After two years, Infinity Ward has returned to the first person shooter genre with a follow-up that has easily trumped the hype of any other title this year. But, hype aside, does "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" live up to the massively high standards set by "Call of Duty 4"?
A direct sequel to "Call of Duty 4," "Modern Warfare 2" includes a highly scripted, extremely cinematic campaign, an upgraded adversarial multiplayer mode (the most popular element of the first game) and a brand new, cooperative mode known as Spec Ops.
The reason "Call of Duty 4" became a smash hit was the adversarial multiplayer. In "Modern Warfare 2" this mode has been upgraded in a variety of ways, adding new class customization options, unlockable icons and titles (known as callsigns), upgradable perks a huge host of new weapons and user-selected killstreaks. 17 brand new maps have also been added, a staggering number considering most multiplayer games offer up around 8 or so. If you consider yourself a fan of multiplayer shooters, "Modern Warfare 2" is one of the deepest and most enjoyable ever created.
A newest mode for "Call of Duty," Spec Ops consists of mini-missions that you can play alone or with another player (online or split screen). These bite-sized experiences can usually be finished in 10 minutes or so, but each of them has three difficulty levels and they get increasingly harder as you move throughout all 23 of them, so deaths will extend that time. Variety is king in Spec Ops, as one mission may have you sweeping a small village for enemies, while another will have you sneaking past patrolling guards to make it to an extraction point unseen. The best, though, has one player up in an AC-130 gunship providing cover fire while the other player is on the ground just trying to stay alive. Each and every one of these missions encourages cooperation and was clearly designed with teamwork in mind. A great alternative for when you're sick of getting crushed by squeaky-voiced teens online.
The level of detail throughout "Modern Warfare 2" boggles the mind. From the accents on the dozens of guns to the war torn maps, there was clearly an artistic eye at work here. One map in particular features a ski chalet on an alpine slope, surrounded by trees. It's the sorta place I'd love to live in, but sniping enemies with a thermal scope from the balcony is a nice alternative.
The Campaign's Story
If you finish "Modern Warfare 2" and you're not left scratching your head, you're clearly a smarter person than I am. The story in the campaign made little-to-no sense. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the developers have shoehorned all the exposition in voice-overs during the loading screens, or perhaps Infinity Ward thinks we remember the events of "Call of Duty 4" like it was yesterday (and not two years ago). Or perhaps the developers just bit off a bit more than they can chew. At the end of the campaign ( which took about 6.5 hours on 'Hardened') I didn't fully understand a single plot point. Thankfully the game ends with a shameless cliffhanger, so maybe it'll all make sense when "Modern Warfare 3" comes out. In 2011 or so.
The Campaign's Gameplay
Not to rag on the campaign, but there was really only one level (the Gulag) that sticks out in my mind, and that may only be due to it being a shameless rip off of "The Rock." Beyond that it felt like each mission was another "Call of Duty" trope. Defend this point, blow up this important doodad, run from here to there while being shot from all directions. It's unfortunate, as there are a bunch of beautiful set pieces, but the uniqueness of the gameplay was just not there, feeling more like a greatest-hits of the franchise rather than its own thing.
No Party Chat On 360
As someone who played "Call of Duty 4" with friends online, we exclusively used Party Chat once it launched. It was a super easy method, letting us chat even before we had started up the game, allowing us to coordinate and make sure everyone was in the same lobby…or to tell someone outside the game that we were just finishing up a round.
In their infinite, we-know-what's-better-for-you wisdom, the developer has disallowed Party Chat in the vast majority of the game modes in adversarial multiplayer. The rationale: To prevent cheaters from leveling up faster. Let's ignore the fact that if people really want to cheat this way, they can just call each other on the phone. The bigger question? Why not just let people play the way they want? Do I really care if someone cheats their way to Prestige 10? Nope, so long as I'm still able to have a good time playing. The lack of Party Chat definitely gets in the way of this, forcing me to find imperfect ways around it.
Here's hoping that Infinity Ward realizes that the percentage of players looking to just enjoy the game with their friends far outweighs the relatively tiny group of folks that want to cheat their way to the top.
The campaign's issues aside, "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" still manages to set the standard for online multiplayer shooters. The sheer amount of content in this game is staggering, and if you can get over the hurdles of chatting with friends, you'll find an extremely polished, gorgeous and addictive FPS experience. It'll be a long while before "Modern Warfare 3" comes out, but at least I know I'll have this to fall back on until then.