Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Features for PC

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You've killed a lot of men, admit it. You've killed a lot of women, too, except only really recently, when Activision cleared female soldiers for combat duty. Dogs, too, even though in actuality you probably value animal life higher than human. But they were asking for it, snapping and snarling at your throat all the time. You killed all your targets savagely, riddling them with bullets or slitting their throats with a blade. Maybe you even blew their limbs off in World War II, back when that sort of thing was morally justifiable, and you probably even whooped a little as you did so.

Your digital body count is not only something of pride, it's something that you're actively encouraged to improve upon. K/D is expected to increase exponentially, like some sort of demented, alternate-reality stockmarket run by… it is actually run like that. But, of course, there's a clear line between reality and fantasy. You didn't really kill all those people, and there's a definitive marker between what is only possible in games and what isn't.

Unless, of course, when there's not. While ARMA III and Battlefield 4 may well be pimping their own versions of military 'realism' (via the respective merits of heavy strategising and straight-up impressive visuals), it's a six year-old title that best represents the modern face of war. And it is chilling in its effectiveness at blurring not just the line between real and not, but also representing how a TV screen and reductive language change the horror of war into dispassionate busywork, in the game or otherwise.

That mission is Death From Above, COD 4's AC-130H-based stage that sees you commanding the aforementioned killing machine. Presented solely in grainy, low-fi, 'white' or 'black hot' night vision, its lack of visual polish has the seemingly counter-intuitive effect of bringing it utterly in line with the real-life footage we've all seen, of laser-guided bombs and rattling chainguns destroying targets.

For a game huge on bombast, set-pieces and just out-and-out nonsense, Death From Above is a marked deviation from what comes before and after. As the plane's 'TV operator'/gunner, your task is to give covering fire for units (including Price and Soap) on the ground. Your primary – indeed only – method of doing this is using heavy ordinance or a massive Gatling-style gun to rout the enemy forces.

Throughout the level's short running time, you'll routinely (in all senses of the word) fire gigantic explosive rounds into fighting – or sometimes fleeing – enemy forces. Just like in reality, there's a pregnant pause after the launch of one of the heavier missiles, punctuated with the silent yet desperate running of those on the ground. Then, a puff of smoke. Job done.

And yet, despite the heavy metal at your disposal, and the outrageous power you can (and will) bring to bear on these foes, the operation itself has a frightening lack of ceremony to it. You are God, essentially, and what you are doing isn't wrong or even unjustified – it simply is.

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Many different factors make it so. The aforementioned visuals are a key element of it: low-resolution, difficult to make out, and accurate to real life. A quick google will find you footage that is eerily similar.

But it's the dialogue that really sticks in the mind. Cold and deliberately dispassionate, it's also filled with joking asides between the fire control officer and the TV operator ("Clean up that signal", barks the chief, like someone about to miss his favourite show if it's not fixed). Select highlights include: "Nail those guys", "Woah", "Hot damn", "Good kill, good kill", "Oopsie-daisy", "I see a lot of little pieces down there", "Ka-boom", and, finally, my personal pick: "That's going to be one hell of a highlight reel".

These phrases are repeated often throughout the 10 minute or so running time, and each is delivered with either the boredom of a telephone operator taking instruction or the barely-disguised glee of a fratboy detailing his latest, greatest, fart. Even the name of the level is comical.

Many games use military jargon, and there will many be more to come. But few have managed to combine it with the other real-world elements to such an effect. We're all tango down'd and oscar mike'd out by now, so much so that every time we hear them we barely suppress a laugh. But here, these turns of phrase and euphemisms are exposed for what they really are.

As is the uncertain nature of warfare, even when you're controlling a multi-million dollar metal bird of prey that has more firepower and tracking systems than Robocop's older, harder brother. At one point in the mission, there's confusion in the plane as the crew try and ascertain exactly which part of the (very simple) road ahead they should be looking (shooting) at. One of them asks for clarification. "Which one's the curved road, Over? We're having a bit of trouble acquiring the far up is it?" he asks. The response? "Ugh...hang on."

