Realism and relevance are central to Infinity Ward’s vision for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, a reimagining of the landmark 2007 shooter. Collateral damage plays a bigger role in today’s battlefields simply because the War on Terror is often fought in residential areas with civilians in close proximity, which introduces layers of moral complexity to combat that the game aims to explore in appropriately harrowing fashion.
I got a look at some gameplay from Call of Duty: Modern Warfare behind closed doors at E3 2019, which was an intense experience, to say the least. The footage shown was from an early section of the game, in which a four-man squad ascends the narrow stairwell of a North London home, where a terrorist cell is planning its next attack. Reimagined versions of franchise protagonists Sergeant Garrick and Captain Price lead the operation, but they seem to be inhabiting a story and world with a much starker tone this time around.
Floor by floor, room by room, in almost complete darkness, the team clears the building, with each encounter presenting a new threat and/or moral quandary. One moment, we see the player shooting a hiding target through a bathroom wall. The next, we see a woman begging for mercy as she clutches what appears to be an infant.
The tension was so palpable that I could audibly hear my fellow journalists nervously shifting in their seats. And when the squad came upon a group of targets planning…something…at a dining room table, the ensuing head shots had several of my colleagues gasping in shock and terror. It was as if I were sitting in a movie theater watching a horror movie, not a pre-recorded game demo.
Upping the stakes of the demo were the visuals and sound, which are the best I’ve ever seen in a Call of Duty title, hands down. The textures, lighting, and animations are all staggering in detail and realism, which makes the violence feel personal and grounded in our world.
It was truly disturbing to see the character models go lifeless after a fatal shot to the head or chest, even though this is something I’ve seen literally countless times in other games. In other words, it felt, perhaps fleetingly, like I was watching real human beings being snuffed out of existence.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare doesn’t look like it’ll be for everyone, which is quite intriguing, at least to me. It’s nice to see a studio take a risk with a major property, and Infinity Ward certainly isn’t playing it safe here.
Even after watching what little footage I did, I felt uneasy, disoriented, and not necessarily in the best of moods. The footage was supremely unnerving. I didn’t enjoy what I saw, and I believe that was precisely the point. We’ll see how the rest of the gaming world reacts to Infinity Ward’s new meditation on warfare when the game releases this fall. I suspect this installment will be polarizing.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare launches on Oct. 25 for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC.
Listen to all our reactions and impressions from E3 2019 right here:
Bernard Boo is a freelance contributor. Read more of his work here.