“The truth of the matter is that you always know the right thing to do. The hard part is doing it.” –Robert H. Schuller
On a covert mission to Verdansk, Kastovia to seize chemical weapons, Special Activities Division operator Alex is attacked by hostiles, who kill the marines accompanying him. They leave him for dead and secure the chemical weapons. Meanwhile, in London, SAS Sergeant Kyle “Gaz” Garrick is tracking a cell of suspected terror operatives from Al-Qatala. When these operatives launch an attack, Garrick is able to help the local law enforcement teams in stopping them. Alex arrives in Urzikstan and meets with Farah Karim, the rebel leader: she desires the overthrow of the Russian forces in the area, led by one General Roman Barkov, and in exchange for this, agrees to help Alex locate the missing chemical weapons. Alex assists Farah and the rebels in an attack on a Russian airbase, managing to secure both the airfield and armouries. However, the remaining Russian forces send in LAVs to attack their position, and Alex calls in air support from an Apache, which subsequently destroys the Russian vehicles. In light of these events, CIA Station Chief Kate Laswell gets in touch with Captain John Price to help secure the stolen chemical weapons and prevent all-out war with Russia. This is the first hour to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare‘s 2019 iteration, a reboot of the Modern Warfare series that released back in October 2019. Unlike previous Call of Duty games, which ventured into the realm of the comic, Modern Warfare‘s 2019 iteration (Modern Warfare from here on out for brevity) returns players to traditional boots-on-the-ground gameplay in a realistic, modern setting. In returning to the Call of Duty Franchise’s origins, Modern Warfare represents a major step forward for Infinity Ward and Activision – their previous games had swung between future warfare and World War Two, but was met with polarising reception from a player base that felt Activision was releasing titles annually for the sake of releasing titles annually. Besides creating games that are increasingly shoddy and poorly thought-out, Activision’s approach also meant that Call of Duty players would constantly need to keep buying the latest and greatest title in order to find populated servers to play on. Modern Warfare changes this approach; the game sends players back to a time when it was felt that Call of Duty was at its best, and then modernises everything from the mechanics and visuals, to the setting and narrative to create an experience more consistent with contemporary expectations.
The older Modern Warfare games had placed an emphasis on how much could be done through the will of a single man, and then presented a story in which one individual, with the right determination, charisma and madness, could deal indelible damage upon the world, forcing individuals with superior determination, resolve and fortitude to take up arms and cross the line to thwart these machinations. The franchise is characterised by large-scale conflicts, weapons of mass destruction and the simple will to get things done. However, here in Modern Warfare, there appears to be a significantly larger human piece to things. Call of Duty is a first person shooter, and therefore, the game’s mechanics are built around a sure aim and quick trigger finger. The campaigns in the games, on the other hand, tend to warn of the horrors and desolation that accompany warfare. From the very themes that each game conveys surrounding the sacrifice and loss of each conflict, to the death quotes one receives for succumbing during a campaign, it is surprising to see Call of Duty remind players that warfare, violence and death is unanimously undesirable. The gameplay itself, on the other hand, never conveys this, and as such, Call of Duty always gave the sense that as long as one is blowing up bad guys, there might be a case where force and violence is justified. Here in Modern Warfare, this particular message returns: players are engaging Russian forces in the fictional Middle Eastern nation of Urzikstan to stop all-out warfare from erupting, and through the eyes of both Alex and Garrick, spot the sort of atrocities that are happening under Russian occupation. It is easy to suggest that the Russians are the antagonists at this point, but warfare is never that simple, and I expect that, in typical Call of Duty fashion, the game will find a way to show that, contrary to the idea that a first person shooter is about aiming and pressing left mouse, warfare is significantly more complex, and cannot be judged fairly until one has a more complete picture available to them.
Screenshots and Commentary
- Out of the gates, Modern Warfare represents a much slower experience compared to Cold War – in the latter, the first mission was a firefight on city rooftops, followed by a pursuit down a runway to capture a high-value target. Here in Modern Warfare, the first mission drops players straight into the thick of things, as operator Alex infiltrates a site suspected to holding chemical weapons. After a tense moment moving through the woods, Alex finally reaches a viewpoint and begins spotting targets on the ground.
