Mechanical Breakdown: Modern Warfare 2 Destroys Tact
Every week, we let Jeroen out of his cage to play a game, find something about it that is done differently than most other games, and then write about it. He seems to enjoy it, so we let him do it while we hose down the cage with bleach, fire and holy water.
I’ve been doing these for a month and though it’s been fun, I miss being callously colloquial and opinionated over a topic I have a personal interest in. So here’s exactly why Modern Warfare 2 is my most hated game ever and the reasons the game made it so.
Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty series has always been a favorite of mine. I remember playing the originals as a child many times over. I never touched the multiplayer back then as I was never much of a competitive type, but it’s really a testament to the quality of the campaign that I kept coming back to it over and over. The basic premise was the same: you play as an Allied soldier as he wanders through German-infested European locales during World War II, shooting as many of them as he can.
What set it apart from its rival series, Medal of Honor, were the setpieces and quality of the settings. Instead of being a World War 2 Doom, you were surrounded on all sides by enemies and friends as they fought one another and the player. Planes swept in, blasting enemy forces, and tanks rolled around corners to take shots at machine gun positions in buildings. There were snipers to pick out, buildings to hold and artillery guns to blow up at every turn. All this furthered the Allied advance into Germany.
In 2007, Infinity Ward released Call of Duty 4 and proceeded melt faces more effectively than the Ark of the Covenant could ever hope to. Combining the cinematically epic presentation of the previous World War 2 games with a story worthy of Tom Clancy (well, a good Tom Clancy story) and a multiplayer mode so addicting that it made many people forget to use the bathroom, it became the darling of gamers and the industry around the world. This was the first Call of Duty game to feature an original story that joined together all its levels as one big coherent story. It was one that dwarfed every other military shooter’s story in terms of scale and excitement; the game opened with an exciting storming of a tanker in the middle of a storm, followed through with a beautifully climactic warzone in the Middle East and ended in a race against time in the Eastern European countrysides and culminated in one of the best ending sequences in video game history.
So, of course, the anticipation for Modern Warfare 2 was through the roof. Even though Treyarch and Activision released World at War in the interim, Modern Warfare 2 was the one everyone was waiting for. I remember counting the days and defending the idea of the airport scene as a moment for unparalleled dramatic tension against accusations that it was simply a glorification of violence. I even stayed up all night the day before so I could grab a copy from the local Walmart as soon as it opened at 7 a.m. And then I played through it in that same day, and everything fell apart. In just one mission, Modern Warfare 2 went from the game I was looking forward to most in my life to the game I hated more than any other.
Here are the main reasons this happened:
Subtlety is for the Single Player Gamer
This seems to be a recurring problem in MW2. If things are going slow, make stuff blow up and pay no mind that the best parts of CoD4 were also the most subtle and quiet moments. The Nuclear Holocaust, the execution of the president, almost entirety of Price’s flashback sequence; all these moments were relatively quiet, poignant and proper demonstrations of the horrors of war. They showed that behind the glitz of bullet riddled skylines and explosively enhanced cityscapes, there were people who suffered and died. There were people who had to hide in shadows thousands of miles away from their homes with all the odds stacked against them in order to serve and protect their country. People who were dragged through the streets, watching their world die slowly before being killed before thousands just so a point could be proven. People who lived longer than they should have and experienced unimaginable devastation.
But what do we get in MW2? Explosions and gunfights everywhere. Not a single poignant moment to be found. There’s no quiet reflection of consequences anymore. Instead the consequences are shoved in your face and any chance of subtlety is ruined by constant firefights. Oh look, here’s the destroyed Capitol Building! Horror! Now go shoot people. Washington’s been hit by a gigantic EMP effect! No, don’t look at the devastation it caused, go shoot people. You’ve just been betrayed by the Army General who caused the war himself! Go shoot people. We captured the arms dealer! Shoot people. Russia’s invading! Look at all those planes and parachuters! Oh, hold on. There are people to shoot.
I understand that MW2 is a first-person shooter. Shooting things is the point of such a title. However, there are certain moments when the player should stop to soak it all in. You know, like how CoD4 provided some. They were great and provided a great break in the action as well while filling the player with feelings of loss, regret and resolve. Now, however, that’s all broken by the constant fighting that quickly becomes tedious. Hell, the most memorable parts of the game are the parts when I’m not shooting something, such as when I’m in a vehicle or when I’m doing some story-related activity such as rappelling down a cliff or getting a lift out of a gulag through a tower. If the player is actually looking forward to the next moment when he’s not shooting something, you’ve failed in making a first-person shooter.
Dying is Emotion
Hey, Infinity Ward. Quick heads up: it wasn’t the protagonist dying that made the nuclear holocaust awesome or the execution scenes great. It was the nuclear holocaust and execution that did it. Dying was just a side effect. What there should have been were more sequences like that and not like the ones where you get shot in the stomach as part of one of the worst plot twists in fiction. Why did that suck? Well, I just spent the rest of the game getting shot and not dying, but I die here because it serves the plot? That’s not exciting. That’s infuriating. In total, the protagonist gets killed three times in this game. Not a single one of those times was it emotionally involving except for a frustrated feeling.
