Controversy is never far from the Call of Duty series. It is a video game franchise that revolves around shooting folks in the face after all. But the series took controversy to a whole new level with the infamous ‘No Russian’ level in its 2009 blockbuster hit, Modern Warfare 2.
You play as an undercover agent among villainous terrorists and you’re tasked with partaking in a mass shooting with them at Moscow International Airport. What unfolds is a level of unbridled blood, chaos, and horror as the terrorists (and you if you choose to) fire upon crowds and innocent civilians.
If you really want to watch the ‘No Russian’ level in full, you can do it here but just be warned that viewer discretion is advised.
Despite Modern Warfare 2 being deemed as arguably the best Call of Duty ever, ‘No Russian’ drew intense scrutiny as many questioned the value of including such a violent level that offers up very little. With the benefit of hindsight, it remains difficult to argue against all the controversy.
Outside of the context of Modern Warfare 2‘s story and themes, ‘No Russian’ just a gratuitous level that seemingly draws upon real life mass shootings and turns people into nothing more than human bowling pins. Within the context of the game, there’s also almost no reason for the level to exist.
While Modern Warfare 2 game designer Mohammad Alavi says ‘No Russian’ exists to serve the story, the level doesn’t really further the narrative that much or offer any commentary into warfare beyond “this is sickening” and “this dude is definitely the baddie” at the expense of an entire airport of civilians.
As extra salt in the wound, your character anticlimactically dies at the end of the level anyway, rendering the entire thing almost moot and bypassing any potential moral burden players may have felt.
The Modern Warfare sub-series of Call of Duty revolves around examining warfare in a present day context and all the social and psychological impacts it has on all those involved. ‘No Russian’ misses the mark on that front but having said that, the developers weren’t far from turning the level to all-time great.
Rather than playing a mass shooter, ‘No Russian’ should’ve had you play as one of the innocent victims in the airport. Not only would Modern Warfare 2 have avoided much of the controversy by having the game’s sympathies lie in the right place, it would’ve also offered up a powerful and emotional examination into mass shootings within a modern day context given all the real life shootings that have occurred in recent years.
Instead, we end up with a needlessly violent level where you play as a quickly-forgotten character and the only lesson to be learned is anything is on the table as long as the mission is complete or an agenda is fulfilled, even if it means murdering dozens of innocents.
Hindsight is 20/20 and it’s frustrating that Call of Duty missed out on such a big opportunity to offer up a powerful statement in the otherwise brilliant Modern Warfare 2.
‘No Russian’ will forever be remembered as a watershed moment in video gaming. It’s just a shame that it is for all the wrong reasons.