It's not exactly confidence-inspiring. But then again, neither is its real world equivalent. Whether Infinity Ward intended to replicate some of modern war's most excruciating air support blunders or not, misidentification of targets and directions has played a key part in actual disasters, despite all of the technology available to those controlling the operation.

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These include a 1991 Gulf War friendly fire incident which saw an Apache helicopter commander open fire on his own side, due to confusion as to what he was firing at as well as ignoring orders and unwittingly drifting in the night wind. Watching the footage, the combination of arrogance, faith in technology and reductive expression that led to this disaster is replicated well in Death From Above.

Towards the end of Why We Fight, Eugene Jarecki's excellent documentary about the military-industrial complex, an interviewee who was a helicopter gunner in Vietnam gives his thoughts on his actions. He described the act as "shooting at dots on the ground. Like they're not like real human beings...they're objects."

We've been shooting at objects for years, of course. But not before Death From Above, and not really after (despite the raft of imitators),  had shooting objects on screen been so realistic as shooting objects in reality. Ooh-rah.

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One of the best articles i've read.
Posted 11:24 on 20 January 2015
Powerwolf's Avatar


I was an airman in the USAF shortly after the 9/11 attack. I spent a year in training and then the following 3 of my term as a gunner on the AC-130 Spectre Gunship. I played COD4 when it was released and was similarly surprised by how accurate it looked, and to an extent, how it sounded. While the banter in the game is a bit showmanlike, I'd say it's a reasonable videogame approximation of the real life tone on the plane.

The videogame however, misses some important factors of the reality of doing this job.

First of all, in the videogame, the player is doing all the work. Every kill is their kill. On the plane, the responsibility of taking a life is spread out throughout the crew. As pointed out in this article, the TV Operator aims the gun, but in real life, it is the pilot who is responsible for pulling the trigger. And as the "gunner," my job was actually only to maintain the guns in the back, clear any jams necessary, and reload as quickly as possible. And then there are other crewman whose responsibilities are to find or to verify acceptable targets. So for every enemy combatant that was taken down on a mission, there were multiple people responsible, separated by thousands of feet from ever meeting them in person.

So the lack of humanization KamSage mentions is, in fact, the reality of this type of mission, but even more distilled, because of the dissolution of responsibility.

I remember seeing imagery of handiwork one day after a particularly deadly mission. Army Rangers had photographed the bodies. I was surprised to feel nothing. The death on display was the result of me doing my job. The Rangers had not run into a potentially lethal ambush that day because of us. I was satisfied that the people I had never met (but were on my side) were safe.

But the night of the mission? My heart was racing as I loaded clip after clip into the 40mm bofers cannon. I peeled off layer after layer of flight equipment designed to protect me from the sweeping cold air above Afghanistan's mountains, which whipped in through the cracks in the plane. It was no longer needed because of the spike in my internal temperature brought on by sheer adrenaline. It was terrifying and it was thrilling, but what I really needed was focus.

So in those moments, when the TV operator calmly and coldly explained the circumstances of the destruction below, it helped focus me on the small victories we were winning. It helped me to focus on what was right in front of me, to remember my training, and distance myself from the sheer horror of the reality of what was happening.

The truth is, despite the showmanship we use to simplify the mission in our heads, most of us in the plane cared deeply about how horrible what we were doing was. What if we were wrong? What intel was bad and these were civilians? What if some of the gun toting lunacy down there was just the result of us just provoking naturally peaceful people? But the nature of the job requires focus, and ultimately these decisions are not a soldier's to make.

Videogames are not and cannot be real life. This is because the stakes are imaginary. So making videogames more "real" really just makes the dichotomy all the more obvious. I enjoyed COD4. I enjoyed the gunship mission, and how cool it made me feel, the same way playing pretend hero made me feel as a kid, and in hindsight, and to a more real degree how having protected real people makes me feel now. But playing that mission was nothing like being at war.
Posted 18:46 on 19 January 2014

KamSage@ Neon-Soldier32

I'd have to partially disagree. There are easy ways to make you care about a stranger you've never met if you have the slightest bit of empathy. Usually they fit a stereotypical role though.

