Today’s post comes to you courtesy of one of my long time friends and former blogger, David Wright. I’ve always been a fan of his writing for it’s impassioned, no holds barred style that reflects his real world self to a tee. Below he tackles a game I myself reviewed just a week ago, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. That’s all the introduction I’ll give as the article stands on its own and makes for some damn good reading.
Enter Dave W…
I got into an argument when MW3 came out with my friend, most notable Dave K who is generously posting this. I made the claim that knowing the trajectory of the series and the background for the companies who were designing and building the game precluded it of ever having a chance of it being any good. Dave countered with the simple fact I had not played the game. Fair call.
I decided to play through the whole single player and draw judgement then as from what I could tell the single player clocked in around the 4 hour mark if you had a pulse. I… ahem… acquired a copy and sat down on a Friday night resolute that I was going in with a clear mind, determined to just experience the game for what it was.
Brief backstory on the development behind the game because as much as I would try, I had made my original argument based on the history of the game franchise so I will try to quickly sum up. Call of Duty was a massive game franchise which is owned by Activision. It has been traded around their stable of devs teams for a while until the original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was made by the company Infinity Ward. It was huge, suddenly Activision had another massive hit on their hands and in traditional Activision style they had to have a Call of Duty release each year. So Treyarch becomes the B team for Modern Warfare. They trade back and forth then at the end of MW2 some shenanigans go down over at Activision. The heads of Infinity Ward get called into a meeting with Activision while some heavies go and lock down their offices. They are fired. Before most people heard about this I assumed John Riccitiello, the head of EA, had a blank check and stupid grin on his face ready to go.
So the heads of IW leave to form a company with EA and start poaching everyone they want from IW. Now I am not saying what was left was the dregs but:
They stripped that company bare.
Every design lead? Almost half of the design team, primary art lead, both animation leads and pretty much the entire writing staff. Things did not look good for Infinity Ward. Add in the fact they have Activisions “You WILL ship a game on this deadline even though company morale does not exist.” Not enough staff? Fine, they bring in Sledgehammer games to help out which is a company that had not shipped a game yet. Through all this you have the rivalry of Treyarch always having to play second fiddle and now almost drooling, hoping IW slips up so Treyarch can take the MW crown.
With all this in the back of my mind I went in to Modern Warfare almost grimly determined to give the game a fair shake.
Keep in mind I have not finished either MW1 nor 2. So as to the story I had a shaky grasp of what was going on but did not know the finer points. Well neither did MW3 apparently. Thrown in to the start of the game and we are chasing after an Evil (with a capital E) Russian man who seems to completely elude us. There is a massive war raging through the United States and you get to flit between multiple characters to globe trot.
As the game starts out I am amazed at how good the engine looks. Everything looks busy and real, the battlefields feel alive and frantic. You cannot go more than a few check points before a building is hit by rockets and smashes to the road or tanks come out of nowhere and start messing with your day. There is always something going on.
Add in the fact the gun play and control is seriously second to none. Every shooter I have ever played gets held up to the gold standard of Counter Strike. I honestly put MW3’s control right up there easily level with CS. Everything feels responsive, there is the unconscious snap, the perfect recoil that you learn to counter act and it all feels right.
Okay, but what about the game itself? Well it seems to be full of tough men doing tough jobs. I know this because I get to see them work all the time. My character? They barely trust me to not kill myself. It was a few levels in and something had been niggling at the back of my mind since the beginning. I couldn’t put my finger on it until we fought our way to the top of a building to blow up a jamming radar tower. Fair enough. We get to the top and sure enough there is the tower. I run up to it and, nothing. I have no known way of destroying it. I shoot at it, nothing. Another enemy jumps out at me and I nail him in the head.
“Quick lay the charges!” shouts my mentally challenged leader.
Charges? I don’t have… I do now. My weapon has disappeared and I am holding a package of explosives. The glowing silhouette of the explosives is helpfully put on the tower. I run up and press my use key and I place them, now I have a detonator in my hand.
“Blow it!” Delivers the same deranged man.
