Before Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was released there were basically only two major options for the majority of FPS gamers. There was either the Halo series or one of the plethora of shooters that took place during World War II. Then Modern Warfare came seemingly out of nowhere and offered us a third option, a well crafted modern-day shooter whose story dealt with issues that were currently relevant to the world and also happened to include an amazing online multiplayer component.
While the first Modern Warfare had the luxury of being a relatively unknown quantity before its release, its success has set the expectation bar very high for its inevitable sequel. Now the follow up is finally here and I’m happy to say, it’s a fantastic game, living up to and exceeding all of these lofty expectations.
As one might expect, the story of Modern Warfare 2’s (MW2) single-player campaign picks up after the events of the original Modern Warfare. It’s been five years since Imran Zakhaev’s death, but the Russian Ultranationalist organization hasn’t died out, instead finding a new leader in the form of Vladimir Makarov. As you play through the game from several different soldiers’ perspectives including Pvt. Joseph Allen, Gary “Roach” Sanderson, and even now Captain “Soap” MacTavish, you’re given a unique look into what some people are willing to do to accumulate power or to stop others from doing so. The story is definitely full of interesting twists and turns, betrayals, and unbelievable events, but I will refrain from getting into specifics in order to remain spoiler free. Suffice it to say, MW2’s story is very compelling, with easily as much impact as the original’s.
In fact, there is one mission that takes place in an airport early on in the game that is sure to strike a chord with many players and has already caused a swirl of controversy around the title. While it is easy to criticize or demonize the events that take place in this mission when taken out of context or separated from the game’s narrative, it makes perfect sense in the game and is one of the most memorable levels I’ve ever played. Sure, it can still be pretty disturbing and horrific, but it is ultimately the player’s choice whether to play through it or not. This is because when you start a new game of MW2 you will be prompted to choose whether or not to skip playing through this potentially disturbing level. If you do choose to skip it, you won’t be penalized by way of achievements, game completion percentage, or even story as you’ll still get a summarization of what occurred.
Controversial level included, MW2’s single-player campaign is action-packed and a blast to play through. There’s obviously a large amount of shooting goodness to be had, but there’s also a ton of variety thrown in to keep you on your toes. During the course of the campaign you’ll find yourself manning turrets on the back of Hummers, painting targets with a laser sight, climbing up snowy cliffs, sneaking through enemy-infested blizzards, evading pursuers on snowmobiles, running and jumping across rooftops, breaching doors and shooting surrounding enemies in slow motion in order to save hostages, whitewater rafting, and even taking a brief space walk. While the standard firefights in the game are entertaining all by themselves, these additions can help to break up long gun battles, keeping them from ever feeling stale.
Luckily, MW2’s checkpoint system is fairly forgiving, most of the time because it can be easy to get overwhelmed by enemies when playing on the game’s harder difficulties. Your foes are rather intelligent, repositioning if you get too close, constantly using cover and placement to their advantage, frequently flanking or sneaking up behind you, and tossing grenades to force you from your position. You’ll find frequent checkpoints throughout each level, which will automatically activate, keeping you from having to slog back through long firefights because you didn’t quite make it out of the way of a well placed sniper shot or grenade. This keeps the frustration level low while playing, although the game is still very challenging and you’ll likely find yourself needing to rethink your strategies in some segments in order to ultimately make it through to the next checkpoint.
It is a bit of a bummer that there’s no co-op play in the single-player campaign, but you and a buddy can still have a great time in MW2’s Special Ops mode. This mode allows for one or two players (online or split-screen) to work together to take on a series of challenges, some taken from portions of the single-player game and some all-new, in order to earn stars.
There are five different categories listed from Alpha to Echo, each with their own set of increasingly more difficult challenges. These challenges can range anywhere from stealthy missions requiring you to make it to an extraction point to destroying every vehicle on a collapsing bridge while being attacked by repelling enemies. There are several different game types to be had here including assault, timed assault, wave defense, elimination, stealth, timed escort, driving, and timed driving just to name a few.
Each challenge can be played on one of three difficulties: regular, hardened, and veteran. Each of which will net you one, two, or three stars, respectively, or if it’s a timed challenge, the game will grant you stars based on your finishing time. Earning these stars will not only be necessary to raise your game completion percentage, but accumulating them will also unlock the later challenges for play. Taking these challenges on by yourself can be pretty daunting, as this mode is clearly meant to be played with a friend. Luckily, players who choose to tackle these challenges together can also do so using different difficulty settings, just in case the two of you are not at equal skill levels.
While most of these challenges can be played by either one or two players, there are two that require both players. The first, entitled Overwatch, places one player in the sky controlling an AC-130 and with the other on the ground. The player controlling the AC-130 must clear the way for their teammate in order to keep the heat off of them long enough to make it to an extraction point. Big Brother is fairly similar in concept, having one player manning a Vulcan Minigun in a Blackhawk helicopter, taking out the majority of opposition for the second player to make it to a rooftop, so that the helicopter can swoop in for a pickup. Both challenges are quite fun, though decidedly more so when you are the one doling out the pain from the sky.
