Everyone should know by now that Infinity Wards latest is not to be missed, and it was more than just a video game release. It amassed millions of hours of playtime and had gotten endless amount of press over the past year, making it practically a force of nature unleashed on the Playstation 3, Xbox 360 and PC. Every nuance of the game as been inspected, every detail has been examined, to the point that if they wanted an unspoiled experience when their copy arrived they would need to make an effort to avoid the news about it. The developer has honed its well-worn formula to achievable and logical shine, far from shunning the weight of expectation; rarely in mechanics, it crafts a campaign that surprises with scope.
The series of Modern Warfare 2 is back on the hands of Infinity Ward, the developer that brought us Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the most significant multiplayer FPS. But between Call of Duty 4 and Modern Warfare 2 was another game that managed to be successful in its own right, which was Call of Duty: World at War, it never had a chance at being another Modern Warfare, though.
I need to get one thing straight – it was obvious that Modern Warfare 2 wasn’t going to be able to compete against its original, but that’s not to say this sequel has practically no chance of being anything other than a great game. COD4 had featured a strong single player campaign and was nearly perfect as a multiple game, Infinity Ward is simply building off this. Their mission, which turned out to be very successful, was to keep gamers interested and to add to the franchise regardless of how much time they might typically spend on a first-person shooter. Modern Warfare 2 has a top-notch online experience, a great single player campaign, and a new Spec-Ops mode that lets players test their skills in one-off missions and builds off COD4’s popular coda.
The single player campaign in MW2 takes everything a step further, but can be found a lot similar to COD4. The story is much harder hitting; they get you ready for a much more in-your-face look at nuclear attack, terrorism, and hand-to-hand combat than the previous game. Despite that MW2 is more of a mature game than the series’ previous titles, it also takes the story and goes completely over-the-top with it. It’s a military plot combined with different vehicular sequences, and slow-motion action stunts along the lines of the Watchmen movie.
The story isn’t entirely clear why certain things take place, following it can be very hard and muddled, and many of the character’s relationships with one another remain foggy. While there are some missing links they don’t really detract from the story and their almost always clear what your character needs to accomplish, why you’re on a specific mission, and the larger strategy that you are operating under. The story doesn’t quite hold up for the same period as the original, which is a huge shock since COD4’s campaign mode was a quick run through. It’s not by much but I would have imagined Infinity Ward trying to make something longer with their sequel to listen to all of the criticism. You may want to not ask too many questions and suspend your disbelief though, especially if you’re geo-politically minded. One point that’s interesting though is that you never fight in the anonymous, sandy regions found in COD4, instead the game mentions many specific places and countries which you never step foot on. Another thing is how quick the set pieces get put together just apparently after America went to war. It looks like the war has been going on for years!
This is a title that oozes a confidence built on collective experience, from the comforting and safe assault course opener. It’s the sort of videogame that doesn’t flinch in delivering set-piece after set-piece understanding exactly what its audience wants with barely a pause to load the next scenario. The commitment certainly isn’t questionable, but the politics may be.
The developer has – controversially – included an extremely graphic depiction that the player has full control over of a very specific act of terrorism early on in the game. This is something of a talking point, unsurprisingly, and to ignore the issue would be remiss.
I wouldn’t say it was deeply disturbing but the level is, without the doubt, an experience that is the most thought-provoking I have yet encountered in any mainstream game. Providing you’re immersed in the context and its atmosphere it can also be a pretty sobering experience, but you can easily skip or ignore this level if you don’t want to put yourself through a fairly clearly-defined moralistic mill. Despite the abhorrent undertone running beneath, it’s powerful in a way that videogames rarely are, and I just can’t help but admire it in some twisted way. It shocked me all the way through of playing it.
For those of you in the persuasion of wondering what all the fuss was about, as there will be a significant chunk of the gamers that will end up feeling this way, MW2’s action beat and constantly assaults the senses that proves the primary draw.
