The last Call of Duty I actually wanted to play was Black Ops 2. After that, the series became an afterthought thanks to Activision pushing out a new title each year. CoD played like no other, laying the groundwork for all shooters since the very first game. 4A Games perfected the formula with Metro and shooters would not be what they are today. The latest release, Modern Warfare (2019) is the first game I bought in a long time un-ironically (had to play Ghosts just to make sure). You can tell Activision understood the need to return to normalcy after years of monotony. My only gripe is with the game’s story.
I have no problem with the inclusion of white phosphorous or the Highway of Death allegory. The gaming press before launch made a big deal about the game having WP as a Killstreak because they had nothing better to do. Yes, it is not a great weapon before or after you use it, but it is useful when you want to start a fire that wont spread or need to set off munitions. The Highway of Death allegory meant nothing overall, but the reaction to it inspired me to write this.
MW (2019) is military fiction, but it is so far outside conceivable reality it is fantasy. The word “fiction” is a misnomer because the genre is grounded in the real world. The story makes sense if you do not think about it; were I not researching Russia’s history as a military power, I would not be writing this. And before I continue, I do not have a pro-Russia bias. They make the best guns and women next to Czechs, but they have a history no normal human being could overlook. I am not going to be offended for them; they are quite skilled at doing that on their own.
Less than five years after the Soviet-Afghan War, Russia became the target of the longest insurgency in its history. The Chechen Wars were a continuation of the kind of warfare that lost them tens of thousands of men years before, but in a form no nation can afford. Chechnya is located in North Caucasia, within Russian borders, and directly south of the country’s industrial heartland. Further south is Transcaucasia, the Middle East, and Turkey, a cornucopia of would-be adversaries that could take advantage of a compromised sector if need be. There were two Chechen Wars and an insurgency that went on for about fifteen years, including a hostage situation whose outcome changed how Russia would approach terrorism.
America dealt with similar problems in Vietnam, but post-Perestroika Russia had far less time to catch up after their own Vietnam. The country was and still is somewhat Third World having been under Communism for roughly eighty years. Before then they were barely up to par with Europe or America; the Japanese were able to defeat them in 1905 and they just came on to the world stage. The deck has been stacked against Russia for about a century and only recently have they figured out how to play to their strengths.
The key to contemporary Russia’s military success is a balance of diplomacy and police action. They dealt with Chechnya by appealing to pro-Russia moderates among the secessionists while assassinating-the-shit out those they could not flip. With terrorism, no one is taken alive and hostage takers are killed through the hostages. There are stories out of Dagestan where homes are raided and suspects shot on site. Crimea was annexed while Ukraine was in the middle of political upheaval without firing a shot because the country was fearful of a localized “fascist” takeover. Russia gained a further foothold in Ukraine by assisting secessionists in Donbass, a war that continues today. And in Syria, I am willing to bet there are less than a thousand Special Forces and Air Force personnel assisting President Assad.
This tells us Russia is not willing to engage in large-scale conflict, nor could they maintain it without employing depopulation tactics like in Afghanistan, to the further detriment of their already tarnished image. In the event an insurgency or escalation seems likely, they go through diplomatic channels. In Donbass, they organized a semi-successful ceasefire with Ukraine after President Trump took a firmer stance compared to his predecessor. Chechnya was turned into a federal subject under a puppet, Ramzan Kadyrov, and I predict the Donetsk People’s Republic in Ukraine will follow suit.
I would also like to point out to certain American readers (you know who you are) that Russia’s tactics do not include nation building or destabilization. They would never and cannot rig elections for a country of our size, nor could they influence an election via memes or “hacking.” The most they would do is resort to conventional intelligence gathering and espionage, whereas Soviets were quite fond of assassination. This whole “Russia got Trump elected” horseshit was conjured by sore losers in the corporate-controlled media to stagnate our government in an investigation that led to fuck and all. If you actually believe this shit, get yourself committed.
Conventional warfare is not an option for today’s Russia. They would only take action if success was guaranteed and they could do it quickly. Back in Crimea, Russia stole the region from Ukraine in less than a year because there was so much upheaval during Euromaidan. The same can be said for Donbass, Syria, Chechnya, and Georgia.
In American military fiction there has always been the “great enemy” trope among others. Russia is the cunning main villain, Arabs are terrorists, Africans are warlords while Afrikaners are mercenaries, South Americans are drug lords or despots, and American politicians are corrupt middlemen. These tropes defined military fiction from years’ past with some reoccurring today in one form or another. They are extremes based in reality that seem outlandish, but make sense when you keep in mind it is still fiction.
