Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Infinity Ward returns with a follow-up to the critically acclaimed Modern Warfare that has already stirred up controversy over the now infamous airport level. But don't let that distract you from the real discussion: is the game any good? Reviews Editor Tae K. Kim spent two days playing every available mode and his impressions follow. The game definitely has potential but its place in video game history will ultimately be decided by the fanatic online community who may take issue with some of the n00b friendly changes.
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The first rule of my own personal reviews philosophy is "Remain objective" but that's almost impossible when dealing with a franchise that's as critically and financially successful as Call of Duty. I've been a fan of the series since its inception (though I hated Call of Duty 3 as much as you did) so I couldn't help but have high expectations for Modern Warfare 2, the sequel to the obscenely successful Modern Warfare. My attempts to remain objective weren't helped by the fact that, instead of being sent a review build, as is usually the case, I was offered a trip down to Infinity Ward's offices for a two-day Modern Warfare 2 marathon.
This isn't an ideal scenario for a reviewer because the company involved can prepare an optimal review environment to put their game in the best possible light. I was given a fairly ideal setup during my time at Infinity Ward: a large HDTV, a booming 5.1 sound system and members of the dev team waiting to hold my hand through a sampling of the multiplayer options. But to be fair to publisher Activision, who set up the trip, once I arrived, I was largely left alone; my handler only interrupted me to ask if I needed to go to the bathroom or to offer me something to eat. There was no heavy handed sales pitch and no one sat in the room with me constantly pointing things out. But even if I had played the game in the comfort of my bedroom or the GamePro offices, even if I had had to figure out the Spec Ops and multiplayer modes on my own, Modern Warfare 2 still would have impressed me with its intensity and polish. From the appetite whetting single-player to the main course multiplayer, the game more than lives up to the high bar set by the original, even if it makes some concessions to its own popularity that may make the diehard fans grumble.
And that's a little surprising when you consider how many copies the original Modern Warfare sold; it seems a bit odd that Infinity Ward would implement concepts so obviously geared towards new players who might buy the game instead of focusing on catering to the core fans who most definitely will. The first thing I immediately noticed was the addition of an aim-assist mechanic which let's you auto-lock onto to the nearest enemy by pressing the left trigger; you can easily cycle through multiple tangos with a few trigger pulls. I turned it off after about five minutes because it took the skill out of the game. The new Death Perks will also have some players screaming conspiracy: die enough times in a row without getting a kill in multiplayer and you get a perk such as a temporary health boost; the unfortunate downside is that skilled players who rarely die with never benefit from them. Oh, and if you break a cold streak by getting a kill, you get a bonus XP boost, which is just more gasoline on the "rewarding n00bs for sucking" campfire.
Add it all up and the math is simple: n00b hand-holding plus angry 'l33t' players equals a lot of bitching and moaning. It's a delicate line between leveling the playing field and nerfing the game, and only time will tell which side Infinity Ward landed on; one thing's for sure, though--I can already smell the fumes from the forum flamewars these decisions will ignite on the Internet.
But working in Infinity Ward's favor is the fact that, despite these notable changes, the rest of the experience is still vintage Modern Warfare. The single-player still plays out like an episode of Fox's '24' with a heavy dose of CNN and 'Future Weapons' thrown in as garnish and there are a lot of high points, including a certain level that outdoes the original's introductory execution scene in terms of shock value; the cat's already been let out of the bag thanks to some Internet footage leaked by someone who also probably drove by Harry Potter fans waiting in line for 'The Half-Blood Prince' and shouted "Dumbledore dies!" but I had the prestigious advantage of experiencing it without any preexisting biases. My first thought after playing through that particular level was "Holy shit, I can't believe they tried that," and after some introspective mulling, I followed it up with, "And I can't believe they pulled it off." It's definitely an interesting experiment, and one that I'll discuss in-depth in a follow-up feature, but it was a bold and calculated maneuver that will be talked about at length.
Unfortunately, the single-player also contains some low points where the action bogs down with generic FPS run-and-gun segments complete with invisible trigger points and infinitely respawning enemies; still, it's an enjoyable eight hour experience that offers enough memorable moments to make it worth your while. I'm still shocked to hear about people who jump straight into multiplayer as soon as they open up the case; that's like buying a pizza and immediately throwing away the crust.
But as much as I liked the single-player, even I have to admit that the multiplayer is where the real action is, and its new additions should (hopefully) help counterbalance some (but probably not all) of the dissension that will arise from the n00b friendly changes I noted above. Spec Ops offers up a series of objective based missions which can be played solo or with a partner and they run the gamut from timed "kill every enemy" affairs to fantastic "overwatch" scenarios where one player provides air support--either from an AC-130 or an attack helo -- while his partner tries to survive on the ground. I had the benefit of playing Spec Ops with a seasoned partner -- a member of the dev team with the callsign IWSoupy--who actively kept up the chatter to ensure we were on the same page, which proved one thing: with the right partner (read: someone willing to play the game right and actually communicate, which may be a rarer breed of gamer than you'd think or hope), Spec Ops provides some interesting moments. I especially liked the stealth missions: on one memorable level, my partner and I pulled on our Ghillie suits and slowly navigated from one end of a sprawling level to the other while cooperatively dealing with enemy patrols and hidden snipers; it took us over 30 minutes to get to the end and I wasn't bored once.