Developer: Infinity Ward
Also on: Playstation 3
Release Date: Tuesday November 10th 2009
Age Rating: BBFC 18
When it comes to this time of year, the real big hitters start to get released, and it’s hard to ignore the hype train that comes with some titles. As a games journalist it’s our job to try and ignore the hype as much as possible, to try and judge a game solely on its merits, and it’s not always an easy task to accomplish. Just look at Grand Theft Auto 4, awarded near perfect scores everywhere on its release, yet in retrospect, as good a game as it is, was it truly worthy of such high scores? The hype surrounding the release of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has been exceptionally hard to ignore, both for the good reasons and the bad reasons. No matter what your own personal take on the hype and controversy surrounding Modern Warfare 2 may be, what cannot be argued or denied is how big a release this is. Forget Uncharted 2, forget Halo 3: ODST, for so many gamers out there this is the one they’ve all been waiting for. The only question remaining is a simple one – has it been worth that wait?
Reviewing and trying to score Modern Warfare 2 was always going to be a difficult job, mainly due to the two very different sides of the game. While the Call of Duty series has been known for its cinematic single player missions, the long-lasting strength of the series in recent years has been down to its simply incredible multiplayer side. When I first bought Modern Warfare back in November of 2007, I think I made it until June 2008 before I really got involved in the single player storyline, such was the allure of the multiplayer battles to be had. When I finally got into it, I was treated to an excellent, if somewhat short storyline, with some truly memorable levels (the two sniper missions are among my favourite levels in any game, ever). Modern Warfare 2 gives us a single player game that in many ways surpasses the gameplay that Modern Warfare offered us, yet also struggles to match it at the same time.
Let’s start with the good points first. If there is one thing Modern Warfare 2 does well in the single player campaign is offer some exceptional gameplay. Whether you’re storming an oil rig, sniping enemies from the side of a helicopter, or defending a burger joint, the action is always fast and furious with barely a moment to breathe. You’ll be fired at from behind cars and hedges, enemies will open doors a crack and fire out with only their gun exposed, dogs will leap at you and try to tear your throat out and grenades will drop by your feet hoping to send you to an explosive death. You’ll find team mates who actually seem intelligent, and will tell you exactly where enemies are. You will often hear shouts of “enemies at your 9 o’clock” or “enemies coming out of the grey house”, and they’ll always be accurate, something which helps to build a really immersive atmosphere.
One bugbear I really had with Modern Warfare was with the infinitely spawning enemies, who would simply keep coming non-stop until you hit the invisible checkpoint line, forcing you to constantly keep moving forward when you may prefer to play a slower, more tactical game. This design feature seems to have been completely removed from Modern Warfare 2 which is very welcome for me. It means that if you want to, you can move slowly through each level taking your time, using cover and trying to take out every enemy in the level.
That’s not to say it’ll be easy making your way through the game though. With the AI smarter than ever, you need to be more prepared as there will be numerous occasions when you may think you have the enemies pinned down, only to find they’ve doubled back and flanked you, leaving you little time or chance to retreat and find a safe hiding spot to recover.
One thing I found slightly disappointing with the single player campaign was the lack of the real stand-out missions from Modern Warfare. Everyone who has played Call of Duty 4 will remember the sniper missions, and the time you were the gunner on the AC-130, raining death on everyone below you. While the levels in Modern Warfare 2 may feature similar gameplay elements of those two sections from the original, they are few and far between and the game would really have benefited from the break in the non-stop action they would have provided.
The single player campaign also suffers for having a story that can be pretty difficult to follow at times. While most of the story is told in cut scenes between missions, you’re often updated as you’re playing the missions themselves. This wouldn’t be a problem in a lot of cases, but as Modern Warfare 2 is so action packed and so hectic, listening to radio chatter while you’re trying to avoid gunfire and RPGs isn’t the easiest task in the world. The story itself isn’t up to the same standard of Call of Duty 4, and you may well be left scratching your head in places as a result trying to make sense of it all. It’s also really short, with most players able to complete the story in roughly 5-6 hours, though that will likely be extended if you decide to play on the harder difficulties, where a few shots will see you dead pretty quickly.
