With the release of every Call of Duty game comes new controversy. So, with the launch of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, consumers are already lurching out at how Russian soldiers are being depicted in the game.
Metacritic, a user-operated aggregate review site, currently has the remade classic at a 2.4 out of 10 scale. Many fans are mad, particularly at Infinity Ward for “shifting blame,” pinning prior real-life attacks on Russia that after often debated to be the work of the United States and the Middle East.
The following are reviews from that very site.
“Disgusting Russophobic garbage, created only for one thing — stinking anti-Russian propoganda,” writes one reviewer on Metacritic, “which is now pouring out of all the ‘independent’ media on the orders of their Washington masters. 0/10.”
“Russophobia is not appropriate, ‘dear’ Activision,” “There is no gray morality in this game, only bad Russians and good Americans. Can you show us hundreds of American war crimes all over the world in your next game?”
The plot of Infinity Ward’s latest first-person shooter does hang the blame for many of the injustices and war crimes in its narrative on Russian-flagged military forces. Those include regular Russian army troops and Spetsnaz special forces working under the game’s villain, Russian general Roman Barkov.
The scene was so graphic, and the Russian in question such a grotesque caricature, that Polygon questioned it when shown the clip at this year’s E3.
As of publication, nearly 1,200 users have commented on the game’s story mode, reducing the once high score to about a 2.4.
An official statement from Joel Emslie, studio art director at Infinity Ward.
“That’s my fault. I’m to blame for the way that character looks. But what I was going for artistically was [...] we’re always trying to work for a cinematic experience. I’m trying to create something really memorable. And I kept thinking, metaphorically, these children are being chased by a monster in a maze, and I kept thinking a Minotaur. It’s ridiculous — but he’s almost robotic.”
Another scene raising eyebrows among commenters is from the second act of Modern Warfare, a level called Highway of Death. In it, players take on the role of a CIA operative embedded with a force of Middle Eastern militants from the fictional country of Urzikstan. The mission plays out as a last-ditch defense of a ruined village, with the player lobbing high-caliber rounds at range against human and mechanized targets.
Players are told that the Highway of Death is the result of a devastating Russian attack that happened decades ago, where Russian forces massacred everyone fleeing from a town under siege. But, counter some on Metacritic and elsewhere on social media, the “real” Highway of Death is the fault of American and Western forces in Iraq.
Now while some fans have gone off the rails, complaining online in a frenzied state, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has still been getting a warm reception. It’s also worth noting that in the game’s cooperative missions — which carry forward the narrative of the single-player campaign — players will eventually become allied with the Russian military. Ruined, burned-out cars, busses, and Iraqi tanks have been pushed to the side of Route 80 leading out of Kuwait during the first Gulf War.
Images captured by the United States Air Force show the destruction on the “Highway of Death” during the first Gulf War.
“What you’re seeing is a portion of one particular rogue general who you should think of kind of like Colonel Kurtz in Apocalypse Now who goes off the reservation. Ultimately, Western forces work with Russians to take him out, because he’s a problem..The CIA and FSB have to work together against this existential threat. So there is a very substantial portion of the game where we have this uneasy alliance and we are working alongside Russians, all the way up to their intelligence-gathering high command.”
However cool the references, there has been no shortage of complaints online. Fans across Reddit and other message boards have called the game “lacking in more than just story.”
“The worst game of the year. It’s good that I managed to return the money. Russians always were the bad guys in previous CoD’s, but this time it’s out of any borders.”
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is out now on PlayStation 4, Windows PC via Battle.net, and Xbox One. It has been restated multiple times that the game is “a work of fiction” since the latest game delay in Russia.