Of course, perhaps the most anticipated part of MW2 is its multiplayer, which is exceptional. There’s no shortage of different modes here including Mercenary Team Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Free for All, Domination, Ground War, Demolition, Sabotage, Headquarters Pro, Search and Destroy, Capture the Flag, Third-Person Teams, Hardcore Ricochet, Hardcore Team Deathmatch, and Third-Person Cage Match. The different objectives for these modes help to create variety, so if you grow tired of just trying to get more kills than your opponents, you can always enter into some matches of the more objective-based game types such as Domination or Demolition. Domination places three points on a map that need to be captured to score points. The more places your team controls and the longer they control them, the more points you’ll earn. Demolition on the other hand has one team attacking and the other defending two bomb sites. The attacking team will need to plant and detonate bombs at both of these sites within a time limit, while the defending team needs only to keep these positions safe until the clock reaches zero.
The most different, verging on bizarre, modes in multiplayer have to be the ones that put the player into a third-person perspective instead of the traditional first-person view. These modes are definitely a nice addition, as they take players out of their comfort zones and force them to play somewhat differently. That said, they do feel odd, and not necessarily in a good way. Whereas most third-person shooters come with cover mechanics standard nowadays, there is no such mechanic in MW2 besides just crouching or lying on the ground. This makes peeking out from behind barriers and objects more difficult than it should be. Your aiming reticule is also much larger and seemingly less precise, which makes taking out foes feel a little on the clunky side. It’s also a bit unsettling that whenever you respawn, your character’s appearance changes as well. While this may be the case in the first-person modes too, being able to see that you’re not the same person every time you respawn is at the very least distracting. There are some nice touches here, though, such as being able to switch your firing arm on the fly in order to get the best angle around barriers. But in the end, I think the MW series would be best suited by sticking to its traditional first-person perspective.
No matter which mode you choose, MW2 does a great job of constantly trying to keep the player coming back. It does this by throwing a seemingly endless number of secondary goals to achieve, things to unlock, and ways to customize your own multiplayer experience. When you first start out, you’ll have a few basic classes to choose from, unlocking more and even the ability to create your own by gaining XP from completing objectives, winning matches, and killing opponents. In your created classes you’ll be able to assign three perks, your primary and secondary weapons, equipment, kill streaks and death streaks, and even your own logos that pop up on your opponents’ screen when you kill them.
Each weapon in the multiplayer also comes with its own set of objectives that once completed can unlock things such as new attachments or camouflage that can further personalize and enhance your experience. Perks can be leveled up, making them even more beneficial in the fight to earn more XP. Kill streaks are unlocked in the order in which the player chooses, meaning you can go for one that requires less kills to activate, making it potentially more useful in the long haul, or you can always just unlock the tactical nuke that will win you a game once you hit a kill streak of twenty five. New logos are constantly being unlocked as you meet certain criteria, such as blowing up a number of cars with an AC-130 or stabbing enough enemies.
All of these different goals and unlockables make sure that it is nearly impossible to run out of things to do while playing online. Whether you’re focusing on leveling up a certain weapon, trying to unlock a new attachment or logo, or are just completely ignoring everything but the match at hand, there always seems to be something going on or a newly unlocked item to keep you interested. In fact, every time you do unlock something new or level up, the game will flash a brief indicator on-screen to let you know, as well as treat you to an over-the-top guitar riff just in case you don’t notice the indicator due to the on-screen action. All of this unlockable stuff not only adds a huge amount of replayability and variety to the multiplayer experience, it can also serve as a reward that could keep players playing online even if they’re not doing so well. In most games once you’ve lost a few matches in a row, you might just decide to call it an evening, but in MW2, each time you unlock something new it feels like a small victory in itself, helping to take the edge off of these losing streaks.
I would also be remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention just how polished MW2 is visually. All of the characters in the game look great and are extremely well animated. You’ll notice a ton of little details such as the way your characters thumbs twitch nervously while holding onto a turret awaiting an imminent attack to break out or the way an enemy grabs at their throat after a well placed knife slash or sniper shot. The game’s lighting also helps bring the action to life with accurate shadows being cast on the environment as well as on your character’s gun and arms. MW2’s environments are very well done, with a lot of variety, detail and destructible items which add a real sense of realism to your surroundings. One of the later levels in the game has you going through an office building full of enemies. The sheer amount of visible destruction caused to the room from tossing a single grenade into its center is impressive. You’ll see potted plants erupt, glass walls shatter, lights drop from the ceiling, printers explode, and random debris fly as a result of the blast. In fact, this was so fun to watch I frequently found myself lobbing grenades even when there were no enemies around.
With the runaway success of the original MW, much was expected from its sequel. Fortunately, MW2 is a fantastic follow up that doesn’t muddle too much with the mixture of success found in the original, but instead just adds some more depth and a much higher level of polish. Whether you’re a fan of the original MW or a newcomer to the series, this is easily one of the must-play titles this year. Honestly, unless you’re completely against playing games in which you shoot things, this game’s excellent single-player campaign, enjoyable Special Ops mode, and addictive and nearly endless online multiplayer experience should put MW2 at the very top of your “to buy” list.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 4.9 Graphics
This game is incredibly polished visually and the in-game destruction is usually beautiful to behold. 4.8 Control
Everything feels great and is spot on except for the third-person modes, which understandably feel a little awkward. 4.9 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The well done sound effects and great voice acting help to bring the game to life, while the soundtrack, appropriately ranging from soulful to energetic at times, sets the mood for much of the game. 5.0 Play Value
With a great six to eight hour single-player campaign, the fun Special Ops mode meant to be enjoyed with a friend, and its endlessly replayable multiplayer experience, MW2 has a ton of content and reasons to keep coming back to it. 4.9 Overall Rating – Must Buy
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.