Instead of following the events of another WWII shooter, Modern Warfare 2 takes the modern day fiction approach, continuing the story from the original game. But does the final product compare to all the hype?
From the battles on the steps of the White House, the snowmobile chase, and the firefight in the shower room of The Rock, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is a direct expression of the developers’ gun-fetishes and high explosive fever dreams. Like Uncharted 2, the game barely gives the player a moment to catch their breath in what plays out like an adrenaline high movie.
This game is of two sides: an action packed single player experience, and an online multiplayer experience built around co-op and competitive matches. Both modes contain high presentation values and spot on controls.
Like the first Modern Warfare, the single player experience is most definitely entertaining but still contains quite a high level of game design imperfections. The biggest of which is the linearity of every single stage. At all times, the player only has access to one specific path to reach the next goal or objective. Even if the player tries to venture and just explore the limited surroundings, the game literally yells at that player by having a NPC cry out a phrase like “come on, hurry up, this way.” In one way, the game is hypocritical because the game rewards players by finding enemy intel, hidden laptop computers, within just about every stage, but the game basically pushes the player from checkpoint to checkpoint. The game’s linearity is so prominent, that the player will actually feel like they are playing as a camera, just moving from one scripted event to another. The game tries to create the impression that there is a giant war going on, but every single event in the game is scripted by the player’s location – once a player enters this spot, it will trigger an event. This eliminates all sense of randomness and reality of battle.
As loud and testosterone driven as this game is, the single player plot line is actually quite confusing and very inconsistent. The player will play as a different character in each stage, but these constant character jumps creates a loss of identity. I could not tell you how many times I found myself asking “wait, who am I playing as again and what the hell is going on?” To make matters worse, the game does very little to recap the events of the first game, which could cause even more head scratching, especially for new comers. One level even puts the player into the role of a terrorist, but are not given many details explaining why or how. In one level you play as a training cadet learning how to shoot a gun running through a gauntlet. It’s then mentioned that you’re needed for a special mission. Then cut to another mission with different people. Then cut back to the training cadet in the middle of a terrorist mission. How did the guy get there? What happened? I didn’t even remember the cadet’s name from the simple training mission. It sets up the story of how this war is breaking out, but if you don’t remember that the name of the American training cadet you miss the whole point of how everything is set up. The faceless character development really hinders the overall plotline.
Luckily, the constantly spawning enemies that were apparent in MW1 has been changed in MW2. Instead of fighting a never ending onslaught of magically respawning enemies, the player now has to deal with strange enemy spawn points, inconsistent friendly AI, and some cheap enemy behaviors. Again, relying heavily on scripted events, friendly AI will only perform certain tasks when the player moves or acts in a specific way. For example, you can plan on being pinned down by enemy fire until you take out a certain amount of bad guys, giving you the go ahead to advance forward. Only during scripted events will the friendly AI take point, forcing the player to artificially hold the hand of his friendly soldiers. Combine this fact that the game literally screams at the player to advance forward sends constant mixed singles.
Finally, the enemy AI takes many cheap shots at the player. Sporting a few different difficulty settings, Veteran is the highest and promises to provide the most challenging experience. In fact, the game displays several warning messages when this difficulty is selected, inferring that you are about to get your ass kicked. While this is definitely true, the game handles difficulty by taking an easy way out. Veteran difficulty means that the player will die easier and it will require more bullets to take down an enemy. This essentially throws out the idea of playing through a war simulation because now enemy soldiers can survive after you just dumped an entire clip into them. Instead of subtracting the player’s energy level and increasing the enemy’s, the game should have provided different AI behaviors or limited the player’s firearms – something that genuinely makes the game more difficult. While many other games are guilty of this fact, it seems even more apparent in MW2. Game critics constantly complain about getting shot from off screen enemies or by getting knocked into a pit by a conveniently placed enemy in 2D platformers. MW2’s difficulty is on par with these cheap gameplay tactics.
