Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Review

Nate Gillick

Everything about Modern Warfare 2 screams larger than life. Over 10,000 retail outlets across the US held midnight releases to meet demand, and Activision announced first-day sales of approximately 4.7 million units in North America and the UK alone, with an opening of $310 million. Riding in on a massive hype train, Modern Warfare 2 is a mega-blockbuster of the likes the gaming industry has never seen before. Developed by the wizards at Infinity Ward, Modern Warfare 2 can brag about more than its sales figures, with perfectly refined shooting action and attention to detail that make it perhaps the greatest FPS to ever grace our gaming systems.

US forces invade a Russian prison.

Beginning five years after the events of Call of Duty 4, war looms on the horizon once again. Nationalist forces have seized control of Russia's government and declared Zakhaev (COD4's villain) a hero and martyr. When Makarov, one of Zakhaev's former lieutenants, begins terror attacks against Europe, the US steps in, and the situation rapidly escalates to full-out war between Russia and the US. Modern Warfare 2's campaign is absolutely phenomenal, spanning the globe with never a dull moment. Whether it be fighting through the streets in Brazil or repelling the invading army in the United States, every mission in the game is a distinct and memorable experience in its own right. The level of action here, with clashing armies, explosions from multiple directions, crashing helicopters, and more, is something that has to be seen to be believed. Providing more visual splendor and pulse-pounding moments than a $100 million action movie, Modern Warfare 2's campaign is so absorbing it may be necessary to pry the controller out of your hands if you need to stop playing before you've completed it.

Although the campaign's format doesn't stray from the series formula, Infinity Ward took a risk with one level, which comes with a disturbing content notice, and it's the only level in the game that can be skipped. At first I laughed at the notion of a disturbing content notice. It's only a game, and it's M-rated, so children shouldn't be playing it anyway. However, after witnessing what could well be the most controversial gameplay sequence in years, I understand why it's there. While disturbing, the level does add a lot to the story's gravity, and shows Infinity Ward won't pull any punches on their way to making every moment as memorable as possible.

Memorable moments will continue to pile up after the credits roll on the campaign, thanks to the inclusion of the new Special Ops mode. The Special Ops mode consists of 23 different missions, which can be played solo or with a friend. The objectives of these missions vary, from eliminating a set number of hostiles, surviving several waves of enemies, sneaking from the beginning of a level to the end, and more. Most Special Ops missions take place in areas from the campaign, with new objectives, or a new spin on the campaign's missions, such as time limits for the snowmobile sequence. A few levels from Call of Duty 4 make a comeback to be included in the mode, as well. There's a lot of variety to be had in these missions, and they can be a blast with a friend, particularly on Veteran, where the level of challenge makes these missions more intense than any other co-op mode out there. If one player gets shot down, the other player has one minute to get to them and revive them, with no limit on the number of times a person can be revived. While the challenge and intensity of these missions is great, the lack of any checkpoints is not. I can understand wanting to preserve a level of challenge to the missions, particularly with infinite revives, but failing a mission after twenty or more minutes and having to start over can become frustrating in a hurry. It's also impossible to pause the action, so if one player needs to step away for a minute, the other player needs to carry on alone or they both have to hide.

Methodical tactics trump running and gunning.

Modern Warfare 2's multiplayer component is largely the same as Call of Duty 4's, though it has been beefed up with even more depth and customization options. Cosmetic tweaks include dozens of unlockable emblems to showcase to the right of your gamertag, and hundreds of banners that can be displayed above your gamertag, which can be unlocked in a variety of ways. It's nice to have a little customization in how you present yourself online. New perks abound, and perks can be upgraded with enhanced abilities as they're used more frequently. For example, the "Slight of Hand" perk normally allows faster reloading, but also grants faster aiming down the sights when upgraded. Every new perk has its uses, and there's no perk that makes the game feel unbalanced, which is a pleasant change from COD4, where Martyrdom and Last Stand were overused.

In addition to the changes in the perks system, the rewards players get for achieving kill streaks have undergone a major overhaul. No longer is there a set system of what ability is unlocked for a certain number of kills. Instead, there's numerous different kill streak rewards, and players have the ability to select which ones they want to use. There are several different kinds of air support, deployable sentry turrets, missile strikes, and more. Also added are 'rewards' for players on a string of deaths, which are meant to help them break that skid. Martyrdom and Last Stand are among the new death streak rewards. With all the weapons available, and the amount of accessories that can be unlocked for each, no other game out there comes close to offering the depth of customization Modern Warfare 2 does, offering potential class builds for every play style and every situation.

