Where serial killers earn stealth bombers.
I’ll begin this review with a brief poem I call “A Paean to the Mute Player Option”:
Oh, divine Mute! Glory and praise are thine for eternity!
Without thy quietude and soft, gentle caresses,
Without thy faithfulness and endless bounty,
My experience in Modern Warfare 2
would be a cacophony
Of howling children, homophobes, and racists.
If only thy benefits extended to all lands, all people, and all times
And weren’t confined only to multiplayer FPSs!
Inspiringly obnoxious chatter aside, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
improves on the core multiplayer experience of Modern Warfare
in almost every way. Shooting friends and strangers has never felt so balanced, nuanced, and varied. However, if Modern Warfare 2
’s multiplayer is the carefully engineered progeny of the FPS master race, its singleplayer campaign is an ugly mess of genetic leftovers
Anyone who’s played Modern Warfare’s online multiplayer will instantly feel at home. There’s likely a well-worn groove in your brain
that Modern Warfare 2
will fit perfectly into. The menus and load-out screens look very similar, and other than a few more colors and details on screen, the in-game action will also look like the good old days of 2007.
Despite its outward familiarity, Modern Warfare 2
presents many fundamental improvements over its predecessor. A few things have been cut—like the much-maligned martyrdom perk—and dozens of new features have been added. The single-most significant addition is the customizable killstreak list. You now have your choice of three killstreak bonuses, each with its own kill requirement. You’ll have to balance risk and reward since some require fewer kills in a row, but the reward isn’t as great. Bonuses also carry over after you die, so you can bank them for when your team really needs them. Deciding when to use your killstreak bonuses is every bit as important as knowing when and where to shoot.
Rather than make the game more chaotic—as happened in World at War
—the killstreaks add much greater strategic depth to the game, bringing greater focus to intelligence gathering and utilizing cover. And watching a stealth bomber make a game-ending pass over the losing team’s heads is one of the most glorious experiences in online gaming. Modern Warfare 2
also introduces deathstreaks which gives some advantage to people who are new, having a bad day, or just plain suck. Perks can also be leveled up, and there is a bevy of unlockable titles and icons you can tie to your profile. Managing your upgrades, perks, and killstreaks is a major part of the game, and it’s all incredibly well balanced. Time will tell if there are any distinct advantages, but thus far everything seems impressively designed.
Levels are also varied, mixing long sightlines with close-quarters alleyways and crawl spaces. There’s a greater sense of verticality in many levels, and nearly every space on the map has at least three possible entry points. After over 20 hours of play, I’m still discovering new routes and vantages. Most of the same game types return, and the number of simultaneous players is less than in other shooters, but the framerate is so buttery smooth that all is forgiven.
The lack of built-in community features is surprising, especially after seeing Killzone 2
’s rich clan and friend support. Infinity Ward is resting a bit on their laurels in this regard, and it makes the game seem a little old fashioned by comparison. Also, while host migration is undeniably welcome, it’s handled inelegantly by a separate load screen that interrupts the action for a few seconds.
Regardless, Infinity Ward is at the top of their game in creating a consistently engaging, addictive, and technically impressive multiplayer online FPS—which makes the ham-fisted singleplayer campaign all the more puzzling.
The campaign storyline moves from mildly improbable to wildly impossible to just plain silly all within the first hour. Just when I thought the story couldn’t get any more outlandish than a flying snowmobile, the game quickly turns into a bad imitation of Resistance 2
’s (already bad) suburban warfare scenario. The last Modern Warfare
game included some brilliant moments in its campaign, especially its beautifully orchestrated Chernobyl sequence. Modern Warfare 2
contains nothing nearly as memorable, moving, or exciting.
Where the story in the first Modern Warfare
was built on current events and believable military actions, Modern Warfare 2
dives nose first into a pile of dung-covered paranoid fantasy that mixes the worst elements of Tom Clancy, Michael Bay, and Hideo Kojima. Infinity Ward’s long-running formula of jumping between perspectives crumbles to pieces under the morbidly obese weight of harebrained plot twists and ridiculous “what if” scenarios.
Ignoring the bad story, the mechanics in the singleplayer campaign are also surprisingly dated. The auto-save kicks in unexpectedly, frequently forcing you to begin playing in the middle of shootouts. If you play on the harder difficulty levels, you’ll likely have to start a mission over from scratch because the auto-save has put you into a no-win situation. Other than its graphical sheen and impressive framerate, there’s nothing about the singleplayer game that hasn’t already been done better by other first-person shooters a hundred times over the past ten years.
Special Ops mode adds some entertaining extras. Reminiscent of the mercenaries mini-games in Resident Evil 4
, Special Ops features repurposed segments from the singleplayer campaign in which you and a friend must meet certain requirements to earn stars. Unfortunately you can only play these with someone from your friends list or locally via splitscreen, so—like at a family reunion—don’t expect to hook up with a stranger. Even though there’s no connecting thread between these challenges, they do point to a possible future for the series that would allow for a fully featured co-op campaign.
Really, though, just like no one reads a nudie magazine for the articles, we all know that you’ve already skipped Special Ops and the singleplayer campaign to jump straight into killing fools online. And you should. Compared to the hundreds of hours you might spend in Modern Warfare 2
’s brilliant multiplayer mode, the few hours you might lose to its painful singleplayer game will fade like a bad memory.
Multiplayer is what it's all about, and here it is head and shoulders (and torso and waist and legs and feet) above its nearest competition in terms of accessibility, balancing, strategic depth, technical prowess, and all around fun - so much so that it makes the campaign mode look like a tiny, ugly mole hidden away in some bodily crevice. Sure, you could go digging for it and point at it in disgust, but why bother when the rest of the body is nearly perfect?