Once the short 10 hour campaign is completed, there are a couple different multiplayer modes to keep the player busy. Spec Ops is only for two player co-op. Reusing stages from the single player campaign, two friendlies must work together to complete a number of different gameplay objects. This mode was basically created due to the fact that the main campaign is restricted to a single player. Unlike the single player experience however, the success of Spec Ops is determined by how many stars the player earns. In order to earn all 69 stars, both co-op players must be playing on the most difficult setting, Veteran. Spec Ops does contain a decent amount of entertainment value, but it is plagued with the same flaws as the single player experience.
The last gameplay mode is the straight up multiplayer experience. Your typical death match style modes are all here for you, your friends, and random other online players to shoot the crap out of each other. Unfortunately, this multiplayer experience is just as unbalanced and frustrating as the original Modern Warfare. The mutliplayer’s unbalance mostly relies on the game’s way of leveling up. Essentially, the more you play and more kills you earn rewards the player with an increase in level, similar to an RPG. As your level–your rank–increases, so does the player’s perks, armory and availability and outfit options. This means that by the time you are in the 40’s and 50’s, you will have access to some sweet camouflage, sniper rifles and other weapons as well as extra perk elements that are unique to your player. Perks include things like dropping a grenade as you die, gaining access to a radar system, or being able to shoot through different type of walls. While all these things sound cool and make the game more random, it completely removes any type of fairness and balance.
A great example of this happened within the very first match that I played. Because I just started, I of course was a Rank 1 while the next closest player in rank was a Rank 41. Needless to say, competing against players in their 40’s was a frustrating experience not only because all other players have spent more time with the game and know the layout of each map, but rather, they had perks and weaponry that completely overwhelmed me. It is basically like bringing a rock to a sniper battle. The game’s Rank structure basically makes it impossibility difficult for newbies to level up while keeping the higher ranked players at the top. Games like Halo 3, for example, is purely based on skill because everyone has access to all the same weapon and skill set. Defeat in Halo 3 usually means that you were beaten by a player of higher skill. Halo 3’s matchmatching also works a lot better because it only pits up against players of similar rank and party size. MW2 just makes it easier to pick on n00bs and usually the players who have access to better stuff will win the match.
From an overall presentation stand point, the game definitely shines. Playing out like an over-the-top action movie, the game constantly tries to one up itself by doing something extreme like blowing up a national monument or an important historical building, to ending the game in a ridiculous but gut wrenching way. Graphically, the game is no Uncharted 2 but it does look pretty damn good. Animations are fluid, there is a nice draw distance, explosions and particle effects looks great, and my only real complaint about the game’s visuals is the blood screen splattering effect. Whenever the player gets shot, the screen gets plastered with a watered down blood effect. This generates the sense of being injured, but it also limits the player’s visibility a little too much. And when played on the highest difficulty setting, the player will constantly be looking through this red screen filter and it actually started to give me bouts of nausea after a while. It should go without saying, but this really is one game that you are going to want to play with a quality surround sound system as the musical score and sound effects can be pretty intense, especially when your teammates are constantly yelling at you to move up.
Is this sequel entertaining? Yes. It is the perfect game that it was hyped up to be? Absolutely not. The single player stages are much too linear, the co-op missions are reused from the single player campaign, and the main multiplayer deathmatch style modes are very unbalanced, especially for new players. But like Uncharted 2, MW2 is like an insane action packed movie that you can participate in… too bad the game’s heavy use of scripted events make the player feel like they have do not have any control regarding the out come of the final experience. The behavior of both the friendly and enemy AI is not exactly ideal either. But with as many copies of this sold game upon the first day of release and how the story ends, you can bet their will a sequel(s). Let’s just hope that the third time will be a charm.
Better Than: actually fighting in a war
On Par With: Modern Warfare 1
Also Try: pulling a knife out of your own chest to kill an enemy who is trying to take credit as being the hero of a war that he tried to instigate
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(This review has been reposted from its original posting date of 12-16-09 due to a server error)