In the first Modern Warfare Russia was a mutual ally dealing with internal strife. The second game made them the enemy after an ultra-nationalist regime takes over and launches a sneak attack on America’s east coast, followed by an invasion of Europe in the third game. The first was perfect military fiction whereas the last two skirted by because it was able to justify Russia’s aggression. The HBO show Chernobyl put it best when it referred to Russia as a country “obsessed with not being humiliated.” The incredible “No Russian” mission in MW2 was the catalyst for the invasion because that mission was seemingly carried out by Americans as it was engineered to be by the real antagonist.
Contemporary Russia is similar to Imperial Japan. It is modern, but cannot sustain a long-term, large-scale war with another superpower. Had Japan not attacked Pearl Harbor, they could have taken over China and been on par with America in a matter of decades. After Pearl Harbor, however, they ran rampant through the Pacific for six months before we pushed them all the way back to the Home Islands. In MW2 and 3 the invasion lasted about a week or two before the East Coast was liberated. It was also probably the same in Europe where only major cities were occupied, but I played that one days after it came out and never again.
The first three Modern Warfare games had stories that worked within the confines of military fiction, but the latest reboot makes almost zero sense considering the current state of Russia. Logic was likely sacrificed to push the story’s allegory for the Syrian Civil War and to play on the “Russia Scare” currently consuming a number of mentally ill Americans. MW (2019) suffers the same problem as Bright where it was more interested in saying something instead of thinking about its own world. I am pretty sure the writers had a cursory understanding of military fiction from movies and Tom Clancy books, but did not bother to understand what made them work.
The overarching set-up of the story is Russia has been occupying a small country the size of New Jersey called Urzikstan in the northeastern corner of Turkey. The war has lasted 20 years with a strong insurgent movement that has resulted in routine reprisals with neither side making much headway. In the middle of it all emerged a terrorist group called Al-Qatala that stages a brutal attack on London in the second mission. However, AQ was a red haring being used by rogue Urzik insurgents to get back at the leader of the occupation, General Barkov.
Pretty standard stuff when you do not think about it. When you do, the whole enterprise collapses in on itself. As an allegory for the Syrian Civil War it kind of makes sense. For one thing, it is said Urzikstan is in a civil war with AQ at odds with the insurgents (one coded as ISIS and the other YPG), but the Russian occupation is pushed as the primary antagonistic force that is doing the most damage. AQ was well defined as the Islamic Extremist allegory with the best missions featuring them as the enemy.
The story has a strong anti-chemical weapons theme where Russia uses them on the Urziks and later vice-versa. To the writers of MW (2019): ever heard of the Geneva Convention? The Soviets were quite brutal to the Afghanis, but they were not dumb enough to use chems and I doubt any nation, big or small, would use them today. However, I see what you were trying to do considering Assad’s alleged use in Syria. Yeah, he got a few angry letters from the UN, but President Trump made sure he got a proper punishment after taking office… allegedly.
Furthermore, it is strange that Russia would bother occupying a country like Urzikstan given its size and political situation. It would have made more sense and fit the allegory if Barkov was working with either the insurgents or a third element like a pro-government force. It seems all there is are AQ and insurgents. On top of that, there is no reason why Russia would go to the trouble of wasting twenty years trying to control a country via anti-partisan tactics in a comprising part of the world.
Urzikstan is situated along the Black Sea (practically owned by Russia), directly south of Georgia (almost Russia), and a neighbor to Turkey (who hates Russia). That country and Transcaucasia as a whole serves as a buffer zone to the Middle East. Were they closer, it would open up the Russia to attack from Western powers that are entrenched throughout the region. Is there some resource in Urzikstan they are desperate enough to exploit that they resort to total war? Do they want to install a puppet regime to increase their sphere of influence? I have no idea because it seems to me the game is more concerned about saying something profound instead of explaining itself.
All of these shortcomings could have been justified had MW (2019) made General Barkov divorced from Russia. In the game he appears pretty well off with a large estate in Moldova and chemical plant in Georgia. He does not even wear the RusFed flag on his uniform, nor do his troops. Like Zakhaev from the first MW, he could be a warlord with connections who decided to lead a conquest of Urzikstan like Slavic Caesar. Maybe you end up working with Russia to help put him down because he is making everyone look bad. Sure, you are essentially repeating the first game by appealing to logic, but with the added allegory to current events, people would have looked the other way.
Modern Warfare (2019) is still a video game and no one will give that much a shit about the story unless they are not focused on the game element. Other than Metro Exodus, there is no better shooter on the market right now. The feeling of going through missions and doing what we have been doing since the very first Call of Duty has never felt better. I could not recommend picking it up enough. I just wish the same effort applied to the gameplay was put toward the story.