Reciprocity – First Peek, Part II

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The air stunk of mildew of cigarettes. At least in the front foyer. Farther inside, the aroma of cooking smells and latrines began to intensify and take precedence. The interior floor space looked gutted, nothing but concrete floors and beams with barely any demarcation between one section and the next. In a central beam that lay several dozen meters inside, a large monitor had been mounted that was tuned to the local news.

The reporter recapped the game-winning goal by Villanueva, then quickly moved on to cover the displacement camps in Darwin clashing with police. After a few introductory words Shen could not hear, they moved to aerial footage of people with tan-complexions rioting, overturned cars and fires, and light-skinned police retaliating with shields and batons.

They passed many improvised rooms as they walked through the building proper. Tall stacks of crates or sheets of plywood, drywall or corrugated plastic that denoted the boundaries of different rooms. And inside, those who were at home sat huddled before monitors or gas stoves, cooking their afternoon meals or engaged in some online gaming. In one, a young lady as busy pleasuring and older man. Both parties looked up to acknowledge them as they passed a bead curtain that acted as the doorway, and then went right back to their carnal activity.

“This way,” said Shen, as they neared the stairwell at the end. The smell of mildew followed them, and on every stoop, a new waft of cooking smells. By the time they reached the fourth floor, the density decreased and it looked as if the entire space was dominated by one living area.

Not far from the doorway, two young toughs sat on some stacked plastic crates and exchanged words. The taller one wore a faux leather vest, what appeared to be tā moko ink on his arm. The smaller one wore a white tank and jeans, and his eyes glowed with a band of copper that indicated he had displays. Both jumped to their feet as soon as Shen and Ping walked in.

The tall one snapped his fingers, alerting three more youths in the room to approach them. Shen noticed the ink on his arm beginning to change shape, the intricate system of lines morphing to form something entirely different.

When the tall one spoke, he did so in Tagalog. “Ano ang gusto mo, tao?”

A small field of green characters formed in the lower right lens of Shen’s glasses.

What do you want, man?

“Is Wáng around?” he replied in Mandarin. He directed it to the smaller one, who immediately accessed a translation app and relayed it to the tall one. He stuck to Tagalog, and replied just as curtly.

“Siya ay hindi dito!”

He is not here!

Shen looked to Ping and reached into his pocket. Everyone reacted at once, pulling out assorted handguns and pointing them at him. Ping moved too, producing the impact gun he had inside his jacket. The weapon clacked loudly as he whipped it out, it’s targeting laser focused on the forehead of the shorter man.

“Stop!” Shen yelled.

The tall one’s ink had changed again. The line segments now converged to form the face of an angry tiger, mouth agape, fangs fully bared. Its purpose was clear to him now.

Dynamo ink, adrenal-activated, he thought. A way of letting people know exactly how pissed he was. He imaged there were many kids in Tondo that had them, perhaps it was a local gang’s calling card. Understandable that Wang had taken to hiring a few for security.

“Everyone just relax,” he said, raising his free hand defensively while the other slowly withdrew something from his jacket pocket. The tall one moved quickly to fetch what he’d removed as soon as it was clear.

A small folding leather case which he opened and examined. The display card inside read off a designation for a unit that no longer existed, and an army that went by a new name. But the identification and the picture were clear enough. A look confusion was the tall one’s reaction, which he directed at Shen. Shen nodded to him, motioning to the far end of the floor space, where he imaged Wáng would be.

“Go on. He’ll know what it means.”

The tall one said something to the others in Tagalog, and then ventured to the back, disappearing behind a large partition wall. All the weapons remained trained on them while they waited. Shen stood perfectly still and never stopped smiling. Ping, meanwhile, kept his weapon trained on the short one, his finger gently resting against the gun’s trigger. He, in turn, was now aiming his Glock squarely back at Ping.

Shen knew that if things went south, Ping would be the first to get a shot off. The make and model of the pistols the boys had indicated that they were old-world relics, double actions pistols with casings. No digital architecture in their design. In the time it took them to squeeze their triggers and ignite a single round, Ping’s weapon would have accelerated a full burst of caseless slugs into the short one’s forehead.