Instead of letting the player emotionlessly shoot up the airport, why not let us play as an unarmed civilian who has to flee from the attackers? I can guarantee you that it would have been pantswettingly terrifying for the player if done right and be remembered more than even the nuclear aftermath. It would have also sidestepped all the pointless controversy too. Think about it: playing as a victim as opposed to a terrorist, no matter how undercover, would have gained sympathy and interest from the media and it would have been one of the most interesting gameplay sequences ever. And hell, the protagonist here could be found, shot and lay dying on the floor as Makarov shoots one of his buddies and mentions something about the Americans too. Well, look at that. Dying, emotional attachment and plot advancement!
Can you remember one whole level from MW2? I don’t mean “Yeah, the one with snowmobiles” or “the one where you see the Capitol destroyed” or “the one where you drive on a vehicle.” I mean an entire level, from start to finish and not just a specific part.
Call of Duty 4 had a bunch of levels that were memorable in their entirety: All Ghillied Up and One Shot, One Kill most prominently and the opening Tanker mission to a slightly lesser degree. These three missions were engaging from start to finish by putting the player in a unique situation and have them on alert at all times. These levels were filled with awesome moments from start to finish that made the entire thing memorable.
How about Modern Warfare 2? Can you remember an entire level with the same nostalgic feeling of awe? For most people, they might say the Airport level but, really, how many of them would also remember the part between the civilians and the getting shot in the face? How about the level where you defend the burger joint? Do you even remember how you got there from the convoy?
MW2 is full of forgettable moments bookended by memorable sequences. On one hand, it works to create constant excitement; on the other, it renders entire plot points forgotten. Why not just throw in a couple of levels that are so different, but so important, that a player never forgets them? The airport level did indeed come closest but the effect was lost when it went from senseless murder to regular CoD, then annoying death sequence. I maintain that my suggestion would have been better in both regards.
Ghost made appearances in almost every piece of pre-release press. He had a comic series based on his exploits, announced before the game even came out. He had the sweet skull mask, made a prominent appearance everywhere and was, for all intents and purposes, the mascot of MW2. So it would be safe to assume he would be the most badass character of the game–the new Cpt. MacMillan, as it were. Right?
He was useless. He didn’t do jack **** but get shot in the face.
What the hell? I was expecting some more helicopter drop kicking badassery, but instead we get someone who talks way too much and does nothing helpful. Extra points off for being touted as the silent character despite having the most lines.
Well, most except for…
Seriously, stop making the player character do every goddamn thing in the game. Why is it that this one poor sod had to run around a restaurant area, securing four or five different buildings by himself with maybe one or two idiots on his tail when there are dozens of others around who could spread out and cover all the ground in a much faster amount of time? After all, enemy reinforcements didn’t come until very late into this section.
Really, this game just failed to develop characters at all. Ghost was thrown by the wayside before he had a chance to do anything and the American forces were just useless, relying on one guy to save their asses at every goddamn turn. What happened to when the series was about feeling as if you were part of a larger force? Now it’s gone back to Medal of Honor where you are the force. At least Call of Duty 4 had you constantly with a small team of people working together. Now you’re just leading a pack of mules with guns across a parking lot while Team B sits inside and drinks hot chocolate.
12-Year-Olds Are Our Demographic
If you say that Shepard’s betrayal and the revelation of the plot at that point was a) sensible, b) a good twist or c) epic, you are wrong. I’m sorry but you are just plain wrong.
Seriously, I could write a whole other article on how awful the plot for MW2 was. There was literally nothing of merit in it. It was dripping with the hideous juices of 12-year-old hormonal boys who figured bigger and louder was the answer and that a betrayal like Shepard’s would be the biggest plot twist since The Empire Strikes Back. It’s so bad that I’m sure that if there were any female characters in the game, they would be buxom blondes clad in nothing but rags and speak like Duke Nukem’s women.
Anyways, putting aside the logistics of Russia ever invading the United States for a random American CIA agent the day after it happens, or the USA defeating the Russians within less than a day, or not receiving any support from Canada, Mexico, England, France, Germany, etc., or that Captain Price was in a Russian gulag whereas Soap went back to England despite sharing the same fate at the end of CoD4, or that Shepard was an Army general and the men lost in CoD4 were Marines, or that the VIP in the suburbs was completely useless to the overall plot— *cough*
Putting all those aside, I feel I really should point out that the game actually forgot about the main bad guy. Makarov, the guy you spent the first two-thirds of the game chasing, gets away at the end. How? Because the game completely forgot about him. Instead, we’ve gone after Shepard, who has kicked off the most unlikely invasion in the history of fiction. Hell, even Bad Company 2’s Russian invasion made more sense and they didn’t even give a reason! Why? Because, in that game, the Russians came in from Alaska. They didn’t just fly across the Atlantic, slip past NATO magically, and attack Washington straight away.
How would I have done it? Write a plot that didn’t suck. It’s really not very hard. Here are some instructions, courtesy of a wise man:
Whenever I’m about to do something, I think, “Would an idiot do that?” And if they would, I do not do that thing. –Dwight Schrute
In the end, MW2 felt like a jump from a slick, modern military drama to a summer blockbuster travesty that would make even Michael Bay say “That’s just excessive,” with the Myhtbusters standing in the corner looking disgusted at the sheer amount of senseless explosions. Gone is everything that was great about CoD4, replaced by a 12-year-old’s idea of what war is like.
I’ve played many truly awful and terrible games in my time, but I’ve never come close the the deep loathing I have for Modern Warfare 2. At least those lesser games tried to be the best they could. Modern Warfare 2 was a lazy extension of Call of Duty 4 and exaggerated everything that Call of Duty 4 wasn’t. It was a slap in the face to anyone who went in expecting something even close to the original Modern Warfare game.