Mushroom Soup For The Pixelated Soul
I’m trying to have my review of Motorstorm: Arctic Front ready by Friday, but it isn’t easy pulling myself away from Modern Warfare 2. I tried to have it ready the day before the game’s launch, but the excitement proved too distracting.
I bought the game on launch, naturally. Just the basic vanilla edition for poor old me, and they sure made the package inadequate; I can’t remember the last time I bought a game with a manual so small.
But who cares, really? There is hardly a gamer on the planet who wouldn’t purchase this highly, highly anticipated sequel. Well, except for Wii owners.
In case you’re wondering, I’m not reviewing the game. The purchase was a personal gift from me to myself, and you don’t need me to tell you that it lives up to the hype, and then some. Incidentally, you didn’t need me to tell you that Uncharted 2 was awesome, but I digest.
I’m using this post to talk about one specific aspect of MP2, namely the level titled “No Russian”. You might have heard from the usual (and bitching) sources about a controversial moment that takes place in the game. You’re even warned upon starting up about the impending moment of terrorism, and are even given the option to skip it without missing any achievements.
You’d be missing out on a crucial setup to the game’s heavy-hitting story, though. Having played through it, I wanted to share my thoughts about this one level, as it’s been a while that something in a videogame got me to thinking so profoundly.
I’ll spell it out in big letters for those of you skimming through:
The original Modern Warfare was no stranger to controversy and shock value. In the game’s second level, you are thrust into the POV of a usurped middle eastern president who is being driven to his public execution. The entire sequence was quite brutal, giving you a front row seat to a first person bullet to the brain, delivering a level of virtual reality few other games have the stones to carry out. And I loved Infinity Ward for it.
It wasn’t much of a surprise to learn that MW2 would feature a similar moment meant to convey the required emotions for dealing against a violent terrorist. In the sequel, the event doesn’t occur until the third level (or fourth if you count the tutorial prologue); before the level starts, you’re given the explanation that you’re in the POV of a CIA agent posing as a Russian terrorist, who has been placed to earn the trust of the established villain Makarov, while secretly gathering intel on Makarov’s true objective (as if his public reports about “more bombings” and “death to America” weren’t obvious enough).
It didn’t take much to know where they were going with this, and I was already on the edge of my seat once the level booted up. Taking place inside a Russsian airport, Makarov and his men casually stroll inside while decked out in full killing gear, and without any demands or primary announcements, they begin to open fire on all the unaware civilians. And you, the “hero”, are privy to this horrific act…and are given the option to partake in the event.
I haven’t yet seen what, if anything, occurs if you choose not to open fire on the civilians. It could be that there’s no penalty for playing the pacifist in this scene, and Infinity Ward merely wanted to give players the option to engage in the murder spree while coming up with their own moral choices; maybe some players begrudgingly open fire, giving in to their virtual orders that they must give up “a piece of themselves” in order to “save many”; maybe some trigger happy GTA fans happily engage in the violence, repressing their inner desires to commit such atrocities in real life (God hoping). Me? I took the actor role and directed my shots at nearby vending machines, exploding signs, and just mainly pretended to be shooting at the panic-stricken public without actually hitting any of them. I did a 2nd run where I did freely shoot up the airport, and came out feeling worse than I did the first time.
Make no mistake, the game revels in the shocking violence occurring, but it doesn’t glorify it; the haunting music, the terrified screams, and the half-speed pacing indicates that this is an evil event that you’re witnessing, regardless of whether you take part in it or not. As a game, I was hoping my actions to not take innocent lives would result in an achievement or such, but again, they probably wanted players to come up with their own moral decisions. Sadly, once the massacre ends, you’re forced to engage against armed security. If you want to finish the level, you’ll have to take these guys down, although they certainly put up more of a fight than the men and women who were slaughtered earlier. It’s pretty disillusioning to witness a horrific event and then immediately resume to playing the game as normal, although MW2 certainly isn’t the first title to pull that (FFVII’s famous 1st disc moment can attest to that. FYI, I lost that battle the first time, and had to witness the tragic scene twice in a row).
Much like the first game, this level ends with a bullet to the brain; Makarov wasn’t fooled by the American’s disguise, in fact his whole plan was based on putting the blame on the US for the attack. This revelation not only brings to light what an evil bastard Makarov is, it also sets up the stage for the worst fictional attack America has ever faced. Suffice to say, the controversial and grimly realistic moments of the game don’t end with this level. In fact, they all originate from it.
Naturally, lots of people are ready to step up and complain about this “player controlled terrorism” from the game, doing everything they can to defraud videogames. I can agree with them in this instance that it is a controversial moment, but like I said before, I love Infinity Ward for having the balls to do it. I felt personally distraught from witnessing the grimly realistic massacre, but I’m also glad that the game managed to secure an emotional impact from me. It only increases my motivation to play through and mow down the bastards responsible, and to ultimately enjoy one of the best games released this generation.