Of course, he also knew that that would be the only shot Ping could get off. Regardless of how fast the boy was, they had three more weapons aimed at them. And Shen knew he could only disarm one before the remaining three got a shot or two off at him.

Shooting first didn’t count much when you were horribly outgunned. Luckily, the tall one emerged again from behind the partition and yelled to his friends.

“Sabi niya ang mga ito ay okay!”

He says they are okay!

Shen smiled. He nodded to the men around him, who looked slightly dejected as they lowered their weapons. Ping lowered his as well and began to follow, when the tall one made an addendum.

“Siya ay nag-iiwan sa kanyang baril dito!”

He leaves his gun here!

Shen sighed and looked to Ping, nodding to his weapon. Ping didn’t argue, and flipped it around to pass it off to the nearest of Wáng’s henchmen. While reluctant, he didn’t appear particularly worried. He knew that the second any one of them tried to turn it on him, they’d receive a 2000 volt surprise.

Without further delay, they made it past the partition wall, and into the far end of the fourth floor. Shen immediately became aware of a long counter positioned next to the partition, and a large workstation pushed back against the far wall. Another thug-like man with dynamos was standing behind the counter, while at the workstation, a single Chinese national sat amidst a pile of scattered components and tools.

From the looks of things, he had been working on a wrist-mounted portable before they had arrived. Now, his eyes were fixed on Shen’s little “gift”. A monocle sat over one eye, but he wasn’t using it at the moment. As he gazed at the old credentials, no augments, apps or mediation were needed to make sense of it. Everything about it was known to him, as was the message it carried.

“Comrade Shen,” he said in Mandarin, his voice tired and harsh.

“Comrade Wáng,” he replied. “It’s been a long time.”

“Not long enough.” He kept his eyes fixed downward. “I can only imagine you coming here means that you are in some kind of trouble.”

Shen chuckled and advanced towards Wáng several paces. The man at the counter kept eying him carefully, his right hand clenching at something underneath. He paid him no mind, leaving that for Shen to do as he followed behind.

“Strictly speaking, I am no trouble. Nothing new, at least, old friend. But there have been some developments. Things which I need to speak to you about.”

Wáng looked at him momentarily, a look of bitter mistrust in his one eye. He looked back to the credentials quickly, and removed the monocle. His eyes took on a faraway look then, an expression that seemed to contain equal measures of nostalgia and sadness.

“Do you remember the day when we you first became a member of the unit?” he asked.

Shen took that as an invitation to come closer. “Yes, I do.”

“You should,” said Wáng, a trace of bitterness returning to his face. “For you, it was not as long ago. When I joined, the unit was still in its infancy. The concept of warfare not fought with tanks, bombs and assault rifles was still alien to most in the army. But those higher up had wisdom enough to know that information was the new measure of a nation’s wealth. It only served to reason that it would become the basis of warfare as well.”

Shen advanced the last few steps that stood between them.

“Methods that are not characterized by the use of the force of arms, nor by the use of military power, nor even by the presence of casualties and bloodshed, are just as likely to facilitate the successful realization of the war’s goals, if not more so,” Shen said, reciting the famous quote.

“You remember?” Wáng’s face momentarily brightened.

“Of course I do.” Shen replied, keeping his tone as even as he could. “And it’s what brings me here.”

Wáng removed the monocle and began to look at him ominously. He gave a quick glance at the man behind the counter, who stirred ever so slightly. Ping stood tensely by, poised to strike at the man with whatever weapons he still had at his disposal. At the moment, that was just his hands and feet. Perhaps it was time to get the point.

“I need to find Li.”

“Oh?” said Wáng. “I assume you mean our mutual acquaintance, from the old days?” Shen nodded. “I haven’t seen him in years.”

Shen removed his glasses and rubbed his tired eyes. It had been a long day, and there were limits to his patience as well. “I know you make regular trips to the mainland, old friend. And I know that you’ve met with members of the unit on your trips before.”

