Welcome to Retro-Replay! An article series where we take a look at old games, levels, and take a look at what made them great (or downright horrible). We’ll be examining more than just the video game, and we’ll be taking a look at the game’s impact on the industry and culture!
And for our first Retro-Replay, we’ll begin with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Remastered. We’re not going to tackle the entire game – its top notch gameplay speaks for itself. Instead, we’re going to be dealing with a controversial level in the game that got the remaster treatment. Today, we’re diving into “No Russian”.
Slot in your old discs and dust your controllers- it’s time to replay!
Oh, before you continue reading here’s a warning. This article will contain major plot details and mature content. You have been warned!
Table of Contents
It’s been 11 years since its release, and my my Modern Warfare 2 changed FPS gaming. The frenetic, competitive multiplayer with custom gun options, and the cooperative spec ops mode sealed Modern Warfare 2’s position as one of the greatest games of all time.
But more than anything, it was a memorable campaign. Each level brimming with action, combat full of adrenaline and excitement. Although the story didn’t afford room for character development, we loved the characters nonetheless. Watching Shepard murder our favorites Ghost and Roach hurt us to the core. Freeing Captain Price from the Gulag felt like reuniting with an old friend.
And then we have “No Russian”. If you decided to not heed the mature content warning, the level begins with the usual preamble and tactical map. Shepard goes to explain what it takes you to get there. He also tells you the mission “Will cost a piece of yourself”. The screen then cuts to black. You hear an elevator ding, and the scene fades in. You are riding an elevator with the terrorist leader Makarov, alongside his 3 of his nefarious henchmen. All 4 of you wearing bulletproof vests, and armed to the teeth with assault rifles and machine guns.
As the elevator door opens , Makarov looks to you, says “Remember – no Russian”. You exit the elevator, and after this Makarov and his terrorists fire on hundreds of civilians in the Russian airport. The violence here is visceral. The civilians scream in horror, and try to run away from impending death. But alas, Makarov and his men are efficient killers. Bodies crash to the floor, blood pooling around the lifeless corpses. The wounded desperately crawl away to safety, smearing the floor in their own blood.
You’re not prompted to fire at the civilians. But you’re not barred from doing it either. Regardless, you’ll be forced to follow and watch Makarov slaughter civilians a whole 5 minutes before combat actually begins. You have the rest of the level to play through – but that all pales in comparison to the first 5 minutes.
Blurring realism and fiction?
Let us be reminded that, thankfully, the events of Modern Warfare 2 are fictional. But that begs the question – when do our fictions go too far? Ever since the introduction of story into video games, it’s provided a unique experience into fiction.
Unlike movies or books where we’re passive observers, video games provide us the opportunity participate in the narrative. We control a character within fictional world, and we’re free to interact with the world, its people, and its rules.
Of course when participating in any fiction, we’re aware it’s fiction. We suspend disbelief for a moment just so we can participate in the fantasy. The issue with Modern Warfare 2 however is that it markets itself as realistic. The fantasy isn’t clear cut from the fiction. When playing through the sequence, the blood, gore, and violence is sure to stir powerful emotions. Emotions such as anger, disgust, anxiety, and loathing that can be sure to negatively affect the gamer’s mental health.
When fiction borders reality, things are sure to cross over from video games into the real world.
That’s why games such as “Destroy All Humans”, “Sniper Elite”, “Mortal Kombat”, and “Saints Row” don’t have as much controversy as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Sure, these aforementioned games have loads of violence (ahem Mortal Kombat), but the games clearly establish themselves as fiction. These games even make violence satirical, if not parodying violence outright.
Forced to be a terrorist
In addition to the senseless violence that “No Russian” brings, it’s the way that the game that steers the players into shooting the civilians. Sure – there is nothing on screen that tells you to participate in the violence. But the level’s context suggests you should.
Let’s return to the beginning of the level shall we? During the preamble to the mission, General Shepard goes on to tell you this:
“You don’t want to know what it’s cost to put you next to him. It will cost you a piece of yourself. It will cost nothing compared to everything you’ll save”General Shepard – during the level’s preamble
From that dialogue, it just seals your role as a character. You’re the player controlling Joseph Allen, who is undercover for the CIA. You’re pigeonholed into a role with little choice but to comply with the terrorism. You, the player, have no control but to participate in the consequence’s of your character’s choice.
And you being a terrorist in this level isn’t really justified. The entire goal of your character (and by extension, Task Force 141) is on capturing or killing Makarov. Your character had the golden opportunity to just kill him or capture him right there.
And second, Makarov’s goal to incite war between the United States and Russia doesn’t make sense either. I doubt a terrorist attack would incite war between two nations, even if it appeared that America aided the attack.
Why it’s alright to remaster
“No Russian” is, at the end of the day, an attempt to push the narrative boundaries of video games. There’s no doubt that “No Russian” sparked controversy and debate as to the limits of video games.
What scenarios can we explore? What experiences should be off limits? These are the types of questions sparked by this one level. And by doing so – it’s helped developers make better narratives and video games.
Including “No Russian” in the Modern Warfare 2 Remaster is, a good thing. It’s a part of video game history that will remind developers and writers the limits of video game narratives. Hopefully, video game developer’s in the future heed this warning, and move on to make better stories and video games.