Story of a Game: Call Of Duty – Modern Warfare 2
Games have stories. Not just stories of how they were developed, but stories from the people who played them and how they affected the gaming world.
In this series, Ultimate Gaming Paradise is going to bring you some of the stories of games, from headline-making triple-A titles to some indie masterpieces.
It’s 2009 and the FPS world is waiting for the latest instalment of a recent shooter phenomenon. Time for Modern Warfare 2.
Revitalising Call of Duty
The Call of Duty series started off well and got stronger. By the time Call of Duty 3 came out, the series was well on its way to solidifying itself as the premium first-person shooter.
Having squeezed a reasonable amount of life out of the World War II setting, the series needed a little revitalisation with its fourth instalment. They did it by jumping to a modern environment with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
If there were any doubts that Call of Duty was the shooter to play of the naughties, in 2007, Call of Duty 4 dispelled them. With its new setting, engaging cast of characters and engrossing multiplayer modes, FPS games had a confirmed king.
The Anticipated Sequel
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare won awards for everything from graphics to gameplay, plus the Game of the Year from multiple publications. How was it going to be topped? Were they even going to do a sequel?
When Modern Warfare 2 was announced, the excitement was palpable. A teaser trailer in May 2009 announced the game and showcased graphics which were absolutely phenomenal for the time, twinned with exciting action gameplay. With the original Modern Warfare now starting to show its age after two years, players were ready for a follow-up.
Gaming in 2009 was an exciting time, and first-person shooters especially were really coming into their own. The technology of the time had finally reached a place where action games could be really immersive, rather than relying on a huge suspension of disbelief and even from the trailer, Modern Warfare 2 looked to sit right at the top of that curve, offering a visual and audio experience to rival blockbuster films.
Gamers saved up their money, planned for midnight launch parties at their local game shops, and made sure they were equipped with the latest in HD visuals and surround sound. This was going to be epic.
Modern Warfare 2 arrived on November 10th 2009, released simultaneously for the three ‘serious’ gaming platforms of the day: Windows, Xbox 360, and Playstation 3. Despite an attempt to drop the “Call of Duty” moniker from the title in order to make Modern Warfare its own series, developers Infinity Ward conceded that it would create some brand confusion and so the game had the rather cumbersome title of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
Of course, players weren’t going to bother with that, and to everyone clutching the game in their sweaty palms, it was tagged simply MW2.
The Interactive Movie
First, it was the single-player mode. While many of the hardcore fans who had been battling it out across the internet in Call of Duty 4 for the past couple of years wanted to jump straight into Team Deathmatch or Free-For-All, the majority of players wanted to settle into the game first. Modern Warfare 2 was marketed as having an impressive solo campaign, so did it?
Yeah, just a bit!
It seemed as if the team behind Modern Warfare 2 had watched every action film that had come out in the previous two decades and then asked themselves if they could top it. The sheer variety of locations that the game offered, from icy mountains to the sun-baked streets of Rio de Janeiro, meant that it was never stale, and it never once let up. Each mission was somehow crazier than the last. The feel of an invasion in the traditionally peaceful neighbourhoods of suburban America was a stunning high point that really gave it an original twist.
The game was simultaneously a series of high-octane action set pieces and an engaging first-person shooter. Things exploded, people died, and you were somehow pulled along with it all in a way that made putting the controller down to take a break an almost painful wrenching.
True, the campaign mode was too short, and those that argued that there was too little player agency as it went almost on rails from one choreographed sequence to another weren’t entirely wrong, but as a game, it was near perfection.
Ridiculous and, perhaps, downright offensive at times—definitely when seen through a more politically aware lens thirteen years later—but so much bloody fun. And fun is what gaming is all about.
With superb graphics, a crazy political plot, and a celebrated score by film composer Hans Zimmer, Modern Warfare 2 was as close as it came to playing your way through an action film. It was the interactive movie we all desired.
Not that it was without its problems…
There is a price for fame. Call of Duty, in all its incarnations, has long been associated with the very worst of online gaming. This was no less the case in 2009 where, despite only being six years old, the franchise had become synonymous with the idea of angry bullies screaming into headsets at poor victims using language that was generally considered on the inappropriate side.
In short, a large section of the general public thought Call of Duty players were scum.
The moral perception of games at the time was something that the industry was fighting, desperate to position itself as a socially-conscious industry that didn’t support the idea of online harassment or any other negative influences.
It’s hard for a series like Call of Duty, where the very essence of the game is shooting humans in the head—the more players strive for realism in their armaments and the resulting violence, the more those looking in from outside see gratuitous nastiness.
So, perhaps, it was a step too far for Modern Warfare 2 to include a mission where mowing down innocent civilians with a machine gun as part of a terrorist group was the goal.
To be fair, it’s a skippable mission for those with more sensitive sensibilities, and there’s no downside for avoiding it, but really, did anyone make that choice or did they just play through it?