Wáng cocked an eyebrow. “You’ve been spying on me?”

“Not necessary, or possible given my current circumstances. But I do hear things. And I know that you facilitate entry to the mainland for people looking to get back into Zǔguó. I am one such person.”

Wáng nodded. “I also hear things, Comrade. And I find it hard to understand why you would want to return a place that does not welcome you. If anyone at Interior knew you were setting foot on native soil, they would surely have you shot on sight.”

“I know,” said Shen. “But I know that you can help with that.”

“What is it that you think I can do?”

“I will need biometric IDs for myself and the young one here, ones which I know you can provide. And I need you to facilitate a meeting with Li. I will take care of the rest, and see to it that you come away all the richer for it.”

“What do you want from Li?” he asked finally.

Shen inhaled deeply and looked him in the eye as he said it. “Boaying.”

Wáng went silent for a moment and looked caught between disbelief and amusement. Eventually, he opted for the latter and began laughing.

“Boaying does not exist, old friend. It was lost with the ‘restructuring’, like so much else. I’m sorry you wasted your time –”

Shen raised his hand to interject. “I know that is not true. I know that certain copies were made and that Li had access. If you could just –“

“What you are asking for is not possible!” Wáng said, cutting off all talk. “And even if it were, I would be hard pressed to think of anything that would justify the risk for me.”

“Oh?” said Shen, genuinely surprised. “I can think of much and more in that regard. I would imagine you would leave this hovel behind in a heartbeat if you could afford to do so. And I know that Comrade Li would be most grateful to you once he hears what I have to offer. He has accrued great wealth and power back home.”

“Quite,” said Wáng, rather bitterly. “Such are the rewards for those who ingratiated themselves with the new government.”

“Yes, but his power currently has limits. What I am proposing to him could potentially benefit him more than anything the Tuánjié zhèngfǔ has given to him. And knowing that you helped facilitate would put him in your debt for life.”

Wáng once again looked caught, this time between disbelief and anger. Mentioning his current surroundings, and raising the issue of Li’s own status back home was sure to do that. For a moment, neither man said anything. The silence only broke when Wáng looked in Ping’s direction and frowned.

“This one I do not recognize. He is new, yes?”

“He is that, yes.” Shen replied.

Wáng shook his head, drew in a deep breath and spat it out like it was bile. “He’s not even old enough to remember, is he? In fact, he looks barely old enough to know anything of what you are talking about.”

“Do not speak about me like I’m not even here!” Ping stepped forward with his hands curled into fists. The man behind the counter removed the submachinegun he had been concealing until now and aimed it at squarely at Ping. A small laser sight beamed in the dusty air, painting a small, steady dot on his right temple.

Shen looked at him angrily. Wáng could only respond with laughter.

“You see? He exhibits the petulance of the new generation. No deference at all.”

Ping face turned red and he was prepared to say something obscene, but thought the better of it. At this point, he had another gun aimed at him and was too far away to do anything about it. Shen was thankful at least that cooler heads were prevailing and the latest in Wáng’s group of thugs hadn’t lost control yet.

“One generation plants the trees, and another gets the shade,” Shen said, hoping to get them back on track. “Perhaps the fault lies in the world we left for them. It has corrupted them with excess and makes them forget.”

“Perhaps.” Wáng turned his attention back to the materials on his desk and began to tinker with them quietly. “But it too late to help that now. The world has moved on without us. My advice to you, Comrade, is to accept that.”

Shen waited momentarily. He was sure his old colleague would have more to say. When nothing came, he stepped back from the table and turned to Ping.

“I shall be in the city for a few more days. Please let me know if you reconsider.”

Wáng kept his eyes on his work and didn’t bother to reply. Shen turned to leave, but paused to say one last thing.

“Life certainly has not worked out the way any of us planned, old friend. Despite what you might think of the path I have chosen, I know that we share the same sense of loss. All that I ask is that you consider helping me right that wrong, and leave something better for those who follow in our footsteps.”

