I’ve been replaying the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare games. It’s the last time that I think the single player in this franchise was anything approaching good. The most narratively interesting was Modern Warfare 2. The idea of war coming to American shores is actually kinda unique. I can definitely dig it. But as I was playing, there were a whole bunch of thoughts that came to me. Namely – why is this concept not being done better? I thought about the things that I would want to see in a military FPS game, and figured that I could go deep into this. Here is the military FPS game that I want to see, but know that it will never be made.
A Different Kind of Narrative
Something that I noticed is that all the enemies in these games are the same. Mostly Russians. Part of what I like about the Modern Warfare franchise is that you have some interesting locales. There is a Brazil, where you’re dealing with a militia. Then there’s a munitions factory in Africa. The chemical-doused streets of France, and a German city. Lots of neat places, all with different kinds of potential.
But the enemies are always the same. I think the kind of narrative that I would be looking for is one that looks at all the different kinds of warfare. Maybe like you’re teamed up with various elements of the military and you get to go to all kinds of places for all kinds of missions. Like going into Africa for a kind of Black Hawk Down sort of mission, then infiltrating a compound in Morocco to assassinate a high value target. Then you have to go to a South Korean mansion to get another target. Maybe like a Black Ops unit with a target that has no nation. The kind of Makarov without the Russian nationalism. I like the concept of a killer who has no rules and will do whatever it takes to make the almighty dollar. But maybe this person is ambitious. The kind of Petr Baelish type, who wants to watch the world burn to make a better one.
I also would love to see different armed forces. Maybe this mission is huge, and involves the British, Americans, Korean, and all kinds of other militaries from different nations. I want to get to know the world that I live in. See the attitudes of different nations and how they approach things. Maybe take on the Brazilian militia aspect from the perspective of their national government as it grows and see them teaming up with some American outfit central to the plot or American intelligence to get their job done. Perhaps I’ve been inspired by the various locales in Rainbow Six: Siege, but it is a neat concept, am I wrong? I want to know how the rest of the world approaches war. What is war to Brazil, South Korea, or the Kurdish fighters? This has so much narrative potential.
The whole point of this is to inject some kind of realism into this. Make this feel like a world I can be a part of. That can even shut up the social justice types because now you can have all the inclusivity in the world, by seeing all kinds of places and learning about how they see the world. It would also make the story pop because you can see the real-world effects of this villain at work, in real time. See them using chemical weapons against a South Korean city, or bombing a Brazilian government office, or helping a coup against the Mexican President.
Something else I want to mention – nix the big, elaborate set-pieces. I have no problem with set-pieces, but military FPS games have gone out of control with this stuff. Keep it simple, make it semi-believable. Don’t have characters surviving insane things that make no sense and no realistic person ever would. I don’t mind the pomp and circumstance, but don’t go overboard. Which ties into something else…
Believable and Likeable Characters
Another thing I’ll give Modern Warfare – you had likeable protagonists. Characters like Soap and Price. Sgt. Foley (voiced by the ever-fantastic Keith David),Sandman and Truck, voiced by William Fichtner and Idris Elba, respectively. I want characters that have personality and get me wanting to see where things go. This ties in to wanting to see the way the world at large sees warfare. If the idea is to have an enemy who is the kind of Big Boss type, it would be cool to have the story centered around smaller characters. Like maybe an intelligence officer or a special forces unit that is the center strike team of the story, along with the people they find along the way.
Not only that, but give us time to get to know them and the world they inhabit. If it’s people in different branches of the US military, show us their world. Seeing the Delta Force, Navy SEALS, SAS, or whoever else. I want to see what kind of world these people live in. Would this mean a lot of cutscenes? It doesn’t have to. Let your character explore it. Maybe have it that during missions you can play as a certain character, but between missions we have our intelligence officer or something exploring the part of the world that they are in while they do them. Like an SAS base while working with them for part of it, and a South Korean SWAT team base for another. There is so much narrative potential that is not being addressed by not giving us time to get to know the people and their worlds. Give players the chance to explore and we’ll do it.
