Due to the incredible recent Steam holiday sale, my PC game library has ballooned to include games that were popular a few years ago, but until recently, were simply too expensive to justify their purchase. Let me preface this essay by saying that I know I’m not exactly striking while the iron is hot, but I feel that based on my previous essays on the Call of Duty series, I have an unhealthy fascination with one of the most popular video game series in existence today. I do not feel bad talking about a game that came out in 2009 in 2012.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was released in November 2009. The game was incredibly well-received for its multiplayer component, but it was the singleplayer campaign that drew criticism from a number of sources.
After an initial mission as an infantryman, U.S. Army Ranger Private First Class Joseph Allen is recruited into the CIA to engage in a top secret mission to help stop Russian ultranationalists.
In the next mission, you play as the undercover Allen and help Russian ultranationalists engage in the massacre of Russian civilians at an airport that is designed to draw the Russians and Americans into a full-scale conflict. The title of this mission, “No Russian” comes from a bit of dialogue your terrorist team leader tells you before the mission. Essentially, you and your squad use English while slaughtering the civilians, to give witnesses evidence of an American terrorist attack.
The mission itself is divided into two parts. In the first part, your squadmates murder civilians using automatic weapons. You, as the player character, are free to attack the civilians too, but you can do nothing to stop the attacks (attacking your teammates leads to a mission fail, for “breaking cover”). In the second part of the mission, you lead an attack on the Russian police forces responding to the massacre. At the end of the mission, the terrorist leader of the attack, Vladimir Makarov, reveals that he was aware of Allen’s true identity and murders him , leaving his body for investigators who will also discover he’s an American.
Many criticized Infinity Ward, the developer, for releasing a gratuitous and needlessly violent level to an already violent video game. They said that there was no reason to add a civilian murder simulator to a military action game.
I understand the sentiment, but I am of the opinion that the murder of civilians or any other plot device within a game or a movie can have a point. It can even add gravitas and emotional weight to a plot that would be otherwise flat.
…that is, unless the plot device isn’t earned, which No Russian was not. My issues with No Russian are not concerned with the violence. Here’s a small list of reasons why Infinity Ward did not earn the gravitas it intended with the No Russian mission.
- The CIA recruited Allen for a top secret, covert operation based on his performance in a combat mission. Why would someone’s combat performance in a single mission be critical to a covert operation where you have to disguise yourself as a terrorist? Is Allen fluent in Russian? How did he perform better than the thirty or so other American soldiers in his platoon? How did he jump into his assignment in such a short time? How did the CIA even manage to implant Allen in the organization?
- Once the mission starts, why didn’t Allen intervene? Surely he must have realized that the attack was designed to draw Russia into war with the U.S. Couldn’t he have stopped the attack in the elevator or even within the first few seconds of the massacre? At any point during the attack, did Allen stop to think what was going on or what the purpose of the attack was?
- What was Allen’s mission anyway? Why wouldn’t he just kill Marakov?
- Other members of your squad die during the attack–wouldn’t the authorities find their bodies too? Why would one American body lead to the Russians jumping to the conclusion that it was the Americans?
- Why do the terrorists use Russian weapons if they were trying to convince others that they were American?
- When the terrorists use English during the attack, it is really poorly spoken. Wouldn’t recorders and cameras pick that up? What about the witnesses?
I understand I may be missing some of the nuances of the plot, but there are just too many holes for No Russian to be plausible. Suspension of disbelief is one thing, but if you want to add weight to a situation, you cannot throw needless violence around like it’s nothing. Violence carries with it important consequences, but if it’s nonsensical, then you’ve wasted an opportunity to tell a powerful story and you’ve lost player trust.
In conclusion, the No Russian mission in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 wasn’t earned and failed to make the story of MW2 any deeper or compelling. It wasn’t the violence that bothered me–it was the lack of respect for it.
Hopefully games will (or already have) learned the lessons from No Russian.
Until next time.