Delayed Responsibility

I Shouldn't Be Gaming Right Now… But I Am!

Impressions: Modern Warfare 2

Posted by deckard47 on January 6, 2010

I’ve just finished Modern Warfare 2‘s single player, and I’ve played around 20 hours of the multiplayer. While the multiplayer is as addictive and well-balanced as always (despite a few strange issues here and there), the single player is a truly unique, unpleasant beast. I’m not going to write specifically about “No Russian” here (maybe Owen and I can have it out about that later?), instead I’m just going to work my way though my notes and thoughts, having just completed the game (a warning: I will tell you who the villain is. So. SPOILERS: No Really, if You Care About the Plot, GO AWAY):

First, it pains me to think that this game was written by a human being, or rather, a collection of human beings. The plot, writing, and and characters are all wretched. Infinity Ward has mastered the art of pretentious (not because it is in any way intelligent, but because it thinks it is saying anything of worth or import) military drama, just as it has mastered the art of the contemporary linear military shooter.

In that respect, Modern Warare 2 does not fail completely. While the characters, situations, enemies, plot, and general ambiance all make The Rock look intelligent, the action, even when ludicrous, is exciting and challenging. Of course, allowing yourself to enjoy that action (which means turning off all brain functions beside those base, animalistic, analog stick skills) is difficult. It’s difficult for a number of reasons.

The dialog is completely and irredeemably stupid and annoying. Everyone talks using the caricature of a caricature of a caricature of military slang and shop talk. Everyone, everywhere is always “oscar mike,” everyone is always linking into the ACS module to download the data chunk and update the military satellite Overlord hive mind with increased awesomeness. It’s utterly incomprehensible, and every single person in the game speaks like this. I was immensely gratified to find this definition of “oscar mike” in the Urban Dictionary. I went there, wondering why Kieth David and company were always, even in their sleep, “oscar mike.” Enjoy:

Infinity Ward’s new favorite fetish word. Implemented in everyday or formal use, in any circumstance, at any time, wherever IW thinks it sounds awesome and also rad. Used similarly to shalom or aloha- can mean “hello,” “goodbye,” “peace,” and “please find a tent, marshmallows, two Model 1887 shotguns, and an M16 and camp for entire matches at a time.”

“Baseplate: Task Force Fire Team Bravo Six Marines, this is baseplate. The convoy is oscar mike. Repeat, the convoy is oscar mike.”

“Sgt. Cpt. American Thunder: Acknowledged, baseplate, the convoy is oscar mike. Task Force Fire Team Bravo Six Marines is en route. We are oscar mike, repeat, we are oscar mike.”

“Baseplate: Oscar mike oscar mike oscar mike.”

Obviously, the good dictionary doth hyperbolize, but you get the idea. The game is almost physically sickening to listen to, and it’s not just because of the slang. In one mission (set in Brazil), you are tasked with storming a “Favela.” Luckily for you, your boyz will inform you of how hard they are fucking up the Favela every 5 seconds. You will never want to hear the word Favela again. It’s a wonder that they don’t tell you how they’re Oscar Mike toward the bad guys in the Favela who are Oscar Mike toward you (in the Favela, of course), while you really just want to be Oscar Mike to another damn game.

I was surprised and delighted to find that while most of the game was populated by super-accented murderers from the British Isles, Keith David (as your commanding officer, when you play as an American Army Ranger) and Lance Henriksen (as the main general in charge of stuff) play large parts in the game. Say what you will about the two, but their instantly recognizable voices do a lot to allay my hatred for the words they speak in this game (although Keith David is apparently “oscar mike” everywhere, from the toilet to his death bed. A dedicated man).