Wáng still would not acknowledge him. But Shen knew he had absorbed everything he had just said and that it made an impression. He came about again and walked by Ping, who seemed surprised and a bit beleaguered to see that they were leaving. Following Shen out, they returned to the thugs that guarded the stairwell where he retrieved his weapon. Stern glances were exchanged between them as they walked out, but Ping ignored them. His only concern at the moment was keeping up with Shen, and asking him the obvious once they were well out of earshot.

“Is that it? We’re just leaving?”

Shen slid his glasses back on and powered them back up. He had a number of new messages, all encrypted. No doubt, they were from his contacts back east. “He will come around. Just give him some time to think it over.”

“And what if he doesn’t?”

Shen smiled. “You do not know him as I do. He will not pass up an opportunity to place Li in his debt. And he is not as satisfied with his current predicament as he would pretend. He just does not want to admit as much openly. Give him time.”

Ping sighed, checking his weapon to make sure Wáng’s men hadn’t stripped it of its magazine. He was pleased to see that all the slugs were still there. “In the meantime, what do we do?”

They had come to the ground floor, where Shen stopped and turned to look at him. “Same as always,” he said. “We stay with those who would harbor us, and hope that no one in Beijing realizes we are here. Otherwise, we can expect to be returning to Zǔguó ahead of schedule.”

Reciprocity – First Peek

shutterstock_117410959Happy Holidays everyone! Hope this post finds everyone safe, snug and warm in their homes, preferably surrounded by loved ones and lots of new swag! While I’m on break from my writing jobs, I thought I’d switch gears and get back to my personal writing for a bit.

And as luck would have it, I made some headway with my latest story idea – the near-future thriller Reciprocity – and I thought I’d share some of it. So far, I’ve got a few introductory chapters, and a prologue that introduces the antagonist. So, over the next few days, I thought I might share some of this work and see how it stacks up.

Here is the first snippet, which takes place in the Philippines in the year 2029. Enjoy!

*               *               *

Manila, Philippines, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperative

He was bathing in a sea of connectivity, looking out onto the second skin that blanketed the Earth. There was virtually no corner of it now that wasn’t covered, but finding oneself in a major city was like standing directly in a pivot. After spending many weeks off the grid, it was like stepping back into the light of day after days in a dark cave. His entire body awash with high-fidelity photonic light and a microwave glow.

He felt like his skin should be burning, and yet it wasn’t…

Setting his glasses to normal view, the microwave landscape disappeared and was replaced by the stark, colorful reality of the favela. At once, his sense adjusted the combination of movement and sound that was so common to such places. A world of congestion, decay, and waste, yet teeming with so much life. Shen remembered coming to the region before, back in the day before reality could be mediated and augmented.

Now, the unseen energy and information that coursed through the landscape was illustrated in any number of ways.

At the moment, it took the form of a dozen colorful overlays that played across his contacts. He looked left and right along the thoroughfare and was awarded with helpful icons and some less-than-helpful adverts. Compared to the Metro area, the visual landscape here was not nearly as cluttered. But there were still tourist markers and small tags that he could access if he so chose. Slum tourism had become its own business of sorts, a form of adventure tourism that appealed to the reckless and irresponsible.

And for their convenience, Tondo’s checkered past and the locales that had played a role were mapped out and catalogued. They walked a few more blocks, sticking to the overhang that shaded them from the beating sun. Bagyó season was fast approaching, and the air had taken on a sticky, wet quality. For those unaccustomed, it could be the most stifling thing in the world. But for expats accustomed to venturing across the Pacific, it was within the realm of the ordinary.

They passed several rows of vendors; men, women and children who had brought their stands directly out into the street, offering large piles of oranges, bananas, watermelon, dragonfruit, mangosteens, and lychees. Farther on, they were hit with the scent of fresh and rotted produce, and the stands changed their offering to provisions of cassava, okra, pak choi, and bitter melon.

Much like the clothiers, toy sellers and peddlers or wearables that resided not far away, they would be sitting on the very edge of the streets until the weather turned. Until the rain began to pelt down with incredible fury and the flooding began. A tenacious folk, and one that seemed to respond to escalating catastrophes like the coming and going of the tide.

