Modern Warfare 2's messy plot: untangled - or why IW's shooter might be smarter than you think
19th Nov 2009 | 10:44
On paper, Modern Warfare 2's storyline isn't exactly complicated. It's less The Brothers Karamazov, and more a particularly stupid episode of 24. But still - due to the clipped, rapid-fire pace of the cut scenes, and some assumptive leaps between missions - the plot can be hard to follow. The relatively authentic military speak (Oscar Mike is code for 'On the Move' BTW) is also hard to follow. So here are some answers to questions you might have been asking yourself as you played the game, and some bonus details and theories for committed-fans. Hopefully when you've read it, the events of Modern Warfare 2 will be a lot clearer. We are Oscar Mike.
What's an ACS Module
ACS stands for Attack Characterisation System. It's a surveillance device that calculates the risk of one country attacking another.
In Modern Warfare 2, one belonging to the Americans 'goes missing' and is located in a Russian airbase. Captain 'Soap' MacTavish and Gary 'Roach' Sanderson are sent to recover the lost unit in 'Cliffhanger', but the mission is compromised and the pair are forced to flee with the unit under heavy attack - but it turns out the Russians had already cracked it.
This means that the Russian invasion of America - sparked by the events of 'No Russian' - goes almost undetected, and paratroopers are able to evade local radar and land inside Washington, seizing control of the capital.
Is Ghost Gaz from Call of Duty 4?
Gaz, voiced by British actor Craig Fairbrass, was an SAS Special Forces operator who worked with Captain John Price and 'Soap' MacTavish during the events of COD4.
At the end of the game Gaz is seemingly executed by a Desert Eagle pistol, fired by one of Imran Zakhaev's bodyguards. In Modern Warfare 2, Sergeant 'Ghost' Riley - whose face is always obscured by a balaclava with a skull print - is also voiced by Fairbrass, with the same distinct London accent. Could it be that Gaz survived COD4 and now obscures his scarred face with the mask? Gaz's surname was never revealed in COD4, so it could be Riley, and it seems odd that Infinity Ward would hire the same voice actor to play two different characters. Especially one as vocal, and memorable, as Gaz.
Ghost's backstory is apparently being revealed in a series of spin-off comic books (and, if rumours are to be believed, his own separate game), so we'll find out the truth then. But as it stands, all evidence points to the two characters being the same person. On a more obvious tip, he's called *Ghost*, and the character represents a common thread between the games; a mentor to your rookie, not a detached, more omnipotent, physical constant like Captain Price.
Why is the airport in 'No Russian' called 'Zakhaev International'? Wasn't he the villain in COD4?
Yes, despite Price and his squad's best efforts in COD4, the Ultranationalists - revolutionaries who want to take Russia back to the days of the Soviet Union - managed to seize control of the country and defeat the Loyalists (as outlined in MW2's opening movie with a Lenin-style statue of Zakhaev).
Vladimir Makarov, the series' newest villain, used Zakhaev's death as propaganda to win over the populace, proclaiming him a martyr for 'Mother Russia'. So that's why the airport is named after him, and why Russia were so willing to invade America after identifying CIA operative Joseph Allen's body. Imagine if something like the airport massacre had happened during the Cold War in the '80s, and you'll have some idea why the world is in such a knife-edge political state in Modern Warfare 2.
VIDEO: 'No Russian'
Who is Kriegler? I see his name all over the place; on shipping containers, on a blimp in the 'Suspension' Spec Ops mission...
One of the most mysterious elements of the Modern Warfare universe is the corporation - and likely person - Kriegler. PC modders found unused audio files for the mission 'Mile High Club' in COD4, one of which has Gaz saying, with regards to the hostage you have to save, "Remember, the objective is to capture Kriegler, I repeat, capture Kriegler, alive. He's no good to us dead."
And in the mission Crew Expendable 'Kriegler' is written in Chinese characters on the containers on the deck of the ship. We also see it in English on a number of multi-player maps in Modern Warfare 2, and in the 'Suspension' Spec Ops mission on a prominent blimp. Whoever Kriegler is, he's clearly of some importance. But why all references to him were removed from 'Mile High Club', we'll never know.
Here's our theory; the Kriegler corporation funded the Ultranationalists, which could explain their high tech weaponry and endless resources. And that would also explain why their containers were on the ship carrying the nuke in 'Crew Expendable'. As a side note, Richard Kriegler is a member of the art team at Infinity Ward.
We've another theory about Kriegler, and a potential link to MW3... so tune back to the blog early next week.
So how did Makarov know that Allen was working with the CIA?
This isn't confirmed, but reading between the lines suggests... it's because General Shepherd ratted him out. It was all part of his convoluted Bond villain-style plot to take control the US military and make America the mightiest nation on the planet, by secretly orchestrating the Russia/America war with the Ultranationalists.
But with his status as a war hero secured, Shepherd betrays his partners, both in an attempt to remove any last link to his treacherous actions, and to gain further glory as the man who brought down Makarov. Makarov survives his betrayal, however, and prepares to go into hiding, while Captain Price and 'Soap' MacTavish figure out Shepherd's agenda and assault his base in a cave system in Afghanistan.
Shepherd's reign of terror ends when Soap hurls a throwing knife at his head, but the war has been going so long that his death will have little effect on the ongoing conflict. Soap and Price become fugitives, declared war criminals by Shepherd, and that's where Modern Warfare 2 ends. The next game will, no doubt, revolve around Price and Soap - if he survives (which he will) - trying to clear their name and halt the war, and finally track down Makarov. Lots of sequel potential there, and one is pretty much inevitable.