- Unlike most titles I’m accustomed to, which adds a little marker over spotted targets, Modern Warfare removes this element and hit markers entirely to create a much more immersive experience. Similarly, firefights are gripping experiences: gone are the days of run-and-gun, as one must now carefully poke around corners and place their shots before retreating to cover. This is a novel experience for me, since in most shooters, I’ve got enough armour or some sort of energy shield that allows me to take a few more hits before worrying about finding cover.
- The August Long Weekend in the past two years were characterised by extreme heat warnings, and of spending time escaping said heat in the coolest part of the house. In 2020, I spent the weekend playing World of Warcraft‘s Blackrock Dungeon and Molten Core on my private server, and last year, I split things between exploring Northrend in Wrath of the Lich King on my private server and playing Cold War‘s Zombies mode to unlock the CARV.2, which is modelled after the Heckler and Koch G11 and forms the basis for 007 Agent Under Fire‘s D17, the best weapon available to players.
- This year, the long weekend saw a combination of old habits intermingling with capitalisation of the summer weather. On Saturday, I enjoyed a Cantonese style dinner from my favourite place in town: we ended up ordering the classic sweet and sour pork with apricot slices, Chinese broccoli topped with sirloin beef, 一品窩 (jyutping jat1 ban2 wo1, a delicious bowl with chicken, fish, shrimps and two kinds of tofu cooked in a clay pot), and fried oysters with ginger and green onion. Because the long weekend is a special one, we also went with their yi mein. A massive thunderstorm was brewing north of us, but it wasn’t until after dinner that the rain began falling.
- By Sunday, the skies had cleared back up, and the high was forecast to be 31°C. It was under clear skies that we ended up taking a Sunday drive to the deep south of the city, where I had the chance to visit the field and parking lot where scenes from Pure Pwnage‘s third episode was filmed. I had come across the location completely by chance, and as unremarkable as it is, it was fun to check out the spot where Doug and Jeremy talk games. The day had originally began out of a wish to visit Waffle n’ Chix’s in-store location, but an unforeseen mechanical issue caused them to be closed for the entire long weekend.
- Instead, I ended up swinging by the Calgary Farmer’s Market to try out Two Two’s Fish and Chips, which had also been on my list of places to check out; their fish and chips is coated in bread crumbs for bonus crunch, and therefore is counted amongst Calgary’s best. To try everything out, I ordered their Seafood Platter, a gargantuan plate with two large pieces of North Atlantic haddock, tempura shrimp, popcorn shrimp, calamari, seafood croquettes, breaded scallops and fried beans on a bed of thick-cut fries. A side of pickles was provided alongside their in-house tartar sauce and dill sauce. The dill sauce was out-of-this-world, and I’ve never been more impressed with fish and chips: the fish fell apart in my fork and was delicious, while the addition of other seafoods made this a complete experience.
- Rounding things out was a tall glass of blueberry soda: the Calgary Farmer’s Market is not air-conditioned, and eating a hearty plate of deep-fried seafood in a sweltering room was quite the experience, so having a cool drink was remarkably refreshing. I do have plans to check out Waffle n’ Chix again at a later date, but for the present, my yearning for fish and chips is sated: since my trip to Denver back in 2018, I’ve been longing to enjoy a fried seafood feast after coming across the Mesquite Grill, which was located half a klick from the office I was working out of. Although the Mesquite Grill has since closed, I’m glad to know that there’s an equivalent experience right here at home that serves some of the finest fried seafood I’ve enjoyed for some time.
- The first four missions in Modern Warfare are very short – they’re intended to be an interactive opening cinematic that introduces players to the story in the game, and while they are quite limiting in terms of gameplay, even by Call of Duty standards, they get the job done. The choice to go with terrorism and chemical weapons was a clear parallel to reports of Syrian usage of chemical weapons in the Syrian Civil War: Call of Duty had previously gone with a more conventional “rouge actors seize control of Russian nuclear weapons”, but in the changing face of warfare, Modern Warfare‘s story is meant to present a side of warfare that is more likely to unfold.
- In the streets of London, players assume the role of Kyle Garrick, who’s investigating a terror cell and ends up being caught amidst a suicide bombing attack in London. Garrick is only equipped with a pistol, and the chaos of the moment accentuates why terror attacks are so difficult to respond to at the onset: the terrorists are often equipped with automatic weapons, and first responders only have pistols on hand to deal with them. Coupled with the fact that there are civilians everywhere, law enforcement are hard-pressed to return fire when they might cause civilian casualties, whereas the terrorists have no qualms in firing on anything that moves.
