Wot I Think: About That Level

By Kieron Gillen on November 19th, 2009 at 10:21 pm.


It’s bullshit, isn’t it?

The big problem is – like a big chunk of anything that manages to be controversial – the debate shakes down to “they shouldn’t be allowed to do this” versus “they should be allowed to do this” while entirely neglecting the more important “Is this any good?”

It’s not any good. It’s bullshit. It’s a lie. It means nothing.

In terms of craft, Infinity Ward are… well, joint top of their field. The idea of turning a progression through a linear, scripted environment into a storytelling experience had its moment of apotheosis with Valve’s Half-life back in 1998. Specifically, its opening. The first people to really grasp the implications of Valve’s innovations were Infinity Ward, in their previous life at 2015, whose Medal of Honour: Allied Assault was the first game to not entirely ignore Half-Life and hope the lessons would go away. They (with Valve) have had a duopoly on the form ever since. Everyone else is frankly, second best, at best. So while it’s easy to pick holes in the illusion of a scene of No Russian – oh! The shirts repeat occasionally! – it doesn’t change the fact moving through it is like walking through a living painting. It’s a clockwork machine. In the seconds I managed to step back from what was actually happening, I felt a lot like I did when playing its opening scene in a military base – as in, I was scared to look anywhere, because there was so much stuff happening everywhere. No matter where I lay my eyes, there’d be something I’d miss.

“No Russian” positions you as an undercover agent, trying to infiltrate an evil terrorist’s group. By doing this, you’re helping out at a massacre at an airport. You walk in. People look at you. Your four comrades open up at the crowd, and they fall. People run, cry and die. You walk slowly through the airport, slaying those who haven’t run. Eventually, a military response arrives via chopper. You fight them and then… well, spoilers.

It’ll be foolish to deny it doesn’t provoke a response. Of course, the level and nature of that response isn’t solely about the game, or even the person playing it. So, yes, merely talking to my friends, I find people telling stories of leftist political radicals and pillars of the community mowing down people while cackling while bar-room thugs dismiss it as exploitative war-porn. Like any work of human creativity, the seriousness you bring to the game impacts upon your experience. But it’s more complicated than that. People’s response seems to change depending on who you play with or in front of. It’s like an inverse of the ErotiSim reaction I talked about previously. Playing with friends, we all fucked around with the Sims. Playing by myself, I took the emotional turmoil more seriously. Conversely, with No Russian, with someone standing behind you and judging you, even the most sociopathic may feel a little twinge before pulling that trigger.

But it’s bullshit.

It’s bullshit because, like a whole lot of Modern Warfare, it’s bad writing. By which I stress, I don’t mean “the writer can’t write”. Because the real nature of writing in games (“Everything which appears in front of your eyes with which we create the story”) rather than the responsibilities of the word-dude (“Whatever you can write quickly on freelance which the team ignore and/or present badly”) is what matters here. As others have noted, the most disturbing part of No Russian is its context. A few seconds previously you’re involved in a high-speed James Bond chase involving snowmobiles. A few seconds later, you’re mowing down civilians. That tonal shift isn’t brutal. It’s laughable. At best, you’re comedy. At worst, you’re cheap exploitative trash. Modern Warfare leans towards the latter. You have to earn the right to shove an audience’s face in that material. Before it, Infinity Ward do nothing to earn it. Afterward, they do barely anything with it – by which you can read there is slightly more than “nothing” there, which I’ll get to eventually – to justify the leap of faith you’ve taken with them.

And then there’s the matter of realism… oh, shit.

Yeah, realism is a tricky thing with Call of Duty. It’s clearly ludicrous, unless you’re the person in Alec’s Wot-I-Think comment thread who somehow thought that 24 was a documentary or something. But it lives of the sense of authenticity. It wants you to believe in its techno-thrillerness, at least on its own terms. The problem comes when you introduce this attitude into something like five dudes strolling into an airport and opening up.

Because as accurately, as disturbingly rendered as the slaughter is, it’s not convincing. The beat where people try to surrender… yeah, that’s impressive analysis. People would assume they were taking prisoners, even if they weren’t. But the rest is simply ludicrous. Machine-guns are loud. People are gone the second they start firing. Anyone anywhere near doesn’t hang around. They certainly don’t find themselves hanging around to be gunned down in lobbies. Rent-a-cops with pistols – and fuck me, if you’ve been in a Russian Airport, you know you get guys with SMGs, not pistols, walking around – don’t charge guys with hefty-machine-guns. They get the people hanging around OUT OF THERE. And crucially, SWAT-or-local-equivalent response isn’t a wall of men walking slowly towards you with riot shields. It’s snipers on the rooftops taking down these psychopathic shits.

In other words, Infinity Ward have taken great effort to render a scene of a massacre which bears no relation to any massacre that could ever happen. It’s nothing more than that moment of revulsion (or, for those sort of gamers, excitement) when you open up on civilians. It means nothing human because it’s about nothing that’s human.

So it’s exploitative and pointless. But its real failing, ironically enough, is one of cowardice. Let’s assume you accept the warped reality of their airport slaughter. It’s their universe. Let’s roll with it. Well, the idea that you’re an undercover agent who can walk alongside your homicidal comrades without you firing a shot, without them realising or caring, is openly stupid.

(I’ve heard people say they take notice and call you a coward. I’ve played through it three times and not had it once. C’est la vie.)