Which brings me to another point….
More Open Level Design
Notice I didn’t say open world. Didn’t mean that. I don’t want some big, empty open world. Instead, I want larger levels that can have different avenues that one can explore. Like how you can go to X place and exploit terrain in a certain way to accomplish your mission, or Y place and take an approach to your mission that takes longer, but will minimize your risk of casualties or being detected. Give players a choice of weapons and equipment, so they can exploit different aspects of a level. Like hacker tools, or demolition equipment, sniper gear. Is this sounding too much like Hitman? I don’t mean for it to. I don’t hate linearity on the face of it, so long as I feel like there are points that I can play with that a little. The perfect example of this is Uncharted 4. There is a lot of linear areas, but there are also the more open spaces that let you play around with how you want to approach things.
They found out that people really liked the level All Ghillied Up in the original Modern Warfare, because it let you do what I’m talking about. Personally, I like the idea of having the aircraft boneyard from Modern Warfare 2 but let you have all kinds of ways to get through. The potential for gameplay there is out of control. Give the players choice, let us figure things out.
And for fuck’s sake, don’t hold our hand! Stop having a button-prompt for everything. Let us learn some things by trial and error. That’s the sign of a developer respecting gamers’ intelligence by assuming that we can learn from our mistakes. The worst part is when the games are yelling at you all the time about what to do. How about you let me figure things out? Maybe have a character in a position where they are cut off and have to figure out what to do without someone there. Like the comms are out, and now it’s just you and your weapon, having to get through hostile territory in one piece. There are lots of ideas here.
Don’t Make it a Love Letter to the Military
I know this is the hardest thing to ask for. After all, America is all about making the military look good. The military goes over stuff with the military in it for just that reason. But war is difficult, and I wouldn’t mind if we show the real-world cost. Have people who feel real seeing this and having to see that what they are doing is right, but that it needs to be brought to a conclusion because the stakes keep getting raised. See the devastation and human cost of war. You can do that without making it an insult to the military. In the beginning of the Exodus mission in Modern Warfare 2, you have the character seeing an Army base set up while the conflict still rages, seeing tired soldiers, wounded, and hearing the desperate battle outside over the radio (though I always wonder if military lingo in these games is legit, or just made to sound cool). That’s what I’m talking about!
The whole idea of this is to look at modern warfare as more than just badass dudes killing people. Humanize war. You can still do that without making it not fun. I’m not talking about making the player feel bad about it. There is still a villain who needs to be stopped. What I’m talking about is making this personal. See what this monster leaves behind, and have the characters be tested, but then push past that by their resolve being strengthened by each other. War is ugly, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to fight it when you are pushed to that point. Granted, in the modern world, all America does is fight wars because that keeps our economy going, so maybe this is going to romanticize the concept a little, but you can do that without making it so that the brutality is totally lost.
So what do you all think? Is my idea totally a pie in the sky fantasy? Probably. Without name recognition, this concept would likely die. But I think this is a game that a lot of people would be talking about. I really do. If only we had a studio that was willing to put a ton of money into something like this. A risk, but one that is trying something totally different. Too much to ask for in the AAA world today. It’s depressing.
Until next time, a quote,
“The healthy human mind doesn’t wake up in the morning thinking this is its last day on Earth. But I think that’s a luxury, not a curse. To know you’re close to the end is a kind of freedom. Good time to take…inventory. Outgunned. Outnumbered. Out of our minds. On a suicide mission. But the sand and rocks here, stained with the blood of thousands of years of warfare, they will remember us, for this. Because, out of all our vast array of nightmares, this is the one we choose for ourselves. We go forward like a breath exhaled from the Earth. With vigor in our hearts and one goal in sight.” – Capt. Johnathan Price, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2