“Is that it?” asked Ping, pointing to a hazy standing structure at the end of the block.

Shen squinted to allow his contacts to zoom in on the building, shrouded by dew and smog. An icon appeared over top that read Cathay Towers, and a small stub explaining the nature of the housing project and how its status was currently listed as Postponed Indefinitely.

“Yes, it is,” Shen replied, tapping on his glasses again to adjust the display. He cycled to IR and noted the sheer number of heat signatures located on the first three floors. “Looks like Wáng has found himself a colorful place to live.”

“Is it safe to just walk in?”

Shen looked to the fourth floor, noted the few bodies that were standing about. Another tap and the display adjusted again, aided by the small sensor suite attached to the outer frame. He zoomed and adjusted until the scanner had just the right resolution, producing signature of a different kind and in different color. Opal and green came together to indicate the outline of weapons, all small arms from the look of it.

“There’s not many protecting him. And their weapons are antiquated. We’ll have no trouble.”

They pressed on, moving through the sea of humanity and commerce. Upon reaching the thoroughfare that ran perpendicular to them, they passed into a different crush. Countless vehicles, smart and dumb, forced them to pick up their feet and weave through the tangled mass of metal and plastic. The shouts of vendors were replaced by cab drivers and commuters exchanging expletives in Tagalog, Spanish and English – often in the same sentence.

At the front entrance, a large set of double doors that were permanently open, they paused. Shen touched the small protrusion in his jacket pocket to make sure it was still there. An odd thing to do, but if things went awry in there, it was his assurance that they might make it through.

He looked to Ping, who appeared to be doing the same. Except in his case, his fingers tapped against the PDW stashed under his coat and next to his hip. In a pinch, he knew the boy could be counted on to retrieve it and squeeze off a maelstrom before anyone else got a shot. Hopefully, his old friend would be in a talking mood and it wouldn’t come to that.

“You ready?” he asked. Ping nodded, a look of hard resolve on his face. “Good. Stay close and try not to be appalled by what you see inside.”

COD: Modern Warfare 2

Welcome back to my ongoing series of video game reviews! Today, picking up from where I left off last time, is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Having just completed the entire series, I felt it was time to pay tribute to this series and tackle all that was right and wrong with it.

With COD: Modern Warfare, Infinity Ward essentially established a new standard of online gaming and first person shooters. Combining the best in AI’s, graphics, and gaming platforms, this game also had the honor of being the most high-profile “modern” first-person shooter of all time.

Prior to this, all the big name FPSs were either set in WWII or in the future, being either based in historical recreations or science fiction. Hence what was so interesting about this game, it incorporated up-to-date weaponry, tactics, and a storyline that boasted a great deal of socio-political speculation.

And much like the last one, it had its high and low points, which I shall get into now…

Plot Summary:
modern-warfare-russThe game picks up 5 years after the event of the first game (roughly 2016). According to General Shepherd, one the game’s pivotal characters, Russia has fallen to the ultra-nationalists and Imran Zakhaev is now considered a national hero, despite the fact that he very nearly unleashed WWIII on the populace. Meanwhile, a terrorist by the name of Makarov continues to fight Zakhaev’s fight, hoping to trigger another major conflict which will make his nation to force to be reckoned with once more.

The game opens with a Ranger Battalion in Afghanistan, where you are part of an attack (led by General Shepherd) into a contested town controlled by insurgents. After fighting your way across a destroyed bridge, you are required to fight your way to the center of town and clear a school which the insurgents are using as their forwards base. Upon completion, Shepherd alerts your character (PFC Allen) that you are being transferred to the CIA to do an undercover mission.

MW2_afghanistanNote: As I’m sure I’ve mentioned at least twice before, this entire mission was inspired by Generation Kill, specifically the footage of the 1st Recon’s assault on Nasariya and their passage through the town of Muwafaqiyah where Fedayeen were using a school as a fire base.

At the same time, Capt. John “Soap” McTavish has been promoted and is now the leader of the new international anti-terrorism squad known as Task Force 141. No mention is given as to the whereabouts of Captain Price, and given what happened in the last game, it appears as though he might be dead.

