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The biggest game of the year is finally here, but did it deserve the hype? Modern Warfare 1 (MW1) pushed the Call of Duty franchise to an all time high, garnering it the same level of prestige as the other top series in gaming. Though it’s up for debate, MW1 was followed up by the sub-par sequel World at War. Luckily, Modern Warfare 2 (MW2) is a return to form. Like the other Call of Duty games, you take the perspective of different soldiers in different units throughout the world. This time you bounce between a Marine unit and a Special Forces unit, which also has Sgt. Soap from MW1 in it. The two narratives with these units are much more significant than in previous COD games. This time instead of taking the role of a random soldier and experiencing the war through their eyes, you’re actions are much more instrumental to how the entire war pans out. This installment overall feels much more “action movie” than any other COD game. Since the game does this in a none cheesy and clichéd way it feels fitting, but those looking for a realistic experience maybe turned off. If MW1 was parallel to the TV series 24, then MW2 is more like the movie The Rock, especially towards the end.
Usually its third person games like Gears of War and Uncharted 2 that have cinematic gameplay, but MW2 handles this masterfully. There aren’t many cut-scenes in the game and when they do happen it’s between loading levels, so majority of the story is told in-game. Due to the stakes being so high for you and the world there are many highly intense moments, even when it’s something as simple as run to the checkpoint before time runs out. The actual gameplay hasn’t changed that much since MW1. For the most part the actual mechanics are the same, but like the story, everything is amped up. The tools at your disposal are also on a grander in scale, you’ll use weapons like an automatic sentry turret, missiles from a controllable UAV, and other powerful weaponry. Everything being much more epic makes every mission in the game feel important and each one is varied from the other. Most games, even the great ones we love, are simply go from point A to B, but the great ones like MW2 actually makes it feel like you’re doing something important. A game’s story rarely invokes emotion from me, Metal Gear Solid 4 is the only other recent game I can recall that made me feel anything, but now MW2 can be added to that list. I wasn’t crying like a little school girl or anything (or was I), but fighting at certain locations and seeing what happens to certain characters did feel very dramatic and suspenseful.
As fun as the gameplay is, it does suffer from the difficulty being sporadic. An arbitrary firefight, like you just walking down the street, might be almost controller-throwing annoying. While the firefight that preceded it was easy. This problem stems from both the enemy placement and AI. Sometimes you might be surrounded and before you know it, so the next thing you’ll see is a quote by Dick Cheney, which of course means you’re dead. Usually the AI acts logically by doing things taking cover, flanking, and other advanced tactics. However, every now and then you’ll run into a crazy, suicidal, and possibly drunk soldier that just runs straight at you and either kills you in one shot or uses his drunk guy super strength to kill you in one melee attack, which is annoying and doesn’t even make sense. Other than these AI and difficulty anomalies, the campaign is an extremely fun roller coaster of a ride and much like a roller coaster, while the ride is exhilarating, it is also short. The campaign is about 4 & 1/2 hours long.
MW2 almost feels like three separate games because of its three modes, those being campaign, Special Ops, and multiplayer. Special Ops is the game’s scenario mode, it’s meant to be co-op, but some missions can be played alone. This new mode is tactical as well as fun. It offers slices from the actual campaign for you and your friend to play. The Special Ops missions can range from a race on a snowmobile, surviving waves of enemies, doing a stealth mission, or even you covering your friend from an aerial vehicle while they’re on the ground trying to complete the mission.
The multiplayer is basically the same from MW1, the biggest improvement is the customization you can do to your character. Of course, things like perks, weapon attachments, and other options were in MW1, but those aspects are greatly expanded upon here. You can now have custom kill streaks; MW2 has over a dozen different kinds. New options like this makes the game feel even deeper, but they also present a problem. Once a winning team gets hot, they’re almost unstoppable. This is true in almost any other online shooter too, but powerful kill streaks like a helicopter or jet sticking around and killing enemy players in seconds, can be cheap. Really, once you’ve reached the halfway point to winning a game in team deathmatch, calling in two kill streaks in a row that bring in aerial vehicles will probably finish the game for you.
Some of this is to blame on the stupidity of players for running outside when there’s an AC-130 in the air right above them, but it’s still annoying and can get to be unfair. Another new element of the multiplayer is that you can shoot down aerial kill streaks like a UAV, plane, and helicopter; but that’s rarely even attempted online. These balance issues are highlighted by how people play the game, but the spawning system isn’t helping things either. Usually in a smaller game, like 8 to 12 players, the spawning system works fine, but in games with 18 players and with kill streaks going on it can fail. Some of the most frustrating moments from playing the game came from being spawned in an air-strike or right in front of an enemy player. Those issues aside, MW2 probably has the best multiplayer this generation. The fun and frantic gameplay mixed with addicting RPG leveling is a blast.
A problem that MW1 had is somewhat highlighted in this installment in all three modes. The game wants you to take cover, yet there’s no cover system. Not every shooter needs to follow the fad of adding a cover system, but it seems a bit tacky to make us just crouch behind stuff to take cover, instead of leaning against it and being able to shoot from there. With everything so top-notch in this game, their makeshift cover system sticks out. Uncharted 2 shows that a game can have a cover system without feeling like a Gears of War clone, MW2 should follow their example. Especially since a FPS has never had a great cover system while staying in first person the entire time.
Certain games get to a point of quality where it’s not a question of if they’ll be good or not, it’s just a matter of how great they will be. This level of prestige is in a handful of franchises in gaming and Call of Duty (at least when made by Infinity Ward) is in those graces. MW2 proves it; they’ve made a game with three different and great modes as well as a FPS with a good story and interesting plot turns. The only major chink in the game’s armor is that the campaign is so short those who can’t or just don’t play a game’s multiplayer will probably come out better renting it. Either renting or buying, the game should be played by any shooter fan. Much like many developers were chasing MW1, the same is likely to happen with MW2, because they have raised the bar again.