For the level to matter – to be the true Jack Bauer ends-justify-the-means statement – you must be forced into joining in. You’ve got a chance to skip the level. Great. But to play the level, to accept it on its own terms, you must open up at those people. That’s the cowardice of Infinity Ward. They realised a level where you had to kill the innocents is more offensive than a level where it’s your choice… but choosing the latter is the single thing that stops it ever being some manner of effective artistic statement and rendering the whole thing laughably pathetic.

There is – AND SPOILERS ARE NOW – a twist to it, of course. Your terrorists comrades shoot you at the end and pin the attack on the yanks. Which, if you look at it, could be an excuse for them not caring that you’re not mowing down people with them. Except it doesn’t matter when you get shot, as long as they can pin the attack on you – so having someone who’s coming along and not helping is merely someone who could open up at them when their conscience cracks.

(Why you don’t just shoot this terrorist leader now that you’re close enough to him isn’t really explained. Why infiltrate the cell to stop an attack when you can just kill the ringmaster now?)

Part of me likes to think that the whole section – in fact, the whole game proper – is actually a statement that the blind following of orders leads to the death of the world. The one irony of the twist in the plot is never commented on in the game – that being, the Russians are entirely justified in being phenomenally pissed off. An American organisation knew there was a serious attack wiping out dozens of Russian citizens… and rather than warning, they sent a man to join the attack. They were complicit. You were complicit. Imagine what the US response would be to the tables being turned, and there was real evidence that a foreign government helped out a 9-11-esque attack on US soil to infiltrate a terrorist organisation. Throughout the game you’re forced into performing tasks which only lead to worse devastation, because you’re following fucking brain-dead orders.

You could see Modern Warfare 2 as the sister of BioShock – as in, mocking the player for being stupid enough to follow this linear string of events. Giving up your morality to a higher power and obeying those orders only leads to World War 3.

Well, you could if they’d only actually made their statement clear. As it is, it’s just a mess of sound and fury signifying jack-shit. The final half of Modern Warfare 2 is the sort of thing which Wikipedia entries were made for flicking through and catching up on. Clarity never hurts. Rambling purple prose sections about the nature of war do. If the above is actually what Infinity Ward were trying to say they should have made sure they fucking said it loud and clear.

That’s the most annoying thing about “No Russian” though. It’s not that the ideas are necessarily bad – I wrote a hell of a lot to defend Super Columbine Massacre RPG, after all. It’s that the execution is weak. If you’re going to do this, you do this. You make the move knowing that you’ve thought it all through. That you’ve considered everything. That you know what you’re saying and what it means. The sickening thing is that communicating simple yet powerful messages is what Infinity Ward have excelled at (Cross Ref; Call of Duty’s River landing missions, with you forced to progress with no gun due to Soviet supply problems). That clarity is missing. Instead, we’re left with a dumb shock.

That’s the problem. That’s what sickens me. It’s that they had the balls to try to do this… and they blew it. They fucking blew it. Anyone else who tries it will be living in their diseased shadow. If you want to try to do this thing you have a responsibility to do it properly, or not at all. Infinity Ward failed the medium and failed themselves with No Russian.

They’ve always cut levels which weren’t good enough, arguing for a concentrated, higher-quality experience. They should have cut this one. It’s bullshit and they should be ashamed.

, , , .

326 Comments »

Sponsored links by Taboola
  1. Jonas says:

    Thanks Kieron, this post really helped me get my opinions on MW2 organised. I played through the game yesterday and almost everything you’ve talked about has been floating around in my brain since then. It was good to get it all straight.

    And Brer: thanks. Post more in future please.

  2. clive dunn says:

    Infinity Ward remind me of the brash, loud-mouthed, opinionated tosser in the pub who ‘everyone is talking about’. By that i mean, everyone is calling him a dumb fuck-face and moving on.

  3. Peter Davies says:

    Curse Kieron. Every time I get all het up about something that’s BIG AND IMPORTANT LIKE VIDEOGAMES he’s done a cogent and thoughtful post setting out what I think in detail before I’ve tapped out two sentences.

    But, yes, couldn’t agree more. It’s as if someone asked them to paint the Sistene Chapel and they did a couple of stick figures and a willy.

  4. CaptainPerverso says:

    “Modern Warfare, it’s bad writing” … excuse me? I think you should go and play some Crytek games to see what really bad writing is!

  5. Da'Jobat says:

    A pretty spectacular post, nice to see you’ve still got the journo in you as well as being all marvelled up.

  6. Ravenger says:

    A really excellent article. Kieron is like the little boy who pointed out that that the emperor has no clothes on :)

    As far as the MW2 plot goes, I have a theory. There are three ways to integrate story and levels in a game:

    a) Come up with a story and design levels to fit the plot.
    b) Think up really cool ideas for levels and fit the story around them.
    c) A combination of (a) and (b)

    a) Leads to a very strong cohesive story, but the gameplay may be lacking in places as the levels are constrained by the story.
    b) Leads to very strong levels and set pieces, but the story tends to be all over the place as the plot needs to changed and retconned to fit the level designs.
    c) Tends to be the best of both worlds – a strong story with some excellent set-piece levels.

    I reckon IW went for (b).

  7. XM says:

    My take on all of MW2s missions and story as it’s all over the top in your face action. Leave your brain in the bin full of popcorn on the way in and enjoy the summer action flick.

    It’s one of those action films that the more you think about it the less sense it makes.

    It’s just entertainment, a fantasy in a realistic setting and should not be compared to the real world.

