Modern Warfare reboot “won’t be a greatest hits of things we’ve done in the past,” says Infinity Ward

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The new Call of Duty: Modern Warfare seems to have caused some confusion with its lack of a number but that’s because it’s a reboot for the series, not a sequel. And there's a good reason for that according to studio narrative director Taylor Kurosaki: “By the end of Modern Warfare 3 nukes had gone off, the Russians had invaded the United States and frankly for us as storytellers there were no relatable stakes left in the world for us to craft a story around.”

But what does it mean to reboot a series full of iconic set pieces? Campaign gameplay director Jacob Minkoff is clear on one thing: “No greatest hits.” That’s advice from his partner, gameplay director Zied Rieke, one of the original Infinity Ward team who worked on the first game. “We cannot make this a greatest hits of things we’ve done in the past”, explains Minkoff. “Because everyone has done everything Modern Warfare did 10 times over. Everything we do has to feel new. We have to capture the essence of the things that people love but we have to show players things that they haven’t seen before.”

That's a lot easier than it sounds when the Modern Warfare series has genre defining moments that are remembered more vividly than other entire games. “People might say ‘where’s your AC-130 mission?’” states Minkoff. “We’re like ‘no greatest hits’. ‘Where’s your No Russian?’ No greatest hits [...] we’re not going to put you in a group with a bunch of civilians working with terrorists and say ‘this is our No Russian 2’. We’re going to find something that feels like that. We’re going to make you feel morally grey and uncomfortable. We’re going to put complex things on the stick, in your hand, that really makes you question your own morality as a player.”

There’s also a level of expectation simply on the style game people expect from a Call of Duty game. Years of evolving and, ultimately, escalating set pieces both in Call of Duty and other games, means there’s nowhere left to go. “The level of bombast in these big cinematic set pieces is so over the top that Michael Bay has nothing on this: everything has to blow up all the time,” says Minkoff. “When we started making this game we said ‘the dial is pegged at 11 we can’t break it off and go to 15’. There’s no way we can possible out-crazy these action games so all we can do is strip it back, go down, make it more grounded.” 

Which is where new levels like the Townhouse came from, which you can read all about in my Call of Duty: Modern Warfare preview. “The very first thing I did on this game was layout the Townhouse, explains Minkoff. It’s a level where Captain Price and his team move from floor to floor clearing terrorists from a very ordinary London home. After years of increasingly explosive set pieces, Kurosaki points out the challenge here: “How do you make climbing a set of stairs, hearing the audio of the floor above you, and make that be as intense as nukes going off?” For Minkoff this was “specifically an attempt to push us as a team. Can we make a Call of Duty game where there are 10 people in the house, six of them are actually a threat, and it’s all about threat acquisition?’” 

And while the idea of a Modern Warfare story involving a few floors with a scattering of people might not sound exciting on paper, it practically smacks you in the face with the intensity of its cramped environments and sound. The fizzing green night vision view combined with the imminent threat of death ready to (and, occasionally, actually) jump out of corners and doorways means it almost plays like a horror game. “We want to be as innovative with this game as Modern Warfare was in 2007,” states Kurosaki. “My personal goal is, I know when I played Crew Expendable in Modern Warfare 1, I remember pausing the game as I’m escaping the capsizing ship, and thinking ‘I cannot believe this is a game that I’m playing. This is unbelievable’. My secret wish is that when someone’s playing the Townhouse mission they’re like [pause]... ‘Holy shit am I really playing this?’”