable than helping an insurgency resist another nation’s occupation, but at the same time, the result of a more grounded story is that things become less memorable. While realism is often lauded as an element that all intellectuals love, in reality, realism isn’t necessary for good storytelling. When a story is properly written, it will be engaging whether it adheres to natural laws and plays out in accordance with how things work, or if it is more fantastical in nature. Modern Warfare II shows that it is possible to still present a plausible story, while at the same time, possessing more creativity and allowing developers to create set-pieces that are definitively Modern Warfare II. Dark Water is a fantastic representation of how set-piece missions can define a game, and here in Modern Warfare II, this particular mission has quickly become a personal favourite.