Can a new character really step out of the shadow cast by the towering legacy of Task Force 141? That's something we've been wondering after developer Infinity Ward revealed that Simon "Ghost" Riley, Captain John Price, Kyle "Gaz" Garrick, and John "Soap" MacTavish – arguably the most beloved special operation units in gaming history – will be working alongside a new operative in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.
When it comes to Colonel Alejandro Vargas, a Mexican Special Forces Operator new to the reimagined series, Infinity Ward says that authenticity is a key tool in the studio's arsenal to bring this character to life. "I got in touch with one of our advisors in Mexico and started with a simple question: 'If you had to get in a foxhole with somebody, in this particular area of the world, with this particular set of problems and concerns, who would it be?' And they gave me a name," recalls head writer Brian Bloom. "You know, Alejandro is not based on this person, but I spoke to them for about 20 hours – there was just so much to glean. He's real, he's out there, literally out there on the high seas right now, and if I told you who this person was they would kill me."
The limits of Taskforce 141
Infinity Ward speak to us about how the Modern Warfare 2 campaign seeks to strike a balance between provocation and pleasure.
If ever there was a cue to stop digging for deets on top secret military operatives, that would be it. Thankfully, we've got plenty of other ground that we can cover. One thing Bloom is keen to clear up is that while Vargas is key to the story of Modern Warfare 2 – which sees Task Force 141 dispatched across the globe to take on a 'newly aligned menace' – this Tier 1 Operator isn't an official member of The One-Four-One, and for good reason.
"A big part of building the character of Alejandro was recognizing that his background and his backstory should stand on its own. That he's important, even if 141 never showed up." Narrative director Jeff Negus builds on this idea, explaining that the Mexican Special Forces member "helps fill out this idea that 141 isn't everywhere all the time. But they do have these different assets – these different allies in different regions that are experts where they are, and can augment 141 to be able to be as effective as they can be all over the world."
Name: Alejandro VargasRank: ColonelAffiliation: Mexican Special ForcesLeader: Los Vaqueros#modernwarfare2 #inteldrops pic.twitter.com/ku0Volzc5BAugust 17, 2022
One of the characters responsible for bringing these assets together in Modern Warfare 2 is Kate Laswell. That's the CIA Station Chief last seen in the closing credits of 2019's Modern Warfare discussing the formation of Task Force 141 over a cup of tea with Captain Price. "Laswell's role has expanded in Modern Warfare 2," Bloom continues. "She's gotten out from behind the desk and you'll see that she's going to become operational again."
Much like Bloom will call one of his experts in Mexico to connect with a super secretive soldier who can help solve one of Infinity Ward's problems, Laswell fulfills a similar role for Captain Price and his team in Modern Warfare 2. "It's the halo effect of having a need for somebody to help you in a region of the world, and then Laswell saying 'I know who I'm going to call!" In this instance, Alejandro Vargas is on the other end of the phone. Negus adds: "Alejandro knows Las Almas better than anybody; he's somebody who has been in the fight there in a lot of ways, and really helps Task Force 141 as much as 141 is there for him."
The setting of Las Almas, according to Bloom, is what gives Alejandro "his own seat at the table, and a really important one." The new character not only acts as a guide to the fictionalized city of Las Almas for Task Force 141 – Bloom adds that players should be excited to see "the relationship that Alejandro develops with Soap and Ghost" – but as a reliable narrator that can help ease us as players into a wide-reaching conflict engulfing the region. That's something we're hoping to see more of at Call of Duty Next, a big event being hosted in September to further detail the next installment in the series. In the meantime, let's take a look at the bigger picture.
Bloom and Negus are keen to express just how much energy has been put into ensuring that everything in Modern Warfare 2 is rooted in some reflection of reality. Authenticity, I'm told, is a key objective for Infinity Ward – the teams want to do right by the regions, the people, and the conflicts it draws from. "We tried to make sure that the countries, factions, and nationalities – real or fictionalized – are as well researched as we possibly can. And we have an amazing time doing that," says Bloom. "We have the best military advisors in the industry, I'm sure of that; we've put together quite the proverbial rolodex here, and we love using it."
Negus picks up the thread, explaining that the narrative team's research extends out beyond military personnel too. "Just to build on what Brian has been saying about all the research he has gotten to do, and all of these different people he has spoken to… something that is kind of implicit in all of this is how much we really care about getting the region [Mexico] right, and the expression and voicing of Alejandro really right. There was a tonne of research that went into knowing how people would say things, knowing what their worldview would be in different scenarios. Brian in his research, and Alain Mesa in his preparation to play Alejandro Vargas, really brought this amazing kind of force to bringing to life this perspective that would otherwise not necessarily be in a Call of Duty game, or be in this Call of Duty game."
"We care a lot about getting those details right," he continues. "And in making sure that not only in the research and the writing, but also in the performance and in the way that we put the scenes together, so that it feels like we're paying the right respect to different people's situations and where different people are in the world."
The Ghost of it all
When Modern Warfare 2 launches on October 28, we'll see whether Infinity Ward has been able to introduce a character who can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Task Force 141 in Colonel Alejandro Vargas. As for whether Alejandro is able to surpass the legacy of Ghost and his covert ops pals isn't something the studio can plan for, or even anticipate – that's to be decided by the players in the months and years to come.
"It's hard not to think about the cache that a character like Ghost has," says Negus, "but when creating a character I don't think that we're necessarily trying to one-up ourselves, or make sure it's as good as something else. Only that it's as satisfying and substantive as the others. When creating a new character, it's just as important to make sure that they have the right motivations, that they take the right actions because it's what they would do in those situations. And I think if anything is going to become on the level of Ghost, and become iconic in any way, it's not going to be because we were trying to make him iconic – it would be because it's rooted in something sincere, and something that people can really get behind."
"And you know, to that point," Bloom interjects, "it's not only building Alejandro under the, and pardon the pun, specter of Ghost, but we also worked to add more dynamics to who Ghost is, and make him more interesting than he's ever been. And take something that is a certain size and a certain expectation there, and has its own dimensions, and expand that. So, we challenged ourselves here to kind of one-up... we didn't just rest on the laurels of who Ghost was and go 'we have to bring everybody up to this'. We were trying to take every single character in this to higher ground."
"Yeah," continues Negus, with the final thought of our conversation, "and we were super thrilled to cast Samuel Roukin as Ghost. We couldn't be more thrilled with our cast. They bring so much to it, and Samuel's performance as Ghost is going to rock a lot of people."