Welcome to the IMPACT series where I dissect notable and iconic sequences from games and movies, and how they broadened my mind and left a lasting impression on me, years to come.
I’ll say one thing, you’ve certainly got the minerals.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is my first proper gaming addiction and … definitely one of the most fundamental pillars in my teenage development. The mulitplayer alone probably sucked out 500 hours of my life and created lifelong sleeping issues, because I stayed up till 3am replaying the game over and over.
I say fundamental, because it was one of my first proper introduction into contemporary warfare, beyond the dated Battlefield 2 (which will be covered in another post).
Everything about this game, when it first loaded on my screen, blew me away. The term “photorealistic” had no meaning for me, until I played Crew Expendable. I, frankly, could not believe this was a video game. The previous Call of Duty games I had played in World War 2 looked cartoony and janky in comparison to the smoothness I was experiencing and the ultra realistic depiction of modern warfare.
The gun models had reflective glass on their scopes, the crisp red dots looked incredible as they centred on heads and the way how the Marines moved as they stacked up against doors and blew hinges off, was so incredibly immersive.
The environments were amazingly varied and had that unique lived in feel, where battle damage, graffiti, lighting and atmosphere coalesced into a beautiful visual symphony of war. Buildings were appropriately ram-shackled or crumbling apart, cars were appropriate amount of rust, and the appearances of random watermelon added some pop and colour to the amber art direction of the Middle East.
All Ghillied Up is arguably the Call of Duty mission that will last forever in memory. Is it heavily scripted? Absolutely.
But the immersion, stealth and sheer daringness of the mission and level design are second to none.
From the detail of your customised suppressed M24 sniper rifle with camo scrim, to the abandoned church pews that serve as a munition storage and watch-tower, and the dogs that howl when you shoot them, moving through Pripyat with its radioactive zones is never short of intense, anxious energy, your eyes constantly peeled for enemy patrols and obeying MacMillan’s orders when and how to take them out. Heartbeats across the world were pumped up furiously when you had to crawl through the grass, as an enemy convoy, literally a foot away from you, walked past, never noticing the 2 odd patches of grass that disguised SAS troopers.
The fact that this is a 2-parter flashback mission to an assassination, showcases the range of level design, atmosphere and wildly different type of tensions the COD team can conjure up, with All Ghillied Up being a tense stealth mission, whilst One Shot, One Kill an action packed escape and evasion sequence that offers a balance of thrilling shoot outs on the run and wave defence at the end.
Beyond accelerating my heartbeat to the pace of 4 consecutive Red Bulls consumed in 5 minutes, All Ghillied Up introduced me to the world of sniping. It also sparked my interest again in the military and almost everything in it.
But the biggest impact, was probably the identification of guns. I became obsessed with identifying weapons, like almost every other COD fanboy out there. This of course led to my interest in firearms as a whole, and my current desire to be a competitive shooter.
But why did I pick this mission out of all of the iconic sequences? Crew Expendable, Charlie Don’t Surf, Death From Above or No Fighting In The War Room are all equally iconic, equally memorable, with their depiction of modern warfare.
But All Ghillied Up stands above the rest, because it is the outlier mission in the entire campaign. It’s the only one that values stealth over all out chaos, the mission that lets you really soak in the atmosphere it is trying to create, instead of navigate the turmoil of battle. You have time to let your eyes wander, and hear MacMillan’s command very clearly over slow music, unlike Lieutenant Vasquez yelling at you over the booms of a M1A2 Abrams tank.
Story building is key and I guess that is why I remembered this mission the most, despite not replaying it a whole lot (that honour goes to War Pig).
The impact of this mission can’t be understated, because ever since it got released, COD itself has copied the same formula in all of its games moving on, and even the Sniper Elite, Sniper Ghost Warrior series have done their best to make an entire game around this gameplay/level design concept.
What did I take away from All Ghillied Up?
Probably a lot more investment in the military if I am honest. Back then, I wasn’t as enamoured with the military, preferring to invest my time and energy into researching the espionage sector (a result of James Bond obsession).
But upon learning that most spies, or active duty members in the intelligence service stem from former Special Forces, I became more invested in finding out more.
I am arguably the biggest military “fan” amongst all my friends and did so much extensive research on Special Forces, I even went out of my way to try and source some of their gear, from cargo pants, to backpacks and shooting techniques. Even with my fake guns, I do my best to kit them out with realistic accessories like T2 Aimpoint optics, G33 Magnifiers, AN/PEQ-15 units and Surefire flashlights.
But beyond that, it has mostly been my knowledge of military techniques, applications and strict discipline that has benefited me the most.
Techniques like After Action Reviews in my event management roles, honest feedback regarding performance and skills, have helped me get better at creating and designing events.
Applications like the gear I buy, has helped me carry my tools and equipment for an event (torches, traffic wands, radios, etc) more effectively and address issues on the spot, instead of wasting time running back for more gear. It has also kept me active and healthy, even more alert, as I feel more attuned to the situation in an event, if I have this gear.
Strict discipline that has always defined military traditions and training, made me more aware of just how unfit I am and honestly, a big part of my Before 30 Challenge is due to my aspiration to be a fighting fit man.
All Ghillied Up made me want a sniper rifle, and a ghillie suit, but it opened to door to my current and perhaps forever, fascination with the military.
All Ghillied Up still represents one of the best, authentic Call of Duty experiences in the entire franchise. Atmospheric, immersive, brilliantly scripted and executed, the mission is the clear outlier in the Call of Duty 4 campaign, and for good reason. It shows Infinity Ward is capable of something other than all-out guns-blazing chaos, but also great stealth, ingenuity and stealth tension.
The mission popularised sniping as as a concept, and fostered more mythology about long distance kills and the almost inhuman ability to reach out and end a life, from a kilometre away.
From a gameplay perspective, the level design is excellent from beginning to end, the location an inspired choice for an assassination attempt on the main villain, Imran Zakhaev, and the gunplay and stealth are all beautifully executed within the COD4 formula. Even today, the graphics of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare hold up well, and it never quite get old, seeing that cloud of blood explode, as your suppressed M24 centres on an enemy’s head.
Eerie, tense and fun, All Ghillied Up inspired me to get more invested in the military, and to one day hide in the grass like a professional sniper.
I’m just not too keen on all the leeches that might crawl up my leg, after lying out in the grass for so long.