Tuesday, December 8, 2009

War. War never changes. – Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Like everyone else in the game industry, I was moderately curious about Modern Warfare 2 and whether or not it would live up to the INSANE amount of hype that had been generated about it. I really liked the first one (to the point where I bought an Xbox 360 to play it on), but I was a bit scared of retaking the plunge into COD territory. Because I really liked the game, I convinced myself that I should play through the single-player campaign on Hardened and then again on Veteran, and to try and get every single Achievement.

By the time I was finished, I had succeeded in completely ruining the game for myself; on Veteran, the annoying, stupid flaws of the campaign came into much sharper focus, like the infinitely respawning enemies (especially in levels like Charlie Don't Surf and, well, basically every mission where you were an Army Ranger) and the enemies' Dan Marino-esque ability to throw a grenade into my pocket at 200 yards. I also can't really play the multiplayer anymore, on account that I hate at least half of the maps (Bog, Pipeline, and Bloc immediately come to mind, with a few more waiting in the wings), and these maps seem to be the most popular ones.

That said, I can't deny that both the single-player and multiplayer were both really polished and very fun while they lasted, and developer Infinity Ward make some quality first person shooter action, so I decided to rent it to give it a shot. After eight days of time with the game (I figure the small late fee was worth it), I've decided that it's a very polished and much-improved version of a game I had basically already played two years ago.

The single-player campaign has you hopping between different characters in true Call Of Duty fashion, but most of the time is split between Private James Ramirez of the US Army and "Roach" Sanderson of Taskforce 141, an MI6-style organization tasked with doing special ops stuff. While the first game had a relatively down-to-earth style with a couple of over-the-top moments (killing approximately 40,000 Russian soldiers during the last mission seems like a bit too many), this one is flat out Jerry Bruckheimer; this game is unabashedly built around set piece "Holy crap, did you see that?" moments, and the game is simultaneously sillier and more thrilling for it.

Many silly, epic moments pepper the experience.

The developers at Infinity Ward seem to have taken a lot of fan feedback into account with the campaign: there are no infinitely respawning enemies, the mission locales are much more varied than the last game (where there were basically two levels: desert and Russian grassy knoll), and the sniping mission from the first game has received several sequels.

The campaign is short; I plowed through it in one sitting in about five hours. However, it's a really tight, well-executed campaign with virtually no fat or downtime, and had a blast playing through the whole thing in one shot (I would recommend doing it that way, actually). There are still a couple infuriating spots (the last part of the Rio de Janero level looks to be this game's TV station) and some of the moments are just borderline ridiculous (like when you launch a snowmobile over a chasm in order to escape from Russian soldiers), but for the most part the game ran at a consistently high level. There are fewer "Wow" moments than the first game (there's no Death From Above level or anything like that), but most of the game hits such a consistently high bar that it's hard to distinguish one absolutely incredible moment from another one (well, that's not true, but far be it for me to spoil them here).


Infinity Ward utilizes their favorite You Are The Character moments for storytelling.

So the single-player is fun, if a bit ridiculous, but the multiplayer is what made the first game have such lasting appeal (it's been in the top 3 games on Xbox Live since its release two years ago). I spent most of my time with the multiplayer component, and I am pleased to say that everything that bugged my about the first game's multiplayer has been fixed:

• Perks are rebalanced (stupid ones like Iron Lung are unlockable "Pro" perks that stack on top of the regular ones, and Martyrdom has been relegated to a reward for dying too much). Also, your first perk is actually a perk this time, instead of deciding which explosive you get.

• Weapons feel better and less slanted towards the P-90 and M-16. All of them are fun to use, and effective in the right hands.

• The maps are actually fun! I've spent about twelve to fifteen hours in the multiplayer and haven't run across a map that's made me say "Here we go again" (though, like the first one, some of the maps repeat far more often than others, like Quarry).

• You can assign shotguns to your secondary weapon. Lordy lordy lordy, this is something I've wanted for a while; I tend to sprint around the map without looking around too much, so flailing with a shotgun whenever I accidentally run into someone is a great asset.

• You get points for just about everything you do: kill someone after dying a lot, performing a headshot, using a certain weapon enough, using a certain perk enough, everything. This gives a great sense of progression to the game, and it tells me that I don't need to be uber hardcore to level up.

• There are more varied game modes. Specifically, the addition of a Battlefield: Bad Company-style mode called Demolition, in which an attacking team has to plant a bomb on two crates, and a defending team has to prevent them from doing this for a certain amount of time. I think this mode is a bit more broken than B:BC, but is still fun nonetheless.

Demolition gives me some Gold Rush fun.

If I have to fault the multiplayer experience for anything, it's because I have become too accustomed to the freedom that Bad Company's multiplayer gave me. One of the things I liked most about multiplayer for Bad Company was its destructable environments; the ability to destroy walls and obstacles added a whole mess of variety to games, and maps played out differently almost every single time because of that variety. In Modern Warfare 2, each map has a specific set of choke points and places where the fighting generally happens. As I've established before, I'm not that good at FPS games, and I like it in Bad Company that I don't constantly get worked by guys who know the level layout better than I do.

Then there's the co-op Special Ops mode that I didn't get a chance to play. I fooled around with a couple single-player challenges, but it's quite apparent that this game mode works best with two human beings sitting side-by-side on the couch. The first Modern Warfare game lacked any sort of co-op, so I'm glad to see that Infinity Ward understands that playing WITH someone who's way better than you is much more fun than playing AGAINST someone who's way better than you.

Special Ops lets two players tackle moments from the campaign.

All in all, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is more than worth the $60 you would spend of in at Target. The single-player is a tightly scripted, rollercoaster thrill ride, the multiplayer is polished and better than ever, and Special Ops is great for when friends come over. I don't think I'll be getting it just yet (I plan on buying Bad Company 2 in March, and how many online shooters do I need anyways?), but I wouldn't discourage anyone from picking this one up.

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