…developer Infinity Ward is on an entirely different playing field when it comes to crafting first-person shooters. These guys are running show. In fact, it’s kind of weird to be reviewing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Activision recently revealed that 4.7 million copies of the game had been sold through in North America and the United Kingdom alone in the first 24 hours. Is there anybody out there that still isn’t convinced whether they should buy this game or not? Okay then, for the two people who are still on the fence, let’s get this review Oscar Mike (on the move).
What Works / What Doesn’t Work
Let’s start with the Story mode, since this is where most of Modern Warfare 2’s weak points creep into play. The story picks up five years after the events depicted in the original Modern Warfare. Even with warlord Imran Zakhaev out of the picture, Russia continues to face political instability. Zakhaev’s underling, Vladimir Makarov, has taken over power and his agenda is even more sinister than Zakhaev’s was. With a well-planned terrorist attack in a Russian airport (the now famous leaked scene that is finally put into its correct context), Makarov sets his plan into motion, and the world is turned upside down when Russia responds by attacking Washington DC. This is when the international community dispatches Task Force 141, including Cpt. 'Soap' MacTavish, to stop Markarov.
Like previous Call of Duty installments, you’ll lace up the boots of several different soldiers. On one side of the world you’ll protect everything the United States of America holds near and dear, including the local Burger and Taco joints, as you attempt to deflect the Russian attack in Virginia and Washington DC, while on the other side of the globe you’ll embark on an urgent mission to capture Makarov and prove his evilness. I liken the Story mode to a Michael Bay film. There is no denying the jaw-dropping action sequences and spectacular set pieces, but there’s very little glue holding all of these scenes together. Don’t ask me how Infinity Ward managed to pull it off, but I’m pretty sure I counted more plot twists than actual plots points. It’s almost like they were trying to one up the turns from the original game, but in the end all it did was confuse the hell out of me. When the end credits rolled, I was still trying to figure out what all had gone down. The story is way too convoluted for its own good.
It’s also very brief. I completed the campaign in roughly 5 hours on the “Hardened” difficulty setting. On “Veteran,” you’re probably looking at an additional hour to account for the many more times you’re sure to die. If you ask Infinity Ward they’ll tell you that it’s not about quantity but rather quality of the Story mode, and it’s hard to argue that point when you’re racing down a Kazakh mountainside on a snowmobile, walking alongside an armored vehicle through a quaint neighborhood in Virginia, fighting your way through the White House, or escaping a crumbling Russian castle. There’s no question it’s an exciting ride. I’m sure some people will argue that the gunplay in Modern Warfare 2 feels antiquated without the presence of an oh-so-trendy cover system. I don’t agree. I believe first-person shooters can function perfectly well without a cover system. However, when enemies can snap peak around corners and blind-fire, as they often do here, and you cannot do the same, then it becomes an issue for me.
Modern Warfare 2 is a jet-setting affair, with missions set amongst the ruined monuments of Washington DC, in the alleyways of Rio de Janeiro, and in the Kazakh mountains, just to name a few locales. All of the environments are brilliantly brought to life with meticulous detail. Textures, models and animations are top notch, and it’s truly amazing how smooth the game runs in the face of constant gunfire, heavy explosions and numerous enemies on screen at once. The audio is of equal caliber. Keith David and Lance Henriksen lend their voices to two of the more memorable characters, and the voice acting in general is superb. Hans Zimmer, whose film credits include Crimson Tide, Gladiator and The Dark Knight, provides an excellent military score, and the sound effects, ranging from gunfire to grenades rolling around on the ground, are spot on as usual.
If the original Modern Warfare got it’s hand on Halo’s multiplayer crown, then Modern Warfare 2 has officially snatched it from the clutches of Master Chief (sorry for the 360 reference PS3 owners, Modern Warfare has always dominated your console’s online charts). Do you recall the “Mile High” epilogue mission that followed the credits in Modern Warfare? That level was the inspiration for the new Spec Ops mode, a co-op affair (though you can play solo through much of it) that consists of 23 independent mini-missions. Divided into five progressively difficult groups (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie, Delta and Echo) that unlock as you earn stars, the objectives for these scenarios range from eliminating a set number of enemies and defending a position from waves of troops, to snowmobile time trials and providing air support from an AC-130 airplane as your partner conducts ground operations. The “Echo” labeled missions, that include taking out 10 or 15 Juggernauts, in one instance with only a knife and explosives, are sure to test the metal of even the most hardened Modern Warfare players.
Competitive multiplayer is undoubtedly where you’ll spend the bulk of your time with Modern Warfare 2. Supporting up to 18-player matches, Modern Warfare 2 offers the usual line-up of Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and other objective-based game types. There are 16 maps to choose from, including the rooftop of a skyscraper, a snowy submarine base, an airport terminal, a Chernobyl wasteland, an open Afghan desert, and a cabin in the woods. The class creation system has been tweaked and reworked to help balance online play, and it starts with a level cap that has been raised up to 70 for aspiring Commanders. There are new weapons, weapon attachments and perks, and each of the main perks can be upgraded to a “Pro” version by completing its challenge. For instance the Bling perk, which lets you put two attachments on your primary weapon, can be upgraded to Bling Pro, which then lets you put two attachments on your secondary weapon as well. Not only are there new killstreaks (including the Tactical Nuke, a reward acquired when you kill 25 opponents in a row that, when deployed, immediately ends the game), you have to select your killstreak rewards prior to a match. Do you play it safe and choose smaller killstreak bonuses, or gamble on a better reward for larger killstreaks that are more difficult to achieve? Decisions. Finally there’s the introduction of deathstreaks, designed to give newcomers a timely boost when all seems hopeless. For example Martyrdom, a former killstreak, is now one of four available deathstreaks. I could go on and on about multiplayer, but less talking equals more playing so let’s wrap this briefing up, shall we?
The Bottom Line
There was a lot of hype leading up to the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, and for the most part the sequel lives up to it’s billing. Here’s the breakdown: If for some reason you are solely interested in Modern Warfare 2 for it’s Story mode, a rental will suffice, and even then, once you try your hand at the Spec Ops mode, you might never want to return it. Yes, the Call of Duty franchise is fast becoming more about the multiplayer experience and less about single-player now that it’s king of the hill (pardon the pun). In that regard, Modern Warfare 2 is a direct hit. If you’re at all a fan of multiplayer, you can expect to be playing this game for the next couple of years, at least until the inevitable Modern Warfare 3 drops in 2011.