New Call of Duty pushes boundaries


Photo courtesy of Activision

The Special Ops mode features cooperative online gameplay.

Gritty. Innovative. Gratuitously violent. Breathtaking. These are all words that could describe the latest game in the Call of Duty series.

“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” tells a story that at times goes too far in violence, but never really goes far enough in explaining itself. The campaign mode begins from the perspective of Alex, a CIA operative working with U.S. Marines to recover chemical weapons bound for Urzikstan, the fictional country at the center of the game mode. After the Marines working with Alex are killed and the chemicals stolen, Alex travels to Urzikstan and joins forces with Farah Karim, leader of the Urzik militia, to fight both the Russians forcibly occupying Urzikstan and Al Qatala, a terrorist group that uses any means necessary to gain attention and remove foreign influence from Urzikstan.

In addition to Alex, players assume the role of Kyle Garrick, a former British officer now working in counterterrorism, as well as Farah Karim in some flashback missions.

In the shoes of these various characters, players witness Russian troops hanging civilians, torture scenes, the bodies of women and children lining the streets of a war torn city, a London city square burning and strewn with the bodies of innocent civilians in the midst of a terror attack, and a terrorist called the Butcher murdering a husband and child in front of a mother.

More disturbing than the war crimes and carnage players watch are the decisions players are expected to make. When clearing apartments in search of a terror cell in London, one door may hide a terrorist rushing to grab an AK-47 while another contains a mother rushing just as quickly to shield her child. Players are expected to make split second decisions about when to engage and also watch as other members of your team occasionally kill unarmed terrorists.

All the while, the impressive realism of the game’s graphics, the handling and sound design of the weapons, and the intricacy of the story unfolding around you create an experience more immersive and impactful than any franchise first-person shooter to date.

However, while “Modern Warfare” obviously takes the moral ambiguity of fighting a war with no set battlefield or rules of engagement to its extremes, it fails to derive any meaningful lessons from these situations. The violence often seems to exist for nothing more than a shock factor. One such situation occurs in a flashback mission to Farah’s past. The character, a little girl, awakes beneath a pile of rubble, staring upon her dead mother. She rushes home and prepares to flee, only to witness a Russian soldier enter the home and kill her father. With the help of Farah’s brother, I was expected to repeatedly stab the soldier with a screwdriver and ultimately kill him with his own weapon in order to survive. This scene left me more than a little sick to my stomach.

Players are expected to find their own limits throughout the story and are presented with a range of character responses, none of which are clearly promoted. One example is the loveable SAS Captain John Price, who returns from previous games as your team leader who consistently places ends over means.

In an interview with VentureBeat, Taylor Kurosaki, the game’s narrative director, said that it is designed to make players uncomfortable while evoking empathy for diverse groups of people. Kurosaki said in this interview, “We can have empathy for lots of different people. Empathy not only for the soldiers who have to operate in this complicated environment, but empathy for people whose communities are shattered by conflict as well.”

Multiplayer mode features the same old game modes fans love like Team Deathmatch, Domination, and an expanded return of Ground War in a 64 player deathmatch that plays a lot like Battlefield. On the opposite side of things is a new mode called Gunfight in which players face off in a 40 second, 2-on-2 battle. The game’s co-op mode, Spec Ops, falls flat on its face with difficult missions, endless enemy spawns that make it difficult to accomplish anything, and no option for local splitscreen.

However, If you’re looking for a beautifully crafted and gut-wrenchingly disturbing campaign with an ambiguous moral or a multiplayer mode that combines what fans love about Call of Duty into a variety of game modes, then “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare” might be worth buying.

Modern Warfare was released on Oct. 25 and is available for play on PS4, Xbox One and PC.