The game that has been looming over the Christmas release schedule is finally here, after most of the competition has fled for a release early next year, leaving you plenty of time to clean up online.
The first Modern Warfare wowed shooter fans with its gripping story scenes and peerless multiplayer, and you should prepare to feel the love again. There are a few flaws in the single player game but they’ll fade into memory soon enough as the multiplayer experience dominates Modern Warfare 2.
We’ll start with the single player campaign. It begins five years after the last game, with a new threat from Eastern Europe in Makarov who wants revenge for the death of the nuke-dropping Zakhaev, by starting World War III. The story dashes around the globe between missions, sometimes making it difficult to keep up with which character you’re playing as. The locations include Afghanistan, snowy tundras, oil rigs, Rio, and America. The American side of the game borrows from the old Patrick Swayze cult-hit, Red Dawn and rejected ideas for 24 (probably) and are a welcome change from Generistan.
The story isn’t really a strong point this time and the wire-frame and maps cut-scenes really start to grate after a while, displaying a complete cop out for proper cut-scenes. However, the game once again excels with emotionally charged character scenes and action set-pieces.
There is one level where Infinity Ward seems to completely lose the plot though. You’re undercover with the terrorists as they murder an airport terminal full of innocents in one of the most appalling scenes you’ll ever see. You don’t have to fire too, but you’re pretty much forced to shoot the swat team that turns up if you want to finish the level the same day. Just as they arrive the game ‘helpfully’ reminds you where your grenade launcher is. Bad taste is an understatement. Infinity Ward can argue about films and drama all they want, but it feels like controversy for controversy’s sake, helping to grab a few headlines on the news, a mention in Parliament and free publicity you can’t buy. It’s pretty shameful and an embarrassment to any gamer that’s ever had to defend their medium. It’s probably no coincidence that the game was released so close to Remembrance Day either.
This level is optional and you can choose to skip it, which is fine except the plot fails to inform you what exactly happened and leaves the story with a bit of a hole. You might play through it once, but probably opt to skip it next time around and get on with the rest of the game, which thankfully has its head screwed on and is massively entertaining. So let’s just get on with it.
One early level sees you using R1 and L1 to control your hands and ice picks to climb up a cliff face. It works brilliantly, but is a short experience. The next part of the level has a slower pace to the rest of the game as you carefully pick off enemies using the blizzard as cover. There’s a bit of ‘near-future tech’ to help you too in the heartbeat sensor. It’s a great example of pacing as you can feel the storm that’s coming just around the corner.
The DC mission is impressive in scale and scope, even if Fallout 3 beat it to the war torn Capital look. What really impresses though is the breakneck pace of it, especially towards the end.
Some levels descend into shooting gallery madness, particularly the one where you’re defending a computer against dozens of troops while the rest of your team seemingly take a break. The missions never, really offer any diversity in terms of objectives; it’s pretty much a case of move from A-B and kill everything on the way.
The most diverse level is the strongest one too. You’re under siege from attackers at a small ring of restaurants in the suburbs as you’re attacked from all sides and frequently have to change you’re position. Using a thermal scoped rifle you can take out troops approaching through smoke grenade cover or you can call in remote missiles to take out vehicles and soldiers (this will never get old).
The shooting itself is as reliable as ever and feels razor sharp when aiming down the sights, nipping between targets downing multiple troops with the soft spits of your suppressed weapons or going loud with the bullet-munching LMGs. Straight from the start the enemy are using a wide range of weaponry which means you can help yourself to them after icing them, so you are constantly encouraged to experiment with them and never get bored.
The graphics are of a decent standard but certainly won’t wow you, and are arguably the same as the last game. There’s a lack of polish to other areas too, such as objects like shopping karts seemingly glued to the floor, and prompts to press X to hop over low walls not appearing unless you’re stood in an exact place. The driving sections feature some pretty horrible handling too, but the speed of the snowmobile down the hill is absolutely insane and one of the fastest things you’ll ever see.
The higher difficulty levels of Hardened and Veteran can become very frustrating as the enemy never miss and some of the checkpoints are stupidly placed, often restarting you while you’re in the middle of getting shot again, after straying out of cover and hitting an invisible checkpoint. Those wartime quotes that greet every death screen will really start to piss you off in the Brazilian Favela level.
Games seem to be ever progressing down a path of how to annoy you when you’re getting shot at. With screens fading into black and white or darkening red to make life even more difficult when you’re already having a tough time. Congratulations then to Infinity ward for the worst one yet, with their jam-vision. How is getting shot ever like having jam smeared on a window in front of your face? You can see fuck all with it all over the screen and it takes forever to fade away. On the plus side you don’t really have to worry about it in multiplayer as you’ll probably already be dead if you get shot to that extent.
At around five and a half hours, the single player campaign is something of a letdown, but let’s be honest; it was always going to be about the multiplayer. With the competitive online and now Special Ops.