- Modern Warfare is able to capture this sense of vulnerability: even though players are in control of a trained SAS operator, the lack of gear means one cannot help but feel underprepared to handle things. After shooting out a few of the terrorists that first appear, my first inclination is to loot an automatic weapon off them, and once this is done, I began to feel in my element. The way I approach a video game, however, is absolutely the wrong way to do things in reality: soldiers will not pick up enemy weapons because they have no way of ascertaining whether or not the weapon is safe to use.
- Games will encourage players to stick with their starting loadout by equipping them with solid weapons: in Call of Duty 4, for instance, the M4A1 SOPMOD is an exceptional all-round weapon with good handling traits and low recoil. There is no incentive to switch off this weapon unless one’s aim was to try out different weapons, and even then, these other weapons have a great deal of recoil to them. In this way, while video games don’t actively prevent players from playing in the way they please, they do provide small incentives for players to experience things in the most authentic way possible.
- For me, the starting G17 simply isn’t enough to deal with the terrorists that show up, so I ended up looting an AK-47 off a terrorist that I’d finished off. In extenuating circumstances, soldiers will make use of captured firearms, and in video games, the AI isn’t sophisticated enough to tell the difference between the report of a G17 and AK-47, so for the sake of getting through the mission in one piece, I’ll elect to switch over to other weapons purely for gameplay reasons.
- Modern Warfare is said to be a reboot of the franchise, and so, all of the events that had previously transpired no longer hold true. In the original Modern Warfare series, Captain John Price is fixated on pursuing Vladimir Makarov and defeating him after the latter’s actions resulted in a full-scale conflict between the United States and Russia. The scale of this war was immense, and had far-reaching consequences around the world as during the course of the war, nuclear weapons were utilised at several points.
- Conversely, here in Modern Warfare‘s 2019 iteration, things appear to be scaled back so that they are consistent with the sorts of conflicts that have occurred since the American invasion of Iraq and the War on Terror. The Cold War is in the rear-view mirror for my generation, which has never grown up with the threat of a full-scale nuclear exchange, and today, warfare is widely regarded as something that “happens in another part of the world”. Politicians have no qualms suggesting the use of military intervention as a means of forcing other nations to fall in line with their interests, but at the same time, fail to understand that if conflict broke out, the costs to all sides would be immense.
- For me, my interest in military history, especially surrounding the Cold War and contemporary theatres, was largely an accident. As a child, I managed to find my dad’s books on the American and Soviet military systems, and became keenly interested in the different doctrines and equipment between the Western world and Communist bloc. This extended to curiosity behind why such an arms build-up occurred to begin with, and from this, I began to build my own knowledge base on warfare. While the means and tools that wars are fought with is complex, it is saddening that the cause of warfare is often over things that could otherwise be dealt with at the negotiating table.
- I am, of course, speaking from a very abstract and limited position: no amount of education or theoretical background is enough to provide an understanding of the topic, and at the end of the day, what I have to say about warfare is merely my opinion of things. Back in Modern Warfare, perspective returns to Alex as he links up with Farah, a rebel leader with an extensive experience in the Russian occupation of her homeland. In this mission, what stood out to me was the fact that as Alex, players get to equip makeshift suppressors made from oil cans.
- The video game portrayal of suppressors is wildly inaccurate: a true suppressor can indeed reduce the report of a gunshot by up to ninety percent, but it doesn’t make the shot whisper-quiet, as James Bond movies often show. Moreover, suppressors won’t actually decrease muzzle velocity or bullet damage. However, for gameplay purposes, suppressors act the way they do to mix things up, and this is a return to the age-old question of whether or not realism is preferable over entertainment value.
- I’ve always been of the mindset that it’s possible to enjoy something whether or not it’s realistic, and as such, find arguments demeaning a work for lacking realism to be pedantic and unnecessary. With this being said, inaccuracies in fiction does provide for good discussion, allowing me to look into how something works before comparing and contrasting reality with the fictionalised portrayal. In some works, this lets me to understand a theme better, but in others, it simply lets me to understand design choices better.
