12 years later is there still a space for Modern Warfare in my heart?
Releasing in late 2007, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was my introduction to online gaming and my return to gaming as a regular hobby, at the time I had become (funnily enough) a lapsed gamer, only occasionally dipping my toe into the latest big release.
That all changed one afternoon as my friend eagerly handed me a controller, saying nothing other than “just check out the first level”. Within moments I was abseiling onto the stormy deck of a tanker in the Bering Strait. Moving through darkened hallways as part of an elite SAS unit, all of them having cool nicknames and shouting vague orders about “danger close” and getting “Oscar Mike”.
Instantly I was hooked, we played through the majority of the campaign that day before diving into the multiplayer. This was the early days of Xbox Live, a very different experience than it is today. Online console gaming was still a novelty, as such every player had a microphone and fully intended to use it without discretion. Lobbies became a cacophony of noise and mayhem, friendships were formed, rivalries emerged, people laughed, screamed, cursed, played repetitive dance music and (most amusingly) were called downstairs for dinner by an annoyed mother in the background.
Modern Warfare was the Fortnite of its day, it was the gaming activity that dominated people’s spare time, if you weren’t playing it then you were talking about it and if you weren’t talking about it, then you were watching Youtube montages of its best players “720 no scope a noob” from across the map.
Along with Gears of War, Modern Warfare set the template for Triple-A shooters over the next few years, each one having its own variation on tiered unlockables and killstreaks against a brown muddy landscape.
Now in 2019 Activision and Infinity Ward are coming back to the Modern Warfare series, with returning characters and more “ripped from the headlines” scenarios, rather than the sci fi antics of Call of Duty’s more recent efforts, which since 2011 have been a victim of diminishing returns.
But is there still a place for Modern Warfare in 2019?
In 2007 the wars in the Middle East dominated the news cycle, the World Trade Center attacks had only been 6 years prior and in media Russian villains were caricatures from fictional breakaway states. Now in 2019 in an era of fake news, mass shootings, Trump, Brexit and Putin, the plot of the original Modern Warfare doesn’t feel as far fetched.
The world of online gaming has moved on too, no longer do you talk tactics with someone across the globe whilst 12 year olds scream profanities about your mother. In today’s online gaming “team chat” is king. Players forming their own tight knit communities or relying on nonverbal communication, as seen in Apex Legends which funnily enough was made by former Infinity Ward employees, Respawn Games.
Battle Royale has replaced the shorter, faster paced team deathmatches with which Modern Warfare made its name. The trends and fashions in gaming as a whole have shifted towards colourful characters and fantastical environments as opposed to grim, square jawed soldier types running through backdrops left over from Black Hawk Down.
Infinity Ward are currently saying all the right things to tempt former players back the series, promising no season passes, a more back to basics multiplayer, co-operative missions and an overall more authentic military experience along with the return of characters from the original trilogy of games. Whether this is enough to bring in new players – those who were too young to remember the series’ glory days – is anyone’s guess.
For now i’m holding out hope, if Infinity Ward can deliver a contemporary campaign that digs into today’s political landscape with a solid multiplayer experience, stripping back the game to the core components on which it built its success, then maybe they can capture how I felt, back on the edge of that bed, being handed that controller. Or maybe we’ll be pressing F to pay our respects.