The infamous Modern Warfare 2 airport shooting

Controversy can be good advertising. Although I have to give Infinity Ward some credit, when your game has been pre-ordered by everyone and their cat it’s not like you need cheap publicity to sell your game. While I tend to take a cynical view of business many times, this is one time when the facts as we know them seem to contradict the more jaded conclusions being jumped to.

I am, of course, talking about the already famous “No Russian” sequence in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Since the cat is already out of the bag and other websites have discussed this in detail I am going to give a spoiler warning here and move on.

Initially I thought I might skip over this scene, especially after finding out there is no way to avoid conflict with the police. Yet when the police came I managed to take advantage of game logic to avoid killing any of them until the very end. At that point I realized that I was not becoming the player. That I could see myself trying to disguise my non-killing of civilians but when shots are fired in anger am I not going to shoot back? I do think some of the game logic ends up sacrificing some of the impact from the scene, since half a dozen armed men are not going to be able to take on what seemed like the entire Moscow police force and real life can’t exploit AI weaknesses to push on to the next checkpoint without killing someone.

The payoff for the scene was anger. While many have criticized Infinity Ward and said there was a better way to portray how villainous the main antagonist is without such a heavy handed (and heavily scripted) sequence, when I took Makarov’s hand and he casually shot me in the head I realized all my agony, all my regret, all my concern over the consequences of my actions were for naught. Despite trying to hold onto my humanity, trying to be one of the good guys, I was going to die for nothing. Worse, I was going to be used to start a war.

The emotional payoff is huge. I don’t think I’ve been this vested in a villain since I was betrayed by Rhalga nar Hhallas (aka: “Hobbes”) in Wing Commander 3. Videogames have seen their fair share of villains and many of them I would consider far more epic than Modern Warfare’s Makarov, but I hate this guy. I can’t wait to take him down.

Was it cheap, exploitative, and unnecessary? Was there a better way to convey the depths of Makarov’s villainy? I think Infinity Ward was desperate to show there was no nuance to this character. No matter what may have happened in his past, there is no justification for his actions. He cheaply slaughtered his own countrymen and women so that he could turn the murder of an American agent into a full-scale war.

People are not going to like this sequence. They’re going to question motives of developers and producers. I think that’s good. It’s a powerful scene that is not to be taken lightly. I would definitely encourage anyone who feels too disturbed by the content to skip it. I think it’s a fair thing to do. Otherwise, experience it, even knowing what is going to happen, because it has a major impact on the story.

Funny, though, that even though the people at the airport are not real I could not shoot unarmed civilians when I was a “good guy”, even if I was in deep cover. Odd that even though they were not real, I began to hate Makarov right from the start simply because he could so casually slaughter them.

Comments

  1. First, you bring so much class to this website. Thank you.

    Second, I was not even aware of this scenario in the game until Tony had posted it yesterday, I think.

    I played CoD4 and liked it. I did not like the multiplayer. However, I found the C-130 level in the game to be very disconcerting. It reminded me a lot of the scene in the movie Patriot Games that was similar with the satellite recon on the terrorist camp strike. It was just too creepy.

    From what I understand this level in the new game is HEAVILY scripted in the terms of the civilian reactions and the gore compared to the rest of the game. My biggest question is, what’s Infinity Ward’s point? Why not just view it as a cutscene? The player has to play it out?

    I also don’t understand why the biggest game of the year needs to do something like this to generate a controversy and sales.

    However, this seems to be the year of controversy in games. It’s like all the developers are trying to push the envelope in so many areas (GTAIV add-ons, MW2, Assassin’s Creed II, Dragon Age, Mass Effect 2).

    • I think the point was to make the player angry. I don’t think this was as cynical as some people claim since MW2 was going to sell like hotcakes no matter what they did. They could have crapped in the case and made money off the pre-orders alone. This game was predestined to sell.

      I think Infinity Ward is assuming a fairly mature audience and I can’t think of a better way to stir the hornet’s nest of emotion then to force you, the “good guy” to do something horrible and then have it be for nothing. I was horrified, utterly horrified, that after all that I was casually executed and used as a pawn. The whole “No Russian” order at the beginning of the level suddenly made sense. The entire massacre was done for my benefit so that an American could take the fall.

      I can’t remember the last time I hated an antagonist in a game so much. It was masterfully done.

      Could they have found a way to portray how truly evil Makarov was without that sequence? Certainly, but I think the real point is to get a visceral reaction, and they got one from me.

      Interesting that the way the story was told in COD4, I felt a certain satisfaction taking out Zhakeav(sp?) at the end. I will enjoy taking Makarov out even more.

  2. Youve all seen the “Infamy” trailer for MW2, right? If you think about it, that trailer is basically saying that up til now youve played FPSs without really thinking about what you were doing. In MW2, youd feel the pain of actually killing someone. This level was probably used for exactly that, to get across that whats going on is real and horrible, not like when you just go around and kill without feeling any sympathy. As gruesome and horrible as this level is, I think it was really needed to shape MW2. and for everyone out there waiting to slaughter Makarov, you better be preapared to wait for MW3.

  3. I echo Nat’s comment, Jason, I appreciate your point of view and bringing intelligence to the discussion.

    I’m just not sure I’m ready to be affected by a game in such a way. At least not yet. Emotional responses such as what you had point to a new direction in gaming, which I encourage. I am also willing to have my view point changed.

    Maybe I’m shallow, but for now, I think I am just happy to be entertained.

  4. It’s a videogame, you can shoot whoever you want! Why the high moral stance on this (i.e. shooting unarmed civilians)?

    I guess you don’t play GTA?

  5. Muhammed Ali says:

    I dont really get involved into the story aspect of the game too much, for me fps are fps and not the story waved around the shooting part. So I was ignorant of the event unfold infront of me when it started. Walked out of the elevator looked around in absence of mind started shooting because the other three were shooting, and few secs later it clicks in am shooting civilians, and taking part in a terrorist activity. Soon as that realisation settled in I turned the gun on makarov and his team but regardless of how hard i tried they didnt die, and killed me.

    I didnt skip it, i played and started shooting back when I was fired at. But i did think for my self taking part in this terrorist mission how much of my concious, morale has lowered, has this mission made it bit easier for a normal person to kill a innocent, or made it easier for someone to take part in acts of terrorism, my reply was yes it did, even though its a game, you loose little moral ground.

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  1. [...] my earlier comments about the “No Russian” mission, the rest of the story is a bust after that point. There is no emotional payoff and the rest of the [...]

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