With that being said however, it shouldn’t detract from just how enjoyable the single player action actually is. Played on the correct difficulty for your abilities you’ll likely find it pretty challenging in places. Certain levels like Takedown also have different routes you can take through the level, which is always handy if you find a particular route to be too tricky. There are also a lot more weapons available, with additional modifications, such as the Heartbeat Sensor and the Thermal Scope. While you can’t select the weapons and mods you use in the single player missions, you’ll be able to pick up a variety of weapons throughout the levels, many of which will be equipped with the various mods, and you will be required to switch weapons at points during missions when circumstances change and you need a more appropriate weapon. It will likely take you a while to get through them all and decide which weapons are your personal favourites (mine is the M4 assault rifle with ACOG scope), but the amount and variety of weaponry will mean that everyone should be able to find a weapon they can fall in love with.
I suppose I should pass comment on the most controversial aspect of the game, the level entitled No Russian. I won’t spoil exactly what takes place in the mission in case you want to see it for yourself, but I played through the level myself and have to admit, I struggled to see what the controversy is about. While the level could perhaps have been told via a cut scene, I think it’s important in the context of the story to explain exactly how the events that occur after came to be. Without this level, the events that unfold after might not have made a whole lot of sense. Also, while this isn’t the place to make a statement regarding the impact of videogame violence on the youth of today, the game is rated 18 for a reason, and as a responsible adult, I’m fully aware of what I’m doing and that it’s just a videogame. No matter who I’m killing and for what reason, it’s all basically a bunch of pixels governed by some artificial intelligence. I do have to give some credit to Infinity Ward however for realising that this level could offend some people and give them the option to skip it completely.
Despite the excellence of the single player campaign, the strength of the title again lies in its multiplayer. Building on the already exceptional design from Call of Duty 4, the MP action in Modern Warfare 2 actually manages to go one stage further, improving the gameplay, giving the player more rewards, yet making it more balanced and easier for new players to get involved.
One way in which the multiplayer has been improved is with the updated perk system. Instead of just having a simple variety of perks to choose from, these perks can now be improved by completing perk challenges. These can be completed by completing a certain number of kills with the perk, sprinting a certain distance, or achieving kill streaks a certain number of times. By upgrading the perks you give yourself additional benefits. For example, the Hardline perk reduces the number of kills you need to get your kill streak rewards. When you’ve completed the challenge and upgraded to Hardline Pro, you will also get your Deathstreak perk earlier.
Deathstreak perks are one way Infinity Ward has come up with to try and help new players into the game. After being killed a few times in a row without killing anyone else, you will get access to your Deathstreak perk. There are only a few to pick from, but you may have the ability to steal your killers’ class, weapons and perks after you die, or to spawn with additional health for 10 seconds. It doesn’t make a huge difference to the gameplay, and any player would hope to kill enough people to never use their Deathstreak perks, but the fact they’re there show that IW want to try and help new players contribute to the game as much as possible.
After you’ve reached a certain level of experience, you will get the option to create custom classes, selecting the weaponry, special grenades and perks that fit your style of play best. One new feature that can be customised by the player is the killstreak rewards. Rather than having a set of rewards like in the first game (where you only had the UAV, bombs and helicopter), Modern Warfare 2 has a total of 15 different rewards you can choose from. There is a wide variety of rewards to pick from, including user guidable Predator missiles, AC-130 gunship attacks (with you as the gunner), a supply drop (which can contain a random reward or some ammo), or a devastating nuclear missile if you manage to get 25 kills in a row. You will need to unlock the majority of them as you progress through the levels, and you can only select 3 at a time, so some thought will have to go into the rewards you want, but having the ability to customise these rewards will be more meaningful to newer players. Don’t think you’re good enough to rack up 10 kills in a row very often? Then select from the rewards that are available much earlier and you’ll still be able to contribute effectively to your team.