Really? What happens if I don’t? Do I get a say in this? Do I get to actually participate in this game? I wander around the roof top for a while with the detonator in my hand while my squad leader repeats his two lines about blowing it up over and over. Finally putting the poor man out of his misery, thinking he should really lie down for a nap somewhere, I blow it up. The next scene triggers. Men come running out on the roof top next to us. A never ending stream of guys and I now magically have access to a guided missile system.
Does it matter if I kill them? Does the game care? Like a petulant child I go sit in the corner and ignore the strained cries from the men. An enemy helicopter shows up and I am told to blow it up. This advances to the next section and off we go.
I started to notice it then. That feeling I had since the beginning. I had nothing to do with this game. Everyone else was amazing; I was there to clean up after them. Everywhere you go you have Price or Soap or any of the other interchangeable burly men with, literally, the word “Follow” hovering above their heads in case you forget how to walk. It just got worse as the game went on.
A short section later I was following, Price I believe, sneaking along with silenced guns. A guard crosses our path so I nail him in the head “BHWWWAAMMMMmmmm Game over!” Shit, okay maybe I have to let him walk past without noticing us? I reload the game, same guard walks out I don’t shoot him, then Price steps up and runs through a takedown animation killing the guy. Ohh I was not supposed to kill him because only the NPC’s get to do any of the real work.
Another section as Price and I were sneaking into a castle for reasons mostly unknown to me and I was literally told when to walk, crawl, stop, sneak, stop again, take that guy out. This was around half way through the game and it was not so much holding my hand as keeping me on a choker leash, watching me like I was about to make a mess on the carpet.
The game has some amazing sections, running along and the world is falling apart around you. Speeding along in an inflatable boat escaping from a Russian submarine where you just launched all its missiles on their own fleet. But it never lets you actually DO anything. The game is just a point to point exercise where you are constantly being funnelled, herded and yelled at down the path being dictated to you as you get to watch everyone else do all the fun stuff.
With all this you have the, well it’s not bad story telling so much as mindless and incoherent. Why did we end up in this mine? Why is the Russians president’s daughter here? Wait, who am I playing as this time? There is a pathetic attempt at the old double cross where one of the main characters dies (I think he dies, maybe I just wished him dead) he informs the other grizzly hero, Price, that Yuri (the useless git you happen to be controlling at that point) knew the big Evil guy. Gasp! Price punches you out, which again as soon as it starts you lose all character control. Yuri then goes on to tell a one minute story.
“Ohh the Evil guy that everyone hates and wants to kill? Yeah I totally used to work for him! I didn’t tell you because I have a strange and debilitating disease that you also share because you are going to believe everything I am now saying.”
I am not sure if I should feel insulted that someone somewhere got paid to write this or that I am supposed to find this interesting.
As for people dying, as if sensing that it was as bad as it really was, MW3 tries for some poignant moments or at least moments where you are supposed to feel something. However each of these interactions seem to be written by an alien who was sent to study human culture and learnt about emotions from reading scripts of rejected 70’s cop drama’s.
How do they try to make you feel shock and fear at a terrorist gas attack? By putting you in control of a white human male filming his adorably white small girl child and his equally adorably white wife on their apparently fun trip to the city. While filming, the wife and child run up to a truck and turn and wave, calling for you to come closer. The game will just keep calling at you, it will not let you do anything else, there is nothing else for you to do but walk forward triggering the explosion and the lingering glimpse of your family being killed. It is so ham fisted and terrible, the game has not earned the gravitas, it has not earned the tone. It just feels pathetic.
So as the story line lurches to its conclusion and you are put into body after body with the word “Follow” forever floating in your sights, I pushed on. I got to see Price stealth kill people left and right, I got to see Soap take out entire battalions and dictate my every move. Near the end, during one of the briefings I learnt that, yes, YES! I was going to play as one of the big guys. Me! They were letting the beast off the chain; I could do what I wanted. I spawned, eager to lead my squad to glorious victory or hellish defeat, either way it was finally my call.
Instead, there stood Yuri, the ball less wonder who I always had to play as, always forced to follow along like a chastised puppy. I swear the git was grinning, what was that I could see?
A glowing sign floating above his head?