Call of Duty is looking to the franchise’s past in order to revitalize its future. Activision’s perennial cash printing military FPS is softly rebooting with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. (Not to be confused with 2007’s seminal Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare or 2016’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Remastered, though we can see how you’d make that mistake.) The game brings back the series’ signature single player campaign which was axed in 2018’s Treyarch developed Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. The story itself will convey a darker tone and bring back fan favorite character Captain Price.
While the series remains a prominent seller, it’s been a long time since it was considered a critical darling like it was when the original Modern Warfare released last decade. Call of Duty titles were lauded for their dramatic campaigns and then-groundbreaking multiplayer modes. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was a major success, dethroning Halo as the king of the online multiplayer hill. The title ushered in a new era of market dominance for Activision Blizzard that has diminished in recent years following the advent of the Fortnite battle royale craze. Reintroducing a gritty Modern Warfare feels like an attempt to reinvigorate the property and entice those alienated by Call of Duty’s floundering attempts to challenge competitors like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds.
The franchise may have swung the pendulum too far in the other direction. At E3 2019, Yahtzee Croshaw attended an unsettling hands-off demo of Call of Duty: Modern Ware.
“We’re all a little stunned by [the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare gameplay demonstration],” Croshaw said from the show floor. “They brought us in and went: ‘Here’s fifteen minutes of cold intense ruthless killing, alright, thanks for coming, enjoy the pizza.’ We saw a brief narrative section where Captain Price and about twenty guys in infiltration gear sneak into a small town house in London, kill the lights and systematically murder room after room of civilian terrorists. [The demonstration] made a big thing of how they’re bringing Modern Warfare even more up to date to reflect a new age of warfare where the enemy doesn’t wear uniforms, and frankly it all gives me a slightly creepy ‘hey, everyone spy on your neighbors’ pro-oppressive government sort of vibe.”
Call of Duty is no stranger to controversy. 2009’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 featured a playable mass shooting in an airport. Despite the series’ penchant for shocking scenes, the Call of Duty games from a decade ago could still be dumb and loud action vehicles with satisfying balls-to-the-wall setpieces. At its peak, Call of Duty did its best to ignore the moral implications of using modern warfare setting for mindless Michael Bay style action spectacle. A darker and more realistic Modern Warfare where the government executes ‘dangerous civilians’ only invites this criticism. War crimes aren’t as fun when reflecting upon them.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare releases on PS4, Xbox One, and PC on October 25.