    The airport scene was made to be a WTF? moment to grab your attention. For everyone that’s played COD before and other FPSs. It’s to give the confident “I know that’s going to happen” a kick up the ass, no you don’t.

    • Jesse says:

      You know what though, I never ‘leave my brain’ anywhere. I always like to have it with me.

    • Bema says:

      I certainly agree with that point when it comes to films, but games are an interactive medium. I expect them to challenge me more than a summer blockbuster does.

  8. dadioflex says:

    I’m probably behind the loop here but I’ve got to the point where I can recognise a KG post just by reading it. In a good way.

    MW2? I think not.

    That is all.

  9. Heliosicle says:

    The funniest thing, is that at the end of the level, if you run away and hide behind a “SOLID” concrete wall, you still get shot in the face..

    Its a totally worthless level, much better to show it as a cutscene rather than try to do something “cool” and controversial, which exposes the flaws in the game and their story weaving skill.

    • Gap Gen says:

      The bits that did similar things in CoD4 were more powerful, partly as you had no control over your direction, unlike a guy standing freely and holding a gun. I can see that they decided to try and do something else a bit like it, but like people say, the level needed a lot of work before it became compelling.

      Deus Ex did this kind of killing of innocents quite well. In the level where you infiltrated the Mole people, I went through the first time shooting my way through. To then have the guy surrender and have to walk around the people you were just killing was quite humbling – they weren’t soldiers or criminals (I don’t think), just a community trying to protect themselves from the harsh world outside.

      So I think that it was important to have done this sort of thing, ham-fisted though the execution was. But I agree that it was important to do right, even inside the 24-style fantasy world that CoD:MW2 seems to inhabit.

  10. The Sombrero Kid says:

    infinity ward are nothing like valve, they constantly flaunt their inability to understand just what valve get right! like any good copycat :D

  11. Barbellion says:

    It’s certainly good to see an important issue debated with both reason and fire, but I do not agree with most of the arguments for the level being ‘bullshit’. I feel there is a certain lack of context here. I am no Infinity Ward apologist or one of the crowd that can’t see that the emperor is stark bollock naked, but I do think there are certain counter arguments here. Firstly, the change of pace from the James Bond snowmobile chase is deliberately jarring, surely – you’ve got giddy and silly and felt like you’re an impossibly indestructible secret agent and then you’re Someone Else and it leaves you reeling. Whether it works for you or not, the shock of it is deliberate and not just a poorly thought through mistake. As justification for a Russian attack on American soil of such magnitude I think it’s a good plot device on its own terms.

    The complaints about the response of the civilians and the emergency services to the situation dilutes the argument somewhat . It it at least convinces on its own terms, and I think if you did want to examine the real-world examples of similar behaviour – Columbine is a good reference point here – then I think you’ll find that the minute someone starts shooting a gun randomly into a crowd unexpectedly then protocol goes out the window. Not to mention that the police do send out scores of riot police as a first response to possible terrorist attacks – remember all the riot-gear police milling around the tube station sheepishly when De Menezes was shot?

    Where I do agree with Keiron’s argument is that the player should have been forced to take part, and that there should have been some justification for why Makarov was not taken down other than what can be extrapolated by dialogue snippets. Whatever happens the player could wind up dead and blamed, but there’s no way the terrorists should let you abstain from joining in. It’s only that logic that made me start firing on the crowd to start with on my first play through, thinking I would ‘fail’ the level if they cottoned on. But then again, they need the American blamed, and know about him being a plant, so they would let him get away with his reticence.

    What really made me upset about the technicalities more than anything was that on the 360 version I got an achievement for wiping out three policemen at once with the grenade launcher. Surely the achievements should have been disabled for this mission? That’s really very distasteful.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Barbellion: I was firing above the heads of people at the start of my first play through for exactly that reason.

      KG

    • Zero says:

      They give you like sixteen chances to earn that achievement before “No Russian”. Actually, I got it about five seconds into the game, firing across the river. I suspect that they were “expecting” the average player to do the same thing — not that it makes your point moot. On the other hand, entirely. If they say you won’t get or lose any achievements on the level, they need to follow through.

    • Jimbo says:

      Why should you be forced to take part? That would make even less sense. The guys you’re with already know you’re an agent and the attack is only taking place at all so that you are seen taking part and then dumped at the end. If they act against you out in the open, for any reason, it completely undermines the picture they are trying to create.

      Oh, and the picture they’re trying to create isn’t just that you were a US agent trying to infiltrate a terrorist organisation, they’re trying to spin it as a straight-up US attack carried out by a US agency, hence ‘No Russian’.

  12. clive dunn says:

    There should be an achievement for killing over 500 civilians…
    A survivor or the Mumbai terror attacks comes round to your house and calls you a sick fuck!

  13. hekr says:

    I think one of the truest statements in this article is how playing in the vicinity of other people can really change how the content makes you feel. Personally i played with a few friends, the controller changing hands after every ridiculous accidental death, and for us the whole thing just became a farce. From the grenades bouncing fully off peoples faces,then causing damage to a terrorist who promptly turn on you. To the weird jam like substance which seems to cover your eyes a soon as the bullets start flying. I mean if you couldn’t run behind a wall and wipe the stuff off the game could get quickly annoying. In retrospect it made me feel nothing at all and still doesn’t it was a poorly made mission, i mean why cant i run for half the bloody thing, and why if you stand anywhere in front of the terrorists they start shooting you in the back!! But hurray for Jam bullets they really made a arduous game slightly funnier

    • Zero says:

      To be fair, the average 40mm grenade needs some thirty meters to fully arm. The mother will indeed bounce off walls and the like if it doesn’t have enough time.

