Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 hits stores tomorrow. This is not news. It's only going to be the biggest video game launch of 2011. Infinity Ward hooked a legion of players on the Modern Warfare story back in 2007 when the series' World War II setting was abandoned in favor of a more present-day battlefield.
If you didn't board the Call of Duty train until 2010's Modern Warfare 2 or even last year's Black Ops, you might feel a little lost as you try to fight your way through some of Modern Warfare 3's story points. Can't tell a Soap from a Frost? Don't understand why so many people love some dude with an admittedly wicked handlebar 'stache? It's okay. We're here to help. Get yourself up to speed before MW3 arrives with our little rundown of the major characters and the story so far.
JOHN PRICE is the only Call of Duty series character to have survived the switch from World War II to modern-day battlefields, appearing in both the first and the second games as a British soldier. We meet him again in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare as Captain John Price, of the SAS. He leads his Bravo Team in bringing down Russian Ultranationalist Imran Zakhaev, only to end up being captured by that same group. His rescue is one of the key story points in MW2, an operation carried out by the multinational Task Force 141.
Unfortunately for Price, he and his cohorts are betrayed by a rogue U.S. general who played a key role in escalating hostilities in the now-raging World War III. Price manages to bring down the general with help from his former SAS mate John "Soap" MacTavish, but the two are left on the run following the close of the story in MW2.
JOHN "SOAP" MACTAVISH was first introduced in COD4 as one of the main playable characters. He's a British Special Air Service newcomer when we first meet him, joining Captain Price's Bravo Six squad. He's with Price when they first discover a nuke aboard a cargo ship in the Bering Strait, the same bomb that later detonates in the Middle East as a prologue to World War III.
Soap helps Price bring down Modern Warfare antagonist Imran Zakhaev and is present once again for the final showdown in Modern Warfare 2 with Shepherd. The two men met as soldiers, but they are very much brothers in arms now, on the run together and fighting their own, personal war against Vladamir Makarov, the Zakhaev supporter who took command on the Ultranationalists following the events of COD4.
VLADIMIR MAKAROV is the big bad in MW2. He's the guy who leads a group of terrorists in that game's notorious airport massacre. He was a veteran of both the Russian Army and the Spetsnaz before joining Zakhaev's anti-Western Ultranationalist Party. He came into his own there, serving under Zakhaev until his death at the end of Modern Warfare. Makarov worked after that to consolidate his power and take control of the Ultranationalists, transitioning the group from dissolved political party to full-blown terrorist organization. He harbors a burning grudge against Price, MacTavish and their former squadmates in Bravo Six, a fact that promises to play out even further in Modern Warfare 3.
NIKOLAI is a Russian informant who stays behind the scenes during the timeframe of the first Modern Warfare game, working within Zakhaev's organization to feed intel (such as the aforementioned nuke-bearing cargo ship) to the SAS. He's rescued from this precarious position as the game's story unfolds and eventually returns in Modern Warfare 2 as a much more central character. He's the de facto pilot for Task Force 141, before and after it is disbanded, providing air support and extraction for Soap and Price in their exploits around the globe. He's also got a key yet-to-be-revealed role to play in Modern Warfare 3, as you'll all find out soon enough.
THE STORY SO FAR
Call of Duty 4 kicks off the series' modern warfare focus in 2011 with two unrelated events that turn out to be connected: the execution of a Middle Eastern president by a terrorist leader and a Russian civil war instigated by the Ultranationalist Party. All of this is the work of Zakhaev and his allies; to keep global attention away from his work in Russia, Zakhaev engineers this public execution in the Middle East and the subsequent detonation of a nuclear bomb there.
Price and his Bravo Six squad manage to track down Al-Asad, the aforementioned terrorist leader, who has now fled the Middle East and is hiding out in a safe house in Azerbaijan. It's here that our protagonists learn of this Middle East conflict's connection with Zakhaev, and Price reveals his history with the Russian Ultranationalist.
Fifteen years prior to the events of Modern Warfare, Price was sent with his then-CO to carry out a black ops assassination of Zakhaev. In this playable portion of the game, you sneak behind enemy lines and man a Barrett M82 sniper rifle. Unfortunately, Price misses the killshot and instead blows the Russian's arm off.
Back in the present, Price and his men track down Zakhaev's son, Victor, who kills himself before any useful information can be obtained. This does not sit well with the Ultranationalist leader, who launches a salvo of inter-continental nukes toward the United States. Price and his newly formed Task Force 141 manage to break into the silo and detonate the missiles over the ocean. A final chase ensues which ends with Zakhaev dead, killed by Soap with Price's M1911 pistol.
Modern Warfare 2 jumps ahead to 2016, charting the seven-day period and the start of World War III. Soap is now running the show for Task Force 141, with Price missing after the events of Modern Warfare and presumed dead. The story starts out with a lot of seemingly random puzzle pieces scattered about, with all of them falling into place when the series' notorious "No Russian" mission unfolds.
The mission title, "No Russian," is reference to the order Makarov gives to his Ultranationalist terrorist group before they massacre civilians at a Russian airport. You play out that incident in the shoes of undercover CIA operative Joseph Allen. Unfortunately, Allen turns out to be another of Makarov's pawns. The Russian terror leader knows the true identity of the G-man, leaving him dead at the airport scene so that U.S. involvement is implicated.
Makarov's plan works, with Russia launching a surprise attack on U.S. soil. The invasion eventually spills into Washington, D.C., where you fight as an Army Ranger trying to maintain control of the city. Meanwhile, Task Force 141 learns that Makarov is holding a hated enemy in a Russian gulag; they commit to a rescue operation, discovering that the unnamed prisoner is actually Price.
He immediately falls back into his commanding officer role. Task Force 141 goes rogue at this point, detonating a Russian nuke high above Washington, D.C. to give American forces there an advantage against the superior Russian armor. He wants to track down Makarov, but he knows that the war needs to end before that can happen.
With D.C. saved by the last-minute nuke detonation, Task Force 141 sets out to finish off Makarov. Roach and Ghost, two 141 team members, pick up intel on the Russian terrorist's location from one of his safe houses. The two fight their way to the extraction point only to be killed off by Lieutenant General Hershel von Shepherd, the head man in charge of 141.
It turns out that Shepherd's plan all along was to see the hostilities between Russia and the U.S. escalated. It was all just a power grab. He sent Allen to infiltrate Makarov's group, and all went according to plan when both Allen and Makarov were implicated in the attack. Shepherd got the promotion he'd been waiting for, to supreme commander of the U.S. military forces.
The final task of cleanup for Shepherd involved getting rid of anyone with knowledge of Allen's mission, including the members of Task Force 141. He successfully takes out Roach and Ghost, but his showdown with Price and Soap doesn't go nearly as well. After a fierce battle and near-escape, the duo manage to kill off Shepherd and escape. They're still fugitives though, rescued by Nikolai, and they still have work left ahead of them what with Makarov very much alive and on the run...