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Sunday, December 3, 2023

New “Call of Duty”: Play with enemy images

“Modern Warfare III” is the name of the new first-person shooter from the “Call of Duty” series. The video game disappoints with technical problems and clichés.

Screenshots from a video game

The “Modern Warfare” spin-offs provoke and shock with their depictions of violence Screenshot: Activision Blizzard

Expectations were high for the game “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare III”. Not least because its predecessor generated a billion US dollars in sales within ten days. Numbers that Hollywood could only dream of in recent years. “Modern Warfare III” will also be a massive success. And yet the popular game series has reached a new low in terms of quality and content.

The “Call of Duty” brand began in 2003 with a World War II game before moving into the modern era with its spin-off “Modern Warfare” in 2007. In “Advanced Warfare” the fight took place in the near future, at that time Kevin Spacey lent his face to the antagonist. “Infinite Warfare” even took players into space before the series returned to modernity in 2019 because the makers decided to retell the three-part “Modern Warfare” series with familiar faces. Between the new editions came the extremely successful “Warzone” in 2020, which was purely focused on multiplayer.

Each of these Call of Duty games has been a massive commercial success, and the series is one of the most successful in video game history. The most popular parts were the three “Modern Warfare” spin-offs, and it stands to reason that Activision Blizzard wants to capitalize on this popularity. These three parts in particular were particularly provocative and shocking.

This is typical of the mission called “No Russian” in “Modern Warfare II” from 2009. The players are part of a Russian terrorist group that is carrying out a merciless rampage against defenseless civilians at an airport. In the German version, players could only shoot at the approaching police. The stark realism of this level was shocking, especially for the time, and continued to stigmatize video games. The killer game debate is still going on to some extent today, not least because of “No Russian”.

No less tasteless

That same mission is now reproduced in the latest part. Only instead of taking place in an airport, the crime takes place on the plane itself, which doesn’t make it any less tasteless. Another worrying change to the mission is that it mixes several stereotypes together. But how do the players actually get into the situation in which this happens?

Task Force 141, a US-led special forces unit with soldiers from the United States, Canada, Australia and Great Britain, must once again save the world. The major antagonist is Vladimir Makarov, an ultra-nationalist Russian who has recently escaped from the Gulag. He wants to plunge the world into chaos by playing nations against each other and fabricating a terrorist attack. To do this, in “No Russian” he takes the soldier Samara hostage on the plane. She comes from the fictional country of Urzikstan in the Middle East. Its appearance is also intended to be reminiscent of the Arab world.

The Russian villain Makarov exploits this imagined cultural background. The terrorists force Samara to wear an explosive vest and a kidnapper asks her: “Are you a terrorist?” She says no. “You look like one,” is his reply before he activates her vest and pushes her into the passenger compartment. The mission ends with an explosion that kills all passengers.

“No Russian” is claustrophobic, painfully realistic and plays with the fear of actual terrorism. And yet the scene is similar pubertal provocation aimed at the shock factor. What’s questionable is how the game uses stereotypes.

Clichéd image of the enemy

It starts with the stereotypical evil Russian Makarov. It is the latest manifestation of a long tradition in Western pop culture in which Russians are portrayed as evil. During the Cold War, it was films like “Rocky IV”, “Rambo III”, “The Red Tide”, “My Son John” and “Messenger of Fear” in which the West, aka the USA, defeated the evil Russia. Such films were not only blatant propaganda, but were also intended to boost morale and patriotism among the audience.

The evil Russian is a popular narrative, especially for the famous secret agent James Bond. One that was not told even after the fall of the Iron Curtain in the early 1990s. Western pop culture and Hollywood in particular have failed to gradually soften the clichéd enemy image of evil, cold Russia. That’s why James Bond still fights against Russians today, and Russian gangsters are the antagonists in major productions such as “John Wick”, “The Equalizer” and “96 Hours”. In contrast to China, Russia remains established as an antagonist in Western pop culture.

Since Putin’s attack on Ukraine in February 2022, the Russian as an enemy has been updated, both in pop culture and in society. “Modern Warfare III” goes back to the old adversary. It’s ideal that the ultra-nationalist Makarov was part of the “Call of Duty” series long before the Ukrainian War and can now comfortably return from retirement. But the new episode also serves the stereotype of Arab terrorism. It seems bizarre that “Modern Warfare III” tries to play these two enemy images – “the evil Russian” and “the evil Arab” – against each other. Just so that the USA can save the world again in the end. This video game narrative is just as it sounds: boring as hell.

Also away from the questionable clichés “Modern Warfare III” cannot convince in any way. The game blatantly recycles most of its content from the previously released “Warzone.”

Fans are understandably upset about this. In addition, industry journalist Jason Schreier revealed the disastrous working conditions behind the scenes and that the Developers work nights and weekends for months had to. The regular development cycle of around three years was reduced to just under one year, of course at the expense of the employees. “Modern Warfare III” was originally planned as a small expansion for its predecessor, until Activision Blizzard decided to artificially inflate the title. The result is a game with a lot of hot air. Technically, the title is by no means finished, the multiplayer mode has numerous problems, and even the poorly narrated campaign is over after just four hours. The loveless return of the once popular zombie mode is hardly fun to play.

Nevertheless, the game claims to be worth its 70 euros. But it’s not.

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