The maps in Modern Warfare 2 also seem more balanced than in Call of Duty 4. Virtually every map offers players a choice of whether to sit back somewhere to try and snipe off the opposition team, or to try to get up close and personal. There are fewer points where players can dig in and just wait to pick people off, as each level offers multiple ways to reach each area so you can always try and flank them or get around the back of them. They do sometimes feel a little big if you’re playing 6 against 6, and if you’re unfamiliar with the maps it’ll take some time to learn the ins and outs of each map, but as a whole they feel at least on a par with the maps available in Call of Duty 4. All we need now is the option to export or download those maps again to add even greater variety in and I’ll be a very happy gamer.
To go alongside the stellar multiplayer mode, Infinity Ward has created a new gameplay mode entitled Special Ops. This mission based mode gives players the opportunity to work solo or co-op to take on various challenges, such as defending an elevated position using claymores and a sniper rifle, protecting a partner while piloting an AC-130 gunship, killing all the enemies in a given level, and many more. Stars will be awarded to the player based on their performance and the difficulty selected, with those stars being used to unlock different more stages. There are 23 missions in total to complete, with the overall difficulty ranging from extremely easy to very difficult, especially if you choose to play the missions on the Veteran difficulty.
I must admit to not expecting too much from the mode when I started it, but I was very impressed with the amount of depth to the mode and just how much fun it could be. Completing all 23 missions and obtaining all 69 stars will take most players a long time, almost certainly surpassing the length of the single player campaign. The fact you can play all the missions in co-op only strengthens this mode, as there is a lot of fun to be had here when working in unison with a friend. The way the mode is designed and split up into separate stages should mean that if Infinity Ward ever want to extend this mode, it should be fairly easy to add extra missions and stages through downloadable content.
One thing that you’ll notice if you’re a veteran of the series is just how far the graphics engine has come in recent years. Modern Warfare 2 is comfortably the best looking game in the series so far, with greater details in the environments, better weather effects and more destruction going on. Each of the different locations in the game looks fantastic, from the streets of Rio to the icy planes of Kazakhstan and the dusty regions of Afghanistan. The graphical polish extends to the multiplayer as well, which looks just as impressive as the single player campaign does, something that couldn’t be said about Call of Duty 4. That same polish extends to the audio in the game as well, which is quite simply superb. From the voice acting, from respected actors such as Keith David and Lance Henrikson, to the constant radio chatter, everything vocally is absolutely spot on, even if at times it’s a little hard to make out over the gunfire. The musical score deserves a special mention as well. Penned by Hans Zimmer (who did the music for films such as Broken Arrow), it fits the feel of the game perfectly, changing subtly as the game changes and matches the mood of the action incredibly well. It’s one of the best scores in a game I’ve heard in recent years, always complimentary and never overpowering.
Final Thoughts: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the gaming equivalent of a rollercoaster, giving you non-stop thrills and spills with the action never letting up. As the game is split into three very separate parts, scoring the game becomes slightly more difficult. The single player campaign will be considered too short by many, and long time fans of the series may well breeze through it quickly on Veteran difficulty and find very little reason to go back. The stars of the show are the Special Ops mode and the multiplayer. Both extend the life of Modern Warfare 2 tremendously, so much so that I can easily see me playing both modes in a year, such is the amount of fun available in either mode. If you have no interest in playing online however, then be aware of the problems with the single player campaign. If you enjoy playing first person shooters online, then buying Modern Warfare 2 shouldn’t be a choice, it should be a necessity.
Story – 7: The story is over-the-top and contains one too many twists for my liking, but as a vehicle to drive the action forward it does the job just fine.
Gameplay – 9: The action is fluid and non-stop, barely giving you a moment to breathe. The multiplayer and Special Ops mode add incredible longevity to the game. The only thing missing is a sniper/AC-130 break in the story that Call of Duty 4 had.
Graphics – 10: Simply superb, the best graphics yet in a Call of Duty game and with everything so beautiful it’ll be incredibly hard for the series to surpass this.
Sound – 10: Again, exceptional. The score from Hans Zimmer is world class and the voice acting is so well done, everything just feels right at home.
Overall – 9: The only reason this isn’t a perfect 10 is down to the length and story issues with the single player campaign. The multiplayer side of things alone make it worth a purchase if you have any interest in playing online, as it’s the best online action I’ve ever experienced. The addition of Special Ops is the cherry on top of the icing. One of the games of the year so far.