Call of Duty: Modern Warfare isn’t a remake, but it is a reimagining of the biggest game in the long-running franchise that made it as explosive as it is today. And the newest entry in the Call of Duty series lives up to the expectations set by its predecessors.
The original Modern Warfare, which was released in 2007, invented the formula that made it quickly surpass other contemporary shooters in both scope and scale. Designed in the vein of a Michael Bay action movie, Modern Warfare’s focus on set pieces with momentum was a breath of fresh air in the stale climate of aimless maps. As the player, you had to keep pushing forward constantly, as explosions and gunfire erupted all around you.
The new game retains the set-piece formula, but much like Bay’s own movies, it’s one that has evolved. Modern Warfare 2019 is Michael Bay’s 13 Hours to Modern Warfare 2007’s Transformers. And this evolution of storytelling is one that’s evolved along with the current geopolitical situation.
In 2007, America was engaged in George W. Bush’s so-called “War on Terror”. The line was distinct between who the good guys and bad guys were. Granted, Modern Warfare 2007 borrowed plenty from Hollywood movies of the era and made the Russians the bad guys. It was the easy thing to do.
The new game ignores these conventions and blurs the lines between foe and ally. Taking on the roles of an American CIA military asset and a British counterterrorist operative, players are plunged into a world analogous to the one we live in today — and it all starts off with a bang.
Past the introductory mission, I was thrown right into the fray as a bomb went off in Piccadilly Circus, London, in what is, in my estimation, one of the most true-to-life immersive experiences I’ve ever had with a video game.
It goes something like this:
You’re a cop who’s following up on a lead about a potential terrorist attack in London when a van drives by you, packed with what appear to be militants. They hop out of their van and begin gunning down civilians. The van blows up, and all hell breaks loose in the streets. You’re blinded and deafened by the explosion, and some of your squad has already fallen. Your duty is to keep the public safe and take out the terrorists. All around you, police officers running to the scene are engaged in a heated gun battle against these invaders-from-within.
As you keep walking through the streets to get to the centre of the action, there’s a part where, in the public square, a sniper is gunning down civilians left and right. It reminded me of the footage I saw of the Las Vegas massacre.
At another point, a police officer tries to hold off a man wearing a suicide vest and — if you’re too slow to pull the trigger — blows up, taking out everyone around him, the cop included.
It’s all so real, I’d be surprised the game isn’t coming with trigger warnings attached. And that’s just one mission. Another strong mission involves a room-to-room house clearing of the terrorists responsible for the London attack, which earned the game no small amount of ire from the woke press who described it as a glorification of the cessation of civil liberties in the United Kingdom. And a mission later in the game feels like it’s pulled right out of Michael Bay’s 13 Hours, stitched together with the embassy raid episodes of Claire Danes’ Homeland.
But nothing comes close to the mission where you hunt Omar 'The Wolf' Sulaman, which has striking similarities to real events that coincidentally fell within the same period in October 2019. Sulaman is the religious leader of Al Qatala, a fictional proxy for ISIS and Al Qaeda.
The Wolf is analogous to the recently killed ISIS leader Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi. He’s just as austere and just as fanatical.
The so-called “austere scholar” (according to the Washington Post), Al Baghdadi, was on the lam and hiding out in a cave beneath his residence in Syria, where his closest associates and members of his family are holed up and ready to fight to the death to defend their leader. That happened in real life. It also happens in the game.
The similarities don’t end there. As part of a Special Forces unit, your actions are aided by the Kurds. Eventually, you reach the Wolf, and much like Baghdadi, he’s wearing a suicide vest. One might pause to wonder if everything’s just a simulation after all.
This, and many other factors, including ambient elements of the game that depict the horrors of war, makes Call of Duty: Modern Warfare a game that feels true to life. One might argue that it might not be such a good thing that it’s as immersive a wartime experience as you’re going to get in 2019 outside of actual war, but for me, that’s what makes it entertaining. You’ve been warned.