Now, the people who made this game made a mistake. They created a Super Secret, You Will Never Suspect He’s the Bad Guy Bad Guy. Then they cast Lance Henriksen (who, by the way, is in a total of 12 movies to be released in 2010!) as this bad guy and had him deliver a bad, over-the-top dictator speech at the beginning of the game. Oopsies. After you’ve guessed that he’s the villain (it took me about five seconds after I first heard his voice, as he delivered his first awful speech about how power is always around, being, you know, powerful), you have to wait for him to show his cards. It takes a long time (6 hours into the game’s 8, I’d reckon), and most of that time is spent in the company of many of the same dumb characters from the first game.

I’m not sure who at Infinity Ward thought that we, as players, were in love with Mustache Guy (Captain Price, who is, oh NO, alive) and Clean Guy (Soap). Apparently, fans loved these two so much, we have to listen to them growl about tangos, hostiles, ACS’s, and how amazingly badass they are for much of the game. The rest of the game, we are forced to endure Keith David’s game performance as Sergeant Foley, the American soldier who must Oscar Mike every damn thing he sees or hears. The two plots’ (one revolving around a secret task force, the other around Foley’s squad) corresponding heroes are forced to defend America when it is invaded by Russians. The task force hangs out in exciting foreign locales and kills foreigners (something the MW series, and Call of Duty, delight in), while Foley and his crew protect America from a ludicrous, Boris and Natascha invasion of husky Russians.

The invasion gives Infinity Ward the opportunity to do the only interesting thing in the Single Player portion of this game: level Washington DC and its suburbs, using various destructive methods. While the situation is outrageous (as are the reasons for the conflict), the gameplay and setting are affecting, despite the developer’s best intentions. Fighting through white picket fences, burger joints, and the ruins of the the Capital building and the White House are impressive feats, graphically and spatially. They’re the best part of the game, and you miss them, once things start to “ramp up” for the game’s later levels.

Anything not having to do with Foley and DC is shrouded in bad writing and conservative military alarmism. I’m not saying that I didn’t expect this kind of foolishness. Modern Warfare may have tried to sell itself as authentic, but it was still a kind of science fiction. This new game is likeĀ  James Bond mixed with Jack Bauer. Every new mission includes super x-ray night vision frog men submersible attack space helicopter robots, or something, and after a while I just nodded and rolled my eyes at every new doohickey.

This game is also full of badly written totalitarian and military ramblings. People going on and on about first strikes (hello, we already saw Minority Report and Jackey Chan’s excellent First Strike!), how to destroy an enemy (hurt them more than they hurt you, surprisingly!), or how to win a fight forever, conclusively. It’s as if the writers read Heinlein, watched Rumsfeld, listened to Cheney, and sat at the feet of dozens of bad action movies, and then looked at each other and said “let’s write something that makes all of that look like intelligence and reason.” I’m here to tell you this: they’ve succeeded, as if guided by a higher power. The two main pontificates are Captain Price and General Shepherd, and their speeches are long and offensive, both for their dangerous avowal of brutal, inhumane tactics, and for their continuous camp and stupidity (altough that shouldn’t fool you into thinking that the “good” guys in his story are anything other than war criminals). I’m surprised the actors could read these lines out loud: much of it seems to have been written in another language, and then badly translated to English (here, I’m thinking of Price’s speech prior to the final assault on Shepherd’s base).

Again, it’s not as if I was expecting something even mildly introspective, self-aware, or intelligent. This isn’t Indigenes, the The Hurt Locker, hell, this isn’t even Three Kings. It’s everything bad and wrong about the glorification of American Military power, and it’s also just plain annoying and dumb. It reflects well on no one but the people who simply designed the game upon which these terrible trappings were hung: they know what the hell they’re doing, there’s no doubt about it.

[PS: So I couldn’t resist it. Here’s my quick thoughts on “No Russian”]

This level, like the rest of the game, disappointed me. Owen is right: as a quick, effective play upon the fears swimming around the consciousnesses and subconciousnesses of many people around the world, this scene is no doubt effective and timely. Even if it is morally bankrupt, badly implemented, and badly framed, it still is more relevant to the vast majority of gamers and non-gamers than any meditation on Ayn Rand Underwater Edition ever could be. It’s use of the “oh look, you are playing a game, we know it, you know it, we know that it creeps you out that we know, and we know that it surprises you that we force you to face your own game playing as a constructed, not natural, occurrence” tactic is capable enough.

