This post responds to the second part of the question I received after my talk on Sympathy for NPCs in Modern Warfare 2 at SLSA. In the first part, I explained that I thought the level should not be skippable because of its significance to the larger argument of the game. The second component of my question is related, but not obviously so. My questioner asked what do you think about the fact that Makarov kills the playable character, Private Allen, at the end.
Simply put, Makarov has to kill Allen. It is the only way the level can end for several reasons.
First, for the game’s narrative, Allen’s body on the scene is the key to the rest of the plot. Makarov sets up the terrorist attack on the fake Moscow airport, opening fire on his own people, in order to frame the US and instigate a war. That is why the level begins with him reminding his horde not to speak Russian during the attack. As they make their escape, Makarov shoots Allen and leaves him on the scene. When the Russian authorities come, they find the body of one of the terrorists (Allen), identify him as CIA, and thus determine that they have been attacked by the US. Russia then launches a full-scale assault on the US, which makes the final two acts of the game, continuing on to Modern Warfare 3.
Leaving that aside, killing Allen at the end is the only way to accommodate the range of potential responses players might have toward the No Russian level. The level is skippable so the story still has to work if the player decides not to play it. Eliminating Allen during the level cleans this up nicely. Same goes for if the player decides not to participate in the shooting. Players can go through the level without killing a single civilian, just by ambling through the mayhem and letting Makarov’s crew do the dirty work (In fact, in Japan and Germany the game was alters so that players would receive a “game over” for shooting civilians). Of course, if Makarov’s crew didn’t know already, they would have figured out Allen was not one of them if he didn’t shoot anyone. He could not continue on as an undercover agent in their group and so has to be killed at some point during the level.
If the player did fully participate, either in order to keep Allen’s cover or, I guess, just because, execution by Makarov is the final expression of the level’s critique of few-for-many logics. No matter how the player goes through the level, Allen comes out as the goat. Before this level begins, Colonel Shepherd explains to Allen (during the load screens) that whatever he has to do to get close to Makarov, such as participate in a terrorist attack, “will cost nothing compared to everything you’ll save.” This logic is invalidated by the conclusion of the level, however, because Allen’s participation allows Makarov to frame the US and instigate World War 3. Thus, even if the horror of walking through the piles of dead civilians were not enough to prompt critical reflection on Shepherd’s logic, Makarov’s shooting of Allen leaves player to wonder what was the point of all that.
Because the level ends by invalidating whatever Allen does during the level, many players were disappointed that they went through No Russian and got nothing for it. But that was part of the point. I think I referred to to that as the final “stomach punch” of the level. Allen’s efforts were a disastrous failure. It completely undermines the supreme power fantasy that pervades most FPS — even the majority of the Modern Warfare series. Players go through the level killing defenseless NPCs to become in the end, not a hero, but a pawn. Another sacrifice to the larger conflict. It’s a compromising position to be in, especially following the moral drama of the level. You cannot “do the right thing” in this level; you just have to take it.
As a set piece, No Russian is more reflective than interactive. While the ending is convenient to facilitate the larger plot, the game, and the No Russian level in particular, is trying to question power and the morality of war. For the level to remain a question, it cannot be “solved” by the player. You can’t “win” No Russian, but you can think about what happened. The terrorist attack has to come off as as a senseless, pointless, and gratuitous waste of life. It is in its gratuitousness that the level is poignant, some might say paradoxically given the content. Any other conclusion, in which Allen would survive, presumably, I think that opportunity would be lost.