MW2_siberiaYour character for this portion of the campaign is Garry “Roach” Sanderon, another FNG with a delightfully absurd call sign. While the Marines are in Afghanistan, you and Captain Price are busy breaking into a Russian airbase in Siberia hoping to obtain the Attack Characterization System (ACS) module from a downed American satellite. After retrieving it, you and McTavish are forced to beat a hasty retreat using snowmobiles.

What follows next is the part of the game that warrants the big advisory at the beginning and which gamers have the option of skipping if they so choose. This inolves part of Allen’s “undercover assignment” where he witnesses first-hand Makarov’s monstrosity as he leads an assault on Moscow’s International Airport, where he and his thugs murder countless civilians with US-made guns.

When that’s over, Makarov shoots Allen (aka. you) and leaves him there for dead, knowing that the thousands of spent shell casings and the body of an American will make it look like the US perpetrated the attack. My advice: skip this mission! It’s gratuitous and frankly creepy. For the life of my I can’t imagine who thought putting this borderline psycho shit in would be entertaining or fun.

Immediately afterwards, Task Force 141 is dispatched to Rio de Janeiro to hunt down the weapons dealer who supplied Makarov. This takes you and your team through the “favella”, Rio’s most notoriously violent neighborhoods, where you are shot at by the local “militia”. Once you have your man, he indicates that he doesn’t know where Makarov is, but that there is one man he hates and fears more than anyone, and who just happens to be languishing in a gulag on the Kamchatka peninsula.

Meanwhile, back in the US, Russian forces get the drop on the Northeastern Seaboard. Having cracked the ACS, they are able to pass into US airspace without Norad noticing, and begin landing paratroopers and armored forces in Virginia, New York, and Washington DC. The second major thread in the game now opens, where you play as Pvt. James Ramirez, an Army Ranger in West Virginia who’s unit is deployed to a suburb to thwart a Russian attack and protect a HVI (high-value individual) who’s chopper was shot down.

After fighting off several waves, your unit is redeployed to Arcadia where you are tasked with retrieving another HVI who turns out to have been killed by Russian special forces. With assaults happening all along the Seaboard, the Russians are getting the upper hand on US forces by capturing key personnel, locations and intelligence.

MW2_gulagOver in Kamchatka, you and Task Force 141 assault the gulag and fight your way through defenders and Soviet-era electrical systems to find prisoner 141, the man who Makarov apparently wants dead. When you arrive at his cell, it turns out to be Captain Price, who is alive after all. He and McTavish have a brief reunion which is cut short as the Navy begins bombarding the gulag early to cover your escape.

Back in the US, you and your Ranger unit are redeployed to Washington DC which has become a smoking ruin. Your mission is to fight your way through the federal buildings on Capitol Hill and retake them from the attacking Russians. The fight takes you from the trenches, through the White House, and finally into the air. After your chopper is shot down, you find yourself cornered and about to be overrun…At the same time, Price makes contact with General Shepherd and proposes a bold plan. With Price alongside, you and Task Force 141 assault a Russian sub base not far from the gulag and seize control of a Russian missile sub. Though the plan is not altogether clear, you and McTavish manage to provide cover for Price long enough for him to get aboard the Russian sub, where he promptly unleashes a nuke bound for Washington DC! The nuke flies into orbit above the city, where it is detonated, taking out the ISS and unleashing a massive EMP.

Inside the city, the EMP knocks every piece of electronic equipment in the area, crippling the Russian assault. You and your unit, which had been cornered seconds before, now must run and find cover as countless jets and choppers come crashing down around you.

Once you resupply, you are tasked with advancing on Whiskey Hotel (aka. WH, for White House) and retake it in one last, desperate assault. Once this is done, you are notified by radio that the USAF is conducting “Hammer Down”, an emergency air assault that will level all capitol buildings that are still in enemy hands. You are then forced to run to the roof and pop green smoke to indicate that the White House is in friendly hands.

