Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was such a great game for me. In fact, all of the Infinity Ward games have been some of the best gaming I've had on the PC for a long time. Well, Infinity Ward's looking to top what they did in Modern Warfare with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 so is it a worthy to successor to one of the best first person shooters out there?
The story of Modern Warfare 2 takes place five years after the end of Modern Warfare. Vladimir Makarov is now the antagonist in the game and he's a former lieutenant of the villain in Modern Warfare. The beginning of the game even has scenes from the previous Modern Warfare to jog your memory on a few things. You won't be playing Soap MacTavish in this one though, well not initially. Soap's now in Captain Price's role for a few mission and leads you through a few encounters. As presented, the story for Modern Warfare 2 and how everything comes together is pretty farfetched though and why the Russians decide to attack the United States later on. I did like the little twist it took about 3/4 of the way through and the fact that a good portion of the game takes place on U.S. soil. You see many FPS war games take place on foreign lands but those that have attacks on major U.S. cities aren't as prominent. How it happens is a bit of a stretch but it does feel different when you are running through houses and yards in the U.S. as well as using fast food restaurants as bases of operation.
The campaign is short and I mean really short. If I was playing on the PC, I would definitely have it finished in a quick half a night's sitting. The staples of Infinity Ward's good presentation skills of intense action and drama are all here. You get fast paced chased sequences, a visually impressive rail shooting sequence, and various moments of tension using some Hollywood techniques such as slow-motion action and being saved just before you fall to your demise. The campaign cycles through scenes from various characters so you aren't controlling one single protagonist again. It's an effective way to tell the story and offers up a nice change of pace between scenes. Some of the firefights are really intense and you won't be on the offensive all the time as some areas have you running which is your best and only option. As one who has played every single Infinity Ward game multiple times, they stick to their tried and true formula, but I feel maybe it's starting to get a little old. Don't get me wrong, they are still fun to experience but it didn't feel like it had the lasting impression that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare had on me the first time I played through the game.
I guess no review of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 would be complete without the mentioning of the "No Russian" mission. Infinity Ward does give you the ability to skip this controversial mission should you choose to do so, which I think is a good decision. Now, my first pass through I didn't find the mission offensive or really anything to get up in arms with. In reality, you could go through the entire mission without firing a single shot at a civilian and maybe the cops that come after you. To me, it wasn't anything as bad as what you see in movies or perhaps in Grand Theft Auto IV or Saints Row 2 but you do see it in the eyes of one of the "terrorists" (Those that have played the game know why I put this in quotes). I can see how it can be shocking and I compare it to the ride of Call of Duty 4 where you are executed at the end in providing a visceral and potentially disturbing portrayal of what does happen out there in times of war. The mission is crucial to the story and the upcoming events that lead to the attack on U.S. soil though. Would it have been better if the events were portrayed differently, perhaps a cut scene or just quick still photos of what happened? Maybe, but I can see what Infinity Ward was trying to do here and I, for one, have no problems with how they did it and what they wanted you to experience. In the end to me, it's just a game and I know full well this isn't right and I can separate that from those that think it's a terrorist simulator of sorts.
One of the new features presented in the single player campaign is the technique of breaching an area. You set a charge at the designated wall or door and set it off. Doing so turns everything into bullet time as you have the ability now to aim at incoming or retreating enemies easily as you rush through the explosion for a short period of time. It's not used too much but at the times when it becomes available, it's a fun little feature that adds some coolness factor to the mission.
Like the previous Infinity Ward game, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 suffers from a little of what plagued Call of Duty 4 and the issues I had with that game. It's sometimes hard to judge where the grenades are when the indicator comes up especially when you want to know how close you are to it to be able to pick it up and throw it back. I did find some new issues as well for the series. On the mission in the Russian Gulag, I had Avatar as a squad mate just crouch and continuously shoot at a metal wall. Now, I know there were enemies in that general direction but I stood there for a good 30 seconds watching him unload rounds into the wall.Infinity Ward's a company that does a great job at getting all the little things right and, in turn, all these things come together to make a very immersive game. Which is why I was surprised to find one little glaring error when playing alongside NPCs that talk to you during the mission over the radio. As an example, I was playing Roach and on a mission with Call of Duty 4's Soap MacTavish who would give me orders over the radio like Captain Price did for him in Modern Warfare. Staring straight at Soap, I saw neither emotion nor his lips moving when he was talking to me on the radio. It looked weird given that other times of the game, other characters would talk with you and you could see their facial movements. It seemed if it wasn't a scripted event, the character's lips never moved even though you could hear them in your earpiece. While it's not something that makes or breaks a game, it's just something I found a little odd considering how well that team does in doing all the little things right.
At E3, I asked about what improvements have been made to the engine since Call of Duty 4 that makes Modern Warfare 2 better visually. One of the things that help improve the games' visual quality is the new texture streaming feature which can accommodate more detailed textures with the new technique. You can see the effects on the soldier's clothing for example as well as many other parts of the game. Visually, Modern Warfare 2 is a sharp looking game that's a nice improvement over Call of Duty 4 and you'll definitely notice a cleaner and more detailed game. The levels of detail in some of the levels are amazing as I was impressed in both the architecture and texture quality presented. For example, the market in the game contains both produce and live chickens in cages. As the shootout progresses, you'll see items explode and fly around in the air. Chickens will start flapping like crazy as gunfire is exchanged. And yes, you can take out the chickens should you choose to do so or a stray bullet decides to blow through the poultry. When lying in the grass on one of the U.S. missions, you can see how detailed and realistic the lawn looks now as it's not just simple little green lines anymore. From top to bottom, most of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is an improvement over Call of Duty 4.