The “No Russian” sequence of Modern Warfare 2 is fairly brutal. Sure, the storyline is that you are infiltrating this bad guy group, and you can complete the entire mission without once putting a bullet into a screaming bystander, but should they have included it? Especially when, even if the scriptwriters insist it is essential for the plot (it’s not), it could have been alluded to in a cutscene and replaced with something entirely different.
“No Russian” highlights a greater problem that the team suffered, however, which is that ultimately it’s hard to write a game that involves real-world countries and factions without occasionally crossing the line that offends someone. In truth, the story of Modern Warfare 2 is a fantasy. It’s not real, the characters are fictitious, and doubtless, the developers aren’t being prejudiced in any way. But, they do have to frame the events in some sort of story and that means some toes are going to be stepped on.
Maybe that’s why so many other games create their own unique and original worlds to set the violence in. Modern Warfare 2 is not really any more barbaric than its contemporary franchises such as Mass Effect, The Elder Scrolls, or even Super Mario Bros. However, there’s something about being set in space, a classic fantasy world, or the Mushroom Kingdom that distances players.
“No Russian” definitely stepped a little over the mark, but it was almost inevitable that such a thing would happen. It was poor timing though and did nothing to elevate Call of Duty as a franchise in the minds of conscientious gamers (or their parents) anywhere.
A Winning FPS Multiplayer Formula
Outside of the main campaign, it was the hotly-awaited multiplayer modes that were really going to propel Modern Warfare 2 to legendary status.
Multiplayer in MW2 isn’t just good, or great; it’s an addictive, well-balanced, fun-fest that will drag you in and only release you when your eyes are burning from the need for sleep (and not always then).
First of all, Spec Ops provided an engaging two-player cooperative mode with its own missions that added a whole new layer to the main campaign. Fun and engrossing, Spec Ops was a perfect second mode for those who just wanted to try something cooperatively. It actually offered well-thought-out missions, rather than opting for a poor-quality bolt-on as so many other games did (and still do).
Then there was the much anticipated full multiplayer game. On consoles, this was the best of the best – a pure experience in both team modes and free-for-alls that rewarded skilful players and helped hold the hands of new ones. It had some brilliant kill-streak bonuses and redefined audience expectations for every shooter to follow.
On PC, it was… well… exactly the same.
Yet so many Modern Warfare 2 PC players weren’t happy.
The difference between console players and PC players was made very clear during the MW2 years. Console players were used to having a closed and somewhat-locked environment. They took what they were given and accepted that was the entire game. For PC players, it was a compromise they weren’t expecting to have to make. The open environment of PC gaming meant that mods and personally configured servers were standard at the time. Hardcore PC players expected to be able to play with Modern Warfare 2 in a much more fluid way, designing and developing their own environments in a way console gaming simply couldn’t emulate.
The problem with such a level of customisation is that it opens the door to cheating, and Infinity Ward and the publishers, Activision, were keen that cheating was kept to an absolute minimum. So no personal servers, no easy mods. Simply the same game that the console gamers got, using the same peer-to-peer connection system for multiplayer games.
It caused more than a few disgruntled forum posts, and many players wanted to decry Modern Warfare 2 as an abomination as a consequence. Yet, for all that, the multiplayer game of MW2 was so polished and so perfectly social, the PC resistance didn’t last and as the months went by, those wanting to stand their ground eventually just accepted what was. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 had the right to dictate its gaming terms.
The Growth of the Call of Duty Franchise
Modern Warfare 2 took the already-successful Call of Duty franchise and blew it into the stratosphere.
It had a record-breaking launch of 4,700,000 sales in the first 24 hours.
It was the fastest ever to generate one billion dollars in revenue.
And, it had twenty-five million concurrent players engaged in multiplayer play.
This is not small stuff. But, more than that, Modern Warfare 2 had the most effective flood of viral word-of-mouth recommendations that had ever been seen. Everyone who had ever picked up a game controller had heard of the game; they either played it, or they knew someone who did – and chances were that that person was telling them to get it. Everyone, even people who generally eschewed first-person shooters, lined up to get a copy of MW2.
A decade later, the words “Call of Duty” are almost common parlance across the world. It means something to people—even those who know nothing about video games raise their eyes in understanding: ‘ah yes, isn’t that some sort of war game with guns?’. Everyone knows what Call of Duty is—and that’s all because of Modern Warfare 2.
It was Modern Warfare 2 that found its way (somewhat illicitly, given the game’s adult rating) into teenager bedrooms across the western world. It is the game that people mean when they go on about kids wasting their lives sat shooting people in front of the TV. It’s not just a classic; it is the first-person shooter game to define an entire generation.
2022 Return to Modern Warfare II
Now, in 2022, Modern Warfare 2 is back (only with a roman II rather than Arabic 2). Sure, the new game that’s due for release at the end of this year isn’t going manage to quite capture the zeitgeist in the same way as the 2009 original, but Modern Warfare 2… 2022… does look fairly spectacular, using all the things learned along the way in order to pay just and honest homage to the game that, for many players, still holds the crown.
Here’s hoping some of that magic shines through.