Call of Duty Modern Warfare: The wait is finally over
Tomorrow will see the welcome return of one of the largest entertainment franchises in history.
I’m not talking about a new Star Wars movie or the latest Marvel film. I’m talking about a gaming franchise that has raked in more than US$12-billion dollars since it first came to fruition back in 2013.
Yes, it’s time for Call of Duty’s annual launch. While every entry into the Call of Duty franchise tends to come with a bucket-load of fanfare (think billboards, trailers, and celebrity endorsements) the world hasn’t been this excited about a new game for a very long time.
The next entry into the Call of Duty universe will land tomorrow, October 25. For even casual Call of Duty fans, this is a very special entry indeed, as it marks the first of an expected trilogy of soft reboots of fan-favourite Modern Warfare.
For those unaware, the original Modern Warfare was released back in 2007 and marked the first time the series had moved beyond its World War 2 storytelling roots. And it did so with a flash and a bang.
Modern Warfare was one of the first shooters to really double-down on storytelling. It boasted a host of interesting characters, a gripping story of geopolitical cat-and-mouse, and gameplay elements that were never before seen, nor expected, in a game where shooting bad guys is generally what you’re supposed to do.
What followed was a second part, and finally a third – which closed out the series and its gritty storyline. Along the way, Modern Warfare created international outrage after it featured a level that put the player in the shoes of a terrorist shooting civilians in Moscow airport. But it also broke records; Modern Warfare 3 cracked US$400 million worth of sales in its first 24-hours (and went on to gross a whopping US$1.23 billion).
Call of Duty is reviving the Modern Warfare brand, and it's doing so in style
Call of Duty has always been a series that heavily takes inspiration from Hollywood. It’s nearly impossible to reference the original games without also talking about HBO’s Band of Brothers, and one early level in the first game near-perfectly replicates the first 10 minutes of Paramount Picture’s Enemy at the Gates. With the new Modern Warfare, it’s done so again.
Just as Hollywood doesn’t mind bringing back old series, or entirely re-booting a successful franchise, so is Call of Duty reviving the Modern Warfare brand of action and storytelling. And it’s doing so in style.
What to expect
Just as the original shooter put storyline at its core, so too will the new version of Modern Warfare. But while a decent campaign was a surprising addition back in 2007, the world has moved on (videogame storytelling is now part of the BAFTAs, after all).
Modern Warfare has responded by promising one of the most visceral and thought-provoking campaigns ever written. One that has been “edgy, culturally relevant and thought-provoking,” says Taylor Kurosaki, the game’s Narrative Director.
“We decided to strip the story right back down and take it in a new direction"
“The big change between this game and the last one is the individual plot points,” admits Kurosaki”. By the end of Modern Warfare 3, the series had really diverged from being grounded in any relatable reality. And so we chose to re-imagine it to make Modern Warfare once again feel relevant.”
“We decided to strip the story right back down and take it in a new direction. One that still stays true to the spirit of the original games, if not the major plot points of the storyline. Obviously, that means the story has changed but players will immediately recognize as being very Modern Warfare.”
Knowing full well that stories are only as good as their characters, the Call of Duty team didn’t skimp on talent.
While previous fan-favourite character Captain Price was 100 per cent computer generated, the new version is played by Barry Sloane, who originally rose to fame as a soap actor in British TV favourites such as Hollyoaks and The Bill.
“My character is super well known,” says Sloane, “and there were lots people working on the character. What he looks like, how he is animated. But at the end of the day, that performance is all me. I was given total free reign as an actor in how he would react, the way we would say things. In fact, the only thing they made me do was wear one of those mo-cap spandex suits”.
For added realism, Modern Warfare enlisted actors and cutting-edge motion capture technology
“I haven’t played the finished game, but I have seen some of the original footage alongside the in-game footage. And the results are eerily accurate.” Admits Sloane. “and the story is as good as anything in Hollywood”.
From what we know about the campaign so far, the player will switch between a London Metropolitan Police Sargent and a former British Army officer-turned-CIA agent – both of which are tracking a rogue Russian general. Levels mix and match between urban environments of European cities, alongside volatile parts of the Middle East.
The story itself promised to make its players think. One part of the campaign sees a civilian woman pleading not to be arrested by Special Forces, and then suddenly makes a break for something nearby. Players must quickly make a judgement call on whether she’s reaching for a gun or her baby.
There are also reports of disguised fighters as civilians, as well as child soldiers (so don’t be surprised if come the weekend to start reading reports of cultural insensitivity). It is worth noting, however, that much in the same way as Modern Warfare 2’s Russian mission, players don’t need to take part in some of the more controversial parts (as explained to us by Kurosaki) for the campaign to continue.
Previously, Call of Duty has been in the public eye for its controversial missions
“We’re not trying to push buttons for the sake of being provocative,” admits Kurosaki, “we’re creating moments and situations that are intense because it serves the narrative. And if people are affected by those things emotionally, then I think that’s a human reaction.”
“Yes, I think this game has some scenarios that may raise some eyebrows. But I don’t think if anyone is honest with themselves, and goes into the game with an open mind, that they will think we are deliberately being provocative”.
How real is too real?
This game promises to be the most viscerally authentic of any Call of Duty game before it. And to that end, the team enlisted Steve Sanders and Mitch Hall, two retired Navy Seals with more than four decades of military experience.
“The story guys would often come up to us,” says Hall, “and explain the scene and then just ask, ‘how would this go down? How would you guys do it’? Then we’d give them a few options, and they’d program whichever one best fit the narrative of the story”.
The two seals consulted on just about everything, from the campaigns of war in the storyline to the look and feel of weapons, as well as that campaign mode. In fact, one level – which takes place in a London townhouse – was recorded using a state-of-the-art motion capture studio, and featured Hall and Sanders ‘clearing the house’ as they would in real life.
Two retired Navy seals consulted on everything, from the story and locations to weapons and tactics
“One of the things we were asked to bring to the table was authenticity,” says Sanders, “so that level, all the other members of the team around the player are effectively versions of us, going room-by-room taking down hostiles”.
“But another aspect of the reality of war, which I think this game does particularly well, is capture the ‘grey’ area of war. It’s no longer the two groups of fighters in uniforms on either side of a field of battle. The world doesn’t look like that today. And this game certainly brings this reality to the forefront”.
Get the squad together
One of the key aspects to this new Modern Warfare, is for the experience – and the campaign storyline – also be present in the game’s other modes, namely multiplayer.
“Ultimately, when you break it down, Modern Warfare is about creating a community based around these shared experiences,” says Kurosaki. “Be that because you played through the same story, or you’re in a big 32 x 32 game of Ground War multiplayer, we wanted everyone to feel that they were the same group of players”.
“We wanted to give people the sense that they were part of this really big Call of Duty community. Not just one based around a console, or the type of game mode you like to play.”
Call of Duty Modern Warfare is a complete cross-play experience
During the original Modern Warfare trilogy, Call of Duty was unmistakably the king of the first-person-shooter multiplayer genre. The new game seeks to re-establish the franchise’ dominance, with new and innovative game modes – but what’s really making headlines is the ability to cross-play between PS4, Xbox and PC.
There’s also new maps and multiplayer modes including Ground War – which takes place across huge maps and can support more than 100 players. Conversely, there’s a new 2v2 mode called Gun Fight – which brings the action in close.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare lands on consoles and PC this Friday, October 25th.