Separate from the campaign, Special Ops missions can be played on your own, but if you want to pick up the 3 star veteran awards for them you’re going to need backup from your online pals or the one sat next to you using split-screen. These missions offer much more variety than the single player game. Some will reuse familiar locations but there are some new ones too like the Golden Gate Bridge style one.
There are plenty of sieges, snowy sniping, diffusing bombs in the chaotic Favela, snow mobile checkpoint races, two player gunship shootouts and document snatch and grab escapes to plough through. Better dust off that headset then?
The traditional multiplayer is the where you’re going to be playing all day night and night though. Yes, they’ve managed to make it even better than before. You’ll level-up faster than the first game and are given a new range of weapons and Perks along with a few old favourites. Bizarrely there are no Trophies for the multiplayer side of the game apart from earning the Special Ops mission stars. It’s a shame as the vast amount of awards and weapons to unlock would have been well suited to them.
You earn points for more than just kills now, such as headshots, revenge kills, recovering from a slump, avenging or saving a team-mate. The most satisfying though has to be the Buzzkill where you stop someone one short of a Killstreak. ‘No chopper for you, you camping bastard.’
Weapons all have their own Challenges too based around reaching kill milestones to unlock extra attachments, making for some tough choices, but a welcome amount of depth. You’ll love the heartbeat sensor though, as it works better than in the single player game and helps you hunt your prey. Don’t forget to look up occasionally though!
Along with the usual Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Domination (hold an area) matches, there are a few new game options. Such as Mercenary Team Deathmatch where the teams are shuffled around after each match, which keeps things nicely balanced generally. Or there’s Headquarters Pro where a random HQ is put on the map and you’ll defend or invade it. There’s even a third-person view match, which works fine enough but kills from a distance are a bit wobbly. An interesting distraction for a while but not something you’ll revisit often. It would have been nice to see more matches that remove the killcam feature too as snipers can’t stay in the same place as every victim knows where they are thanks to the replay. It does mess with the campers though, so it’s not all bad.
Killstreaks are now adaptable too. Along with the usual radars and gunships there are plenty of new ways to rain down hell on you’re opponents. You can set up deadly auto-gun turrets, call in a hovering plane, or a line of bombs, EMP blasts, remote missiles and even the ability to fire from the chopper yourself. There’s also the care package which air-drops in a crate with a free Killstreak inside for whoever gets there first. If you can notch up 25 kills you can even call in a nuke for an instant victory! There’s a catch to all this though and that is that you have to choose only three off the list to be available in a match. The more devastating the Killstreak, the more kills needed to set it off. So how likely is it that you’re going to get 25 anyway?
If you hit a bit of a slump you needn’t worry as there are Deathstreaks now too! After dieing four times in a row with no kills of your own you can choose to copy your opponent’s class, getting all their gear. Or opt for a ten second health boost when you respawn (useless as it usually takes longer than that to get back to the fight) or you can find the old perks from the last game, Martyrdom or Last Stand.
The slots to create your own Class styles return, this time with better options for your secondary weapon which can now be a shotgun or Uzi style weapon instead of a pistol. Having a shotgun as backup is excellent for vulnerable snipers and for players going from outdoors to narrow indoor corridors.
As well as the old Perks giving you extra damage, longer sprinting and faster reloads, there are a few new ones. Commando gives your melee knife better range, Scrambler disrupts nearby enemy radars, Hardline lets you earn a Killstreak with one less kill and Bling lets you have two attachments instead of one. The perks live in their own sections meaning you can’t choose any combination from the whole list, so finding a balance for your needs and skills is key. Not to be outdone by the weapons, the Perks even have an upgrade to Pro status when reaching their kill milestone while equipped. For example upgrading Sleight of Hand (faster reloads) will net you the fine enhancement of bringing up your aiming sights quicker.
The maps are mostly new and not rehashes from the single player game. There’s plenty of variety too with the locations and a healthy mix of indoor and outdoor areas. You get plenty of camping morons, but they’re having a tough time of it as there’re barely any areas to do it safely as there’s usually more than one entrance to every area meaning staying still is the last thing you want to do. Another sign of the maps strong design is that the action doesn’t seem to be ‘bottlenecking’ in the same areas. If there is one criticism of the online maps it’s that sometimes they’re a little big for small groups of players and it becomes hard to find anyone to shoot at.
So was it worth the wait then? Absolutely. The single player campaign has its flaws, but is still a lot of fun to play and better than a lot of other shooters out there. The co-op Special Ops missions add to the fun of taking on the enemy AI, and for many will get more attention than the campaign mode. The undoubted star though is of course the online multiplayer, where the already excellent Perks and weapons have been tweaked just enough to improve them and keep veteran players happy. Add this to the range of quality maps and the rich variety of matches on offer and Modern Warfare 2 destroys the competition to make it the best online shooter out there. Again.