Before we get into this, if everyone could please go watch Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2's trailer, that'd be great. In fact, I insist. Here's a link. I've also embedded it below. There's no rush. I can wait. Are you back? No? OK, at your leisure. For the sake of argument, let's pretend you've returned so I can make this Kanye West joke.
Now, Modern Warfare 3, I'm really happy for you, I'm gonna let you finish, but Modern Warfare 2 had one of the best trailers of all time.
Break it down: For the first 30 seconds of Modern Warfare 2's opening trailer, we're given nothing but a sonar pulse and the indefinite ambient noise it's detecting. We hear that we're in a bustling metropolitan area, and a benign intercom announcement soon orients us within an airport. Ding. An elevator arrives, and the trace outline of somewhat menacing men blip and vanish from our field of view.
Several seconds of silence, and then the sound of zippers. It is the sound of what? Duffel bags, perhaps. Equipment rattles, and visual cues indicate that the elevator is ticking through floors. We hear the unmistakable cock of an automatic rifle, and realization slowly dawns. Silence descends as the elevator continues past the mezzanine level. We hear a cough, a cleared throat; these monsters--certainly they're monsters--are still human.
An image of a bald man with a thick Eastern European accent flickers onscreen, says with a drawl, "Remember, no Russian." The elevator arrives at its destination. What does he mean? Don't shoot Russians? Don't speak Russian? It's too late. The elevator doors open, relieving the claustrophobia and materializing a throng of human shapes. People going about their business. The innocent and the doomed. And then, mayhem.
The Modern Warfare 2 trailer masterfully conveyed a sense of vague, menacing threat, the kind that terrorists specialize in. In its understated delivery, emphasis on building tension, and rattling timing, our imaginations are activated, and the result is psychologically powerful. After all, there is very little stopping this simple act of war from playing out in real life. In fact, by some accounts, it already has.
For Modern Warfare 3, Infinity Ward and its helper studios opted for a more, how can I put this, bombastic approach toward introducing the game. Naturally, it begins with the resounding blast of a foghorn and the rhythmic pounding of a timpani drum. "Am3rica" flashes across the screen, and I'm reminded of the days in which I used to review games.
They say a great work stands the test of time, and here's what I had to say three years ago about a little game called Th3 Plan: "Th3 Plan is about as clever as representing letters with numbers."
Gimme some more BRRRN! Attack helicopters descend upon Manhattan, and Wall Street is in ruins as US citizens everywhere heave a sigh of good riddance. An ammo clip is passed from one soldier to another, resolving any doubt as to whether, in fact, s*** just got real.
I've got a fever and the only prescription is more BRRRN!
Cue the shooting. With the British Parliament building looming, soldiers wearing gas masks (or space aliens being normal) fire at unseen foes in 3ngland. An empty subway train and a pickup truck appear to be racing. The pickup truck wins. The subway train gets a DNF. Brace yourselves for an incoming BRRRN! blast.
From London, we go to Franc3, where men in underpants lob grenades at absolutely darling homes that in fairness didn't do much to anyone. After some requisite BRRRN!, the trailer transitions to G3rmany, where tanks running rampant through the streets ostensibly signal a fairly typical Tuesday afternoon. Can I get a BRRRN?! Hell yes I can.
At this point, the trailer enters a dramatic phase, as Modern Warfare's resident megalomaniac Vladimir R. Makarov offers a stilted reinterpretation of the US Army's "an army of one" credo. BRRRN like you mean it now!
What's most striking to me is that by the time WW3 flips to MW3, I'm feeling…well, not much of anything. I mean, sure, new Modern Warfare. Great. But the franchise at least used to pretend to take itself seriously, even if the message tended toward gritty melodrama.
With this most recent trailer, the only message I'm getting is that war is a goddamn rodeo. If there's an accomplishment here, it's how little emotional weight has been attached to the leveling of major global cities and the presumed deaths of millions.
The silver lining here is that Modern Warfare 3's trailer was likely the product of a marketing team at Activision, and not Infinity Ward itself. Still, this lining isn't without a dark, stormy middle, as it implies that there's no one at the top saying, "Hey, this trailer is uninspired and workmanlike. Let's try it again with feeling (and less BRRRN!)." Jason West! Vince Zampella! Why oh why did you have to go?