MW2_estate2With Washington DC saved, Shepherd is hailed a hero for his foresight in predicting that a war was coming. He is given a “blank check” and declares that he is going to use every cent reigning Makarov in. With this in mind, Task Force 141 splits into two forces, with Price and McTavish checking an aircraft boneyard in Afghanistan while you and the rest are deployed to a safehouse in Kazakhstan.

After taking down the house and downloading Makarov’s computer files, you are intercepted by an air rescue, where General Shepherd himself comes out and shoots you! He then shoots Ghost and his men dispatch the rest of your squad, leaving your burning remains in a ditch as he takes the files and flies off.

MW2_safehouseOver in Afghanistan, Price and McTavish get the words that Shepherd has killed the others and realize he’s been playing them all along. With Makarov’s information now in his hands, he’s effectively cleaning house and making sure he doesn’t get caught so the war can proceed.

At the same time, Shepherd’s forces are descending on the boneyard, looking to kill you and Makarov at the same time. After fighting your way the edge, you are rescued by an old friend – McTavish’s Russian contact Nikolai. Price is also able to contact Makarov and obtain the location of Price’s base in Afghanistan.

As McTavish, you and Price now assault Shepherd’s base and take down its defenders. After a lengthy chase, you manage to corner Shepherd and fight it out; unfortunately he gets a hold of your knife and stabs you in the stomach with it. Producing his gun, he explains his motivations.

MW2_shepherd_baseApparently, he was in command of the Marine assault force that was supposed to take down Al-Asad and lost 30,000 men when Zakhaev’s forces detonated the nuke. His bitterness inspired him to start a war in the hopes of shocking America out of its complacency, which he feels he’s now done. As he puts it, “tomorrow there will be no shortage of volunteers, no shortage of patriots.”

Before he can shoot you though, Price tackles Shepherd and the two begin to fight it out. Shepherd eventually gets the upper hand on Price, and you are forced to pull the knife out of your chest and toss into Shepherd’s face, killing him instantly. Nikolai then shows up with a chopper, in defiance of Price’s order that this be a “one way trip”, and he and Price begin to carry you (McTavish) aboard. The game ends with Nikolai warning you that everyone is now out to get you, but that he knows a safe place to put down and get medical help.

Summary:
I don’t imagine I need to say that this installment in the series has some kick-ass gameplay, but screw it, I still want to! It has kick-ass gameplay! In fact, when it comes to shear badassery, this game has got the first one beat. In addition to more and better guns for yourself, there are also some very cool added features. These include more claymores and the use of Stinger Missiles, but also Sentry guns, laser guided heavy weapons fire from armored vehicles, and even Predator drone strikes. This last aspect is especially cool, as you get to do overwatch on a target and then fire Hellfire missiles at targets.

In terms of the weapons you have access to, there are the usual M4’s, SAWs and M16’s that are standard US Army issue, but also SCARs, sniper rifles with thermal sights, FAMAS’, USAS-12 shotguns, and Steyr AUG’s. But in addition, the Russians also boast some new and impressive gear which you can use too. Of these, my favorites are the Tavor assault rifle and the Striker shotgun. There’s nothing like automatic shotgun fire to make you feel like a bad ass mutha!

And of course, all these features extend into the multiplayer realm which is even bigger, badder, and more detailed than the last. But even if you’re not feeling the mulitplayer community, there is the new Special Ops feature where you get the best of both world, the ability to conduct missions and earn points, but still as a single player. And I can attest that most of these missions, though some are hard as hell, are also fun as hell. And in many ways, they preview things which comes up in the third installments (such as Juggernauts).

As for the downsides… Well, in that respect, this game was much like the first. The storyline seems a bit unrealistic, and is kind of confusing in terms of who’s doing what and for whom. For instance, you’ve got Makarov who represents a continuation of Zakhaev’s agenda, but seems to be operating outside the realm of normal politics. Didn’t they say that the Ultra-nationalists took power? Why then is this man killing his own people? Isn’t that what you do when your kind is NOT in power? Or is he really that desperate for a nuclear war to take place?

