Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 [Available on Xbox 360, PS3, PC]
ESRB Rating: M
Number of Players: 1 to 18
Developer: Infinity Ward
Release Date: November 10th, 2009
Xbox Live, PlayStation Network-compatible
It took waiting as first in line for four hours and being inappreciably violated by varying forms of weed and cigarette smoke to lay my hands on a copy of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 [Hardened Edition]. The necessary patience was nothing new to yours truly, but being tainted by drugs was less than thrilling. Nonetheless, I’ve had the pleasure of finishing the controversial campaign, sampling Special Ops and climbing the ranks of multiplayer over the past few days, and here I am with the details you’ve come for.
Click to watch Justin’s video review.
Interestingly enough, gone are the days of popping members of the OpFor (Arab terrorist) faction in the MW franchise. This is why my good buddy Ahmed Mosly, a Saudi Arabia native, is enjoying this sequel along with me. Modern Warfare was banned in his country due to the game’s unflattering depiction of his race, but that’s irrelevant now. I’m glad that he can be part of the latest craze, and hope that any time spent with it is entertaining. Khaled al-Asad and Co. aren’t completely absent from MW2 however. They are featured in the first mission’s opening, so the two gamers who didn’t experience Call of Duty 4 might have some inkling as to what happened then.
That knowledge is wholly useless though unfortunately, because the plot for this follow-up is everything but coherent or cohesive. Even in the midst of completing the campaign on Veteran difficulty, of which only Act III remains, I still don’t understand the conflict. Vladimir Makarov, Russian ultra-nationalist successor to Imran Zakhaev, never fulfilled his role, at least not in the way that I expected. In fact, he only physically appears in one mission, and it can be skipped if you’re offended by the idea of an airport massacre. I am, but chose to play it anyway, and think the scenario was executed in bad taste. In the end, it all seemed to boil down to a confusing triangle war among the US Army Rangers, British S.A.S. and Russian Spetznaz, but too little background information was divulged to create the connection. I don’t know where Infinity Ward was going with it at the beginning, and that didn’t change during the final credits. Thankfully, the delivery is the single-player’s only weakness.
The mission variety (vehicles, breach & clear, etc.) is absolute gold. Anything outside of obvious gun fights is never done twice throughout MW2’s many epic designs. If you’re not running the series’ mainstay gauntlet in the introduction, you’re manning a jeep’s sentry gun. If you’re not commanding a Predator missile control panel, you’re scaling the side of a wintry mountain with ice picks. Infinity Ward clearly knew how they wanted to differentiate the experience each time those green glowing letters and numbers appeared on-screen to signify the start of a new leg in any of the three Acts. I haven’t felt bored once playing the solo mode, merely puzzled as to the logic of the goings-on. I especially love the inspirations from games like Mirror’s Edge, and movies such as The Rock. Plus the familiar achievements and trophies for working through Veteran, finding enemy intel, performing special tasks during some missions , and MW’s historical war quotes have returned, and happily so. Infinity Ward even addressed the issue fans had with enemies infinitely respawning until you cross an invisible tripwire. That made completing Modern Warfare’s missions on Veteran immensely frustrating at times, but no longer. You can still be taken down quickly here, make no mistake, but going for the gold is much more satisfying and reasonable this time around. You’re rewarded for skill and speed, without the need for luck.
Everything you’ve heard about the brief nature of the campaign is true however. I finished for the first time in about 5.5 hours, and wasn’t impressed by the conclusion. Like Halo 2, Resistance 2 and other shooters, Modern Warfare 2 left the potential for a third game wide-open. What’s with the trend of doing this with games that end with 2? The circumstances are a shame no doubt, but in MW2’s case, it’s easily forgivable, even if we know Infinity Ward was capable of better in their time of development.
