Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Review

Riding a tidal wave of controversy, Modern Warfare 2 has been tipped to be the fastest selling video game in history. It has already claimed higher pre-order sales than Grand Theft Auto 4 and it is predicted to sell over ten million copies before this Christmas worldwide. Small wonder considering its predecessor, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare stands in the Guinness World Records for “the Most Played Online Video Game”. Add to this the recent media frenzy over the realistic and violent content in the game. There is no doubt that Activison and developers Infinity Ward have caught people’s attention.

In fact the first thing you encounter when loading up Modern Warfare 2 is a warning message regarding “disturbing and offensive content”. It allows the player to skip potentially squeamish sequences in the game but ensures the player that the storyline and their achievement scores won’t be compromised by doing so. For a first-person shooter with an R18 rating, having a warning screen like this certainly did raise some eyebrows.

However not far into the game, it was clear as to why they had to cover their bases in this way.

As always for a Call of Duty title, the opening cinematics are stunning to watch, but more importantly draw you into the story beautifully. The game picks up five years after the previous game as the global conflict continues with Russia, the United States of America, the Middle East and Europe involved in an escalating war. The story plays out like a Michael Bay film on steroids, filling the screen with explosions, military jargon, weapons of mass destruction and giant robots that can turn into cars. No wait, ignore that last one. But expect sweeping musical scores and pyrotechnics galore. Perhaps they have become a tad formulaic but there was no doubt that after them I wanted to grab a gun and start shooting at stuff.

Which is exactly what the game lets you do. The first mission plays out like a tutorial placing you in an army base in the Middle East. It runs you through a series of objectives that let you practice your shooting, perfect grenade throwing and then ultimately run an obstacle course where your skills are put to the test. Ingeniously, your performance here with regards to your time and accuracy determines the game’s difficulty level for future missions. The shear level of detail, even in these early stages of the game indicates just how much care Infinity Ward have taken with the visuals. Soliders are playing b-ball in the distance, drill sergeants will be screaming down the obstacle course and planes or helicopters will pan the skies above you. This is due to an updated game engine from the previous Call of Duty 4 that can accommodate for larger worlds and enhanced graphic detail.

As soon as you have learnt the basics, Modern Warfare 2 wastes no time in throwing you deep into the action. Immediately you’ll find yourself shipped out to the frontline in a city under siege in the Middle East. Surrounded by team-mates falling all around you, bullets ricocheting off destroyed cars and the enemy holding the high ground you realise that your gun is suddenly your new best friend. In this same area you and your men will be driving through the narrow streets of a crumbling, dusty city in a hum-vee where (you guessed it) all Hell breaks loose. You’ll be chasing terrorists through ally-ways, checking the classrooms of a school for snipers and avoiding scurrying civilians. It’s an adrenaline pumping experience and all within the first fifteen minutes of play!

But this is nothing compared to where Modern Warfare 2 takes you next. The beauty of the game lies in the fact that each mission is completely different to the next. As in previous Call of Duty games, each one is from the point of view from various soldiers from different parts of the world involved in the conflict. It means that one minute you could be in the snowy mountains of Kazakhstan, climbing up perilous cliffs with ice picks before making a bullet-ridden escape via a snow-mobile. Next mission you’ll find yourself in Rio de Janeiro, leaping from roof-tops and pursing an informant through markets and street football games. Later you’ll be storming a massive oil rig by sea, making stealth kills and avoiding apache helicopter fire. Moving on you’ll be in middle-class American suburbia in what feels like a scene from the movie “Red Dawn”, watching Russians parachute into fast-food joints in an all out siege. The pace of the action is relentless, diverse and extremely effective.

Modern Warfare 2 isn’t just about a frantic shooting experience though. Often the game will throw in slower paced moments to ensure that player’s haven’t become hypnotised by the pretty explosions. In fact, it is one mission in particular that challenges your moral and emotional sensibilities and is also the one that has triggered the media hubbub of late.

In order to infiltrate a terrorist organisation, players take control of a CIA agent who goes undercover to learn more about their terrorist leader, Vladimir Makarov. However this same outfit attacks a Russian airport and the mission that plays out here puts the player in an uncomfortable, disturbingly violent situation that may offend or upset some players. The controversy surrounding shooting innocent civilians is justified in a lot of ways. With Modern Warfare 2’s outstandingly realistic graphics, few would help feel a twinge of remorse when mowing down the dozens of unarmed bystanders. Especially considering you’ll see people screaming, trying to crawl away to safety or going to help one another and risk getting shot themselves. However the game does present an important aspect to the setting of the story. War isn’t just about racking up hundreds of kills with no consequences. This sequence shows the gritty, ruthless and horribly unfortunate reality of modern day warfare and the use of terrorism to strike at the heart of a nation.

It is also important to note here that the game does not “encourage” players to shoot down innocent civilians. Sure, it doesn’t penalise you either. But player’s can attempt to lessen the impact by aiming for the legs for a non-lethal shot that puts them out of danger or even just shoot at thin-air. The illusion of looking like a terrorist (in order to avoid being found out as a CIA spy) can be played out without the actual need to do any killing. Despite this though, there is little doubt that the end result could definitely be troubling to some – in which case you would be wise to skip these scenes. It is important to note though that there is a clever twist at the end of this mission to those who can wince their way through it.

Actual gameplay complaints for the game are very few and far between. Although the sound and music in the game are absolutely flawless, one criticism lies in the strangely limited audio options. Most games have a volume setting for music, sound effects and voice / commentary. Yet in Modern Warfare 2, there is just one generic volume meter which does seem a tad pointless considering the TV remote would do the same thing. It is also a shame considering how often your directions and objectives will be said by a commanding officer and they can be difficult to hear with all of the background noise going on around you. The only other complaint is that although the enemy AI has been ramped up nicely, with bad guys taking cover and throwing grenades wisely, your team-mate intelligence doesn’t seem to match. Often you will be flanked by enemies that your team-mates have failed to see, or even worse will just let them run straight past. I’m pretty certain I haven’t seen a friendly throw a grenade at the enemy either. This all sounds worse than it is though as in actuality, this glitch happens very rarely. I’m just trying to play devil’s advocate on a game that is near perfect.

With Call of Duty 4 clocking up thousands of hours online, it only stands to reason that Modern Warfare 2 would offer a similar multiplayer component. In fact the game has a crazy fourteen multiplayer modes and even adds a new feature perfect for those not wanting to venture into a frag frenzy of deathmatch known as Spec Ops. Spec Ops is a co-operative multiplayer mode that allows two players (either split screen, system link or online) to play through some of the more memorable missions taken from both the new campaign and some favourites from the first Modern Warfare too.

The other multiplayer modes cover the standards with Capture The Flag, Team Deathmatch, the bomb-planting/bomb-defusing Demolition and the base capturing Domination all included. One of the better team-based modes is called Headquarters Pro and involves a random series of capture points to be spawned throughout the round that teams must hold and defend for a set amount of time. With fourteen multiplayer modes across sixteen multiplayer maps, dozens of unlockable weapons and a seemingly never-ending set of ingame Challenges to try and beat, Modern Warfare 2 packs in a lot of multiplayer goodness. Infinity Ward have also spent time refining the hosting issues that tended to slow down the pace of the action for online gamers.

Overall this globe-spanning, action packed first person shooter is right on the money. It not only raises the bar for the quality we’ve come to expect from Call of Duty titles, it sets a new standard for the entire genre. The game constantly adds something new to the mix without straying too far from the traditional first-person shooter formula and is sure to be worth the wait for fans everywhere.

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