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The Quixotic Engineer

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Ghillies In The Mist

Ghillie Suit

Call of Duty 4's storyline has all the insight and depth of a James Bond film; Russian and Middle Eastern terrorists are the modern day stock villains. That being said, there's a reason that the Call of Duty series has stood out in a sea of military shooters: Infinity Ward creates campaigns that are masterfully orchestrated and filled with stunningly cinematic moments.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun recently profiled one such scene, in which you are put in the shoes of the kidnapped President of an anonymous war-torn Middle Eastern country. Men brandishing AK-47s push you violently into the back of a car without explanation and drive you through streets where firing squads murder civilians. The shift from being an armed soldier to a scared politician makes the sense of helplessness all the more palpable. This is a terrific scene, but today I would like to expand upon another sequence, one that I would easily rank as one of the most memorable video game experiences I've had in years.

First, a little context: the game so far has mostly had you controlling rookie Sgt. "Soap" McTavish of the SAS, under the command of the gruff mustachioed Cpt. Price. This particular scene, however, is set during a flashback to a mission 15 years prior. Opportunists, including one Imran Zakhaev, have been scrounging the ruins of Chernobyl, looking to sell spent fuel rods on the black market. The British Government orders a hit on Zakhaev, and sends in a young Lt. Price along with veteran sniper Cpt. MacMillan to do the deed.

The mission begins in a small field outside the ghost town of Prypiat, Ukraine. At first you appear to be alone, but you hear a confident Scottish voice instructing you to follow him closely. Suddenly, a virtually invisible man in a ghillie suit (see picture above) rises from the weeds beside you and begins to move ahead. You sense immediately that your survival depends on following this man's instructions to the letter.

You methodically advance through the village with Cpt. MacMillan. Travelling involves slow tactical sniping punctuated with mad dashes to avoid enemy patrols and helicopters. You are greatly outnumbered at every turn, but the Captain's years of experience tell him when to hide, when to run and when to shoot, and all you need to do is listen and obey.

About halfway through the level, you're following MacMillan through an open field when he suddenly shouts to "Get down!" and assumes a prone position. As you crawl through the weeds, you suddenly hear a low rumble ahead of you. You can't see clearly through the grass, but you make out the outlines of a few dozen soldiers escorting a group of tanks through the field, and they're heading straight towards you. There's nowhere to run and fighting would be suicide. The captain lies still in the grass, and orders you to "keep low and hold your fire." All you can do is try to anticipate their paths, then pray that they don't spot you through the ghillie suit. Time slows to a crawl as boots and treads miss you by inches. After what seems like an eternity they finally move on, never aware that the enemy was right at their feet.

I'm not a great writer, but I hope I've evoked for you a little bit of what I felt during this heart-pounding sequence, one that I won't soon forget. This kind of brilliant level design is a testament to the talent of the Infinity Ward team. If you're not much into military shooters but are curious how the scene played out in game, you can catch snippets of it from E3 2007 in this video.



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