I had the chance to go behind closed doors to check out some pre-recorded Call of Duty: Modern Warfare gameplay. What I saw marks a big turning point for the franchise’s narrative direction. Black Ops 4 didn’t even feature campaign, a first for the series, which makes it odd that Modern Warfare might be shaping up to have one of the most impactful single-player experiences Call of Duty has ever offered.
Most Call of Duty campaigns up to this point have just been bloodfests, where everyone is a combatant, and the good guys can’t do much wrong. It’s been fun, but there’s not really been any sort of message there. That’s fine by me, sometimes just running and gunning through AI without having to think is great. However, as the years have passed that moral simplicity has gotten stale.
Even with the fleeting attempts to shock and awe the player, like the controversial “No Russian” mission from Modern Warfare 2, Call of Duty has never gone too far beyond the stereotypical “sterile” warfare that we’ve seen in movies and games for decades. The reimagined Modern Warfare looks to go beyond that.
During my session at E3, I was able to briefly see the beginning of one mission, which set the stage for the main attraction at the meeting. In short, London Metropolitan Police have tracked a band of suspected terrorists down in the city. After stopping the terrorist van, the police try and capture the suspects, but they’re able to detonate a suicide bomb before they can be taken into custody.
This bombing marks the beginning of the first mission, in which you control a police officer who is attempting to take down the other terrorists active in London and protect the citizenry from further attack. We only got to see the details from this mission needed to set up for the main mission, which is a raid on the terrorist cell hideout by the Special Air Service (SAS).
Captain Price returns as your squad leader. This is a reimagining though, so even though Price is basically the same character, as far as we know the events of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Modern Warfare 2, and Modern Warfare 3 never happened. Instead, this is supposed to take the concept of the original game, namely current day warfare, and update it for 2019.
Modern Warfare also seeks to make the split-second choices you make while fighting count. The mission starts with the SAS breaching into the London home that the terrorist cell are conducting their operations from. This is a tense and silent entry where stealth is of the essence.
As you breach the house, you have to stack up with your squadmates and clear it floor by floor. Unlike previous games, you’re encouraged to hold your fire and wait for the enemy to make the first move. Instead of going in guns blazing, the SAS gives the enemy a chance to surrender, one which they rarely take.
The realities of asymmetric warfare are evident here as well. Unlike the SAS, the terrorists aren’t averse to trickery and subterfuge. In one scene you breach into a room where a male terrorist appears to have female hostage he’s using as a living shield. After he’s subdued, though, she attempts to grab a nearby assault rifle and open fire on the SAS. In another room, a terrorist is hiding under a bed and waiting for you to walk past so he can shoot you.
It’s these clever adaptations of real tactics used by insurgents that makes the new Modern Warfare campaign so compelling. In another situation, you enter a room where you see a woman running and defying orders from the SAS to freeze. Every other person you’ve met in the house to this point has been hostile, so the kneejerk reaction would be to shoot her. However, if you hold your fire, you’ll see she’s just picking up her crying baby.
Moments like the above could carry powerful weight if the game actually gives you the freedom to screw up and tangible repercussions for doing so. The fact that enemies try to trick you using dirty tactics, like fake hostages and insincere surrenders, would make it easy to lose control and just shoot whatever moves. What could make this game special is if it places emphasis on the rules of engagement, how collateral damage actually occurs, and the realities of what happens to soldiers when they make a mistake, both legally and psychologically.
There has been a little bit of controversy on social media about a baby being in Modern Warfare. It wasn’t confirmed whether or not you can shoot the infant or not, but a significant emphasis was placed on giving an authentic, realistic, experience featuring morally complex characters. Whether that means they’re going to go the same route as Spec Ops: The Line did or not isn’t known yet. From what I saw of the one full mission presented, Modern Warfare looks like it’ll be more profound than the previous Call of Duty entries. The big question, for now, is how deep.