Passion. This was probably the word we heard most when, at Infinity Ward earlier this month, we met the developers of this year's Call of Duty. People at the LA-based studio speak of a "seminal moment in the history of video games" when referring to the time when a game called Call of Duty first invaded our consoles. And even if since then the series has alternated between highs and lows, in the process polarising the community, nobody can deny the importance of the series, nor the impact it has made on the first-person shooter space.
In all of this, Infinity Ward has played an extraordinary role; this studio developed the very first Call of Duty and gave life to the Modern Warfare series, and then later found themselves producing Ghosts and Infinite Warfare, two of the more forgettable entries in the franchise. Thus, in the last two-and-a-half years, the studio has returned to work on its strongest brand, taking up the reins of the Modern Warfare saga that ended in 2011 with Makarov's death and the grand conclusion of a trilogy.
With things left as they were we weren't particularly surprised when we were told that this new game won't be Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 4. Instead, we are getting a reboot of the original Modern Warfare saga, hence why it is called Call of Duty: Modern Warfare - almost like the 2007 original - and comes armed with the same themes and most of the same characters that fans know all too well from past adventures.
Let's make things clear right away; this is not a remake of the first Modern Warfare, but a completely new game. The ambition of this new Modern Warfare is to tell a contemporary war story, something immersed in geopolitical plausibility. The world has changed since 2007, and the ways that we wage war have changed too. In order to create a Modern Warfare that feels contemporary and of its time, a new script was required. In much the same way, today's video games are profoundly different from those of twelve years ago, and therefore some radical changes we required to keep things fresh.
The developer's first mission was to create a coherent experience. Almost all Call of Duty games in the past have been presented with a "two games in one" structure, where multiplayer and single-player coexist yet are ostensibly separate entities. The new Modern Warfare will try to overcome this dichotomy by introducing elements that will push players to happily move between solo play and multiplayer and to perceive the game as a unique product, wherein each element has a context. The details of what this will entail, however, have not yet been revealed.
The second challenge concerns the veracity of what actually happens in the game. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare wants to explore a contemporary war scenario, and war is a terrible thing. Too often in the world of gaming, the horror of war is staged by resorting to brutal violence and gore. In this case, the aim is more to show the tension and personal drama of those who live through these experiences. To make the point, a developer told us that they were inspired by the fear generated by a masterpiece like "Jaws" rather than by the gruesome brutality of "Saw".
Finally, an attempt is being made to instil in the characters a sense of truthfulness. The devs are trying to dodge the banality of having an immaculate hero take on a bad-to-the-bone antagonist. Each character is complex: one side is driven by understandable motivations and the other side aren't superheroes or pillars of morality.
It's clear, then, that bringing the Modern Warfare sub-series up-to-date was possible only with a reboot and the creation of narrative circumstances that better reflect the world in which we live in 2019. A grown-up, more mature game where good and evil is only a matter of perspective. We will still have the American and Russian superpowers facing off against each other on the battlefield, but the events that led to the destruction of New York City in the third episode of the old saga have not yet occurred.
With regards to the two superpowers at war, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is a game in which both professionals (Tier 1 operators) and rebel militias coexist in both factions, where operators and rebels fight side by side, however, in many cases they will find themselves facing their opponents alone. Operators travel in small numbers and are equipped with advanced technology that allows them to cope with large rebel groups. Conversely, the rebels must count on their larger numbers, or opt for a stealthier approach when faced with better-equipped opponents. These differences should give rise to intricate tactics that determine how you behave on the battlefield.
At the presentation in Los Angeles, Infinity Ward decided to devote itself exclusively to the single-player portion of the game, postponing the multiplayer reveal to a later date (skip this and the following two paragraphs if you don't want to spoil anything for yourself in the campaign). In the first mission we were taken to the streets of London where, following a terrorist attack, teams are sent to a house to destroy the clandestine cell responsible for what happened. The beginning of the mission, with the operators positioned at various entry points and waiting for the signal to attack, reminded us in many ways of the atmosphere of the old Rainbow Six games. Once inside the narrow corridors of the London house the lights were off, pushing us to wear our night vision goggles and engage in gunfights with the terrorists hidden (and armed) in every room.
During this mission, we witnessed some truly interesting scenes, such as a terrorist using his wife as a human shield, and then the same hostage becoming an enemy as soon as her husband was neutralised. A desperate woman runs to a cradle: is she trying to save a child or is there a hidden weapon? Do we pull the trigger or take a risk? A man is wounded in the throat: his rattle echoes around the house, while another dying man tries to reach for a gun. Although some of these sequences are scripted, the game kept on trying to punch us in the gut.
In a second mission, which is set in the Middle East, we find ourselves in the shoes of a little girl saved from the rubble of a bombing. Her mother died at her side, but the people of the village managed to extract her unharmed. The bombs, however, are only the prelude to a Russian invasion accompanied by nerve gas grenades. We take refuge at home, protected by our father and a brother of seven or eight, while the Russians are clearing out all the buildings. After a violent confrontation with an enemy operator, we leave the house to find ourselves in front of a terrifying scene; the people of the village are on the ground in the throes of convulsions induced by a nerve agent, while the military hurry to finish the job by firing shots into the heads of those who aren't yet dead. This war is horrible, the civilians are suffering, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare serves it up raw.
After these sequences (and a necessary coffee break to recover from this highly emotional moment), Infinity Ward showed us the technology powering the game. In addition to a volumetric lighting system, which is able to capture the dust that kicks up after a bombing, we were really surprised by the audio design. Each weapon produces a different sound depending on the type of place it is being used. In a sequence set in Picadilly Circus, for example, we enjoyed the dull sound of a grenade launcher fired in the London underground as well as the echo of a bullet fired between the buildings above. The studio seems to have taken exceptional care in this area and we were really happy that the devs stopped for a few minutes to show it to us. Even the animations of the weapons are excellent; thanks to a system called Activital, the developers have tried to imitate the way in which a weapon is held and the way in which it can be handled. In doing so, the heavier weapons affect the movement of the player's head, and the weight of each gun can be more clearly perceived.
Finally, from a visual point of view, the developer has made extensive use of photogrammetry to capture objects and then realistically implement them in the game. From the rusty doors of cars to the piles of garbage (which the devs really picked up on the streets of Los Angeles to be scanned in the office), the world of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is incredibly detailed and realistic. The models of the characters - all derived from actors in the flesh - make use of a technology that allows them to show a change in the facial veins according to the situation in which the character is involved, faithfully recreating the way they blush or pale. The weapons are reproduced with great care, and the workbench we use to customise them lets us see all their details in a way that reminded us of the Autovista system in the Forza Motorsport series.
Infinity Ward stated that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare will be the most authentic and realistic video game it has ever created. We must confess that, after so many years, we have developed a sort of scepticism towards the series, but in this case we were genuinely surprised. This new Modern Warfare has a lot of promise and is undoubtedly one of the more interesting Call of Duty games of recent years. We will still have to wait a few weeks before talking about multiplayer and even longer before we find out how many of the promises made to us in LA will actually be kept, but for now, we're reasonably convinced that this could be yet another high point in this ongoing first-person shooter saga.