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Why Call of Duty: Simo Häyhä should be next
by Chris Hawke

Finland is awesome.

Unlike Scandinavia, Finland is a republic, lacking of a regal ruler that would allow it to enter the historical grouping of Sweden, Norway and Denmark. Finland doesn't care.

Finland is the the most sparsely populated country in the European Union. Finland doesn't care.

Finland dramatically altered the course of World War II, possibly tipping the tables in the allies' favour, holding back and viciously wounding the looming Russian bear that foolishly and arrogantly tried to take the country for its own in the Winter War. And you know what? Finland doesn't give a shit.

See, that's the beauty of Finland. It's a wonderfully advanced country. It's one of the most economically competitive in the world, has the third-highest graduation rate in the world, and ranks as the best country in the world in the Newsweek survey based on health, economic dynamism, education, political environment and quality of life. That same survey even labelled it the world's "most stable country". But would you really think Finland such a hi-tech, bleeding-edge nation when you surveyed the quiet villages of Rautjärvi, the pale mountains of Lapland, or the picturesque forests of Reposvi? Nope. And that's the true beauty of the country; it has everything going for it, yet it stays quiet and humble, and just gets on with things.

It's the complete opposite of Call of Duty.

Call of Duty, arguably the most well-known game in the market today, has similarly daunting facts regarding its number of sales, revenue, production values, and the like. Except it takes a different route to Finland: it wants everyone to look at it. The lurid explosions painting the screen, threatening to drown out A-list celebrity voices, as stained battlegrounds are torn apart in a hail of bullets and shrapnel - it's like a kid let loose in a crayon shop, high on sugar and filled with unending praise from overly adulatory parents. Always on show, smeared against the TV, is the American flag, with its American ways, American virtues and American freedom. The stars and stripes will always win, because they're the ones God chose, they're the ones with the biggest bombs and the largest guns, they're the ones with cliché-ridden inspirational speeches from cookie-cutter quarterbacks with shovels for chins.

Subtlety is not a buzzword for Call of Duty.

Thing is, Call of Duty needs a rethink. Money might be flowing in faster than the river of Lapuanjoki, but with Infinity Ward splitting, limping on to carry the flame, and millions of disgruntled fans bored of the same game with a slightly different Gary Oldman cameo for the past four years, changes are bound to happen. A new engine is pretty much a given (or, apparently not...), with all the shifts in graphical prowess, physics and gameplay that come along with it. Yet the apparent approach seems to be that new multiplayer modes and something shiny to stamp on the back of the box should do it.

Except... what if fans required more? What if Call of Duty, the entertainment staple of conservative minting-and-milking, went radical?

What if, set for a November 2012 release, Activision presented Call of Duty: Simo Häyhä?

In 1939, Russia invaded Finland. The Soviet forces had three times as many soldiers as the Finns, 30 times as many aircraft, and a hundred times as many tanks. During a −43°c (−45°F) winter, many Finnish troops had to make do with little warm clothing. Yet Finnish morale had never been higher. And, despite being ridiculously outnumbered and outgunned, Finland won, due to a mix of Finnish spirit, guerilla tactics, and one very special man.

Simo Häyhä.

He was a farmer and a hunter, living in a farmhouse near the Russian border. His room was gleaming with trophies for marksmanship. At 17, he joined the militia. And history was made.

Simo Häyhä has the record for the most kills in any war - at least 705. In less than a hundred days, he racked up 505 confirmed sniper skills, and two-hundred close-quarters submachine gun kills. He earned the nickname 'White Death' in both the Finnish and Russian armies. But it wasn't just the sheer number of lives he took that makes him an idol of awe; it was the way he did it.

At five feet and three inches, clad totally in white, he was already a difficult target, blending in seamlessly with the snow. But then he did clever things. He didn't use a telescopic sight, as they meant you had to raise your head higher, so the scope would fog up and reflect the sunlight. Instead, Simo took down targets hundreds of metres away with iron sights. He compacted snow around the rifle so it would not displace when he fired, and kept snow in his mouth to hide his warm breath, both of which become lore, stolen by other snipers and Hollywood alike. Then, at just the right moment, he would pounce with his Suomi KP/-31 submachine gun and blast away the incoming onslaught.

I'm not saying Simo Häyhä was right. Killing people is horrific, and war is a terrible thing, but World Wars are blind spots for morality. Simo, in his own words, "did what I was told to, as well as I could". He was shot in the jaw, yet survived and awoke just as the Winter War ended.

And here's the kicker.

When asked how he could achieve such a stunning statistic, what did he answer? Did he turn his face to the sun, bald eagle flying above, and give a speech about the noble standing proud? Did he recite a nation anthem word for word, spout a tired old motto, or ooze inspirational drivel from his lips? How could he do as well as he did?


Simo Häyhä then returned to his village, hunting and farming, until his death in 2002.

And that's what Call of Duty needs. Not bigger set-pieces or more explosions or louder guns; it needs to be grounded. It needs to take a long look at itself, see the error of its arrogant ways, and work on making a better game - a cleverer game, using personal tactics to gain the edge over the enemy, rather than just doing the same thing every single time.

And when it's done, it needs to take a bow, turn to the future, and carry on. No fanfare. Just doing its job, and doing it well.

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- Chris Hawke

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