Review – Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Less Michael Bay, more John Milius.
From its humble beginnings as one of the many WW2 themed first-person shooters the Call of Duty franchise took something of a left turn back in 2007 when it broke from its Nazi blasting ways to skip a few historic generations and set it’s forth game in a contemporary setting. Seemingly overnight the franchise went from one among many to being arguably the biggest franchise in gaming next to the likes of Grand Theft Auto, Halo and Half-Life. This was in no small part thanks to what I and many would consider the best online gameplay of any FPS even more that say something like Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter (GRAW).
I might get excommunicated from the church of PEOWW for speaking such blasphemy but any of you who’ve survived the killing fields of CoD4 and come away with tales of sweet headshots with a 50. Cal or knifing that camping twats using an Acog bolt-action will know I speak the truth.
So after two years we finally have a direct sequel to CoD4 by Infinity Ward after last years WW2 backward step ‘World at War’ from the Dannii Minogue of videogame developers Treyarch, with a single player story that carries on from CoD4, multiplayer modes that includes both unique online co-op missions and all the competitive deathmatch variants you could ever want (including a few 3rd person modes!) On paper it should be the best thing since sliced sex but is it a case of just more of the same or have Infinity Ward somehow managed the impossible and made a great thing even better?
As with Battlefield: Bad Company before it Modern Warfare 2 is very much a game of two halves so if you’re not interested in all the online nonsense or conversely if you’re just here for the solo action I’ve broken the review into two parts talking about the on-off-line gameplay so you know what you’re getting into if you want to pay the obscenely high prices (fuck you Activision) being charged for this.
*WARNING – MINOR PLOT SPOILERS!*
The story picks up five years after the original Modern Warfare with ‘Soap’ MacTavish now promoted to captain and leading a covert operations group made up of British SAS and American Special Forces dubbed Task Force 141. In this new and evolving world the villain from CoD4 Imram Zakhaev is now regarded as a hero of Russia and his former lieutenant Vladimir Makarov is hell bent on restoring Russia to superpower status by any means necessary. Taking control of new 141 recruit Garry ‘Roach’ Sanderson it’s business as usual as you infiltrate a Russian airbase to recover a vital component from a downed American satellite being held by Makarov while at the same time in another part of the world you play as an undercover American agent working inside Makarov’s organisation who plan to orchestrate a war between the east and west.
Makarov does this by committing a terrorist attack at a Russian airport in what will no doubt become one of those videogame moments that’ll live in infamy like the dogs coming through the window in Resident Evil or stepping onto Hyrule Field for the first time. You can play this section in a number of ways with you gleefully gunning down screaming citizens while they run for the exits or just watch as a passive bystander until the point where you have to end the scene in a running battle with the FBS or just skip the entire section if you’d rather not be involved at all. With the deed done Makarov leaves evidence that America was involved in the attack which manipulates the Russian government into invading America by using the communication codes taken from the downed satellite. From then on it’s a story of two halves as you fight on the front line of the Russian invasion in Washington DC while Roach and MacTavish work behind the scenes to bring Makarov’s deception to the world’s attention before things get out of hand and a nuclear exchange is triggered.
What this boils down to is six to eight hours of frenetic shooting gameplay depending on what difficulty setting you use. Thankfully you have the option to change the difficulty on the fly if you’re having trouble clearing a particularly tough stage rather than having to restart a stage because of a tricky auto-save checkpoint. Unlike previous Call of Duty games that where plagued with infinitely respawning enemies who can drop a grenade on a pin head from two-hundred feet this entry in the series is almost completely free of such annoyances. The old game’s tactic of rushing to cover and hiding until your AI allies to catch up is now redundant as each area has a set number of foes all of whom move and act as you’d expect and don’t throw grenades at you in multiples of twenty.
Sure some sections are slightly over-hard no doubt to compensate for the lean running time but even the Brazilian falevas and Russian gulag can be beaten with patience and some quick shooting making it a far more evenly paced game compared to CoD4. The Washington based stage’s frantic battle for survival are contrasted with the 141 sections that rely more on stealth and strategy more akin to the fabled ‘All Ghilied Up’ stage from CoD4. The only major criticism aside from the longevity I have with the single player story is it’s method of exposition with obtuse voiceovers narrating flash CGI animations between missions that do a good job of telling you where you are but not necessarily why you’re doing what you’re doing with one character in particular being a complete cipher until the final act when he explains all his actions as a muddled mix of jingoism and Saturday morning cartoon villain monologue.
Yes it’s over too quickly and probably isn’t very healthy for you but then neither is a box of chicken nuggets and I’d defy anyone to not enjoy it on some level if not for the non-stop action then for the fine voice work of Kevin Mckidd and Lance Hendrickson or the attention to detail with every location looking and more importantly feeling right be it the frozen Russian tundra or baking desert of Afghanistan.
