SPOILER WARNING: The story below contains information that reveals major plot details about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The game's developer, Infinity Ward, is recommending a total media blackout for those who wish to play the game without any prior knowledge of its story.
Yesterday, footage purporting to be of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 began appearing across the Internet. Unlike prior gameplay trailers, it did not cast players as British and US Special Forces fighting terrorists. Instead, it put the gamers behind the iron sights of a terrorist's assault rifle during an airport massacre similar to last year's attacks in Mumbai, India.
Within hours, Activision's UK offices confirmed the footage as real. However, reps were quick to emphasize that the sequence was both optional and prefaced by warnings that it would contain images that some might find offensive.
Now, with the Associated Press picking up the story--often the first step in a news item getting widespread mainstream press exposure--Activision's US offices have broken their silence. "The leaked footage was taken from a copy of game that was obtained illegally and is not representative of the overall gameplay experience in Modern Warfare 2," a spokesperson told GameSpot.
"Infinity Ward's Modern Warfare 2 features a deep and gripping storyline in which players face off against a terrorist threat dedicated to bringing the world to the brink of collapse," the spokesperson continued. "The game includes a plot involving a mission carried out by a Russian villain who wants to trigger a global war. In order to defeat him, the player infiltrates his inner circle. The scene is designed to evoke the atrocities of terrorism."
The spokesperson concluded, "At the beginning of the game, players encounter a mandatory 'checkpoint' in which they are warned that an upcoming segment may contain disturbing elements, and they can choose not to engage in the gameplay that involves this scene."
Activision reps were quick to emphasize that, in the US and Canada, the game has been rated M for Mature by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board. They also pointed out that said rating is "prominently displayed" on all packaging and in all advertising. However, the ESRB Web site currently has no detailed summary of the game other than the basic descriptors for "blood, drug reference, intense violence, [and] language."
Detailed summaries became mandatory for all ESRB-rated games in November 2008 and are included for all new releases, such as Activision's own DJ Hero and Guitar Hero 5. Modern Warfare 2's DS spin-off, the T for Teen rated Call of Duty: Modern Warfare: Mobilized, also has a detailed summary.
[UPDATE] The ESRB's Modern Warfare 2 summary is now live, and it is easy to see why Activision wanted to keep it under wraps for as long as possible. The description describes the exact circumstances of the massacre, and what role the player will be assuming. (WARNING: MASSIVE SPOILERS BELOW.)
The most intense depiction of violence occurs during a "No Russian" mission where players take on the role of an undercover Ranger: Several civilians are gunned down at an airport as players are given a choice to participate in the killings (e.g., players can shoot a wounded civilian that is crawling on the ground), or walk by and observe without opening fire. In either case, civilians scream and emit pools of blood as they are shot to death. Within the multiplayer portion of the game, players can unlock "emblems" to be used on their player name cards. Some of these emblems contain images that reference drugs (e.g., a cannabis leaf; a name card with a depiction of a joint). Dialogue in the game contains profanity in both English (e.g., "s***") and Russian (e.g., "f***" and "motherf***er").