Review: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

PC – Keyboard / Mouse – 2009
Developer: Infinity Ward
Publisher: Activision
Playtime: 5 hours (campaign + Special Ops), 5 hours (online).
Paid: ~$60 from GAME
Metacritic: 87 (PC), 94 (PS3/360)

(An aside about the playtime: For those 5 hours of playtime online, Steam claims I’ve spent 7.5 hours in the multiplayer client, suggesting I’ve spent 1/3 of my time in matchmaking and customisation.)

Well, that was …interesting. After all the hype, all the advertising, and all the controversy, what did you expect?

Modern Warfare 2 includes a singleplayer campaign continuing 5 years after where its predecessor left off, and… well, it’s short. Indeed, it’s really short, at just 4 hours and 40 minutes for my admittedly quick playthrough on Regular difficulty.

An interesting addition to the game is the Special Ops mode, comprising 23 singleplayer / 2-player co-operative (some are 2P-only) missions, which are a mixed bag of brief little scenarios of various types – assault missions, defending an area, racing, stealth, and so on. Completing each mission earns you 1, 2, or 3 stars, giving those who need to complete everything an added challenge. The challenges are quite fun, and will likely cause that “one more time” reaction when you fall just short.

And, of course, the game features multiplayer. You may have heard some things about it. Plenty more after the jump.

MW2 follows the same formula as the first, bouncing the player between characters almost every mission, weaving the stories together in a manner reminiscent of an episode of 24. It can occasionally be slightly disorientating, but keeps things fresh. The game opens with a quick reminder of the events of the first game, and should not be too confusing to the few who didn’t play it.

Prerequisite “No Russian” comments, including spoilers, follow: the first thing the game does on launch is ask whether or not you will be offended by a particular mission in the game. You can still skip the mission at any time anyway. There are no penalties whatsoever for not playing the mission, except presumably missing out on 10-15 minutes of game, and a bit of story. If you haven’t heard – here be spoilers – the mission involves you being deep undercover, part of a terrorist squad who gun down unarmed civilians in an airport. Again, however, there is NO penalty for not gunning them down; the other shooters don’t notice. It’s up to you to do what you want. Kill them all, put critically injured civilians out of their misery, or just watch. There is armed resistance later in the level, though, and a rather noteworthy cutscene at the end. It’s up to you. The scene is being talked about, and causing reactions in those who play it, which at least proves it has an impact.

The game’s presentation is superb, as one would expect given its no doubt massive budget. With Hans Zimmer composing the music (in his first foray into gaming), it is again no surprise that it is atmospheric and thoroughly enjoyable. In addition, voice-acting and other audio effects are all of high quality. Visually, the game is a real treat, running extremely well for almost the entire game on my machine, maxed out in full HD. A range of visual effects, such as depth of field and various particle effects (fire, smoke, snow, and so on), are put to good use. The whole game looks sharp and detailed, with a simple, realistic style.

Using the now standard regenerative health system is good and all, but the “strawberry jam” red screen effect is just too much – in both singleplayer and multiplayer, it obscures vision terribly, making escape from already difficult situations harder than it needs to be. Coupled with the amount of hits you can take (read: not many), the issue is amplified, as you’ll see it all the time.

The campaign’s gameplay is fairly diverse. From calling in Predator missiles from afar, remotely targeting enemies during combat, to the odd driving section, to stealth areas, to slow-motion room breaches (including rescuing civilian hostages, a nice change), to escape sequences, to a spot of innovatively-controlled climbing, to those many standard assault scenes; there really is a lot going on in these few hours. There are 45 “intel files” to be found throughout the campaign, although as far as I know, finding them only rewards you with achievements and pride. (I did pitifully, with less than 10. My excuse is that I forgot to look for much of the game.)

The experience is action-packed, and is definitely exciting throughout, rarely letting up on the action at all. The story has a few surprises and twists, although I feel it concludes abruptly, not entirely providing as complete a resolution as many may expect. A sequel, which seemed inevitable no matter how MW2’s story ended, is now a certainty, given this lack of closure. The game certainly would not have been too long if another hour or two were included.

Now, let’s talk multiplayer. PC users are used to dedicated servers, which are stable, provide clans with a place to gather, have essentially no waiting times, and, largely, keep latency low. MW2 famously lacks this feature, instead using matchmaking. It does take longer. Clans can now party up, though, which seems like an adequate system. The PC version of Modern Warfare 2, unlike its predecessor, includes Prestige Mode (resetting multiplayer level from 70 to 1), so that’s nice.

What’s new in the multi? Well, a lot. There are many new maps, obviously, as well as a number of new multiplayer modes, including a couple using the third-person perspective. Customization options have also become more diverse, with players able to change their callsign and emblem, as well as the rewards they receive for achieving killstreaks. Also, a player who has been killed 3 times in a row without getting any kills receives one of a few boosters (including what is essentially Last Stand, the ability to survive and fire back after being killed) until break that unlucky streak.

I’m certain that people will be playing this online for quite some time, despite the PC version’s functionality being taken down a notch. Lag is often noticeable, although sometimes it’s completely smooth-sailing – as is always the case with matchmaking; a lack of consistency is the norm. Sometimes you can enter matchmaking to have a game start loading literally within a second, but on other occasions, it could take several minutes, with people leaving just as the game’s about to start, or connection issues popping up, and so on. On the plus side, MW2 has host migration, where the host leaving doesn’t completely ruin the match, although there is still a fairly lengthy disruption.

It turns out the combination of IWNet and VAC aren’t perfect, as I have encountered a hacker – and in Call of Duty, where killstreaks are rewarded with powerful bonuses (25 kills in a row can even earn a game-ending Tactical Nuke), this causes huge problems, as the successful become more successful. On the plus side, it’s incredibly obvious when someone is cheating, as you can view their Killcam (the last few seconds of your life from the killer’s perspective) and see them magically hit you in the head through a wall over and over again.

Multiplayer is a lot of fun, a refinement of the Modern Warfare experience. The reduction of the presence of Martyrdom and Last Stand greatly reduce frustration, and the additions and modifications just feel right. What is lacking is (as far as I’ve seen) a means of reporting cheaters, and obviously the dedicated servers. The matchmaking system really is fairly quick, and very easy to use, but it seems as though there’s some way for them to have both. Watching the Killcam can frustrate, as the discrepancies between players as a result of lag becomes apparent; emptying several shots into a guy, dying, and viewing their Killcam to see that you apparently haven’t shot at all is no fun (admittedly an extreme example.)

In conclusion, MW2 is going to please the hardcore fans greatly, with the exception of those furious about the PC version’s many failures. The action-packed campaign is quite gripping and extremely well-done, but is decidedly short. The multiplayer is Modern Warfare plus a couple of years of hindsight, and Infinity Ward appear to have taken community feedback into account in its design. Special Ops is a nice addition, although will likely not influence people’s purchasing decision nor attribute a great deal to their playtime. The value is largely in the online multiplayer, which can be both endlessly entertaining and frustrating. Is it my favourite game ever, as would be befitting to the “Biggest game ever!” hype? No. However, the campaign is cinematic and gripping, and the multiplayer is extremely solid.


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