Before I jump into Special Ops and multiplayer, I wish to talk presentation. Like Call of Duty 4 and World at War before it, Modern Warfare 2 is an audio-visual juggernaut, and I’m not referring to the online perk, or Spec Ops enemy. Despite the lack of real need, IW outdid their own Modern Warfare engine in respect to the visual splendor: aesthetics, special effects, and all. I could write a full page alone about the intricate detail that decorates every mission’s design, but just know that if Modern Warfare 2 displays on a 720p or better HDTV as you’re playing, disappointment would be a far cry. The soldier models, animations (especially for reloading), buildings, vehicles…it’s simply incredible. The lighting, ballistic effects, snowfall, being underwater, etc, add even more to the game’s immersion. Then as if it’s any surprise, the audio bears the same results. The gun fire creates an atmospheric overload on any surround sound setup, the voices are performed exceptionally well, and the music (when you consciously listen for it), fits the bill perfectly. I didn’t hear anything wrong with Modern Warfare 2, and you shouldn’t either.
Special Ops is Infinity Ward’s [online and offline] answer to the void of campaign co-op. Not having the option to play the story with even one other person is regrettable, but what takes its place is nothing short of amazing. Over 20 unique scenarios are expertly designed to be conquered either by one’s lonesome, or with the assistance of a trusted friend. Of course pairing up with someone increases the overall difficulty, but that only serves to increase the chaotic fun. A possible three stars are earned depending on your performance when all is said and done, and they’re necessary to not only unlock the harder sets, but various achievements/trophies as well. If you’re not in the mood to work on the nonsensical campaign, or compete with the skillful online community, Special Ops is practically a game on its own.
If that’s the verdict for Spec Ops, then how on earth does multiplayer fit in to the package? Well, it could easily consume a full-length review is how. I still believe that Call of Duty 4 sports a supreme online competitive scene, but Infinity Ward went to a distance that I can’t find the proper words to describe in order to bring Modern Warfare 2 to Xbox Live and PlayStation Network users. I may have already decided to say far away from the prestige ranks when I eventually crack rank 70, but there’s a perfectly rational explanation. There’s a ridiculous (in a good way) number of challenges to fulfill that take what everybody fondly remembers from Modern Warfare to levels I don’t think can surpassed without the experience becoming plain overwhelming. Not only does each gun come complete with a list of tasks to undertake, but each perk does as well, and that doesn’t take into account all the emblems, military-inspired titles and kill streak rewards available. If you enjoyed the UAV, air strike and assault helicopter from Call of Duty 4, how do counter-UAV, sentry guns, predator missiles, airdrops, AC130s and a Tactical Nuke (among even more) sound? I’ll probably need a year just to manage half of Infinity Ward’s insanity!
I also love the new maps. The theme of Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer is verticality, because most maps require extra-special awareness thanks to attacks that can come from all sorts directions and heights. If you just run around hoping to get the drop on a player turning that next corner, the chances of you dying first at the hands of someone else, especially snipers using suppressed weapons, are rather high. This service isn’t PlayStation Network and Xbox Live-exclusive either; system-link and split-screen return as options from Call of Duty 4/World at War for those who prefer multiplayer with everybody in the same room. There is something I don’t like though, and it’s what Infinity Ward did to limit Xbox Live party chats. Some modes, like Team Deathmatch, don’t allow friends to talk only amongst themselves. I think that decision is bogus, since you know as well as I do how irritating it is to listen to jerks and little kids that shouldn’t be playing games like MW2 in the first place run their mouths. I loved only hearing my friends playing World at War for the time I did online, but it’s been taken away for the sake of preserving the team dynamic in Modern Warfare 2. Well sorry developers, but I don’t desire in the slightest to coordinate with immature morons, so my mic is staying off and volume turned all the way down if I’m not with friends.
I could say so much more, but providing any more details would lend to the possibility of your feeling like you’d just read a book by the time I was done. To sum it all up: Modern Warfare 2 is the undisputed king of online competitive shooters now, so enjoy.
Was it not for the underwhelming campaign, at least from a plot standpoint, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 would have easily earned COE’s second-ever masterpiece score of 10/10, despite other minute flaws. Who cares about numbers at this leg of the hype train’s journey though? The game has to be doing something right for 4.7 million copies to find homes on day one alone. Well MW2 does mostly everything incredibly well, and should be the latest addition to your PS3, Xbox 360 or PC library. The only reason to avoid its purchase is if you don’t like shooters. It’s as simple as that.