Analyzing the Modern Warfare Trilogy: Part 2 – It's full of plot holes!

A few days ago, I had a lot of praise for the plot in the Modern Warfare games. As was evident, the article was almost entirely focused on the first game, and the high standards the game set. MW1 had one major flaw of logic, though. A lack of logical thinking that seemed to seep into the following games as well.

It’s a scene that many words have been devoted to, and rightfully so, because its a well-constructed surprise, unlike the standard “shocking surprises” seen in the other two Modern Warfare games. However, it was also Modern Warfare’s first step into the ridiculous. While Al-Asad’s uprising and the nuke is designed to draw attention from Imran Zakhaev’s nefarious plan to take power in Russia, the nuclear bomb has the exact opposite effect, as a manhunt sets in after Al-Asad, ultimately unveiling his connection to Zakhaev. Besides killing an untold number of his own soldiers, he also kills tens of thousands of American soldiers, something that without a doubt will piss them the Americans off. Why didn’t the plan just involve Al-Asad’s uprising turning into a prolonged conflict with the US, diverting their attention from Russia? The conflict would remain relatively low-key so that the connection to Zakhaev wouldn’t be made right away. In the immediate aftermath of a nuclear explosion, everyone starts looking for who could have supplied the weapon, and they are few and far between.

Despite that move into the illogical, Modern Warfare 1 was the reasonable entry in the series, the one that actually held promise. From Modern Warfare 2 onward, everything started going downhill.

Early on in Modern Warfare 2, the player’s mentor in the first game, Captain Price, explains how Zakhaev became a martyr for the Ultranationalists who seize power in Russia. Several terrorist attacks have struck Europe, confirmed to be perpetrated by a certain Vladimir Makarov, one of Zakhaev’s lieutenants, and tensions between Russia and the US are high. This Makarov leads a massacre on civilians in an airport in Moscow. Among the perpetrators of the massacre is a CIA operative named Joseph Allen, who has infiltrated Makarov’s inner circle. Makarov is well aware of this, though, and immediately after the massacre, Makarov guns down Allen, leaving alleged proof of US involvement. This gives the Ultranationalists a reason for invading the United States. There are several things wrong with this.

Firstly, it is stated that all proof of Makarov’s involvement in the massacre died with Allen. That is hard to believe, as the CIA would probably have extensive documentation linking Allen to Makarov. Sure, it would not be enough to convince the Russian government that the United States was not involved in the massacre, but it would be enough to inspire caution, and to uncover what had really transpired in the airport. Especially with the knowledge that Makarov is somewhat of rogue agent, seeing as he was expelled from the Ultranationalist party for his extreme methods, it’s baffling that the Russian government would not be interested in anything that could blame the whole thing on Makarov. After all, what the Russians needed after the massacre was a scapegoat, and it’s certainly easier and less painful to find that in a man who most of the world loathes, rather than go to war with the most powerful military force in the world. Even though it is stated that two factions exist within the Russian government, one that favors war and one that opposes it – among them the President – it seems unlikely that the war-willing have so much sway over the others.

Secondly, while the massacre is just a ploy to legitimize a Russian invasion of the United States, it is utterly irrational from a military point of view. Even though the Russians do what they can to confuse the Americans by creating a diversion on the West Coast, using technology stolen from the Americans to generate a “phantom attack”, which allows them to attack the east coast unhindered, it seems extremely unwise to attack a country like the United States on their own turf, especially considering the network of fairly powerful allies the United States has. It could never go well. Never. Even though the Americans are weakened by the surprise, the Russians still have to fight through the entirety of the United States, against an army that’s technologically and numerically superior to them, utilizing a plan they seem to have cooked up in a matter of hours.

"Why not throw in the Stars and Stripes, too! Just for good measure."

In addition, while the Russians do have the foresight to try and distract the Americans, would the massive troop movements from Russia, across the Atlantic to the Eastern Seaboard really not be noticed at all? I mean, while you can disable radar stations and such, there are still the stations in Greenland and Iceland, set up during the Cold War, to count with. But the Russians just managed to ferry all their men and equipment across the Atlantic without anyone noticing? Finally, how did the Russians manage to get their entire army mobilized in the span of one day? I realize that a Cold War-like relationship has re-emerged in this grim future world, but even back then it was impossible to start a full-scale war in 24 hours. Bombing runs, air strikes and such could indeed be initialized, but a full-scale land invasion would take much longer to get started.

