Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is an intense game. It is so intense, in fact, that it took the campus mail system an entire extra week to deliver the game after FedEx got the game here from Activision, which explains the delayed write-up. This is not a difficult game to review; it’s short, it’s fun, and it’s absolutely epic.
Modern Warfare 2 is pretty much a direct sequel of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. You’ll see some familiar faces such as “Soap” MacTavish and follow through the consequences of his actions from the end of the original, which is actually a pretty novel aspect since Call of Duty games traditionally have nothing in common except historical truth (or untruth, as is the case with World at War’s Nazi zombies). However, it should be noted that it is definitely not required to have played CoD4 to understand this game’s story, but you probably will miss out on shout-outs to the original, such as the mission entitled “Just Like Old Times.”
The story overall, though, seems only to exist to deliver deliciously epic moments to the player, and these are definitely only brief moments, not prolonged experiences. The astoundingly short single-player campaign will offer up about four to five hours of intense warfare that has plenty of little “I can’t believe that just happened!” cherries atop the shooter sundae. However, these little gems generally only stand out after some reflection because this game may actually be too intense. It’s almost as if it is at a constant, deafening roar. Even the exceptionally captivating stealth bits of the Task Force 141 segments end way too soon and stick you in a frantic shootout after a few minutes. This overall lack of story dynamics (think of a rollercoaster that only went down… for five hours) makes the plot seem as if every individual chapter was an incomplete thought on the game’s storyboard but was left in because of its “moment-ish” merit.
Speaking of moments, let’s discuss the “No Russian” mission. You find yourself playing as Joseph Allen who is undercover as Alexei Borodin for the CIA, infiltrating a group of Russian nationalists headed by Vladimir Makarov, the game’s primary antagonist. The mission boils down to you maintaining your secret identity by following through with Makarov’s plan to massacre an entire airport full of civilians. You are given the choice to skip the entire mission without consequence, which probably didn’t quell the most diehard of critics behind this mission’s controversy, but truthfully, this option isn’t entirely necessary. If you’ve ever played a Grand Theft Auto game, you’ve almost definitely done worse than mow down a couple dozen people with a machine gun. In fact, the police show up at the end anyways, so it actually does feel more like GTA than you’d expect in this regard.
The game actually borrows some elements from some other games and movies. The mission where you rescue a certain someone from a Russian Gulag has you fighting through a shower room and sewers in a very Nicolas Cage in The Rock-esque moment. This isn’t a bad thing, but it is something to note.
The gameplay, however, is more than refined enough to make up for the odd, slightly sprawling story and sometimes comical voice acting, especially when it comes to Shepherd. It’s pretty much the same game you played back with CoD4, just powered by an upgraded IW 4.0 engine, which delivers some pretty stellar graphics. Saying this is the same game, however, is not a bad thing. The first Modern Warfare was so polished and exciting to play that to simply match that quality of game is more than almost any developer can handle.
The infinitely spawning enemies found in CoD4 are long gone, but the “dynamic AI” which purportedly places enemies in new places each time you play through a level was not found. At best, you’ll find guy behind a door or window that surprises you with a face full of lead that wasn’t there before, which is a very frustrating experience on Veteran difficulty.
Modern Warfare 2 still showcases one of the most troublesome issues with these games: NPCs can do so much more than you can. You’ll see characters sliding into and sticking to cover, showing off some advanced melee moves, and overall just exemplifying how lame you are behind the controller. Wandering around the base at the beginning of the game shows a vibrant community of soldiers bustling around in their daily lives, but you can’t interact with any of them. The well fleshed-out world that you are placed in is much appreciated, but it feels a bit disappointing when you’re stuck watching rather than doing.
All of these, however, are minute complaints. The single-player campaign alone is well worth the price and has some of the most memorable moments ever to be had in a game, but let’s face it; the multiplayer is where the big bucks are made.
Imagine the CoD4 multiplayer, but better. Yes, that is possible, and yes, Infinity Ward did it. The added killstreak and deathstreak tweaks make online play incredibly compelling. The game is constantly rewarding you with challenges and accolades you didn’t even know you could accomplish. Even dying is rewarded, offering up a somewhat sick badge of pride. This constant “carrot on a stick” element of multiplayer games makes it incredibly addicting. You may never stop playing.
There is also a cooperative mode called Special Ops where you get to play through standalone missions with a buddy, though solo play is also allowed. These missions take place in locations from the campaign but are not actually campaign missions and sometimes include missions heavily inspired from the first Modern Warfare. You will find yourself sometimes using an AC-130 to protect your grounded cohort and other times you’ll be Army of Two-ing it up in some intense firefights. This mode may not have the same addictive appeal of the competitive multiplayer mode or the refined experience offered with single-player, but if you enjoyed the “Mile High Club” epilogue of CoD4 then you will also find a lot to like with Special Ops.
In the end, Modern Warfare 2 is exactly what you expected from Infinity Ward: polish, excellent gameplay, and a constant adrenaline rush. To expect anything less would have been a mistake, so if you’re not already playing this game, then you’ve got some ‘splainin’ to do.