      I can’t help but find amusing when I shot someone in the face point blank with a grenade round — it didn’t arm, but the impact killed him.

  14. ShineDog says:

    “(Why you don’t just shoot this terrorist leader now that you’re close enough to him isn’t really explained. Why infiltrate the cell to stop an attack when you can just kill the ringmaster now?)”

    I agree in everything in your article, but picky me had to spot this – Shephard lied to you, implying that there was someone hired up that was paying for Makarov and that was who you were really after. There was. Shephard. He set the whole thing up, and wanted you dead from the beginning.

    glurgh. Stupid plot makes brain leak.

    • ShineDog says:

      Higher, no hired. Nuts.

    • Kieron Gillen says:

      Shine: I do actually reference the Shepherd stuff, as much as it needs to be referenced – the following orders unquestioningly leading to WW3 stuff. I don’t think it explains clearly enough why you don’t shoot him, however – not least because the build up to him… but don’t kill him! is so ludicrous.

      KG

  15. Kenny says:

    I don’t think you’d have to explain what you mean if you avoided describing the game using a literary term which doesn’t make any sense (to your readers, who aren’t writers that think about games in that way).

    Isn’t that bad writing?

    What’s wrong with plain ol’ “storytelling” (or “bad storytelling” in this case)? Isn’t that a suitable word to cover the writing, voice work, gameplay, animation, level design, art, lighting, music, sound, AI, direction, context, timing, flow and other general bits of the hard-to-describe interactive murder-simulator experience?

  16. wintermute says:

    In the nicest possible way – fuck you guys, and fuck you KG.

    Are you getting an emotional response from No Russian? Do you feel “uncomfortable”? Is this before or after you murder your next innocent/civilian/mook on Prototype, or GTA, or Postal, or Hitman, or Sims, or Dragon Age, or Syndicate, or Baldur’s Gate, or Civilization, or World of Warcraft, or Counterstrike, or any game ever made which involves killing, even indirectly?

    I am calling bullshit on all you hypocrites.

    The real discussion here is – WHY does everyone feel the need to write oodles of passionate rhetoric on No Russian? – and the only real winner is the IW marketing department.

  17. Monkeybreadman says:

    IW did that level to be controversial, no other ‘higher’ reason or goal i’m afraid. With that in mind it worked perfectly.

  18. Chiller says:

    MW2 got bashed a lot for all the wrong reasons. No Russian is one of them.
    The level was necessary for story advancement reasons, in the same way that the level in which you “play” the Arab president in MW1 was necessary, or even more so.
    The level is pretty much on par with the rest of the game in terms of, well, everything (such as design, story, consistency), except for its theme, which I do agree that Infinity Ward put in just because they could, and kudos to them for doing so.
    No good reason whatsoever has been given for bashing this level any more than the rest of the game.
    Of course you can’t shoot Makarov, for the same reason you can’t let MacTavish get killed at the airbase. The game tells its own story, not the player’s. You only ever have control over the least important aspects, such as whether to shoot the guard on the right first.
    Level design and NPC issues are on par with the usual FPS ridiculousness, which we all have been desensitised to by years of gaming and people don’t usually over-analyze except when it’s convenient to do so, like in this case.

    The real issue is that MW2 is not quite as good as MW1, and people are upset by it, so the pick on what they perceive to be the weakest link, No Russian (although I don’t even think that’s the case).
    However, I’m pretty sure we can all get over the huge, unexpected shock of a sequel not being all we thought it’d be. After all, I didn’t like Thief 2 all that much when it first came out, too… true story.
    I do think that the game is good. The story is much less consistent than MW1’s, which hurts a lot because it’s arguably the most important aspect of the game. However, MW2 does have its moments, and the gameplay is actually better. And I do have to agree with Blizzard that gameplay should come first.

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      in the other missions it’s shoot or be shot at, in this it’s shoot or be bored to a tear doing nothing, that’s why it’s the weakest link, there’s no imperative and the alternative is to be bored by a piece of ‘entertainment’ if it was a cut scene it’d’ve been acceptable in that you don’t expect interaction, this is the equivalent of a quick time event without the imperative and so only slightly about it as a storytelling mechanism.

  19. rocketman71 says:

    It’s bullshit and they should be ashamed

    Thar’s the best review of MW2 I’ve read this month.

  20. wintermute says:

    Hi,
    Logged in to prove not trolling. Also, all is meant respectfully, if insulting people respectfully is possible.
    Kieron. Why is No Russian important?
    Is it important because everyone is talking about it? People talk about lots of things. X-Factor for example. Would there have been so much outrage from gamers, if non-gamers had not picked up on the story? Would these outraged gamers be the same ones that toss grenades at people in GTA IV for a laugh?
    Is it important because the player is killing civilians? Gamers have been doing this for years. Everyone of us is running his own virtual genocide counter. No one cared much before. Why now?
    To quote your own article: “It’s not any good. It’s bullshit. It’s a lie. It means nothing.”
    Precisely. But why did people have lofty expectations in the first place? Is it because of the Game of the Decade tag? That’s not something we came up with – IW did.
    This is not a watershed moment for gaming – just a watershed moment for marketing. It is the first time a game is judged, scored and discussed entirely on it’s hype, and not the intrinsic value of the content itself.
    Within the standards MW2 sets for itself, No Russian is perfectly justified. Does the story of MW2 raise difficult moral issues? No. Why should No Russian?
    Because if we boil it down to just killing civilians, we have been doing that for years.
    EDIT: In fact this should have been the point of the article:
    WHY does No Russian make you feel uncomfortable, and other games do not?

