Format: PS3 (version tested), Xbox 360, PC
Developer: Infinity Ward
Genre: First Person Shooter
Set five years after the end of Modern Warfare, you are once again called upon to serve Queen and Country. In the battle against terrorists, traitors and even entire nations, you will command elite soldiers in the field, through a deep, twisting plot that keeps you constantly engaged... err actually- does anybody really care about the story?
I'll save you some time: Yes, it is as good as the first one, you can relax. Although, is it better than Modern Warfare? That question takes a little longer to answer. Read on, my friend.
Firstly, the single player campaign is everything you'd hoped for, a visceral explosion for the senses. Again you will take control of different characters as you battle enemies across the globe. An interesting new theatre of war presents itself here though- America. This setting really adds an extra layer to the experience. There is a certain humour to be had from blasting Russians on the rooftop of a burger joint, or escorting tanks down picket fenced suburban streets. However, later as you battle through iconic buildings in Washington D.C, the game imbues a real sense of the dramatic. Perhaps slightly lost on us cynical Europeans but still powerful in the imagery it evokes. In this respect, Modern Warfare 2 harnesses the most potent sensations of epic combat- last felt when storming the Reichstag in Call of Duty: World at War. In any case, it definitely makes a welcome change from the 'Generic-stan' settings from the first game.
Of course, we cannot discuss the levels in this title without making reference to 'that' controversial mission. It is every bit as disturbing as you've heard. Yes, it's just pixels at the end of the day but it is rare that a video game requires you to commit such atrocities. When you load up the game for the first time, you will be given the option to skip this level but let's face it, who will? Morbid curiosity will ensure you play it through but you will feel slightly dirty when you're done. Cynically speaking, the game's PR thrives on this exposure and it is possibly just another strain of the hype machine surrounding this title (as well as a loose plot device), as opposed to the developers making any kind of substantial statement. Debate will no doubt continue.
Prior to the game's release, forums were alight with fanboys proudly boasting that they were only buying the title for its multiplayer mode, some stating they wouldn't ever touch the single player campaign. This is frankly ludicrous but luckily for them (and the rest of us) there is a lot here to keep you playing long after the campaign credits roll. Multiplayer is practically identical (thankfully) to the first, save with the addition of new Killstreak rewards and now 'Deathstreaks'. Die a certain number of times without scoring a kill and you'll be given a lifeline to jump start you, plus there are also plenty of new toys to play with, very welcome for those of us (AHEM) who don't get to practice as often as we should. The big new inclusion though is 'Special Ops' mode, a series of challenges to be completed, like micro levels in themselves. Completing them earns stars, which in turn unlock extra challenges. Excitingly, these can be undertaken with another player offline or online (in fact some tasks require two players) and are challenging but addictive. It's not the multiplayer campaign that we were hoping for but it's the next best thing and a welcome addition.
It was very pleasing to see that the graphics have improved slightly and, whilst the series was never best in class for this department, don't let talk of 600p resolutions put you off- the game looks fantastic. Explosions rock the landscape, grenades blind and disorient you and characters are convincing and well animated. Of course, some textures look pretty rough up close on a large display but these are small sacrifices to pay for a rock solid frame rate and extra particle/lighting visual candy.
So we have new settings, new weapons and new characters. But, the more things change, the more they stay the same. The actual game mechanics and the overall experience remain unchanged in Modern Warfare 2 and whilst this is largely a very good thing (if it aint broke...) it does also mean that the game lacks much in the way of innovation and actually seems aged at times. The absence of a cover system that extends beyond crouching behind boxes feels quite anachronistic at this point and the lack of a blind firing ability limits your engagement tactics at times. Whilst I think we can forgive Infinity Ward for this (best left out than implemented badly, after all), they do rub salt into the bullet wounds by bestowing these skills upon your comrades and enemies instead!
Other hangovers from the first game persist here too. The blistering campaign is over all too quickly, with only six hours play for most gamers. You'll want to complete this on at least 'Hardened' difficulty to be worthwhile. Also, the ending itself, whilst enigmatic, is underwhelming and won't take your breath away like previous efforts have.
But that's really all the criticism one can levy at this excellent title. Infinity Ward has once again pushed the boat out, not so much in terms of advancing the game mechanics but certainly with player emotion and overall experience. You know it's only a ride but Modern Warfare 2 has the best loop the loops in the business. The title makes a lot of effort to impart a sense of history, of context in time and place. Politics and world affairs are swept over in the story but the real power comes from more subtle moments: the beauty found in fiery embers lighting a woodland scene before the realisation that an exploded tank is producing the flames, or the poignant tableau during the end credits.
Modern Warfare 2 is primarily an adrenaline fuelled, twitch trigger based, first person action shooter but the developers should be applauded for once again providing a deeper experience than that. The lack of genuine innovation is easily overshadowed by the strong sensations of pride and catharsis that the title elicits. It's not better than Modern Warfare but it's every bit as good. Excellent, essential playing.