No Russian - My Reaction
November 12, 2009

After reading my Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 review, Lewis asked what I as a person thought about the "No Russian" mission. If you haven't played through the game, you should stop reading at this point. In my review, I describe the nature of the mission early in the game and discuss much of what provides its shock value. You can read that if you're curious about a good overview, but I tried to avoid the most significant spoilers. Here, I will do no such thing. You have been warned.

My general response to "No Russian" when I first played through it was that it was unnecessarily violent and thrown into the game for little reason but to shock. It managed to do precisely that, too; within the first 30 seconds, I was feeling slightly queasy because of the sheer detail. Grand Theft Auto has let me mow down civilians standing in line on a sidewalk and that was kind of fun. Here, just watching the civilians standing at the airport and crumpling to the ground as they bled out on the tile floors was a bit much. It evokes a different response because it's not cartoony. It's credible. Though I might enjoy causing mayhem in GTA games, I don't cherish the idea of hurting anyone in real life. Call of Duty feels real enough to make me uncomfortable.

As I noted in my review, that was likely the intended effect. When I first played through the game and felt that the mission was just there for shock value, it's because: 1) it did shock me; 2) it didn't feel connected to anything up to that point. It was the third mission and at that stage in the game, the areas that I was asked to explore felt random. There was no connection between them and I had begun to think that Infinity Ward didn't have any plans to produce an actual narrative thread. If that had continued throughout the remainder of the game, I would probably have appreciated "No Russian" a great deal less than I did. As anyone who has finished the campaign knows, though, the msision represents the start of a sharp and interesting narrative that builds carefully upon that groundwork.

When Malakov killed the 'hero' character at the end of the "No Russian" stage, that was a bit of a moral statement. He'd had the chance to shoot Malakov in the head several times during the mission. Wouldn't that have done something to end the carnage? It could have, and wasn't the whole goal of this mission to get close to Malakov and possibly eliminate him? Following orders for the greater good seems less heroic when it means that so many people will die, when there's no clear reason to watch as so many innocent people go down in a hail of bullets.

And of course, from there the game expands on a lot of things along those lines, including a reminder that history is written by the victors. It's a powerful and worthwhile point as the game reminds the player--with help from that "No Russian" mission, but also others--that the people who go on to be hallowed as heroes can do some awful things. In a way, it felt like a call to tolerate only the best behavior from our modern military, on a worldwide level.

Other forms of media have made such efforts, but this marks the first time that a video game has done so in such a convincing fashion. I've seen people viciously call the game "an expansion pack" and criticize it as worthless, but I have a hard time understanding those responses to a game that not only improves on nearly everything its predecessor did, one that provides a whole slew of new levels and--most of all--one that manages to spark genuine thought about matters weightier than spawn locations or weapon mods.

As I noted in my review, I don't know that I care to play through that mission again. If I repeat the campaign mode--which I may, since overall it rocks so much--I will likely skip "No Russian" now that I've already seen it. I don't think that there's much point in playing through it multiple times, but it's something that accomplished a lot by existing in its current form and I hope that people who experience it will respond seriously (in the nature that I believe was intended) rather than gloating about how many kills they managed. If gamers are willing to respond with more than just "it's only a video game" and actually consider things on a deeper level, then Infinity Ward has accomplished something worthwhile.

Of course, that's a bit optimistic. I actually feel uneasy abouth ow the public at large will respond to this game, once the wrong oblivious parent buys it and walks through the living room one day to see a deviant child giggling and mowing down tourists. The only real question is how long it will take that ignorant parent to complain to Fox News and say "But there was never any warning!"

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Lewis Lewis - November 12, 2009 (01:44 PM)
Thanks for that :-)

I've not played the game, only seen that one mission being played by someone else. But based on that, I wrote up some general thoughts here. I think we're pretty aligned, really.
honestgamer honestgamer - November 12, 2009 (02:16 PM)
The responses to the article you linked (particularly one from Phil) suggest that the game could have worked if there were some other horrible act, or if the player is forced to watch but is helpless to be involved. This is true. Of course it's true. That's one of the biggest no-brainers since the dawn of time.

Infinity Ward wanted to shock the player in this manner, so the debate shouldn't be whether the scene was meant to shock--which it so very obviously was--but whether or not the shock accomplished anything worthwhile. I feel that it did. I also find it ridiculous that people are criticizing the plot as not doing anything worthwhile with the scene when they admit to not even having finished the short campaign mode. Seriously, that's just absurd.

Malakov does factor into the plot again, right at the very end. In fact, his rather non-existent fate is perhaps a starting point for a whole new debate. As far as I could tell, the bad guy that orchestrated that whole messy business doesn't even die at the end. The real guilt lies on the CIA operative who knew it was going to happen, who watched it happen... and didn't stop it.

Call of Duty games are pretty and they have big explosions, even a plot that wanders from one set piece to another. Let's not jump to the faulty conclusion that this makes this newest game's plot vaccuous. It's fun to say those things and sound superior and elitist, but there's not actually much truth to them.
JANUS2 JANUS2 - November 13, 2009 (06:59 AM)
I'm glad there's an option to skip the level, because it's so boring.
Masters Masters - November 13, 2009 (12:49 PM)
It is boring. You don't have to do anything. But's CONTROVERSIAL AND CUTTING EDGE. Venter's review pretty much summed things up for me though, minus a bit of enthusiasm. I would review it and give it a 9, but he literally said everything I'd want to. It still managed to excite me AFTER Uncharted 2, and that's saying a lot.
randxian randxian - November 13, 2009 (08:37 PM)
Of course, that's a bit optimistic. I actually feel uneasy abouth ow the public at large will respond to this game, once the wrong oblivious parent buys it and walks through the living room one day to see a deviant child giggling and mowing down tourists.

Well said. Every time I watch a video of a shooter on You Tube, it never fails that the player purposely mows down defenseless and or innocent targets. I'm glad there are people like you who are analyzing stuff like this on a deeper level.

I did almost chuckle at the unwitting parent part, but you KNOW that will actually happen at some point.

Ah, such folly.

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