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      it tries to push the boundaries of what games can do, both artisticly and from a censorship perspective.

    • Chiller says:

      Also, I totally agree to this.

    • Azazel says:

      You can’t possibly be pretending that shooting people in No Russian and clicking on some peasant in Baldur’s Gate and having him explode are two equivalent things?

      Oh.

    • Kadayi says:

      The entire premise of the massacre is to set up you, the plant up as the perpetrator, which is just such a retarded idea, Vs how the previous title played.

      The stuff that happened in CoD4:MW was far fetched, but it wasn’t completely preposterous (the believability of the scenarios is what sold the Story so well) . However the idea that some terrorist mastermind would elect to personally get his hands dirty and put himself directly in the line of fire as in No Russian is. No matter how competent you might personally be as a soldier, it only takes a guy with a sniper rifle 500 yards away to turn you into a statistic.

      As Kieron rightly pointed out Airports are not the sort of places to even consider attempting a massacre, simply because they have lots of security and control in place. Secondly there is normally so much surveillance that actually getting out unobserved would be a pipe dream.

      It’s a poorly contrived level. A better option if they wanted to go down the controversial route would of been something completely civilian like a Hotel lobby, a Restaurant, an Office building or even just a public space and a better weapon would of been a bomb.

    • Butler` says:

      Azazeal, as above, the concept of context does sadly seem to be eluding him.

    • MrFake says:

      “WHY does No Russian make you feel uncomfortable, and other games do not?”

      Simple. It plays to fears. That doesn’ t need much explanation, being the point of terrorism after all.

      Even as flawed as the realism is in MW2, it’s still not intentionally approaching the murder of innocents in an absurdist way. GTA is somehow elevated because of the ability to mow down pedestrians with a bus, but the game is punctuated every second with crazy dialog (“cheesy vagina”) and outlandish behavior as an acceptable act (shit, driving down a crowded sidewalk). It breaks the realism thoroughly.

      MW2’s No Russian preserves the realism; or at least it attempts to, which is just as good. So that leaves some players left feeling like they are there, holding the gun. And, I don’t think IW, however dense they’re proving themselves to be, meant for your actions to be at all acceptable. If games are escapism, then you escape into the world of the game, and many people will insert their own selves into them. And that leaves you with the question, “Why wouldn’t No Russian make you feel uncomfortable?”

  21. Sombrero says:

    You people take videogames waaay too seriously.

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      or maybe you take stealing peoples names way to seriously! how do you know i’m not tim langdel!

    • The Sombrero Kid says:

      i wish it’d just been honest at the beginning and said:
      ‘there’s a shit boring level , used only to generate hype and controversy in this game, do you want to turn it off and enjoy it the way the developers intended?’
      i’d’ve clicked that button.

  22. Comment system, what comment system? says:

    Failure or not, ‘No Russian’ has evoked strong response from nearly everyone in the industry and everyone I’ve talked to the game about. Some people think it succeeds, some don’t, but when the trying alone is enough to get everyone in the industry talking about it isn’t that a success in by some measure?

  23. Azazel says:

    Not really.

    To go back to the Bill Hicks quote someone mentioned. The film ‘Basic Instinct’ caused a storm of controversy. That didn’t stop it being a piece of shit.

  24. Down Rodeo says:

    I fired on those that were crawling away, bleeding out. It wasn’t fun. Or enjoyable. Or even thought-provoking. In an effort to say something that has not already been said in this thread, I will mention that it *is* possible to shoot the smartly-dressed terrorist-men. At the bit where the police turn up you can aim roughly towards your “team-mates”, the bullets’ spread ensures they’ll catch a nasty nick on the lung. Playing on my flatmate’s Xbox (I don’t want to buy this game) I managed to drop the two remaining terrorists and run away, only to be chased and shot by Makarov. I feel it is slightly harsh that he is invulnerable, super-accurate and has the reactions of, well, a computer. They also turn on you if you flash them.

    But yes, there are holes everywhere, and while the game is a lot of fun to charge around in, being the hero, I don’t like the story. I don’t even understand Shepard’s motivation! Why is he doing all this again? Craig Fairbrass certainly hasn’t had a good run of things anyway. They also misuse the word “check”, they mean “cheque”, and it is nigh-on impossible to light petrol with a lit cigar/cigarette. Thanks, BadMoviePhysics!

    Despite the game’s age rating, might it be that this level was aimed at younger people (“these are clearly bad men”)? Or perhaps, a different audience than the majority of the RPS comments thread. I don’t want to riff on the usual stereotype of “console gamer” but there seems to be some kind of idea that games (at least in their mechanics) are simplified on the console. Now, CoD has never been complex (point at man, shoot at man) but there are other ways to villify people than an unlikely terrorist scenario. But to have such a blunt level – it is very much like being clubbed.

    Ugh. We should perhaps try to move on now. As has been noted the entire section seems confused in tone and idea, with poor implementation and no excuse via plot. This could have been handled well I think, but wasn’t. This entire thread has made me rethink various parts of the CoD series from across the years, and not in a good way.

