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December 17, 2009

Review - Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

I was really pumped when Modern Warfare 2 came out in early November.  The hype behind this game was phenomenal, and it sold 4 million copies its first day.  I can only imagine how many it's sold by now.

I've been playing the game almost non-stop since November 6, getting at least two hours in most nights.  I'm a multiplayer junkie, so it actually took until just the other night to even finish the single-player storyline.  You could certainly say I've gotten my money's worth regarding playing time.  I've played multiplayer for over 3 days (it keeps a running total of how long you play, so of course that's not 3 days straight).

But is it worth all of that hype?

I have mixed feelings on that question.  It is a tremendously fun game that I have played a lot, so in that sense, it is definitely worth the money.  But I'm not sure it's worth the hype.

The single-player storyline continues from the first Modern Warfare, where you're facing off against the Russian nationalist Makarov, protege of the man you killed in the first game.  You play as a couple of different characters.  "Roach" Sanderson, a member of the British Task Force 142, who is tasked with various special ops.  Then you play Ramirez, a US Marine in the fight of his life when war comes to the US shore.  Makarov has an insane plan to help Russia rise to world dominance once again.  But this time, you're faced with more than just Makarov, in a twist that is becoming so cliched that I groaned when I heard about it (and unfortunately, I had been spoiled beforehand, so it was even more anti-climactic when it happened).

Many people have already heard about the infamous "Airport Mission" that has become so controversial.  It's so controversial that designer Infinity Ward actually allows you to skip it at the beginning of the game, though you don't have any clue what you're skipping at the time.  It just says that it may be offensive to some gamers and that you won't be penalized within the game if you skip it.  I played it, and I was a bit squeamish about it, though anybody who has fun in Grand Theft Auto blowing up bunches of civilians probably won't have any problem with it.  Basically, the mission sets up subsequent events in the story.  You don't even get penalized if you don't shoot the civilians.  So what should be more offensive is that you do have to defend yourself against the masses of Russian police forces that try and stop you.

You are a CIA operative who has to join Makarov's organization and try to get close to him to bring him down.  Makarov takes you on a mission where you are supposed to go through a Moscow airport, blowing things up and killing civilians.  No Russian is spoken, and at the end of the mission, you discover why.  Makarov has been on to you from the beginning, and he kills you right at the end.  This way, since there was no Russian spoken and there's a handy dead American terrorist at the airport, the blame falls on the Americans.  Thus, the Russians invade the US

The story only took me seven and a half hours to finish on the normal difficulty, and I died quite a bit.  I can only guess how long it would take a shooter veteran to get through it (though they're probably playing on a harder difficulty).  It's almost criminally short, so thank God for the multiplayer.  But there are two things that make the story even worse.  First, it really doesn't make much sense when you get down to it.  And, worst of all, it doesn't end!  You kill one of the bad guys but the second one is still running around.  Hello, sequel!!

All of that being said, the gameplay in Modern Warfare 2 is wonderfully done, though it does need a cover system (both Infinity Ward and Treyarch seem unwilling to go there).  You should be able to hide against a wall and peek out instead of exposing yourself to withering enemy fire.  You have a nice variety of weapons to use, with everything from red-dot sights to holographic sites and even thermal scopes!  Assault rifles, machine pistols, Javelin rockets, RPGs, everything's in there.  I especially love the heartbeat sensor, which will allow you to see whether any enemies are around you, even through walls!

The graphics are lush, from the vast barrenness of Afghanistan to the slums of Rio, all the way to the snow-covered Siberian wasteland.  You feel immersed in the setting.  I almost started shivering in the cold of the Russian winter!  Be warned if you're squeamish.  The graphics are so lush that the blood when shooting (and getting shot) is pretty realistic too (as can be seen in the above shot at the airport).  Your fellow soldiers move with the precision and determination that real soldiers use, covering each other, storming rooms using proper military techniques, and all of that.  All of the cut-scenes are done using the graphics engine and you can move around during them, so there is no real break in the action.

So, the single-player story is annoyingly short and confusing, but fun to play.  What about the saving grace of these games, multiplayer?  First, I haven't played the cooperative "Spec Ops" mode (because I have no friends), so I can't comment on that.  However, multiplayer is a lot of fun, forming up teams with people on Xbox Live (and, I assume, on the other networks as well) and playing games like "Team Deathmatch" (kill the enemy soldiers and rack up points), "Free For All" (the same, except that everybody's an enemy and you're on your own), "Sabotage" (take the bomb and destroy the objective at the other team's base), and quite a few others that I don't play.  There are a lot of modes, which is quite cool.  You can also play either regular or "hardcore" (which means that you can accidentally kill your teammates, bullets do more damage, and you don't get any aid from the game itself, like telling you that a grenade is near you).  There are even a couple of modes that I haven't played called "Ricochet," which basically means that any time your shot would normally kill a teammate, it ricochets and kills you.

Maps are quite varied, which is really nice.  Everywhere from the desert, to a snow/ice-covered submarine base to a Brazilian quarry and other urban locales.  The maps seem well-designed, though a couple are too prone to what is called "spawn-killing," which basically means that teams can get cornered in the spot where they re-spawn (which happens after you die) and the other team can rack up a lot of kills just picking you off again.  It doesn't happen that often, but when it does, it's immensely frustrating.  Most of the maps have multiple avenues of movement so that doesn't happen.

However, as fun as the multiplayer is, I probably won't play it to the highest level like I did the previous two Call of Duty games, at least not until Infinity Ward fixes a few issues.  Network lag can be really bad sometimes (I know some of it is my connection, but not all of it).  I get shot by somebody that I've been pumping bullets into, and when the "kill-cam" comes up (you get to see your final moments in all their glory from the killer's perspective), it shows that you didn't get off more than one or two bullets.  Activision really needs some dedicated servers rather than using their players as game hosts.

The main problem affecting my fun, however, is the dual use of a particular shotgun that just seems way-overpowered.  You don't have to aim at all, and the range on them is just unbelievable.  I've had a guy lined up in my sights and he's turned and just fired blindly, killing me with one shot.  I can't count the number of times I've fallen to these guys.  Infinity Ward needs to patch this game and fix at least the range on them, if nothing else.

Also, you get certain rewards for "killstreaks" (killing multiple people in a row without dying).  Some of the more powerful awards, which you normally have to earn through getting 7, 9, even 15 kills in a row, can be gotten after just three with the right perk used.  If you're using the "Hardline" perk, you get killstreak rewards with one fewer kill than usual.  For 3 kills, you can get a "Care Package" which can include some of these items that you normally need a higher number of kills for.  That's a bit harsh, though I have made use of it myself because I'm never going to get to that level.

All in all, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is a very fun game, and I'm glad I bought it.  I wouldn't have played it nearly as much as I have since the beginning of November if I didn't think it was a great game.  However, I was playing previous games months later, and I probably won't be playing this one as long, though I will go back and play some multiplayer occasionally.  Part of that is because there are other games I want to play, and you know I tend to concentrate on one game at a time.  But part of it is that I'm not as enamored with it as I was with the previous ones.  It's cool, the graphics are great, it's fun to play, but it doesn't have that "I'm not going to let you play another game right now because I'm too frigging cool" feeling that I've had before.

So it's definitely worth a purchase even at full price.  I'm not unhappy I bought it opening day.  If you hit me up on Xbox Live (Gamertag: Hist) for a game, I'll gladly play it (maybe you can show me the ropes in Spec Ops?).  But it's not worth the hype, in my opinion.


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