A major part of what makes art so beautiful and such a necessary part of our lives is its capacity to make us feel. Whether it be a painting, a film, or music, one of the purposes of art is to bring about emotion. Obviously, there are other reasons, such as conveying ideas, representing beauty and so on, but in many cases, what separates an unremarkable work of art from a brilliant one is the capacity to create an emotional resonance with the consumer.
A song may bring about thoughts of happiness, or a feeling of fear, or even sadness — and the same can be said of movies. Different genres can bring about different emotional responses, from fear to joy and all points in between. Over the course of the last couple of decades, video games have grown from simple entertainment with little if any ability to cause reactions on emotional extremes to a story-telling medium on par with literature, film, and music.
While many gaming franchises can create a resonance with fans, few do it with greater effect than Call of Duty. I'll be the first to point out the significant flaws with the series, including the fact that each game is essentially a re-skinned shooter on rails and very little truly changes from year to year. With that said, if you do one thing, you might as well do it properly, and the CoD franchise does make a mean FPS. But moving back to our purpose here, the franchise has been making us feel in ways that video games seldom do for over a decade now, and we can only imagine what heart-wrenching character deaths we will be enduring later this year when WW2 comes out.
Here are fifteen deaths in Call of Duty games that caused grown men to shed a tear. In the cases of characters who died in the same scene, we listed them together.
And, of course: SPOILERS AHEAD!
Honorable Mention: The Davis Family
We listed this one as an honorable mention because we didn't get to know the Davis family. In fact, they were on screen for just about a minute, but they made an impact on our experience like no other civilians have in the Call of Duty franchise. For those who don't remember, the Davis family are vacationing in London during the events of Modern Warfare 3. Mr. Davis is holding the camera, while his wife and young daughter Sarah make their way to Big Ben.
The mother and daughter joyously walk down the sidewalk, and a cargo truck pulls up, and two guys hop out of it and ran for their lives. We all whispered "oh f***, here it comes" or something to that affect. The little girl was playing with some pigeons while her mother looks on. The truck explodes. The family is dead.
This scene, though brief, provided enough of a reason to play on, even though the game had been pretty darn good so far. With tears of rage —and fury in our hearts— players are instantly ready to feed that miserable S.O.B. Makarov through a wood chipper. Any time you see a small kid in a video game, you know the scene is going to turn into something hard to watch.
15 Mike Dixon
Looking back to CoD 3, your playable character for the American part of the single player campaign is Private Nichols, whose squad includes Pvt Huxley, Sgt McCullin, and of course, Corporal Mike Dixon. Dixon is about as solid as they come, both mentally and physically, never questioning an order and keeping his squad-mates in good spirits to the best of his ability. Late in the campaign, McCullin is killed, and Dixon receives a promotion to Sergeant and therefore, the leadership of Nichols' squad. In the last mission of the American campaign, Dixon is shot in the back by a sniper while treating another man's wounded leg. Unable to find a medic (because the medic is dead) the squad watches on as he breathes his last: telling Private Guzzo: "McCullin... McCullin. McCullin told me to tell you... he told me to tell you.. you should go to hell. But you're okay Guzzo. You're okay." He laughed for a second, and then died. Obviously without the cinematics that would permeate later installments of the series, character development in these early games wasn't quite as impressive, but nonetheless, Dixon was a great character who might have made it to the end of the war had there been a medic around.
14 Harper (Player Choice)
Seal Team Six member Mike Harper is seen only in Black Ops 2, and his death is not only sad, but infuriating. Harper is one of the main teammates of David Mason, but later in the campaign, he is taken prisoner by Menendez.
In the mission "Achilles' Veil," Harper is working with Seal Team Six tech expert and CIA deep cover CIA agent within Cordis Die, Farid. Farid is the playable character and is working with Menendez at this point. Menendez knows there is a mole in his operation, and shoots down Harper's VTOL, then having the wounded Harper dragged in front of them, ordering Farid to prove his loyalty by shooting him. The player has a choice: shoot Harper as ordered, or shoot Menendez. If you choose Harper, he will die, and Farid will prove his loyalty to Menendez. Of course, it is a hard decision for the character to make, but he is urged on by a furious, defiant and insistent Harper, shouting "Do it, do it, Egghead! Do your job! Come on Egghead, do it!"
Master Sergeant Sandman, whose real name we never learn, is one of the most skilled NPC soldiers from Modern Warfare 3. He was a Delta Force operator who led Team Metal through much of the game's campaign. He doesn't have a ton of screen time, or memorable lines, but we got used to seeing his name and hearing his voice enough to have been devastated by his demise late in the game.
During a mission into a diamond mine in Russia, Sandman, his team and Task Force 141 fought to secure Russian President Vorshevsky and his daughter. They had almost completed their mission, but their extraction was not going as planned, and they were taking heavy fire while trying to board the helicopter. In order to ensure the safety of the President, Price, Yuri, and the rest of the team, Sandman and a couple of his soldiers insisted that the helicopter take off, despite Price's pleading that there was another way. Communication with Sandman was cut after the mine collapsed.
