The shooters of the '90s only ever made us feel powerful. It took Call of Duty to make room for discomfort and vulnerability. Over four campaigns and numerous perspectives, the series revolutionised FPS storytelling.
Then it kept going. Across the ten games since, COD has repeated itself half to death. Some of its most effective beats have become so predictable that you could sing along to them, like murderous Mamma Mia. Now it's time for the series to take its final form: Call of Duty bingo. I'll take us through the expected clichés, and you can cross them off as they turn up in the new Modern Warfare. Oscar mike.
"Let them pass"
A convoy of murderers is about to run its tracks right over your camoflaged fingers. You're close enough to hear their conversation, which roughly translates as, "Pretty daft of them to only send four blokes, eh?"
The odds are overwhelming. The only way you're going to cause this lot any damage is if they step on you like a piece of Lego. You already know what your commanding officer is going to say. It's the same advice your doctor gave you when you had kidney stones, but it doesn't make it any less painful.
Slo-mo breach and clear
There's a hostage on the other side of this wall, strapped with explosives, waiting for the cavalry to arrive. They're depending on the calm demeanour and level headedness of professionals in a nuanced combat situation. Who comes flying through the door instead? Max sodding Payne in a balaclava.
The cold, cruel prisons of the Soviet Union have become cheap accomodation for spec ops. In fact they've been home to enough of Call of Duty's cast it's a wonder they're not doubling up on bunks.
If you start a mission on the inside, you'll be breaking out. And if you start a mission on the outside, you'll be breaking in. It's a perfect system which ensures there's always some reason to muck about in a gulag.
America becomes the underdog
Why can't Uncle Sam catch a break? If it's not Russian ultranationalists storming the suburbs of Virginia, it's *checks notes* the entirety of South America banding together to shoot holes in the Hollywood sign.
You might think COD's fantasy of a guerilla US force fighting off invaders is in poor taste, given that America typically occupies the exact opposite role. But if you did, you'd be thinking too much. Don't you know we've got a White House to win back?
"Take the one on the left"
Tell you what, you can't fault the SAS for workplace communication. If a man tells me to shoot the goon on the left, I know he'll shoot the goon on the right. If I shoot the goon on the right, he'll shoot the one on the left. And if I don't do anything at all, he'll shoot them both! Brilliant. Hang on… do I even need to be here?
Baddy has a bomb
Oh, bollocks. Remember that bloke from the early cutscenes with an unpalatable anti-Western ideology? We killed all his mates, and that turns out to have made him really angry. Now he's holding a big bomb over all our heads. Metaphorically and, if our intelligence is correct, literally.
On the bright side: this escalation has given us the green light to launch a ballsy mission on foreign soil using a load of helicopters, so that's cool, huh?
Miracle helicopter crash
Helicopter crashes are gnarly. All that twisted, spinning steel—I wouldn't fancy my chances. Particularly not if I was a pilot with no critical link to the plot of a Call of Duty game. As a protagonist, though? Survival rates are extraordinary. To the grizzled spec ops of COD, a mayday call is the equivalent of a train delay—a minor inconvenience which, at worst, might cause them to miss their team stand-up just outside a Russian village at 4am. It's no more a threat to their person than leaves on the line at Bristol Temple Meads.
Watch out for the veteran in your squad—the one with the wild eyes, a face full of scars and perhaps a handlebar moustache. Though he'll throw himself into the fray with the rest and probably save your life once or twice, he's also liable to launch into a playable memory without warning. This flashback will take place in a location made famous in the 20th century by crisis or conflict: Cuba, 'Nam, or practically any front of World War 2.
The key thing is not to panic. The flashback should only last ten to 15 minutes, at which point the sepia film over your eyes should clear up. If effects persist, see your local GP.
So Call of Duty has put you in control of a new character midway through the campaign. Well: don't count on playing them again. There's every chance you'll be shot in the head and/or thrown into a shallow grave before mission's end. If you're really unlucky, you might be executed on television or flown into the blast radius of a nuke. Only games can offer this kind of existential tourism.
If it's any consolation, your sacrifice will serve as a dramatic demonstration of irredeemable villainy, or at least a very cool camera perspective on a massive explosion.
Every Call of Duty game is a global affair, concerning geopolitical manouvres that span thousands of miles and threaten whole countries. You can guarantee, though, that by the end it'll come down a scuffle between three blokes at the foot of a waterfall. That's just the way these things are resolved.
All of the custom-scoped weapons will be gone by this stage, in favour of a good old-fashioned terrorist punch-up. Eventually, though, somebody will kick you a gun in slow motion. That instantly makes you the referee, and the man you don't shoot will become the new leader of the free world. Rules are rules.