Too Much Modern War?

The Call of Duty and Medal of Honor franchises have a problem.

I’m not talking about a problem with gameplay, nor am I talking about a problem with the development teams. No, both franchises will ultimately run into the “where to go next?” problem.

I don’t have any doubt that the talented teams behind both games will be able to continue coming up with great gameplay scenarios, engaging combat puzzles and thrilling scripted moments that make military shooters so much fun. It’s the settings that could become an issue – now that both WWII franchises have become modern day shooters, where do they go from here?

World War II was a goldmine for first-person shooters. It was a huge, expansive conflict with multiple distinct theaters of war, plenty of famous battles and a clear-cut moral superiority. It was good versus evil, right versus wrong. Today’s wars are muddier. Our enemies are less easily identifiable, as are our goals. Sure, we all agree that terrorists are evil. But we’re never going to be able to throw up our hands and say “Got ‘em all! Glad that’s over!”

Today’s wars, no matter which side of the political spectrum you land on, simply aren’t as good of an inspiration for games as World War II. Moral complexity isn’t necessarily a plus in a genre that asks you to mow down enemies by the dozen.

That’s likely why the two Modern Warfare games are based on fictional modern conflicts. When you create your own enemies, you sidestep the tricky issues of the real world. Just take a look at the controversy of Medal of Honor – the very fact that the game dared to use the word “Taliban” caused a firestorm. The word has been removed from portions of the game, but that’s not likely to pacify the military families who were so upset about the ability to play as our enemy.

And that brings us back to our problem. Games like Six Days in Fallujah and Medal of Honor have run afoul of military families and the media for being based on real-life conflicts (a problem that the upcoming Spec Ops: The Line may run into as well). The Call of Duty games have created fictional wartime scenarios, but how much longer can that last? America was already invaded by Russians in Modern Warfare 2. Where do you go from there?

Modern military shooters cannot ever evolve into sci-fi shooters. Otherwise, they must go head-to-head with Halo and Gears of War. Heck, they can’t even change into near-future shooters without bumping into Ghost Recon and Rainbow Six. In short, they’re stuck with using current conflicts as their basis, or concocting ever more unbelievable scenarios that take place in the “real world.”

Then again, maybe this won’t be a problem at all. After all, there have been modern-day military shooters nearly as long as there have been FPS games. Battlefield: Bad Company 2 ends with a cliffhanger that sets up Bad Company 3. Clearly, they’re not running out of ideas.

On the other hand, the Call of Duty franchise is heading back to Vietnam. Come to think of it, so is Bad Company 2…

Jeremy M. Zoss is a veteran of the gaming industry. He’s written for Game Informer, OXM, G4 and many more. He’s also worked in games PR, but don’t hold that against him.