  25. Dreamhacker says:

    So a game developer of some (or great) notice makes an unrealistic level in a game…

    …why is everyone (or just KG) getting so emotional about it? Not that being emotional about games is a bad thing, but this is:
    1. Not a big deal.
    2. Not even news.

    In the end, COD:MW2 is a good, solid game and apparently a bestseller, but is it groundbreaking in any way, shape or form? Not really.

    • OgunBadbooks says:

      what “Down Rodeo” said :thumbsup:

      games aimed at teenage boys (like this one) should stay away from this kind of controversy.
      they might be games about killing but they’re certainly not games that can address death – haven’t been since they left the moral safety of ww2.

      there were enough eyebrow-raising moments in mw1 (e.g. the nuke) that weren’t really needed for the ‘story’ and just felt like thoroughly unwanted heartstring tugging. this is more of the same.

  26. ShineDog says:

    I think Shephard wants to fuck Russia, essentially. Zakhaev nuked the 30000 soldiers in MW1, and when Shephard talks about no one gave a shit and wants to people to be patriots, I think what hes really getting at is that he has a grudge against Russians and wants people to go “lets go fuck Russia up” which is pretty inevitable for the sequel.

    It’s terrible terrible logic and crappy writing. I still enjoyed it immensley, despite the airport level and the enormous plot holes and shitty logic. It’s just clear after they did a pretty good job with MW1 that this could have been much more. There have been a few devs that have come out and said “Activision wanted us to be controversial” and its a real shame, because I would have been keen to see what they came up with without the meddling.

  27. Player1 says:

    Best-article-on-the-issue-ever. Agree 110%.

  28. Alex McLarty says:

    Hearing you all talk about it makes me want to play it.

    • Butler` says:

      Some PR person from IW will copy this comment into an email to their whole team. :(

  29. Jake says:

    Why can you only walk in this stage?

    No Russian.

  30. Jeff says:

    Oh, Kieron. 24 was a documentary, and the events happened in real time.

  31. underproseductor says:

    Great article.

    I already said (and posted a little bit) something similar about this when I first saw the video of this level. My opinion haven’t changed – well, just as I expected.

  32. Davee says:

    Ahh yes, the Stalingrad River Landing-mission. One of the most memorable and interesting missions from the CoD series imo.

    And I agree with you Kieron, I was myself confused about what message IW was conveying when/after I played No Russian… big lack of clarity there. They could have done it way better, and they blew it.

    Also, the later missions in the game where a bit too over-the-top-conspiracies for my liking. I’ll stick to ‘mass charges up slopes defended by MG42’s’ thank you.

  33. the wiseass says:

    Well I got curious so I decided to have a go at this controversial “level” in MW2. To be honest, I absolutely agree with Kieron here: it’s just bullshit!
    There are many reasons why “no russian” is wrong on so many level, but one that strikes me the most and that hasn’t been discussed yet is the frame in which it all takes place. MW2 does not strike me as a game that tries to provoke deep thoughts or even tries to appeal to a critical conscience. MW2 is a mainstream game that tried to please to the broadest audience possible to such an extreme extent, that even well-known PC mechanisms have been removed in order to simplify the gaming experience. In short, MW2 loiters on the lowest common denominator possible.
    It is no wonder, that “no russian” can only be perceived as not honest. It is a blatant lie, a fake try of criticism which also explains its half-assed execution. MW2 is not a game that stimulates your thoughts therefore this whole level did not really touch me in any way possible.
    When I started up this game, I knew to switch off my brain (just like how you do it with most hollywood summer blockbuster movies) so when I finally walked out of the
    escalator, the whole scenery just went by in my idle mind. It didn’t help that the civil victims reacted in a very very artificial an unrealistic manner.
    The worst thing is, when I finally opened fire on the civilians, the mission restarted and I was told not to shoot the civilians. I wasn’t able to shoot the terrorists either. The only thing I could do was walk around and enjoy the scripted events pulling off in a seamless chain. Why try to evoke criticism, when you don’t give the player the freedom of choice? I should have been able to shoot both, I should have been able to decide. Instead the game behaved like a 6 year old that plays a prank and runs way giggling.
    But in the end, I really don’t see whats the fuzz is all about. Yes, there are some evil dudes walking around shooting people. But people have to realise, the whole game is about shooting people! That is all that is to it, you walk around an shoot stuff. I don’t know if it really makes a difference if they are armed or not, a dead man is a dead man. But well always have to realize, even after we have killed millions of millions of pixel-enemies, that this is just a game. And it is not for real.
    P.S.: A quick stroll through BRAID touched me emotionally more than this game will ever be able to.

  34. Jakkar says:

    Ah, the Gillen sees clearly.

    Like reading my own words sirrah. Let me know if you need a kidney oneday.

  35. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    As usual, I’m so buried in work that when I get to post about something trendy on my blog, everyone else has already moved on. DAMN YOU KIERON! A week behind the zeitgeist? I found gunpowder a month after the war has ended!

    Anyway, agree, undersign, yes. My thoughts on the matter were a lot more rant-like and I fire off in several directions but the core is the same. In spite of it being a good idea the execution is bullshit, through and through.

  36. The Sombrero Kid says:

    woops how’d it get posted up there?
    i wish it’d just been honest at the beginning and said:
    ‘there’s a shit boring level , used only to generate hype and controversy in this game, do you want to turn it off and enjoy it the way the developers intended?’
    i’d’ve clicked that button.

