The horrors of warfare

Modern Warfare 2 - Necessary?

Modern Warfare 2 is going to be remembered for many thing but some may be less favoured by Infinity Ward. I want to make it clear that I have nothing against mature games. I’ve been playing video games for over 20 years in one form or another so am fully versed in graphically violent experiences. That doesn’t bother me. It’s nothing new. What does trouble me is how Infinity Ward have missed an opportunity to make a powerful statement. We were told after the leak of the airport level that it’s intention is to show the horrors of terrorism yet seems to fail at fulfilling this promise . Read on for the whole story but be warned, there will be spoilers.

The level starts in darkness with only the sound of zips and clicking. When the picture appeared it was of a group of men dressed in suits but also wearing bullet proof jackets and sporting machine guns. We were in a lift and I was told not to kill any Russian by terrorist leader and the person I’m meant to get close to in this undercover operation, Makarov. Then the doors opened. My companions and I swagger out of the lift to a wall of innocent people waiting to have their hand luggage scanned. They turn to face us. Triggers are pulled and now they are dead. In order to see if I could approach the level differently, I chose not to use my weapon. I didn’t fire a single bullet – to begin with – but more on that later. As we continue, more innocents are killed and the airport is filled with screams and gunshots. Something about the way we moved troubled me slightly. Our characters walked with an air of cockiness, casually killing people and moving on for more. This did suggest the cold hearted nature of such murderers but also felt very ‘gamey’, as if they were meant to be cool and removed any thread of political statement as the whole thing still felt very much like a game. Non playable characters were simply recycled which cheapened the experience somewhat. There were also NPCs that looks as if they were placed in order for me to kill them. One guy was crawling away holding his stomach in an open area that could almost of had a sign saying “shoot me” on it. To Infinity Ward’s credit however, there is no reason to kill them so you are given a choice – for now. This is a redeeming factor as I could traverse the airport without having to shoot anyone. A nice touch.

For the first half we met no resistance other than a couple of guards who were disposed of quickly. As we exited the airport we were met by hordes of police and swat teams so there was now bullets heading our way. The developers missed an opportunity to turn the standards of MW2 on their head if they were indeed trying to make a point. Being the 4th level in, I grew accustomed to the fact that my team mates – the good guys – have their names in show up in green text when my reticule was over them. Enemies change the reticule to red. Pretty standard FPS stuff. In this level, Infinity Ward could have been very clever and reversed it. But instead, hover over the terrorists and their names are green – signifying the good guys – whereas the police show up as red. To make it more believable that this is a terrible act, why not keep it so the police show as green meaning I’m shooting at the kinds of people I would not have in the previous mission? What we have is a level that, for the latter part, has it’s fundamentals just like every other level. It’s great that I was able to avoid killing anyone while inside as it was purely my choice but it’s impossible to progress when outside since my ‘team mates’ couldn’t clear a path. After a while of not shooting, Makarov turned and said “I have no time for cowards” and killed me. So in order to complete the mission, I had to kill. I was forced to (ironic considering I had the option to skip the level). In fact, I actually got an achievement for killing three ‘enemies’ with one grenade. Again, if I’m are supposed to think what I’m doing is an act of pure evil, why reward me with and achievement for it? Why not halt any achievements from being issued during this level? What I did appreciate was my own hesitance to killing the ‘good guys’ although this was short lived since it was yet another kill or be killed situation.

Once everyone other than us are dead, we head into an area where what looks like an ambulance is waiting for us. The guy inside congratulates Makarov and states that he sent a message today with what he had done. While helping me into the van, Makarov turned and shot me in the chest saying that was in fact the message and how I was stupid to think I could deceive him. Seems that the plan all along from Makarov was to massacre a number of people and then leave the body of American behind to take the blame. This I liked, this shocked me in a good way much like Modern Warfare 1’s story shocked me by challenging what I expected from a video game. So it ended well – other than my playable character dying after going though all what he had.

As a whole, Modern Warfare 2‘s terrorist level does feel a bit like Infinity Ward wanted to see how much they could get away with. Yes there is the option to skip the level rather than play through it but this suggests that it’s inclusion isn’t relevant. The storyline may be but the scene itself is not. I am glad I didn’t skip however as I wouldn’t have been able to construct my opinion on it. The opinion that it could have been done better and actually succeeded in ‘showing the horrors of terrorism’. I don’t think it does to the degree it was intended or suggested and I doubt the majority of players would even think twice about what they are doing because there just isn’t enough to make them. It starts off well making me uncomfortable at the sight of such atrocities but afterwards threw me into a situation where I had to kill my way out of and felt much like what I’ve played before.

I do believe that what transpires in the level is an integral part of the storyline but I personally think opportunities to make this truly brilliant were neglected. Everything before is superb to the point where I literally sat with an open mouth smile on my face at how well this game is made (I’m still working through the following sections). It’s unfortunate that what I experienced towards the end of Act 1 left me a little disappointed.

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