Call of Duty returning to World War II is all the rage. This return to form comes as a breath of fresh air – a few years ago calling a World War II shooter “fresh” would have been inconceivable – after years of modern and sci-fi settings. Between 14 main titles, the series hasn’t explored a particularly wide variety of settings. We’ve had the Second World War, the Cold War, the fictional Third World War and a handful of other fictional near and far-future settings. While unfortunate, human history is filled to the brim with conflicts, many of which could potentially make for a great Call of Duty setting.
Of course, there is a reason why Call of Duty – and games in general – have stuck to the comfortable confines of the Second World War and additional fictional conflicts. Few real-life wars were as clear-cut as WWII was between the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’. You won’t – or at least shouldn’t – run into too many moral dilemmas when the enemies are Nazis, or in some cases, space Nazis, but in most other cases you can’t find a war where there is near-universal agreement as to who was on the right side of the conflict.
This brings us to an issue of maturity within the gaming industry. Films have often explored morally grey conflicts, sometimes showing us events from a viewpoint we’re not necessarily expected to identify with. Could video games pull off a narrative where the player is squarely not the “good guy” in the story? Of course, morality and war are often hard to bring into harmony and most games which draw on wars as setting glorify it to some degree. One way to go about this is to offer missions from the perspectives of both (or all, when applicable) sides involved in the conflict without focusing on just one.
Provided the developers would tackle the task with tact, we have collected a few conflicts spread out in human history that could serve as a good setting for a Call of Duty title.
Battlefield 1 proved that you can still make a compelling first-person shooter with relatively primitive weapons technology to draw from. During the time of the First World War, the quality and variety of firearms were low and narrow, and yet, players have been given period-accurate arsenals to choose from. Call of Duty could one-up (or one-down, in this case) Battlefield by going further back in time, if only by a few years.
The First and Second Balkan Wars were fought between a group of newly independent Balkan States and the Ottoman Empire. Loyalties shifted between the first and second conflict, and both were colored by the underlying tensions between various European Powers who would later go head-to-head in the First World War. The conflicts were relatively short, coming in at just over 9 months with around about 40 major battles.
Taking further inspiration from Battlefield 1, the campaign of this game could be presented in a semi-episodic structure. Instead of featuring a single overarching narrative, it would show players snippets of the conflict, as seen from the point of view of every belligerent nation. With Bulgarian and the Ottoman Empire “switching teams” in between the two, an interesting dynamic could be presented, with a mission for each showing their fight on both sides of the conflict.
Compared to the Balkan Wars, the Yugoslav Wars would be much more difficult to pull off in a correct and appropriate way. This would potentially be the ultimate test of how apt the developers would be at crafting a truly mature and yet respectful narrative with one of the messiest conflicts Europe has seen. The Yugoslav Wars were wrought with war crimes and are considered the deadliest in Europe since WWII. Some cases are still open from the period, and to this day there is unrest and violence in the region.
The term “Yugoslav Wars” is a collective name for a handful of interconnected conflicts which overlapped in many cases. Most of these conflicts were driven by one group trying to oust, or outright eradicate, the other after the borders were redrawn several times. This would be a setting that would have to be approached with extreme caution and tact, however, the depiction of controversial events would be inevitable. This wouldn’t be a “good” setting for a video game, but most definitely an interesting one.
With North Korean aggression dominating news headlines nowadays, using this conflict as a setting for a game would lend it an air of relevancy. Technically speaking, the Korean War is still on-going, however, an armistice has been in place since 1953. The conflict was fought between the two Korean factions, both aided by international allies. The UN-backed the South with the USA providing the bulk of UN forces, whereas the communist countries of China and the Soviet Union aided the North. As opposed to the previous two suggested conflicts, it’s a tad easier to pick which faction the campaign would have players play as.
The Korean War was characterized by the tide turning several times. Seoul, for example, changed hands a total of four times over the course of three years. An interesting take on the conflict would be showing each four instances when the city was reconquered as a way to section up the campaign into four chapters, exemplifying how the war turned into one of attrition.
The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 (there was one in 1848 as well) is one of the many post-WWII regional conflicts glossed over by popular media. While major conflicts like the World Wars, or even those mentioned above, dwarfed this uprising, it still claimed around seven thousand lives. Relatively short, the conflict itself spanned less than a month with few actual battles, rather being characterized by constant skirmishes.
The brevity of the conflict would allow for the game to give players a comprehensive, albeit detailed view of the revolution, as opposed to offering snippets of a longer conflict, or a single narrative thread taking place during a specific portion of one. The guerilla-style combat used by the revolutionaries would also force a change in the typical Call of Duty gameplay formula, which advocates a run-and-gun approach.
Mexican Drug War
Bringing things into the modern day would be the on-going and the considerably brutal war on drugs being waged in Mexico. One of the most active – and best known – drug trafficking countries in the world, Mexico has gained a reputation for being rife with conflict between gangs and law enforcement forces. While it differs from most wars in many ways, including tactics and the people fighting it, it’s most certainly a war. The largest gangs have amassed armies that rival the official military forces of Mexico, as well as the USA which lends assistance in the conflict.
This, again, would be a conflict with a simpler moral outset that would pit players against the gangs. Call of Duty has always been about sprawling set pieces and bravado, and while a game about the war on drugs would be somewhat more reserved in the ‘epic’ department than, say, Modern Warfare 3, it could still have plenty of those carefully orchestrated moments designed to wow the player.
There have been so many conflicts big and small that we’ve undoubtedly missed a few that would befit a Call of Duty game nicely, and hopefully, as the franchise proceeds, we’ll see some settings that haven’t often been used in interactive media.