  37. wintermute says:

    Anonymous Coward said:
    “WHY does No Russian make you feel uncomfortable, and other games do not?”
    Simple. It plays to fears. That doesn’ t need much explanation, being the point of terrorism after all.
    Even as flawed as the realism is in MW2, it’s still not intentionally approaching the murder of innocents in an absurdist way. GTA is somehow elevated because of the ability to mow down pedestrians with a bus, but the game is punctuated every second with crazy dialog (”cheesy vagina”) and outlandish behavior as an acceptable act (shit, driving down a crowded sidewalk). It breaks the realism thoroughly.
    MW2’s No Russian preserves the realism; or at least it attempts to, which is just as good. So that leaves some players left feeling like they are there, holding the gun. And, I don’t think IW, however dense they’re proving themselves to be, meant for your actions to be at all acceptable. If games are escapism, then you escape into the world of the game, and many people will insert their own selves into them. And that leaves you with the question, “Why wouldn’t No Russian make you feel uncomfortable?”

    Hmm, good points sir.
    If we consider the episodic structure of MW2 missions, along with the ridiculous storyline, then the effect is similar to putting a gruesome murder scene in the middle of a Michael Bay film.
    I guess No Russian should be commended for the response it elicits from the normally stoic gamer-killer, though it exposes the rest of the story as not up to the standard set by it.

  38. dmauro says:

    “Why you don’t just shoot this terrorist leader now that you’re close enough to him isn’t really explained. Why infiltrate the cell to stop an attack when you can just kill the ringmaster now?”

    Because you’ve been put there by Shepard, and Shepard doesn’t want Markarov dead until he gets the war started. Shepard probably made it possible for Makarov to discover that you were undercover so that this whole thing would play out as such.

    I actually enjoyed this level. I had fun pretending to shoot at people and intentionally missing and shooting people that were already just about dead, and doing other things to maintain my cover without killing too many innocents. I was role-playing an undercover pfc in a Jack Bauer-like fashion (to bring it back to 24) of doing whatever needs be done.

  39. Inferno says:

    I think this review of the level is bullshit. He basiocalyl says oh it’s believable in the world and illicits a response from most people of finding it hard not to shoot but it’s bullshit because this is unrealistic because it could never happen in the real world. Most of the stuff that happens in CoD couldn’t happen in the real world. Dmauro said it quite well. If you get into it like the ridiculousness of a tom clancy book then it’s GOOD.

  40. Dyermaker says:

    I’m surprised about the amount of outcry that this level has generated. I went into the level expecting to be thoroughly disgusted. In the end I left feeling mostly detached. I will say I avoided shooting civilians, so I guess in a way I was affected enough by the situation to feel like what I was doing was wrong. But at the same time I was slightly fascinated with what IW tried to do, slowing the pacing down and creating enormous amounts of detail to take in, which I can appreciate. In the end, I’d agree that an opportunity has been missed.

    However, in the end, as others before me have mentioned, most of us as gamers have killed hundreds if not thousands of digital persons with little emotional response. The fact that this level is generated debate may say something.

    • Klaus says:

      I have killed millions, I wager. But if the people are standing about waiting to be slaughtered then I may as well comply with the game. Had I bought this game I would have did the level and continued on. I might have have offhandedly mentioned it to a friend but it’s no more shocking than the other murderous shenanigans I get up to in other games. To illicit an emotion response from me, they would have to have been fleeing or some such. Rather than the reported surrendering.

    • Wulf says:

      Postal generated this level of debate, too, FYI. So that’s hardly an accolade. See, that’s how my mind has classified this. It’s MW2 stepping into the realms of Postal/Postal 2, it’s idiot food for those who actually enjoy gore and acts of atrocity. It’s clever in that it generates debate and controversy, because it means that the people who’re drawn to that kind of thing will buy it.

      It’s a Postal 2 level in the middle of Modern Warfare 2, it’s no better than that, no worse, it’s simply just that. A nonsense level whose reason for being is exactly the same as Postal 2’s. It could have made a statement, it could have been intelligent, it could have had a message, but it didn’t. It wasn’t any of these things, it was just Postal 2.

      That’s why when I watched it didn’t exactly elicit an emotional response from me either, bar lots of eye-rolling and face-palming. It’s a marketing stunt, it’s just atrocity for the sake of atrocity, it’s just… Postal. That’s all I can say about it.

      To call it anything else would be giving it undue praise.

  41. Wixard says:

    The game is lacking in a number of areas.

    I played the no russian map and i didnt really findt shocking as much as simply not interesting in the least.

    It almost seemed they were trying to take this game with a weak story and shoe horn in some kind of epic overwhelming sense of importance.

    It’s mindless and dumb from start to finish, a wild disappointment in a number of areas, and i think it’s failed to live up to it’s potential.

    It actually reminds me quite a bit of a super high budget serious sam. (not to knock serious sam) but it’s simply mindless.

  42. Sym says:

    I just came across this site a few weeks back, been browsing it every day as part fo my normal routine. I have to say that alot of the writing/opinions in reviews and such are very well done. I find myself shaking my head in agreement way more often then not.

    Again here…excellent write-up. Kudos to you. This has rapidly become one of my top favorite sites.

  43. Henry says:

    I think what you fail to account for here is that the vast majority of computer games are very distant from being philosophically sound. Just because this game has had funds pumped in to it, does not mean it will have enlightened witers for it. It aims to be high action, it succeeds at being high action.