It fails in that, upon playing it as part of the game, many things become apparent: the rest of the story, in fact the writing within “No Russian” itself, is bad. It is in no way up to the task of presenting and handling – well – an event with this kind of widespread public emotional impact. It’s badly written, and it fails the scene. It’s the instigator of the game’s single most stupid plot development (even worse than Price’s inexplicable missile launching act). Likewise, the game doesn’t know what to do with this level, it’s shoehorned in between an intense Die Hard 2-esque snowmobile chase, and an assault on America that’s straight out of bad Tom Clancy.

It’s tonally out of place, and plot-wise, its villain (Makarov) disappears after this mission. It’s like they forgot about him, and then gave him five lines of dialog in the second-to-last mission to make up for their forgetfulness. Likewise, the game lets you break the simulation (by firing on Makarov, who is invincible, and then instantly being forced to restart) multiple times. If you’re going to make me face my own gaming culpability and lack of control, actually do that: don’t half-ass it, and in so doing, allow me to accidentally (I was trying to shoot a guard) punish me for it. Let me kill Makarov, or run away and make him come find me, or something. If the seams in your game show before I’ve even tried to find them, you’ve failed.

In short, regardless of the scene’s realism, emotional potency, or immersiveness, it’s a broken part of a bad product. It only served to reinforce my distaste for the game in general, and the kind of decision-making that lead to this kind of overblown, offensive junk, even if it was only for one mission.

[PPS: Ayn Rand looks scary in photos]


10 Responses to “Impressions: Modern Warfare 2”

  1. Alex said

    This post is awesome. That is all.

    • deckard47 said

      I am, of course (to my shame) still playing the MP portion of the game. I feel like this is what WoW is like, but a shooter (as pointed out by PA in the past, I think). I expect Mass Effect 2 to obliterate it in a few weeks though.

  2. Sam said

    Shh! Remember, /no Russian/.

    The Modern Warfare guys are going to get Oscar Mike on your ass.

  3. Oscar Michael said

    Hear hear. This is the best, funniest thing I’ve yet read about Modern Warfare 2.

  4. It makes me happy to hear you slam this; my large problem with the story was indeed that it seemed pretentious or “serious”, or even that it was taking itself as capital-A artistic expression. And knowing how many people have this game and have no doubt thoroughly enjoyed and digested this stuff didn’t help either.

    Well, I was gonna write a better comment but I’ve gotta go Oscar Mike a burrito, bro-zilla.

  5. Jason said

    Fantastic read.

    I got MW2 as much out of a desire to see what all the hype was about as to play the game itself, and whilst I’ll admit to the multiplayer being somewhat of a guilty pleasure, I’m yet to even finish the single player. The snowmobile chase was entertaining, but I felt in it’s attempts to be ‘relevant’, it lost some of the best moments of the original – that ghillie-suited crawl through the field, the frantic sprint off the sinking ship… all ridiculously over the top, but self-admittedly so.
    The moments I’ve come across in MW2 are just as over the top, but it feels like this time they’re actually trying to be serious with it, to tell you that this actually *could* happen.
    I’m sorry, but if I want to be bombarded with right-wing borderline xenophobic nonsense, I’ll download a Rush Limbaugh podcast.

    Anyway, I’m ranting. Great blog.

    (Oscar Mike. ;))

  6. Ian said

    Fantastic review. Said everything I thought playing and watching this game only better. And I have no idea how people could find No Russian controversial. The civilians look like they’re from Goldeneye 64.

    • deckard47 said

      I mostly agree with you. I think that just by its subject matter, execution, and attention to (some) detail, it will definitely strike a chord with a lot of people (understandably, sadly). That doesn’t mean I think it was well-made, or worth remembering.

  7. chris said

    bullshit this game is fukin awesome

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