At times the visual panache and superlative gunplay borders best-in-show which is here Infinity Ward steps above and beyond criticism. Set-piece animation is integrated in an almost seamless fashion within the level design, enemies crumple realistically under fire, and you’ll be hard-pushed to spot a single respawning set of foes, which even if early reports of veteran difficulty as a direct consequence are to be believed.
The colour and lighting is noticeably improved in this second iteration, the crisp 60fps console versions are surprisingly well-detailed, and whilst the environment remains resolutely non-interactive, it’s a sheer pleasure to keep the eyes locked onto the screen when things are being blown up for you with relative frequency.
New additions to the mission structure will be pleasingly well judged, from climbing mechanics that offer up a healthy dose of tension to vehicle sections that work within the confines of the physics engine – it’s all integrated with a strong taint of talent and money behind the scenes, but whilst all this is great fun the majority of the missions will be familiar (clear the house, destroy the AA gun, follow the tank, etc). Even this is still done brilliantly, its Infinity Ward’s baby after all, and even though Treyarch may well be an improving off-year custodian, the fingerprints are unmistakable.
There is a new part to the game called The Special Operations (Spec Ops). These are short missions where you have a very clear goal – kill this many rebels, win this race, get to this point, etc. They are basically run through missions on either normal, hard, or veteran modes that are Call of Duty skill challenges in order to win stars. More stars will win you some achievement points and will increase your ever-present completion percentage. The missions include defending a point and stealth escapes, though you also get vehicle missions like a snowmobile race and a helicopter attack, even though their varied they stick to the same operations and settings handled in the game. These Ops can be fun, but not long lasting as there isn’t any way-points making the missions very challenging – you have to start over by making one critical mistake, which is not so easy when you have attack dogs and about 40 guys to kill. Anyone who dreams of getting 1000 Xbox achievement points must know that Veteran-level challenges are only for the most skilled gamers and anyone else putting in the time is going to be disappointed. Ops is a great way to improve your game while playing with a friend as it can be done in single player or multiplayer (including local) modes.
It’s all about more within MW2’s multiplayer. More mayhem, more levels, more weapons, more skills, and so on. COD4’s multiplayer has become the baseline against which all online FPS games are measured, and what better way could there be to follow this experience with MW2? With highly customizable skills and weapons and huge skill streak bonuses, Infinity War this time made sure to keep Veteran players interested while allowing new players to get into the game, with solid early level weapons and death streak bonuses. You feel like your achieving something with every session you are playing multiplayer because you are building up towards the next level. So that next holographic sight or launcher could be right around the corner. This means two things – there is a constant sense of achievement whether you were victorious or not and you don’t want to put the game down. It might not be a huge step up from COD4 but it’s still a great experience with enough changed to keep things interesting.
This may arguably be the best online FPS right now, but not everything is perfect with the multiplayer though. The game is now largely silent as MW2 has basically killed voicechat. This was about the opposite in COD4, this was mainly put down by numerous homophobia, racism and cheating. So instead Infinity Ward decided to curtail the chat, except allowing it in a few games. Most players (at least on the Xbox 360) have unplugged their headsets because the cuts that were made were large enough. Teamwork is what could have taken MW2 multiplayer to the next level, unfortunately it just doesn’t look like its going to happen in this generation.
MW2 refines and builds on the most solid of bases and is spectacular, as a whole, in all the right areas. This game has problems just like any other, but despite this it’s a game you should play for what it does achieve. The single player subject matter is often hard to follow and mostly over-the-top, but it also has powerful settings and compelling characters with a thought-provoking undertone. It really gets players into the mindset of the game as it’s a much more cynical look at the battlefield than previous titles. Spec Ops often requires a second player due to its difficulty, but it’s the single biggest addition to the game, and lets players perfect their skills in scenario-based combat which becomes quite rewarding. It’s definitely not as brilliant as its original, since it’s the same type of exercise but with a few different ideas added in, but MW2 is still a brilliant game in its own merits and stands proudly head up high above most other FPS shooters. This is a game every FPS and war veteran fan should definitely buy.