I feel about Modern Warfare, as a video game, much as I do about The Lord of the Rings movie trilogy. I think both are technically well-made, but I have little personal affection for either. I probably enjoyed playing Modern Warfare more so than I did watching Lord of the Rings, but I think parts of me also despised the game much more so than those movies, toward which I would describe myself as more lukewarm. In all fairness, I am not a particular fan of first-person shooters, so Modern Warfare may have started at a disadvantage for me, but truly I must say that playing it was one of the most soul-numbing experiences I ever had in gaming.
The game was sold to me as the modern exemplar of its genre. If you were to play only one FPS in your life, in other words, it should be this one. I might actually be inclined to agree with that, although I have admittedly not played that many examples myself. But Modern Warfare does include just about everything one should expect from an FPS, and most of it done better (if only slightly so) than in any other game I've played.
There is fun to be had here, as well as some of the most exhilarating moments I've had in gaming. Truly, what make the game are the explosive set pieces and scripted sequences that leave the player feeling as though they are acting out a Hollywood blockbuster. There were occasionally stunning images, such as the sight of a helicopter spinning out and going down in real time (no cut to cinematic, pre-rendered or otherwise), while my character sat watching from another helicopter alongside. Even more impressive were the interactive moments that, although obviously scripted, gave the player just enough of an illusion of agency to feel like the hero of the script, as in the game's most adrenaline-fueled scene, when the slow motion kicks in, and you know you've got just one clip in your sidearm to make count, or else.
My favorite mission in the game, essentially a series of scripted encounters, had me playing as part of a two-man sniping team. The operation takes place indoors and outdoors, moves from the foliage to an urban environment, and encompasses just about every gameplay type--stealthy infiltration, long-range sniping, escort mission, and hectic standoff while awaiting rescue. Had that been the only mission in the game (actually, it was spread across two campaign levels), it might still have been the most perfect FPS I would ever have played, despite also being the shortest.
But then there were the other five hours of the roughly six-hour campaign. Most of the game, unfortunately, is just tedious room-clearing, practically indistinguishable from the basic gameplay found in Haze or Perfect Dark Zero, which are regarded as among the worst FPS titles of this generation. You just march forward, unload a clip into any enemy combatant that pops up probably out of nowhere, reload often, retreat to regenerate health, and probably die many unforeseen deaths before it's all over. The formula repeats several times, until there are seemingly thousands of nameless dead left behind on both sides, and there is almost no discernible narrative to let you know where you are, who you're fighting or why. It's unsettlingly impersonal, one of the most emotionally and spiritually deadening experiences not just in gaming, but in my life in general.
The game is assuredly better than Haze or Perfect Dark Zero, yet in some ways it made me feel worse. It may be the game's attitude in the face of its own realism. The game's action is, for sure, very over-the-top, but the overall aesthetic is still starker by far than the cartoony Perfect Dark Zero or even a rugged sci-fi shooter such as Gears of War. Even in the aforementioned favorite mission of mine, there was something eerie about the way, every time I sniped a guy in the head, my AI partner would compliment me with a mesmerized "Beautiful." In Haze, these sorts of war-intoxicated hollow men were the bad guys. Even Army of Two, with its mercenary protagonists, was less unnerving, because it actually came across as satirical at times, whereas Modern Warfare seems sincerely gung ho in its militarism.
The very worst (and most impersonal) mission in the game, "Death From Above," has the player staring down the sights from an AC-130 gunship that is providing cover fire for friendlies on the ground. Everything is black-and-white, and your job is to fire upon the many tiny, noiseless enemy silhouettes below until they just stop moving. Your mostly dispassionate pilot will periodically mutter a "Nice shooting" to let you know that you hit your targets. Although Modern Warfare was released three years ago, the stage bears a remarkable resemblance to the infamous WikiLeaks "Collateral Murder" video that came out earlier this year. Even the pilot audio is almost identical. It all suggests that, compared to Haze or Army of Two, Modern Warfare's representation of war is probably the more realistic. It's also uglier. What's furthermore baffling is that, come end credits, developer Infinity Ward chose to roll more of this type of footage, before closing with an irreverent rap anthem that samples, among other things, the developer's own pre-release hype for its game.
So did I ultimately have fun with Modern Warfare? I guess. I'm really not sure, however, because by the end I had kind of stopped feeling.