    This game is like a typical hollywood action flick. Lots of stuff happening, but with as many holes in the plot as one of the civilians you have just encountered.

    Personally I was put off it during the overly patriotic first five minutes, that feels like you are playing part of the millitary group from the recent GI:JOE movie (Yippi-ki-ay lets whup some ass). As games get closer to films, you will probably find that like most action films, the plot in games will be far from genius. It is usually films that try to avoid action that have better writing.

  44. Railick says:

    Don’t get how this is any diffrent than running around in GTA killing random helpeless people from all walks of life (Which I did for hours and hours and hours and hours and hours and hours and hours across GTA GTA 2 GTA 3 GTA Vice City GTA San Andreas and also True Crime :Los Angels ((yes I know you’re a cop but who cars?)) and also driver. Also played missions in Arm:A where I fly in and nail a whole village full of innocent people while the US marines come in and try to stop me so . . . .))))))) . . .))

    • Klaus says:

      Because all those are silly enough for it to be ok. MW2 is supposed to be gritty, and realistic.

      I get what you’re saying and more or less agree, though.

  45. Jason Moyer says:

    MW2 sucks. I’m referring to the campaign, here. I don’t care that it’s short, CoD4 was fairly short and was still a great experience.

    For starters, the story is totally batshit incoherent. The missions feel like they were designed first, and then jumbled around to fit whatever story they made up at the last minute, Thief 2 style. Some of the missions in the campaign are awesome on their own (the obligatory stealth missions, the fighting in suburbia) but I found that not only did they not really fit together in any way that makes sense without the FMV’s, but for the most part they tended to be total crap compared to previous IW-produced CoD titles.

    Part of what made CoD4 awesome, imho, was the variety and the pacing. One mission you’d be pounding your head on your desk after dying repeatedly while trying to push forward to the next invisible trigger to get the spawning to stop. The next mission you’d be creeping around in the dark with the SAS. The next mission you’d be supporting the SAS from an AC-130 gunship, then you’d be doing some urban combat, then more sneaking around, etc. The variety was great. In MW2, the variety basically happens in the first half of the first act, and then everything else is just following someone around because the game has to keep pushing you forward now that the spawning is gone.

    Speaking of the spawning, as glad as I’m that it’s gone now, the way they removed it makes the game feel a lot less player-oriented (aside from that mission in the fast food parking lot, of course, where you’re forced to run back and forth out of cover while your squadmates just stand around and eat bullets). In the previous CoD games, even if you were a subordinate to someone else, it felt like you were controlling the pacing of the game. Now every 10 seconds someone yells the exact same dialog in your ear telling you what to do next as if you don’t have a giant white dot in your HUD that says “GO HERE 4 TEH WIN” stamped all over it. Even in the earlier, better stealth mission, Soap will say the exact same line about where you need to go over and over and over while I’m studying the patrol movements and trying to remain unseen – which is the entire point of the damn mission. In other missions, even the great “fighting in suburbia” one, you’re liable to get run over by one of your own vehicles if you don’t keep running out of cover into enemy fire, and in basically all of them you’ll have to sprint constantly to keep up with the rest of your squad as they run gleefully past enemies who will happily hold their fire until they get a chance to shoot you in the back.

    The final aspect that I hate is how it’s gone all Tom Clancy. Part of the beauty of the original game was that it was similar to the quasi-historical WWII games, but set in a contemporary setting. This game isn’t “modern” warfare, it’s “hypothetical future” warfare. That works for me in something like Advanced Warfighter where the emphasis is on tactics, but CoD is all about the atmosphere and feeling like you’re taking part in a real, if highly dramaticized, war.

    TLDR: The campaign is short, schizophrenic and full of stupid sci-fi garbage. Additionally, they’ve somehow made the gameplay mechanics worse (and that’s without even going into the “no lean” stuff, which doesn’t bother me in most games but was a staple of this series).

  46. LionsPhil says:

    “That’s what sickens me. It’s that they had the balls to try to do this… and they blew it.”

    ^ This

    • Jason Moyer says:

      “That mission” wouldn’t bother me if it were a.) remotely believable and/or b.) felt like a fluid part of the story arc. Like most of the missions, it just feels like a crappy action-movie moment they came up with one day at the office and later tried to shoehorn into the plot, and by even that early stage of the game you’ve turned so many dudes into ragdolls that the emotional impact of seeing more people die is essentially nil.

  47. Tei says:

    I think is “easy” to troll.
    So theres not merit on trolling.

    Trolling and Trough provoking look similar, like one is the evil twin of the other. Maybe the difference is that Trolling destroy rational debate, while TP spawn and create it.

    So, is this level creating noise or signal?

  48. Breaker Morant's Ghost says:

    People are over-analyzing this. It’s a casual FPS for kids. No Russian is a cynical grab for free headlines.

    It’s a shit game whose devs care only about cash.

  49. Funky Badger says:

    If you want to try to do this thing you have a responsibility to do it properly, or not at all.

    Cannot agree with this at all, its just not how art works. The execution does not colour the intent, nor vice versa.

  50. Tei says:

    Is not vile enough.

    Vile enough will be to take the control from the player, and make so the player continue killing civilians, in a gruesome way.
    Vile will be have somewhere on the level a mirror, and on that mirror, let the player see his own face, and in that face a obvious happy smiley.
    ….