Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019), the reboot of the classic first-person shooter series due out later this year from Activision’s Infinity Ward, is bringing back killstreaks. The rewards have been absent from recent games in the franchise, replaced by scorestreaks which reward kills but also other cooperative actions. Among those potential killstreak rewards will be airstrikes with white phosphorous, a controversial incendiary munition with multiple applications on the battlefield and an odious history in modern video gaming.
White phosphorous is a chemical weapon that burns when it comes into contact with oxygen. As such, it’s useful for creating smoke and commonly used to mark targets or conceal troop movements. But, the chemical is also very sticky, meaning that once it comes into contact with human flesh it clings to people and creates horrific injuries. That’s why its use in areas with a concentration of civilians is prohibited by Protocol 3 of the United Nation’s Convention on the Prohibition on the Use of Certain Conventional Weapons.
According to Reuters, the United States has not fully signed on to the Convention and is therefore not bound by it. In fact, the U.S. Marine Corps used white phosphorous as recently as 2004, during the Second Battle of Fallujah.
The use of white phosphorous was a major plot point in Spec Ops: The Line, which required players to target civilians with incendiary mortar rounds in order to complete the game. The intention was to show the true horrors of war.
Modern Warfare’s announcement on social media appears to show a very specific application of white phosphorous. Rather than mortar rounds, which are indirect fire weapons, concept art shown on Twitter shows a Russian-flagged fixed wing aircraft sporting multiple 20-round 80 mm rocket pods. That seems to indicate that white phosphorous will be employed as a direct fire weapon to precisely target troops on the battlefield. The text below the image is confusing, however, in that it refers to “white smoke flare canisters.” Polygon has reached out to Infinity Ward for clarification.
It’s not the first, or even the second, controversial element to be included in Modern Warfare. An early level shared privately with the press showed chemical weapons, specifically a nerve agent, being used against civilians.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare (2019) is coming to PlayStation 4, Windows PC via Battle.net, and Xbox One with cross-platform play. The game will be released on Oct. 25.