- The third mission in Modern Warfare entails accompanying Farah and planting explosives on Russian helicopters to provide a distraction. Here in Urzikstan, the portrayal of Russian forces is that of a brutal oppressor. However, having been around Call of Duty for as long as I have, I’m not going to be hasty in my judgement because previous Call of Duty games have always shown that among Russians, there are moderates with no desire for conflict, and ultranationalists who would see a return to the good old days of the Soviet Union. While the media is fond of suggesting that Russia is the latter, the average citizen is unlikely to desire conflict and Soviet conquest any more than the average North American would want a full scale nuclear war with Russia.
- While Russians being the antagonists in film, books and games might be commonplace, one shouldn’t accept these portrayals at face value. In this area, Call of Duty does an excellent job of showing this side of the coin – the games generally show that it is ultimately the machinations of a few madmen that can lead to conflict, and for the most part, the “enemy” is actually just people similar to ourselves. As such, when countries find themselves at the precipice of war, Call of Duty shows Russian, American and British soldiers working alongside one another to defeat the real foes, the shadowy figures behind the chaos like Makarov or Shepherd.
- With Alex now accepted into the rebel forces, he joins the rebels in assaulting a Russian airbase at dawn. Once the rebels fire their artillery and utilise RC aircraft as makeshift guided missiles, it’s onwards into the base itself. For this mission, I start with the AK-47 and the Karabiner 98k, giving me excellent options for medium to long ranges. The AK-47 is an iconic part of video games and cinema, but my first exposure to the AK-47 in a game was through GoldenEye 64‘s KF7 Soviet, which was a fast-firing weapon with low damage and poor performance. 007 Agent Under Fire continued with this portrayal: the KA-57 is the first assault rifle available players but is horrendously underpowered.
- It is therefore refreshing that modern games like Modern Warfare and Cold War give the AK-47 a proper portrayal, being a reliable, hard-hitting and somewhat inaccurate weapon at longer ranges. There is a satisfaction about using the iron sights on the AK-47: as it turns out, the use of dedicated optics and attachments on a service rifle is something that video games tend to get wrong. In reality, infantry use basic weapons to cut back on maintenance, and it is only special forces that highly customise their weapons to fit whatever mission is on hand.
- Training soldiers to use iron sights means the soldiers are prepared for situations where they might not have access to sights, and moreover, removes the need to send everyone out with a six hundred dollar holographic sight. Because of rendering issues in games, iron sights can be quite tricky to use, and players universally gravitate towards sights because they improve visibility. More recent games have dramatically improved how iron sights are displayed, and I certainly don’t struggle to use them as I did when I first began playing things like Battlefield 3 or Call of Duty 4.
- The attack on the Russian airfield represents the first bit of all-out conflict in Modern Warfare: once the rebels utilise their artillery to provide a massive diversion and blast open the walls leading into the base, it’s a full-on firefight. The lighting and setting brings back memories of Battlefield 1‘s “Nothing is Written” mission, which similarly saw a dawn operation set in the desert. Modern Warfare released about a year into Battlefield V‘s term and represented a game-changer for Activision: for the past decade prior to Modern Warfare‘s launch, Activision and Infinity Ward had been on the backfoot with their Call of Duty games, whereas DICE had nailed every Battlefield.
- With Modern Warfare‘s launch, the ball has returned to Call of Duty‘s court: while Battlefield V is still technically an excellent game, DICE’s dropping support for it, and the subsequent disaster of Battlefield 2042 has meant that Call of Duty (and Warzone in particular) has overtaken Battlefield. These shifts are quite normal in the industry: we recall how Intel held the advantage over AMD in terms of processors until around 2016, when they changed their manufacturing process and began emphasising a large core count. Intel’s latest win is with the Alder Lake series, putting them back ahead for now, but AMD is doubtlessly working on newer designs that will eclipse Intel. Similarly, it is plain that while Call of Duty has been on the backfoot for a decade, they’re not out of the game yet, and their latest successes come from innovating where DICE has gone stale.