Children are a prime example to use, most of the time if children are used in media as a way to evoke emotion, it usually hits the mark. Murder, rape, loss of family and so forth against a child makes almost everyone feel disgusted and want to protect said child from such horrors.
Heavy Rain had an aspect of this. The Last of Us does this a good number of times. You're generally not given much time to connect to the child characters in the story, apart from Ellie, yet things that happen to them really hit you. Because they were played by humans, with real body language and voices, in emotional situations that made empathy easy.

In writing, the easiest way to feel for any kind of character is to just humanise them, even the once. You see a murderer who cares for his ill wife, he becomes humanised and means your action against him are all the harder to accomplish. These missions though, are all sterile affairs, killing white dots from afar. It makes empathy near impossible.
The reason games are generally poor at exploring this is because writers can't cut the flow of the gameolay to accommodate character exposition, typically. It's being explored the more games are maturing in their themes, in recent years especially, story and characters have been vital.

There are ways to make films like Apocalypse Now in game form, where the characters and the audience start questioning the violence and the process of war. We'll get those games one day, but for now we're still in a young industry when it comes to story driven games.
Posted 09:45 on 19 January 2014

BrySkye@ Neon-Soldier32

Furthermore, even if this wasn't the case it isn't someone you know - or even care about - so seeing them crawl out a blown up car won't have impact.
I think that rather depends on the person.
You're right, most people wouldn't feel anything and, truth be told, the vast majority of the people who played Death from Above probably don't realise how true to life some of the aspects in that mission were.

Of course, IRL, friendlies don't have convenient flashing beacons indicating they are friendlies. They are just other white blobs.
That kind of stress factor present in real Danger Close scenarios, for both the people in the air and on the ground, is always mitigated and could never be recreated in the first place.

It's probably not unrealistic to say that there are people, perhaps many, that look at the real life footage from laser designators guiding LGBs into groups of people walking down a street and happily join in with the pilots celebratory whoops as the screen turns white followed by lots of white bits scattered over the ground.

But some people will feel it, just as they already did when playing that CoD stage even in its current form.
I wouldn't be talking about a game that focuses on the consequences.
Just one that includes them, if only to potentially see how a player responds.

It's the main aspect missing from the CoD mission and something that completely dehumanises the enemy AI. They are fearless and they are relentless.
As for Apache Air Assault, the way enemy AI soldiers sometimes just stand around when things blow up also reminds you that it's very much a video game.

A video game can't recreate what its like to be a soldier moving around with a gun.
But when you consider that right now, this very seconds, there are UCAVs with Hellfire missiles or laser guided bombs flying around over combat areas that are being operated from thousands of miles away by someone sitting at a desk with a joystick, throttle and monitors...

That is something games can recreate and can potentially recreate almost perfectly right now.
Where we to be doing that in a game right now, that would give at least some of us pause for thought.
Posted 21:18 on 18 January 2014

Neon-Soldier32@ BrySkye

An excellent article well written and to say it's just on one mission, the article didn't get repetitive.

I don't think that the consequence of killing will ever be explored well in video games. That's because there's the constant worry of contradicting gameplay of saying that war's bad, killing's bad and then 2 minutes later mowing down clonal, shaven-headed men, ala. GTA IV.

Furthermore, even if this wasn't the case it isn't someone you know - or even care about - so seeing them crawl out a blown up car won't have impact. I mean, you'd have to play through at least 6 hours before that happened if there's even a chance for you feeling the consequence of your actions: Look at Prototype 2, in the opening cutscene you are introduced to the main character's family (wife and child) and then in the same cutscene they're killed and you feel nothing. Not upset, not happy, not sad, nothing. Nothing because you don't care about them.

If you are to have a war game not about the fighting, but about its consequence then it might sell alright (boxart permitting), but its sequel won't. 14 Year olds don't want that; they want to kill people in cool ways with their friends. Also, you can't see the death coming else it loses its appeal - It couldn't be your brother who you see die (too obvious), it would have to be a total stranger who you learn to care about through the came with the consequence of war being the game's climax.
Posted 20:13 on 18 January 2014


Had a little chat with Steve about this on Twitter, but I can say a bit more without the 140 character limit.