And second, Shepherd’s motivations seem a bit flaccid. I get that he’s pissed about the loss of so many Marines int he first game, though they seem to have padded the body count because by my reckoning, most of the Marines got out. They had plenty of warning, but your own chopper turns back to rescue a downed pilot, hence why you die. Still, even if the body count is 30 or 30,000, risking total war with Russia seems like a bad way to stoke the fires of patriotism. As anybody is well aware, Cold War or not, any large-scale confrontation between the US and Russia would still involve their nuclear arsenals, and nobody would be walking away from that fight in one piece!

And another thing, so was he working with Makarov all along or just taking advantage of the man’s actions? This is never made clear. On the one hand, it was Shepherd who assigned Allen to infiltrate their group, so Shepherd DID give them the American body that they left behind to implicate the US. But at the same time, he is openly trying to track the guy down and have him killed, but quietly so the world won’t know the entire war is based on a lie. So what is it then? A collaboration between enemies, or two equally malevolent forces that just had happened to collide?

I for one would prefer the latter interpretation because it would be a fitting commentary on the “War on Terror”. In fact, throughout the game you have quotes from Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney, the ones which are notorious for being stupid or questionable, which flash across the screen when you die. In that war, we saw a neo-conservative agenda colliding with a Salafist agenda, where two mortal enemies were effectively feeding off each other to the point that some openly suggested collusion. Of course there was no real evidence to suggest such a thing, but it was interesting to note just how much George W and Osama Bin Laden benefited from each others presence.

Ah, but the biggest bone of contention with this game comes in the form of its controversy. In fact, this is such a big subtopic that it deserves its own heading…

Controversy:
For obvious reasons, the shoot-up scene involving the Moscow International Airport caused quite a stir in the gaming and consumer community. Why, many asked, was it necessary to include a scene where the player is forced to take part in what can only be described as Columbine-like behavior? I for one could not believe my eyes the first time I played this game and didn’t realize I could skip the whole thing. Who, I wondered, would actually want to play this mission? Was it really such a good idea to include it all, even if the option was there to skip it? Why not say that it happened between missions?

And would it be at all farfetched to think that some psycho person, who just happened to play the mission, might get the idea to shoot up a crowded public space? The scenes are far too visceral and real, which I found disturbing since the game makers would have had to do their homework on something like this, taking into account how crowded areas are death traps once armed men begin firing automatic weapons, how panicked crowds tend to bunch up, and how they become especially vulnerable when they all run into a bottleneck and become easy targets.

See what I mean? It’s disturbing! It’s the kind of sick freak stuff that made me seriously question the sanity of the game makers and the nature of the game itself. Some will naturally argue that it’s just a game and therefore harmless, bad taste notwithstanding. But I’d say that given the numerous mass shootings that have taken place, not just recently, but all over the US in the past decade, that this was in horrible taste and just plain risky!

Others also questioned the mentality of showing Washington DC burning, with its many monuments shown scorched and even the White House itself burning and full of holes. Personally, I didn’t see the big deal here. I mean, if we’re going to penalize this game for displaying this kind of disaster porn that we’ll have to round up Rupert Emmerich and every other movie producer who’s ever destroyed landmarks in their films. There’s a reason people like this stuff, and it’s not because they secretly fantasize about seeing them destroyed.

If anything, it lends some urgency and a sense of emotional involvement to the story by showing them how things they know and love, or at the very least are familiar with, are being overrun and must be saved. Now that’s just me and I could be wrong, but I found this aspect of the game very cool! How many games allow you to fight in realistically-rendered environments of actual places? This was something that they intensified with the third one and I appreciated it there as well!

So that’s Modern Warfare 2, in a nutshell. Great game-play, exciting and intense, but containing some questionable content. It was a good thing that they stayed away from that for the third game, at least for the most part. Granted there was plenty of violence and they still had to issue the content warning for anyone playing it for the first time, but at least there weren’t any mass shootings where you’re the bad guy and are supposed to be taking part in it! Seriously, Infinity Ward, what were you thinking? Bad software developer!