Not all is well though as one of the most glaring problem to present itself is the shadow that's cast on the ground from a soldier. You can see some pretty bad pixilation during some certain circumstances making for a really bad visual. I'm surprised Infinity Ward didn't try and fix this as it's pretty apparent when it happens and it looks really, really bad compared to the rest of the game.
The engine now also allows for bigger levels as well so you'll be able to fight in more open and expansive areas in the game. Level design is, again, top notch, with some well designed maps that you fight through single player games. I was really impressed with the fight through a suburb of U.S. and then going through the White House taking care of Russian soldiers. Level design for multiplayer games has good and bad points though. Sometimes I would get caught in certain areas when running and there are almost always multiple access points on all locations on the map making it hard to find a safe place to hide. Some people might like this though as camping can really bring down a multiplayer game and the maps presented makes it hard to find good camping spots. I’ll get into multiplayer more though in a bit.
Similar to the A.I Director in Left 4 Dead, Modern Warfare 2 also incorporates some intelligent aspects for enemy behavior with such things as different spawn points and dynamic behavior based on how you are doing. The enemies can act independently if they feel they can attack you faster rather than follow a specific path to you. What's nice about these little changes is that if you do replay the game like I do, you'll get a slightly different experience each time so it extends the replay value a little.
Some new weapons make their way into the game but one prominent addition is the riot shield. With this and crouching, you're pretty much immune to gunfire and it can be a great tactical advantage to maneuver through areas of large enemies with this equipped while your squad mates take out any opposition. You can bash them with your shield should they try and get to close to you so you're not completely helpless. I can see those who are adept at teamwork on multiplayer games having one or two people equipped with this to help clear out the enemies while minimizing casualties. Another cool little addition is the sentry gun. If you ever saw the extended scenes in the movie Aliens, then you know what I am talking about. These things monitor for enemy movement and unload a world of hurt on them. The gun's even equipped with a red laser so you can see where it's aiming. You can pick these puppies up and place them in strategic spots and move them if necessary. It's definitely one of the more fun items to use in both single and multiplayer games.Now the single player is just half of the equation as Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 also features a robust multiplayer feature set. First off, Special Ops is new feature of the series where you can partake in a few objective based scenarios in various locations either alone or with a friend. Take the Epilogue of Call of Duty 4 and expand it into multiple missions and you get an idea on what Special Ops has to offer. There are various different objectives though such as surviving waves of enemies or hunting down militia members without killing hostages to name a few. Depending on how you do, you'll be award one to three stars and you'll need to collect a certain amount of stars to unlock more Special Ops missions. Some of the Special Ops missions need two people so make sure you have a friend who can help you out on these. While I'm a little disappointed that Modern Warfare 2 didn't feature a co-op element for the campaign, Special Ops is a nice alternative.
The formula for the rest of the online multiplayer aspect follows Modern Warfare with some tweaks. You'll earn experience points as you play allowing you to unlock various aspects such as weapons, perks, and other things as well. New killstreak rewards are also now available. Numerous game modes, which can be accessed when you earn enough experience points, give you plenty of options to play with. A new feature that was put in for Modern Warfare 2 is the ability to play in third person mode. While only a multiplayer feature, it’s an interesting twist and something different for you to experience.
No doubt about it, this is the mode that will have players coming back for more. The gameplay’s still fast and furious and those that liked how Modern Warfare played will enjoy the gameplay here as well. It is rather easy to die though so you have to not get frustrated easily to play this. Enemies do come at all directions because the maps are made with very little areas to hide in. It can get a little out of hand though should one team start racking up kills and start calling in helicopters, missile strikes, or harriers. After a while, I just resigned to the fact that I was going to die often and started to have some fun with it since I am terrible with the 360 controllers in a first person shooter. I was able to get some good rounds in after some practice though and most of the time I enjoyed playing with others online.
An improvement over Call of Duty 4 is the ability for the host to be migrated should the person drop out. No longer will a game end when the person hosting the game gets cut off or leaves. I wish more games on the console would implement this feature that use listen server as the method of hosting.
I did run into a problem with the server every few games though. If you're a veteran of online FPS games, you'll know what I mean by the rubber band effect. You'll see your character just bounce around uncontrollably until the connection stabilizes. It was pretty frustrating when this happened, especially when I got on a roll a few times only to get taken down without any warning. This happened even with my connection bars showing full green status. This sadly, is something I've come to expect after playing online games on the 360 where it's usually a listen host model where one person acts as the server. Also, that person has the ultimate advantage of being at an almost 0 ping whereby his shots are always pure. I've seen many times where I would see shots fired on my screen but when the replay shows me dying I didn't get a single shot off. I don't know if this is an issue with the replay system but playing many online games, I noticed a slight lag in almost every game I played where I wasn't the host. I'm not going to get into the debate about dedicated servers here as this is a review on the 360 version though so it is what it is on the console.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 doesn't do anything innovative but like the previous Infinity Ward efforts what it does it does pretty well, for the most part. It does feel a little bit of the same ole same ole at times and there are some over usage of the same techniques used to generate drama. The single player campaign is pretty short but the robust multiplayer features make up for the shortness of it. While the story is a bit of a stretch, there are some nice little reveals and fighting on U.S. soil is an interesting change. Some will be shocked by some aspects of the game but I didn't find it all too disturbing. I have to say though, I was more wowed when Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare came out than playing through Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. I think it's a solid game, but as a player of all previous Infinity Ward Call of Duty games, I think the magic has slipped a little bit. Perhaps my expectations were set too high or I've just played too many of their games but I wasn't impressed with Modern Warfare 2 as I thought I would be. That's not to say it's a bad game as it's a fun on most fronts but for some reason I feel it's missing something that made the other ones instant classics.