At the same time as the invasion, a team of elite British and American soldiers are hunting down evidence so that they can place the blame for the massacre on Makarov. This eventually leads them to a gulag in Siberia, where an old enemy of Makarov’s is held captive. Turns out it’s Captain Price who’s been sitting in the gulag for three years, after being captured on a mission to gather information on Makarov’s whereabouts. Why Makarov has simply stowed him away in Siberia instead of simply having him killed will remain a mystery. Considering that Makarov has nothing against slaughtering innocent civilians in the hundreds, it seems odd that he would let a potential threat stay alive.

Modern Warfare 3 continued Modern Warfare 2’s foolishness, and all pretensions of reason and meaning were tossed out the window in favor of massive action scenes. After the Russians are thrown out of the United States, the war grinds to a halt, as the Russian government seeks a peace conference, led by President Vorshevsky who opposed the war initially. Makarov starts a coup d’état while the president is en route to Hamburg for the peace negotiations. Oddly enough, no one seems to notice, as Makarov’s men are able to start a series of chemical attacks across Europe a few days after the coup. The sudden disappearance of the head of state of a country that recently initiated World War III, and then seeks peace, would certainly arouse suspicion. Yet, no one seems prepared for what follows, even after they’ve experienced the invasion of the United States only less than two months prior. Apparently no one has the capacity to imagine that the callous militarists that are now in control of Russia might not be friendly. It makes sense that would be a certain degree of confusion after a coup, but with the sudden Russian aggression in mind wouldn’t somebody start an emergency alert? In addition, no one in the public seems to mind, even though it would certainly be on the news 24/7 that the Russian president has suddenly disappeared, and his plane fallen out of the sky.

There are even American tourists in London, even though their home country was ravaged by war less than two months before. Indeed, people cope with such things very differently, but a war of such magnitude as the one they’ve experienced ought to make people more cautious, and lay low for a while until everything has blown over. I mean, the United States and Russia are still technically at war, but still people see fit to head closer to the den of chaos that Russia seems to have developed into?

Those same tourists also became central to Modern Warfare 3's most exploitative scene

The chemical attacks are followed up by another Russian invasion – hardly surprising – this time of Europe. The motivations for this invasion are much clearer since Makarov is now in power, supported by much of the military, but I’m surprised that the Russian army has been able to regroup and reorganize so quickly, and that no one reconsiders going on the offense again so shortly after their smashing and humiliating defeat in the US. Even though extremely zealous organizations and groups might not be reputed to have the most rational line of thinking, there still has to be limit to how blindly they will charge in. Makarov himself isn’t an idiot, he’s just very cold-blooded, and ought to have the foresight to realize that the Americans were now no longer engaged, and would be able to come to Europe’s aid once they got mobilized.

Eventually, they discover that President Vorshevsky has been taken to a diamond mine in Siberia. They storm the facility, free him, and he is reinstated as President…and then the hostilities between the United States and Russia cease almost immediately. Considering that a majority within the military and the government in Russia must have been in favor of starting the war and the coup, it seems odd that they either willingly give up power – as they will undoubtedly be prosecuted – or are forced to leave their positions as they are in command of the armed forces, which they’ve earlier deemed to be strong enough to beat NATO. As a cutscene informs later, many of them were extradited to the International Criminal Court, meaning they might as well have fought to the bitter end, hoping for a way out. There was nothing stopping them from doing so, but apparently Vorshevsky’s voice holds enough sway, even though they earlier had no quarrels with trying to have him ousted.

In the end, The Big Bad Wolf is killed, Captain Price gets to smoke his victory cigar, and the player can rejoice at the "Objective Completed" in the corner.

Finally, in what will hopefully be the end of the Modern Warfare series, Makarov is killed in a Dubai hotel. It is a dramatic showdown. Dozens of goons are killed and several explosions rock the hotel, including one from a chopper smashing into the side. But, at long last, Makarov dangles from a cable, and Captain Price lights a cigar. As you may have noticed, there seems to have been a bit of a change from Modern Warfare 1 to this final sequence. While the first alluded to an intriguing exploration of modern warfare, it quickly developed into an over-the-top blow-up-everything adventure. It seems like the writers on Modern Warfare 1 had been laid off in the meantime, or that they at the very least had had brain slugs attached to them that caused them to believe that what they were writing wasn’t nonsensical. And thus the Modern Warfare series was reduced to a hollow shell, rather than an examination of war in the 21st century. The promise the first game held was quickly removed in favor of tame entertainment.

Wait there’s more! Check in on Tuesday for the third and final part, which will be about the antagonists and their descent into becoming Bond villains.