But if you only play it off-line you’ll be missing the real showâ€¦
CoD4 was a real shot in the arm when it came to online play, it took all the FPS game types you’d expect like team/solo deathmatches, capture the flag, domination etc. and mixed in its own kind of magic with the perks system. I won’t take up precious space explaining the perks system and its intricacies as anyone who played CoD4 multiplayer will attest to its depth and scope for creating individual classes fine tuned for your own combat style be it extra damage for your guns, being able to hold your breath longer for those critical sniper shots or even moving without sound or without appearing on an enemies UAV radar. Add to this the fact that the more you use a particular weapon the more attachments you unlock for it like better sights, silencers or new paint jobs and you had a well balanced experience based system that rewarded extended play and experimenting with new weapon/perk combos to complete challenges for more experience points and a higher rank.
Now the perks system is back and has been streamlined and polished to a dazzling degree. Again I don’t have the space to go into too much detail but the bullet points go like this: Perks now level up the more you use them giving you access to new abilities for the same perk slot. Killstreaks are now chosen by you from a wide selection from the humble three kills UAV radar all the way through EMP blasts and nuke strikes for fifteen plus kills. For players having a bad day (read: getting killed four times in a row) you can access Deathstreaks like extra health, martyrdom grenades and a new version of last stand that heals you if you manage to get a kill during it.
Call of Duty 4 was undoubtedly a good game, the multiplayer was fantastic, but the single player left me feeling a bit disappointed. Aside from that nuke scene, and the flashback sniper level in Chernobyl, I found most of the campaign to be pretty forgettable. However, the campaign in Modern Warfare 2 is quite the opposite. With some of the best set-pieces since Metal Gear Solid 4, and the constant shake-up ofgameplay – including an intense, Mirror’s Edge-style chase sequence – this is definitely the best in the series since COD2.
While the COD games aren’t exactly renowned for their storytelling, one thing that surpriesed me was how much better the story was in this. It’s certainly not Oscar-worthy or anything like that, but it does impress when compared to the previous game’s effort. With the constant switching between characters and locations, it reminds me of 24 (before it got shit after season 2). The characters feel less generic this time, and stand out a lot more. I still think more could have been done to flesh out the story, though. The radio conversations on the loading screens after missions feel a but rushed.
Of course, the main draw of MW2 is the multiplayer. I was a tad worried about how all of the new features Infinity Ward added would affect the game, but it’s pretty much all positive – particularly the introduction of deathstreaks, new killstreak rewards, upgradable perks and new weapon attachments. The maps feel a lot more varied than before in terms or locations and landscapes – they have more “verticality” in them when compared to those in COD4. In terms of gameplay, it’s as slick and fast as ever and remains one of the best online experiences around.
Secondary Score: 9/10
The perks are only half the story though as there’s over a dozen new weapons to use and the old ‘one gun, one pistol’ rule is gone with you able to have any primary weapon (rifle, machine-gun, riot shield) AND secondary weapon (shotgun, SMG, pistol, rocket launcher) at any time without the need for the old ‘overkill’ perk! Each weapon has a plethora of new attachments like silencers for shotguns so you can run around like Anton Sigur, grips, under-barrel shotguns, thermal scopes that see through bushes and other scenery and even an Aliens/Rainbow Six style heartbeat sensor that can detect enemies through walls.
If all this sounds good to you it’s a no-brainer instant purchase as I’ve not even mentioned tons of other features like air-drops, deployable sentry turrets, customisable player titles and emblems, in-game stat tracking, kill-cam awards, akimbo guns (double .44 magnums, yes please) throwing knives, deployable flares that let you set your spawn point and that’s even before you get to prestige mode!
What was arguably the best online shooter of the last few years has now thanks to new additions like Deathstreaks transcended to become THE best online shooter there is today (and for the next two years no doubt until MW3 blows our minds all over again) You can keep your Halo, Team Fortress, Killing Floor, Killzone and Battlefield online gameplay as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 easily beats them to the curb and takes a giant shit on all of them and that’s without even counting the co-op missions.
Rather than squeeze the square peg single player game into a round co-op shaped hole there’s twenty three different co-op missions to complete with a buddy with starts awarded for relative difficulty and even achievements/trophies for completing stage specific goals. Compared to the competitive modes that might sound a little stingy but nailing all sixty nine starts is no easy task and should easily keep you busy until the evitable DLC arrives next year.
So in summery Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is a mix of one great (if a little short) single player game with sublime online competitive and co-op modes that’ll keep you amused for the next few years all together in one package that despite the exorbitant price tag is undoubtedly worth your winter shekels in a the traditional end of year scrum. Ignore the controversy and the whinging fan boys and just play it yourself as once you do you’ll realise just how unimportant the hype is for a game this damn good.