This is a really nicely written article on a subject that is really rather personal for me saying as my oldest brother was in the Royal Fusiliers during Operation Granby (that's the codename for the British participation in the 1991 Gulf War. Desert Storm was the American codename).

During that deployment, he experienced a friendly fire incident first hand when a pair of USAF A-10 Warthogs engaged their Warrior IFVs.

If you want to know more about that, he talks about it himself at 11:20 in this video from a 2001 documentary about the Gulf War.
YouTube Video

We do like to make the statement that war is being turned into a video game, but technically I would dispute that as the likes of Beyond Visual Range combat have existed long before computer games.
By World War II, air power had already reached the point where pilots couldn't identify each other in dogfights and carpet bombing cities was in full effect.

The technology employed in the AC-130 or AH-64 that was see in CoD4 existed before the NES was on the shelves,

It's probably more accurate to say that with Death From Above, video games had finally reached the point where they could recreate a very realistic gunship scenario that was very convincing.
The graphics might look low-res and grainy, but that also serves to hide a number of the details that give a way a video game, such as how trees look.
Plus its just the nature of how these cameras work in real life. Optical and digital zoom has its limitations in visual clarity.
That's the mistake recreations like HAWX2 or Ace Combat Assault Horizon made. They were too clear, too defined.

There is another game I mentioned to Steve, also published by Activision, that is worth mentioning and that is Gaijin's Apache Air Assault.
This differs from CoD in a couple of areas.
Specifically that it's not on-rails. You are the pilot and you are also the gunner.
Ammo is limited, making you all the more cold and calculating as you decide what are the priority targets.
On-top of that, the game featured 2 co-op modes.
The first was local. One play was the pilot, the other was the gunner. Another step closer to recreating the 2-person cockpit of the AH-64.
This mode also extended online, which made the difference that the two players were seeing different things.

Finally there was the full co-op mode with multiple attack helicopters. This had the potential to create organised attacks from multiple directions, flanking and communication.
More than ever, if you played that properly, you could find yourself slipping into that ice cold mindset as your called out and destroyed targets, with the visuals strikingly close to the friendly fire video Steve described.

YouTube Video

Though what these games haven't really done yet is more greatly portray the consequences of these attacks.
Even CoD4 didn't take us to the point of us destroying a vehicle, and then seeing wounded survivors crawling or stumbling away from the wreckage to be mercilessly cut-down by the player.
The concept of fear in general is lacking amongst enemy AI and that is probably the main thing that still keeps the game separate from reality.

One of the striking images of 1991 was Iraqi soldiers surrendering, literally waving white flags, to UAVs and Apaches, all captured and identified on gun camera.
Posted 18:26 on 18 January 2014
BritishWolf's Avatar


COD4 just seemed to have the most creativity and attention to detail poured into any Call Of Duty and it has dwindled ever since
Posted 17:53 on 18 January 2014


It scares me how war is now. Much like MGS4 opens with "War has changed". It use to be simpler, and you knew the consequences of your actions more. Now it's a game you can play anywhere. The more we distance ourselves from battle, the less we care about what we do. The less we cherish life or make correct decisions.
No one saw the destruction and devastation of Hiroshima and Nagasaki but the victims, or the napalming of Vietnam but the victims. Bombs and bullets are chaos, mass murder weapons that lack precision. Distance allows killers to sleep at night.
Games illustrate this concept well, you kill people so often it is desensitising, you don't care. MGS4 made a good comment on the subject to me.
Anyway, great article, these MW missions always kinda freaked me out when playing it with friends. Glad I'm not the only one who notices.
Posted 17:19 on 18 January 2014

Game Stats

System Requirements
Release Date: 09/11/2007
Developer: Infinity Ward
Publisher: Activision
Genre: First Person Shooter
Rating: PEGI 16+
Site Rank: 19 1
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