Last year, Nintendo decided not to release the reissue of its war-themed strategy game Advance Wars. The publisher felt that the timing was inappropriate due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine a few weeks prior, even though the game has a lighthearted cartoon style. However, Activision, the publisher of Modern Warfare 3, the newest addition to the 20-year-old Call of Duty series, did not have any concerns about timing. The game is set to be released on November 10th, despite the ongoing Israel-Hamas war and the presence of Russian troops in Ukrainian territory. This decision may please shareholders, but the game includes graphic scenes of violence, such as terrorists disguised as paramedics attacking a crowded football stadium and the hijacking and destruction of a passenger jet headed for Sochi.
The series has frequently shifted between different time periods, such as 1940s Europe and the chaotic, violent jungles of Vietnam. However, it now primarily focuses on modern battlefields, as implied by the game’s title. As we follow the stories of the diverse group of international super soldiers that make up Task Force 141, we are introduced to the latest technologies used by elite soldiers. We can hear a small animal cry out as a set of night vision goggles turn on, and experience the physical sensation of using the “ascender” tool to climb up a lift shaft. We are also amazed by the intimidating appearance of an advanced rifle, equipped with an array of complex attachments resembling a camera crew’s equipment.
However, even though this may represent the technology used in modern warfare, it does not resemble the current battlefields that are frequently shown on the news. These include scenes of destroyed buildings and clothing, and the sight of soldiers who have been overwhelmed. Call of Duty, with its fictional countries and settings, has always portrayed war through a Hollywood perspective, reflecting the use of toy soldiers on children’s play mats. And nevertheless.
James Bond is the star closest to Modern Warfare 3’s 13-stage campaign in terms of entertainment. The plot of the game, which starts with a prison escape, is not structured around logical events, but rather distinct set-pieces with specific themes. These include a sniper battle in a frozen landscape, infiltrating a missile base in the hills, and climbing a dilapidated building resembling The Raid. While these thrills are familiar, the graphics and motion capture add a level of realism never seen before in Modern Warfare games. This is similar to the appeal of Bond films, which also rely on the overall vibe and texture of the recurring myth rather than the details of the plot. One mission in particular, where you sneak onto an oligarch’s island with a silenced pistol, has a distinctly Fleming-esque feel.
Not everything in this game is just like Space Invaders – where you shoot before getting shot. In one mission, you search for phones after a plane crash, hoping to find footage from before the explosion. In another mission, you play as a female CIA agent and must sneak into a military base without being caught. You cannot use your gun and must walk carefully to avoid being noticed. These moments break up the action of the game, but overall the game design is quite traditional and not very innovative. It does not have the clever, challenging objectives seen in GoldenEye 007, released in 1997 for Nintendo 64.
A new type of mission offers a change of pace, where you are dropped into a square setting and must search for weapons and gear before completing basic tasks. While inspired by battle royale games, these segments lack the depth and complexity seen in Metal Gear Solid 5’s open-world design.
Arguing that Call of Duty’s campaign mode should evolve in different ways may seem pointless. In reality, the single-player experience is similar to an expensive amusement park ride and serves as a way to justify the annual release of the game. While the series still follows a yearly release schedule, this is a habit from the past. A few years ago, Modern Warfare transitioned to a live service game like Fortnite, offering various play modes catered to different player preferences. These include fast-paced multiplayer deathmatches, the popular Warzone battle royale mode for intense competitive gameplay, and the ongoing zombie-resistance mode. This mode presents a superior version of open-area player vs. computer missions, initially seen in Modern Warfare 3’s campaign.
In comparison, the campaign will likely be completed by most players over a weekend before they shift their focus to the ongoing online modes for the following year. The brevity, outdated elements, and lack of creativity in the campaign will not greatly impact the game’s success or the audience’s response. However, we should consider the challenges faced by the designers as they strive to create a cohesive experience under a strict and unchanging yearly deadline. It may have always been an impossible task.