Call of Duty: Modern Warfare – When Do Games Become Too Real?
Following the release of the trailer and demo for Activision’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, many have begun asking if the game is too realistic or not.
Call of Duty is one of the mainstay names of action gaming. The series was first launched on PS2 with Frontline and Big Red One and it has since moved on to change the face on online gaming with Call of Duty 4 and then redefined war games with each subsequent release.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is the latest release by Activision, but while it might look familiar at first glance, we can assure you that this game has taken a completely different turn to any other before it. Modern Warfare gives players a sense of the pressure faced by soldiers in a real-life combat scenario – from quick decision making to the potentially disastrous moral consequences of making the wrong choice.
While demos usually show some action and explosions, with some tense music thrown in on top that generally results in whooping and cheering, the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare demo was quite different. This one leaves rooms in silence, with viewers trying to digest just how comfortable they are the events that have unfolded.
A different approach
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is a much more realistic game than previous installments in the series – and that’s saying something. The demo begins with an explanation of the events unfolding – there has been a terrorist attack on Piccadilly Circus in London which has left scores of people dead. The terrorists who committed the attack have been tracked to a townhouse in the north of the city.
Your character – Sergeant Garrick – is in a team of four Special Forces operatives, including the commonly featured character Captain Price and two others. You’ve been sent to infiltrate the house and kill any hostiles inside. So far is all sounds like the opening scene to a pumped-up action game that will involve lots of bullets, explosions, and maybe a tense hostage situation. Nothing out of the ordinary, in other words. But that isn’t what Activision had in mind for Modern Warfare.
The demo has a dark and tense feel to it. When your team assembles outside the house, they can hear some people inside discussing the terrorist attack – it isn’t clear if they’re the ones responsible for committing it or if they’re civilians. When one of them refers to the attack as a failure, it becomes clear. The team shoots out the light bulb in the room and proceeds to neutralize all those around the table. They drop dead in a harrowingly lifelike manner.
You then proceed through the house, at one point meeting a single woman who reaches for a gun and is shot. Another woman runs across the room and is almost shot, but it turns out that she’s protecting her baby. There is a moment to reflect on what would have happened if you’d made the wrong move as she comforts her vulnerable infant.
As the team continues through the house, one of the Special Forces operatives is mowed down by gunfire through a bathroom door. You fill the wall with bullets and enter the bathroom to find the terrorist lying dead in the bath in a pool of his own blood. It’s another graphically vivid scene contrasting against the familiar setting of home.
As the team makes it to the top floor, there is a woman alone who is begging for you not to shoot her. She’s been forced to stay up there, she says, and then suddenly she runs across the room and is gunned down by your team. It turns out that she was going for a detonator, and you’re reminded that it was a good thing that you’d shot her.
The demo ends there, and the images of bloody bodies of what seemed to be innocents is left trapped in your mind. These people weren’t wearing military uniforms, body armor, or balaclavas. They looked like ordinary civilians, but they were responsible for a brutal attack that left dozens dead.
The demo shows that Modern Warfare is trying to deal with the morally grey area that soldiers are forced to address every day in real life combat scenarios. One wrong move and you could have left an innocent woman and a newborn child a bloody mess. Or you could have tried to spare a supposedly innocent woman and ended up being blown to pieces by the explosives supposedly planted in the house.
The game goes lengths to put players in an unfamiliar situation where they have to make quick decisions that could be at odds with their morals. In this way, Activision has put together something different to the average shoot ‘em up war game. They’ve created something that will challenge players in a new way. A way that not all people will be comfortable with. But that is the reality of war, and that is what the developers want players to feel.
How real is ‘too much’?
The Call of Duty: Modern Warfare demo has left some asking if it isn’t all too much. Perhaps gamers aren’t meant to have to deal with the complex, and sometimes life changing decisions that soldiers are forced to confront. Or perhaps previous games have glamorized war too much, making it seem too much of an action packed scene where all you have to do is dodge bullets and kill the bad guys.
Real war is about much more than not getting shot. And good guys and bad guys are relative terms. Not everyone sees them the same way. In real war, the most difficult thing might not be securing a checkpoint, but rather it might be identifying who is a threat and who isn’t, and whether it’s okay to kill an unarmed civilian because they didn’t freeze when you told them to. Those are the really complex situations that Activision is trying to bring to the foreground with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare.
After all the video games showing war in a gun fight light, it may well be time that someone turned the genre on its heard and exposed the reasons why so many soldiers return home unable to process what happened to them on the frontline. It might be time to look at how it is that PTSD is such a common occurrence among people who serve.
Activision are trying to do just this, and they’ve executed it with stunning effect. We think that this game will go down as being one of the best in the Call of Duty series and possibly one of the most important war games ever made.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is set to be released on 29th October on PS4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows.