The new Modern Warfare definitely wants to capture the sometimes controversial spirit of the original. Killstreaks are coming back to Call of Duty, and Activision showcased a few, including one very questionable one: white phosphorous.
While Call of Duty has had streak-based systems of some kind for a while now, in more recent games it's been score-based, meaning most things you do that benefit the team moves the needle higher. Killstreaks are strictly kill-centric, which some feel moves the focus away from playing objectives in favor of playing for kills.
Beyond the gameplay reasoning, there's also the weapons Activision showcased. Among the fairly typical killstreaks like a Juggernaut suit and an assault vehicle, there was one for dropping white phosphorous.
A weapon that does some really terrible things to people, white phosphorous is banned for use against civilians and is often intended to be a smokescreen rather than direct weapon. As the description of the CoD killstreak reads: "Cover the battlefield with white smoke flare canisters that will disorient the enemy, and burn any that wander too close."
But in the real-world news, white phosphorous has been the subject of debate concerning its use in Syria, and according to an Amnesty International report may amount to a war crime. It's been in previous Call of Duty games like the Black Ops series, as well as famously used in Spec Ops: The Line during a pivotal moment in the campaign.
The new Modern Warfare certainly isn't shying away from controversy, already showing portrayals of child soldiers and civilian war zones to dramatically evoke real-life military conflict. As my colleague Caty wrote after seeing the new Modern Warfare, "At its best, the series makes us uncomfortable but contemplative. At its worst, it's exploitative and makes us feel gross in a whole other way. That's just talking about the campaign though, and not the multiplayer that is unavoidably often at odds with the story's tone."
There is room for, like in Spec Ops, a thoughtful portrayal of ethically grey weapons and their ramifications, though using it as a killstreak reward in a virtual deathmatch doesn't seem like it'll get any larger message across. We'll see how it looks when the dev team unveils the entire multiplayer experience on August 1, ahead of Modern Warfare's release on October 25.