Why has Shepherd become a 'bad guy'?
Before trying to kill Soap, General Shepherd reveals, "Five years ago, I lost 30,000 men in the blink of an eye. And the world just fuckin' watched. Tomorrow there will be no shortage of volunteers, no shortage of patriots.
I know you understand". Shepherd served as commander of the coalition forces in the Middle East in CoD4, and we can only presume the '30,000' are those killed in COD4's nuclear blast, including Sergeant Paul Jackson (who's death you experience in first-person). It's all a bit Metal Gear Solid, but we think Shepherd was working with Makarov for mutual gain. They both wanted Russia and America at war, and orchestrated the 'No Russian' airport incident together: hence why Allen is enlisted to the mission, accepted so willingly by Makarov and - ultimately - 'discovered' and killed.
The war suits Makarov, both financially (presumably for orchestrating the airport incident), and politically, since going to war with the US cements support for the Russian Ultranationalist state, who Makarov supports. The war - and in particular, the EMP blast - allows Shepherd to take absolute control of the US forces, and claim his government 'blank cheque'. In Shepherd's mind, it's an acceptable loss for restoring the US's military might and invigorating interest in joining the forces.
It might, in a potential sequel, all get linked even more obviously to real-world affairs, where the US government is currently 'weakened' by its reliance on privatized soldiers (PMCs), with a dangerously small core group of US paid soldiers. Shepherd either wants to restore the US's core military base and/or he's involved with a large PMC style company; the equivalent of a Lockheed Martin or Blackwater in real-life. Could the mysterious Kriegler corporation be involved in such a way - the money men behind the true conspiracy? All to be revealed in MW3.
Fore more background, head here http://bit.ly/2vEVss
Private military company - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia http://bit.ly/gDD4g
Why is the data I had to defend in 'Loose Ends' so important to Shepherd?
This mission sees you downloading data from a computer in Makarov's safehouse, while hundreds of Ultranationalist soldiers swarm towards you. The reason this data is so sought after is because it may pinpoint Makarov's hiding place.
Shepherd wants it so he can kill him, reducing the risk of his grand scheme being revealed. However, Task Force 141 think he wants it for more noble reasons - to bring him to justice. But just as you escape with the data, Shepherd betrays you, shooting Roach and Ghost fatally. If Ghost really is Gaz, he's the unluckiest soldier in the world.
VIDEO: Shepherd's betrayal
In 'Exodus', who is the 'HVI'? And what was in his briefcase?
The Rangers are instructed by Shepherd to retrieve 'intel' from a panic room in a house at 4677 Brookmere Road. The intel is in a briefcase owned by an unnamed HVI (high value individual) who lives there.
When Ramirez and the Rangers reach the address, they find the panic room raided and the HVI dead, but the intel is still there. A body nearby bears the same neck tattoo as Makarov's men in 'No Russian', which one of the Rangers comments on. This is the biggest plot hole in Modern Warfare 2. Why was one of Makarov's men there? Who was the HVI? What is the 'intel'?
It's never revealed. Before you enter the house Foley even asks Shepherd why the briefcase is so special, and he doesn't elaborate, simply stressing its importance again. If you zoom into the briefcase contents with a scope you can see two copies of Modern Warfare 2 - which is clearly an in-joke from the art team.
Our theory is that the briefcase contents don't matter, nor does the HVI. It's a MacGuffin (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MacGuffin) - a means to propel the plot forward, and give the Rangers something to do. Or, alternatively, perhaps Shepherd used the HVI as a distraction for Foley and Ramirez' team, to keep them away from something. But to what end? Mysterious - or an example of poor sign-posting/writing.
Q. Who is Nikolai, the helicopter pilot? He seems to be a friend of Price and Soap...
That's because in the COD4 mission 'Blackout', Soap and Price rescued Nikolai from the clutches of the Ultranationalists in the Caucasus Mountains. He was the informant who tipped the SAS off to the location of the nuke aboard the Estonian ship in 'Crew Expendable', and in return the order was given to rescue him by the British government. In Modern Warfare 2 he's a pilot for Task Force 141.
So Makarov's still at large?
Yes, even though Shepherd wanted to tie up his loose ends and kill him - until Price gets involved, and sort-of sides with Makarov, in the whole 'my enemy's enemy is my friend' bit. We think Makarov will be back to 'villain' duties in MW3, just so you can get 'revenge', in Hollywood-style for the airport atrocity - though knowing IW, it won't be as black and white as that. MW2 might end on a slightly flat note, with no resolution for some key issues, but think of it like the 'dark' second film in a trilogy, like Empire Strikes Back, Matrix Reloaded or LOTR: The Two Towers.
Got any questions of your own? Ask them in the comments below and we'll do our best to answer them. And have we made any mistakes? Let's face it, with a plot so ambiguous, more than likely. Let us know and we'll correct them.
Andy Kelly & Daniel Dawkins
p.s. Don't miss some interesting comments from MW2's scriptwriter, in this interview.
Modern Warfare 2 writer: "the airport level was a risk we had to take", Feature Story from GamePro http://bit.ly/1rzLAN
And for more Modern Warfare 2 discussion, listen to episode 22 of the PSM3 podcast