New to the multiplayer experience is a third-person mode, which can be unlocked upon attaining rank 19. Third person games can be played in two different playlists, one for team deathmatch and a few objective gametypes, the other for 1-on-1 cage matches. Whether or not the third-person modes are your cup of tea or not is a matter of personal taste, as the shooting and character controls are equally as smooth either way. The only gameplay difference is that the third-person view affords a wider view of the action around your character. It's a fun change of pace from first person, but nothing earth-shatteringly compelling.

Infinity Ward's decision to disallow the use of party chat in most of the game's playlists is the biggest issue with the multiplayer. Wanting players to actually communicate with each other and strategize I can understand, but 99.9% of the time what really happens is players are forced to listen to trash talk, racism, and the prepubescent voices of those who shouldn't own this game if their parents really cared about them. That, or there's no chatter at all because nobody plugged in a mic. Players should have the option to stick to chats and talk with those they want to, and not be coerced into putting up with crap from the anonymous masses.

Enjoy the view before hell breaks loose.

Also of concern is the party system, as problems from Call of Duty 4 remain issues here. When playing as a group, too often one player will get kicked from the lobby while in matchmaking, forcing the whole party to back out and reform if they wish to play together. Parties also stick together when backing out only if the party host is the first to leave. A group of friends shouldn't have to reform their party three or four times out of every dozen games because someone the system kicked someone out out of a pre-game lobby.

Modern Warfare 2 is truly a feast for the eyes and the ears. With sharp shadows, photorealistic weapons and explosions, jaw-dropping vistas, and incredible draw distance, all the pieces are in place. When dozens of infantry, helicopters, and flying RPG rounds get added to the mix at the same time, things get insane. Voice acting is superb, featuring Keith David (Halo 2 & 3, Mass Effect), and weapons and aircraft sound exactly like their real-life counterparts. Backing up the action is a beautiful orchestral score from movie-maestro Hans Zimmer that adds gravity to every moment. Put together, Modern Warfare 2's perfect audio and visuals make the game incredibly immersive.

The achievements list for Modern Warfare 2 is structurally very similar to COD4. There's points for story progress, and for completing missions on Veteran, as well as a few unique ones for accomplishing certain tasks, like killing two enemies with one bullet, or 20 enemies in a row while driving a vehicle. Getting points for progress in the new Special Ops mode is welcome, but having to hunt down intel items is not. In a campaign this epic, why would I want to take a break from the action to hunt down some stupid collectables? Infinity Ward has publicly stated they hate multiplayer achievements, and there isn't a single competitive multiplayer achievement on the list, so don't worry about having to boost or grind out millions of experience points like certain other AAA games have forced upon gamers.

Setting the bar several notches higher than anyone before them, Infinity Ward has created a masterpiece with Modern Warfare 2. It's campaign is absolutely epic from beginning to end, and Special Ops is a great co-op mode for a couple friends to enjoy together. Add in the deepest multiplayer experience on Xbox Live and you've got the complete package for what is, beyond a doubt, the finest shooter I've ever played. Infinity Ward's poor decision to disallow party chats in most playlists, and a somewhat shaky party system in multiplayer keep Modern Warfare 2 short of perfection. Thankfully, Modern Warfare 2's strengths vastly outshine its faults, making it an essential game for any FPS player's collection.

Strong voice acting featuring Keith David works perfectly with a beautiful orchestral score from Hans Zimmer and spot-on sound effects. Everything blends perfectly to make the game incredibly immersive.

Modern Warfare 2 is by far and away the best looking game on the Xbox 360, with a level of on-screen action that simply has to be seen to be believed.

Fans of FPS games will be happy to know the gunplay is smooth as silk, multiplayer games are easy to get into, and the menus are designed to get players in the action efficiently. Pop the disc in and play.

Infinity Ward has made a complete package, offering an incredibly epic single player campaign, intense co-op action, and the deepest multiplayer action on Live. If only players weren't forced to talk in the game chat channel in most playlists.

Structurally the same as COD4's, Modern Warfare is blissfully free of multiplayer achievements, instead giving most of its points for story progression and playing on Veteran. Earning points for good work in Special Ops is probably the best part of the list.

Modern Warfare 2 shatters the old standard of excellence and has raised the bar for what it means to be an epic shooter. With a mind-shattering campaign, superb co-op play, and the deepest multiplayer experience on Live, Modern Warfare 2 is one of the greatest shooters in gaming history, and a must-own for fans of the genre.

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