Call of Duty: Ghosts has a nasty reputation among many in the Call of Duty fan community. I personally enjoyed it, but I understand and agree with all of the criticism that this game received. The campaign was an ambitious attempt by Infinity Ward at rejuvenating the series, but the story wasn't impressive or immersive compared to what was achieved in the Modern Warfare series.
On the other hand, however, Elias and his sons Hesh and Logan were likable enough for us to want good things for them. Of course, Logan is trapped in the jungle at the end of the game, Hesh's status is unknown, and of course, Elias dies a horrible death at the hands of Rorke.
He is tied to a chair, and player character Logan manages to get free from his restraints and pull a gun, but Rorke overpowers him and uses his gun, in his hand, to shoot Elias a couple of times before knocking Logan to the ground and finishing off Elias in front of his two sons.
11 Bowman And Woods (But not really Woods)
"Payback" was a Vietnam War-era mission in Black Ops that started out looking like a scene from the nightmarish Vietnam movie The Deer Hunter, in which American POWs are forced to play Russian roulette. Bowman is ordered to go first, but runs his mouth until the Soviet supervisor/interrogator loses it and beats him to death with a piece of pipe. So long Ice Cube.
Woods and Mason then manage to kill the Vietnamese guards, and track down the Russian, killing him too. The two hijack a Hind, tearing up the river, and finding Kravchenko's compound, wherein the three of them get into a fistfight. Kravchenko, who is getting mangled by Woods, pulls the pin on a grenade to kill all of them, and Woods essentially gets dragged through an adjacent window. For the remainder of the game, we think Woods is gone, but obviously, he miraculously survives.
10 Roebuck Or Polonsky
2008's World War II adventure was World at War, and while it didn't have quite as many tear jerking moments as the Modern Warfare games, there were some awesome characters who didn't make it out. The first of these is Sergeant Tom Sullivan, who we hadn't had much time with before he got run through by a Japanese officer with a Katana. Much later on, player-character Miller has a difficult snap-decision choice to make. Near the end of the game, Miller, Sergeant Roebuck (Kiefer Sutherland), and Private Polonsky are in danger, and it is up to Miller to decide who to save. The choice comes down to a serious, ruthless and capable leader in Roebuck, or the friendly joker Polonsky. A difficult choice to make. Either way, the outcome is going to be painful, and sets up the final stage of this game.
9 Alvin "Brooklyn" Bloomfield
We don't want to denigrate the early Call of Duty games, but the character development wasn't nearly as good in those first few years, as we mentioned earlier when talking about Mike Dixon in CoD 3. There are some exceptions, however, and "Brooklyn" Bloomfield was one of them. He was a supporting character in Call of Duty 2: The Big Red One. Throughout the game, he is the source of most of the memorable banter and provides most of the humor. In the late stage of the game, when the Americans are entering Germany, Bloomfield advances a bit too far, and ends up in the middle of an artillery barrage, dying horribly in front of his friends.
8 Griggs And Gaz
During that final level of Modern Warfare, we lost two good friends who had been around for most of the game. There, on that blown apart bridge, Soap, Price, Gaz, Griggs and a couple of others fought for their lives against an onslaught of furious Russians, led by Imran Zakhaev. Griggs was the first to go, being shot in the head after dragging Soap closer to his position. The battle was coming to a close, and Soap and Price had been partially incapacitated; still conscious but not in fighting shape. It looked as though the bad guys would win the day, as Zakhaev and his henchmen approached. They shot a few SAS men in the head, including Gaz, while Soap and Price looked on.
Of course, seconds later, the three Russians were within range, and while they were distracted by a Hind, Price slid that M1911 to Soap who made his shots count.
7 Sergeant Paul Jackson
We were just getting to know Sgt. Jackson. He was a member of 1st Force Recon and the player-character in the early stages of Modern Warfare. He didn't have much to say, but he carried out his orders and fighting hard the whole way during the invasion, working under Lt. Vasquez, and going above and beyond all the time (unless you played the game like a lazy prick, your choice really). Jackson's final act was rescuing the downed Cobra pilot; "Deadly" (Captain Pelayo) and bringing her on board their helicopter. They then tried to escape as there was an imminent nuclear weapon threat, but it was too late, the bomb detonated, and all were killed. Jackson survived, however, and we were forced to live out his last few moments alive, as he staggered, burned, injured and disoriented, through the aftermath of the bomb, until he breathed his last while looking up at that mushroom cloud.
This was the moment during which everything changed: it was on. We needed revenge for Paul and the other 30,000 Marines.
6 Dimitri Petrenko
Dimitri Petrenko, the Hero of Stalingrad, survived some of the bloodiest battles in World War Two. His experience started out in Stalingrad, when he and Viktor Reznov fought to eliminate a Nazi officer and then both managed to escape a very close ambush. The two were reunited years later after the tide of the war had shifted. Petrenko was being held by German soldiers, and Reznov, with some help from a tank, took them out. The two then fought their way to Berlin and were instrumental in taking the Reichstag. These were the events of World at War on the Eastern Front in Europe.
