Usually, after playing a demo ends, there is a brief moment of applause for what has just been presented. This is a small token of gratitude from those present to thank you for the work that was launched in the demo version that just played on the screen and a rare chance to give direct flattery to those who work tirelessly on these games.
After our recent Call of Duty: Modern Warfare demo ended, however, that applause was not to be found. A group of us, 10-15 in all, sat in deathly silence, absorbing what we had just seen. However, if anyone might think that silence hurts, we're willing to bet that the reaction was exactly what Infinity Ward, the developer of the game, was looking for.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare will attempt to set a new bar in franchise history this year, and the 20-minute presentation proves it's a different approach - one that's more dramatic and impactful than ever before.
The demo presented at the amateur convention starts with the Infinity Ward team explaining what is happening on the stage we are watching: there has been a terrorist attack in London's Piccadilly Circus, leaving dozens dead and injured, and those responsible are being tracked down a three-story house in North London .
It is a special task force consisting of Sergeant Garrick (player character), modern warfare mainstay Captain Price, and two other British special forces operatives to infiltrate the house and defuse the cell, with orders to shoot any enemy at gunpoint.
For the call of duty, this is well-trodden ground: terrorists attack a city, troops are sent in to neutralize the threat, and the story unfolds from there. No one would argue that Infinity Ward is reinventing the wheel with this premise. But while you expect it to be all Flash and pout from here, Infinity Ward takes things in the other direction entirely.
...said on an unfamiliar path
Back in the game, the troops muster the back door of the house in the dead of night, making their way through the narrow streets to reach it. After a short pause, they enter the house, night, equipped with a vision, and found a small group of people at the table, discussing the attack. We don't even know these people are terrorists until one calls the attack a "denial" and starts discussing next steps.
Once we have this audio prompt, the fight is on.
Price sticks out a lone light bulb in the room, and the team moves in, taking out the armed men and women one at a time. Bullets hit bodies with precision, enemies crawling into lifelessness with sickening realism. We hear muffled sounds above us, warning loudly, whispering and shouting, as the team slowly ascends the narrow stairs.
On the second floor, each member of the team takes the doors and opens them, with the character Garrick finding a lone woman with her hands up. She reaches for her rifle and Garrick shoots and kills her instantly. Later we will see another woman make a quick move, but this second woman does not pick up the child and the consoles. Garrick didn't shoot, but we were left not knowing what would happen if he did.
We won't hear any more noise towards the bathroom, and as the bullet approaches, it will suddenly explode through the door. A few shots into the wall later, and we see that our opponent was lying in the bathroom in a pool of his own blood. After some more action above us it's time to climb again, taking the hard stairs to floor three.
It's the same, but one of the special forces fired through the door he chooses as a terrorist, leaving us with one man for the rest of the mission. After the third floor, we go up to the attic, where we meet one final woman with her arms. She confesses that she was forced to stay there, that she is innocent, before she moves towards a nearby table and is shot dead. He discovered that she was going to the detonator, for which he did not explain, and remarks to the price that they were lucky to deactivate her.
The demo ended here, giving us some time to catch our breath and mentally process what just happened.
What went on for about 20 minutes felt like it had been going on for centuries thanks to the slow, methodical pace of the demo, and all the elements that led to that feeling in keeping with Infinity Ward's new approach to modern warfare.
It was a demo focused on making war with us the way he was now at war, was not “modern” back when Call of Duty 4 debuted in 2007. It's a remarkable change in format and tone that we certainly didn't expect.
The name Call of Duty brings with it the expectation of bombast and spectacle of all sorts, loud explosions and deafening cannonade rain from every battle. A few well-known examples of the endure, previous games have been marked with adrenaline rush, each one coming out of the gate cannons.
This new modern warfare eschews all of this, instead building up tension in complete silence, complete darkness, and tension across confined spaces. Every step on these stairs made our muscles tighten, every door opening filled with eager anticipation. It was less like a call of duty game we've come to know over the years and more in keeping with the nuanced film as Zero Dark Thirty.
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