- Warzone lies at the heart of Modern Warfare‘s success; Modern Warfare itself is excellent (something I can now personally attest to), but a battle royale mode that’s proven fun for players is undeniable. I’m personally not a battle royale fan because the game loop doesn’t work for me, but for many, there is an appeal about being able to go into a game and match wits with others. Unfortunately for Warzone players, I’ve heard that Modern Warfare II will not carry over Warzone progress. Back in Modern Warfare proper, the logic of bringing a Kar 98k to the fight soon became apparent as I utilised its long-range optics to pick off snipers hanging out in watch towers.
- At first opportunity, I swapped back from the AK-12 I’d picked off a Russian soldier back to the SCAR-H. On more than one occasion, carelessness led me to rush into combat and get picked off by stray fire, but as I became acclimatised to the controls, I capitalised on the game’s “mount” mechanic, which maps to my fifth mouse button. Mounting to a wall or corner allows me to peek it and reduce recoil for more accurate shot placement at the expense of mobility. At first, I was a little confused and hit the middle mouse button, which caused me to throw a grenade and blow myself to kingdom come.
- As it turns out, ever since I picked up a Logitech G203, I technically have a gaming mouse with multiple buttons. I normally don’t use the fourth or fifth buttons, so it was a bit of an adjustment, but once I figured how to use the mounting function, it became possible to play more tactically, making use of cover to engage foes more smartly. After figuring this out, it becomes clear that Modern Warfare was meant to handle differently than its predecessors, and by the time Cold War was released, it marked a return to classic run-and-gun gameplay.
- Once the second armoury is secured, the Russians will cut the power in a bid to disorient the rebels. There’s no IRNV equipment available, so players are subsequently subject to the frantic horror of firing on a seemingly endless number of foes. Inside the armoury, I ended up finding a MGL-32 equipped with incendiary ammunition. While effective against infantry, it deals negligible damage to the Russian armour that soon arrives. As the Russians threaten to overwhelm and destroy the rebels, Alex receives a call: an AH-64 Apache is on station, ready to do serious work.
- The perspective subsequently switches over to the AH-64’s WSO, who utilises the 30 mm chaingun and Hellfire missiles to clear out the ground. For this fire support mission, the AGM-114 Hellfires are dumb-fired, which feels like a waste considering that most Hellfire missiles are usually laser-guided. In a matter of moments, the Russian forces are cleared out and begin retreating, giving Alex and the rebels a tangible win. With this, my Modern Warfare experience has begun in earnest, and beyond the campaign, I am looking forwards to messing around with bot-only lobbies for the multiplayer, as well as the various Spec Ops assignments available in Modern Warfare. We’re now into August, as well, and this means that I’m hosting Jon’s Creative Showcase for this month. I have a different format in mind this time around to accommodate the fact my schedule isn’t what it used to be, but despite the format change, I am looking forwards to seeing what submissions will come in.
Having now played my first hour through 2019’s Modern Warfare, the game appears to have set the stage for the larger story at hand: I’ve gone through four short, connected vignettes that were more cinematic experiences than chaotic warfare that has come to define Call of Duty, but given what’s been presented to me thus far, all of the elements are now in place for me to hop back in to Modern Warfare and see what lies ahead. The story here seems significantly more grounded, serious and plausible than the story presented in Call of Duty Black Ops: Cold War, so I am curious to continue going through the game and see where things go. My entry into Modern Warfare comes as a bit of a surprise. I’ve longed to play Modern Warfare since its launch, although after becoming intrigued with Cold War first, I elected to hold back on Modern Warfare. A chance sale this past weekend saw the game go on discount for the lowest price I’d seen since the game launched, and this represented an opportunity to give Modern Warfare a go. I’ve long been a Battlefield fan, but since Modern Warfare, it appears that the ball is firmly back in Infinity Ward’s court. This has been most apparent since Warzone’s release; the game’s runaway success stems from a combination of capitalising on Battle Royale right at the onset of the global health crisis, which gave players something to immerse themselves in when restrictions and lockdowns disrupted lives at an unseen scale in recent years. With the stability afforded by a new game engine, Warzone’s performance, ease-of-entry and high skill ceiling provided players reason to return repeatedly. While I’ve never been a fan of Battle Royale, its successes are undeniable, and has allowed Call of Duty to really improve its experience over that of its predecessors while at the same time, remaining faithful to what made the older games so successful. This largely forms my curiosity in giving Modern Warfare‘s core experience a go, and this unexpected sale has provided all of the encouragement I need to finally experience Modern Warfare for myself.