Speaking to NME, Sledgehammer Games‘ creative director Dave Swenson and narrative designer Shelby Carlton have discussed how Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 villain Vladimir Makarov may not be the same iconic character that fans remember from the first Modern Warfare games.
Although the Modern Warfare reboot shares a lot in common with the initial trilogy, they tell largely original new stories. This means that although Modern Warfare 3 will see the return of ultranationalist terrorist Vladimir Makarov, he may not be the same exact villain that fans remember.
“We’ve reset the story,” Swenson told NME. “All that old canon isn’t applicable to what we’re making. We’ve recast the characters, they have different personalities. Makarov died in 2011’s Modern Warfare 3, and now he’s back – so it’s a whole new reimagining of the universe. It’s very freeing because now we can explore totally new storylines and things for characters.”
While many fans will come into Modern Warfare 3 believing they already know Makarov, Swenson believes that’s an “opportunity” to subvert expectations surrounding the villain.
“You drop the name Makarov, and everyone’s like ‘Ah I know exactly who that is,'” he said. “People are excited, and have guesses on who he’ll be or what he’ll do. I think that’s great that you can introduce a new character to the current story, and everybody already knows them – or thinks they know them. We can do things like subvert expectations and take him in a different direction that maybe people won’t expect. But everybody knows he’s the bad guy, and he still is.”
In the original trilogy, Makarov was responsible for triggering World War 3 by framing the United States for a gory terrorist attack at a Russian airport. Shelby Carlton says his “signature false flag” strategy has been carried over to Modern Warfare 3, but will work on a “more personal level” due to Farah Karim, a new character introduced in last year’s Modern Warfare 2.
“He’s still got these world-ending stakes of course, but there’s this closer-to-home aspect of the story too with Farah,” shared Carlton. “Taking that aspect of Makarov and adapting it and reimagining it in this new kind of way is gonna create a lot of conflict, and getting to see how Farah adapts and deals with that is one of my favourite parts of the game.”
However, Makarov’s false flag attack proved highly controversial upon its launch in 2009, as its mission – ‘No Russian’ — tasked players with committing a mass shooting at an airport. Its return was teased in the above post-credits scene of 2022’s Modern Warfare 2, in which an airline passenger assembles a 3D-printed gun after being texted the words “no russian”.
On the topic of No Russian, Swenson reiterated that Sledgehammer was not tied to the events of the original Modern Warfare trilogy. “We’re very freed in that we’re not using or leveraging any of the storylines that happened previously, so we sort of get this blank canvas.”
He added that development of Modern Warfare 3 overlapped with Infinity Ward‘s work on Modern Warfare 2, meaning Sledgehammer Games was able to ask the studio to “tee up” certain narratives and storylines.
“All of our choices are more about how we make the narrative interesting and help these characters and their arcs, as opposed to doing something just for the sake of it,” Swenson explained.
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