In a Black Ops flashback, we find out why Reznov carries with him such a hatred for Major General Nikita Dragovich. Dragovich ordered Reznov, Petrenko and their new unit to the Arctic circle to capture a Nazi scientist and retrieve Nova-6 gas, a powerful nerve agent. If you played the game, you know how this ends. Petrenko and several fellow soldiers were used as test subjects, dying horrible deaths in front of Reznov. This was no way to go.
5 Mason (Optional: Player Choice) and Hudson
After the events of Black Ops, Alex Mason got married and had a son, David. The mother died, and Mason went back into the armed forces but by the mid 80's he was out again, and the two of them lived in relative seclusion up in Alaska. He gets recruited back into the CIA after being approached by Oliver North and ends up in a big mess involving Woods, Manuel Noriega, and of course Raul Menendez. Woods ends up being told, during a mission in Panama, that a target with a bag over his head is Menendez, and depending on the player's choice, either kills or just wounds that person. It is later revealed to be Mason. The shock of having killed Mason is intense, as this entire level quickly becomes a terrifying mess, as Hudson is killed in very graphic fashion just minutes later.
4 Ghost And Roach
Throughout the early stages of Modern Warfare 2, General Shepherd seemed like a decent guy. He was a confident leader and seemed to be willing to do what he needed to get things done. Nothing is as it seems in Call of Duty, and after the raid on a suspected safe house, from which Ghost and player-character Roach (who we were starting to really like) are able to escape, Shepherd ambushes them and shows his true colors. He shoots them both, point blank with his .44, killing both and burning their bodies. This scene was agonizing to watch, as two good men were betrayed by their chain of command, and murdered.
3 The Infinite Warfare Final Credits
This won't be news to anyone who played that game, but a lot of great characters die horribly in Infinite Warfare. The game did really well, and had a good story, but anyone who complained about it not being "a true Call of Duty" game has a point. It felt out of place. The space theme and the fact that it was hundreds of years in the future did make it feel like something out of another franchise, but then everyone started dying and we felt bad for them, and then we realized, "oh yeah, this is totally CoD!"
While plenty of painful moments exist over the course of the game, nothing brought on the "water-works" quite like the closing credits. The final mission was a rough one, but when it was all over we were treated to a final word from the significant characters who died throughout that campaign. That final word consisted of last messages to their families. Ethan, the robot, left a heartfelt message to his only family, Commander Nick Reyes. MaCallum tells her kids a bunch of sweet stuff, Gibson recalls the good times with her ex-husband, and "Gator" Diallo leaves messages for his wife and unborn daughter. The list goes one. Good God, this was upsetting.
This final scene was like having out hearts ripped out and slowly barbecued over a grill heated up by a game full of deaths of some very likable characters.
Will Irons' death was a tough one to take, but it was at the start of the game. While we liked him, we hadn't become too attached. We acknowledged that he was a close friend of Mitchell's, but leaving him behind with his arm stuck in a door of an exploding aircraft was nothing compared to Cormack slowly bleeding out.
Every now and again, there is a leader in Call of Duty who cares for his men, leads with honor and diligence, and is an overall stellar human being. Fearless, trustworthy and inspirational, Cormack is one of the best NPC's in the later CoD games. He cares for his guys and does his job very well.
Throughout the course of the game, he goes from being a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps to a Major and leader of Sentinel Task Force, investigating the work of Jonathan Irons (Kevin Spacey). He is instrumental in saving player-character Jack Mitchell from Atlas (Irons' corporation), but their squad is later captured by Atlas and taken to a prison camp. Cormack is shot by Irons, who comments that it will likely take him twenty minutes to bleed out.
The group manages to make their escape from the prison, but by the time they get far enough away to treat Cormack, he has lost too much blood, and they are helpless to keep him alive.
1 Soap MacTavish (And To A Lesser Extent: Yuri)
Part of what made John "Soap" MacTavish such a great character is that we got to follow his entire career with the S.A.S., starting out as an "F.N.G." (f***ing new guy), and finally ending his time with the unit dying around the end of Modern Warfare 3.
Soap nearly died back in Modern Warfare 2, when General Shepherd stabs him in the chest. He gets the urgent medical care needed to survive from Price and Nikolai. He recovers between MW2 and MW3, and is able to continue the fight against Makarov throughout the third campaign.
Late in that game, Soap is caught in a massive explosion while trying to assassinate Makarov, and ends up dying an agonizing death while Yuri, Nikolai, and Price try to patch him up. This time, it is no use, and Soap dies.
In a scene shortly after Soap's death, Yuri also dies. One of the good Russians, Yuri was a former Ultranationalist, but when he saw the madness of what Makarov and Zakhaev were doing and distanced himself from it. Yuri dies at the hands of Makarov after the helicopter crash, but is able to put a couple of bullets in him first, just before Price manages to finally kill him.
This scene hurt, and as we said, we were there for Soap's entire career with the SAS. He was our hero that we got to know over three campaigns. We liked his attitude, his ability to stay cool under fire and how he just got the job done. Watching him die on that table while our other three-game hero Price looked on, unable to do anything, was almost too much. Thankfully, within a few minutes, Price got even.