Developer: Infinity Ward
Year of Release: 2009
Platforms: PC, Xbox 360, PS3
I feel sorry for developers who make hit games. Not only do you get some fat cat in a suit meowing out orders that a sequel must be made but you also must deal with the pressure from the general internet using public, one of the most powerful and annoying forces on the planet. So it’s for this reason I salute Infinity Ward, the makers of 2007’s hit game Call of Duty 4 in making a game that pleases nearly everyone, from corporate overlord down to the man on the street. Well, apart from certain PC users but nothing is perfect.
Modern Warfare 2 is set five years after the events of COD4 and the world is slowly going to hell in a handcart. Not only did the Ultranationalists eventually take over Russia despite your activities the first time round, but they also are quite pissed at everyone who killed Imran Zakhaev at the conclusion of the first game. More worrying for the west is that Zakhaev right hand man, a madman by the name of Makarov has gone on a spree of terrorist activities, one of which you get to take part in and results in the Russians being mightily pissed off with the USA. Eventually, the war which up until this point had been “over there” for the US people is suddenly on their door step, wrecking their fast food restaurants and turning D.C. into a living hell. The plot is a little bit predictable up until a point. However, more important is the fact that the plot becomes batshit crazy at several points, including one sequence that had me on the floor laughing my head off at how completely ridiculous it was. Unlike the subtle and plausible plot of COD 4, the plotline in the sequel is a bit closer to a Tom Clancy novel, with the US being invaded and everyone important being double crossed at some point in the proceedings. I honestly think Infinity Ward sat down and thought of ways they could kill off as many playable characters as possible in the nastiest ways possible. Every level almost always ends or revolves around one or more set pieces, be it escaping on snowmobiles or attempting to re-enact Nicolas Cage’s flare scene from the Rock on the roof of Whiskey Hotel.
However, the story is rather short, with the plot being spread over 18 missions. This is more than the original game, but each mission is more intense than any in the first game as well as being shorter. Therefore the campaign takes about 5 hours to finish on regular, with veteran being slightly easier than in previous Call of Duty games but still posing a challenge especially in the later stages.. The missions also take place in a variety of locales and styles. In one mission you could be in Brazil fighting through the favela in a chase sequence while in the next you could be infiltrating an oil rig in the frozen ocean off Russia alongside the US Navy SEALS. Through all of the missions you play as various members of either the US Army Rangers or as part as the fictional multinational Taskforce 141, allowing the developers to mix up the British voices with Australians and New Zealanders.
Nearly nothing in terms of gameplay has changed since COD4 – you are still running and gunning while knifing people with the right stick. Nearly every mission is a set path between objectives, normally littered with enemy troops wishing to ventilate your brain as well as cover to hide behind to avoid said ventilation. The levels seem a bit more open this time, with multiple routes available to objectives in several areas. Additionally, nearly all the maps are littered with enough guns and ammo to make Dick Cheney blush, even before the killing starts. This slight increase in the number of pathways does mean there are a few less levels that will become sticking points in a playthrough as there is normally a way around most problems, but it also leads to a few cases of confusion. Similarly, with the introduction vehicles sections as well as several parts that use different control schemes, the game can be changing how it is played rather rapidly. It also seems that IW has done a few little tweaks in the overall gameplay, such as allowing grenades to roll. However, in all other respects if you were a king of COD4, than there is a good chance you will be pretty good at the latest version.
The main reason why most people play Call of Duty is not the single player, but is instead the crazily addictive multiplayer. Well, it’s obvious that this was the main focus this time, and I have to say I much prefer the new multiplayer over the version present in COD4. The first thing to know is that there have been no real overhauls, only the introduction of a few new features and some balancing of others. The most obvious is the increase in the number of levels, now up to level 70. This is in part due to the sheer number of weapons, perks, challenges and attachments to unlock. The game has also added some more character customisation options. Gone are the days of boring loadouts always featuring frag grenades – now that slot is also home to such coolness as a mobile spawn point, claymores or one of my favourites the throwing knife. This adds quite a few new tactics, but not as much as another tweak to the create a class system. Instead of being stuck with a good weapon and some crap pistol, several new weapon types (such as machine pistols, handguns, shotguns and launchers) can be used in your secondary slot. So yes, if you want to carry a handheld grenade launcher and an assault rifle with an M203, you can! (As well as being called a n00btuber). Many of the new launchers can also be used to knock out several of the new killstreaks, such as the AC130, one of the many new choppers and finally the UAV. The customisable killstreaks is one of my new favourite features as it means you can focus where you get rewards. Choose all low level killstreaks such as the UAV, care package or predator and you’ll get a lot of each but you won’t affect the battle in a major way. However, if you are a better player than I, you can start adding 11 or higher killstreak rewards, granting you access to the game changing items which culminate in the ungodly majesty of the tactical nuke, which requires you to get a kill streak of 25 in order to call in. When someone gets one of these, they become a figure of both awe and annoyance.
A better thing for anyone who maybe isn’t so good at first person shooters is the introduction of the new deathstreaks. If you end up dying repeatedly with no kills, you will eventually end up with a bonus to assist in getting you back in the game. This is the new home of the two most annoying of perks, Juggernaut which has been reincarnated as a health bonus for only 10 seconds after respawn, and Martyrdom. In addition there are new XP bonuses for a whole load of things such as coming back from a deathstreak, killing an enemy who has previously killed you, headshots, rescuing a teammate… The list goes on and on. These bonuses are just one part of making you feel like ever engagement is worth it as opposed to a multiplayer game just being wasted if you get into a bad frame. COD has also been inspired by two other big games on XBL such as Halo 3 and Street Fighter IV. From Halo, COD has taken the accolade system which is very similar to the medals. Meanwhile from Street Fighter, Infinity Ward has implemented the callsigns, which is a unique card that can identify you when you do something special such as downing the UAV or planting the bomb in sabotage. It is a quick and easy way to remember a certain player as opposed to just a name.
Now all these changes don’t matter if the game types are all rubbish. Well, MW2 has all the modes from COD4 as well as a few new ones. This includes the variants as well such as Hardcore and the new Third Person mode. IW has also added a new mode called Demolition to add to an already considerable roster. I have to say that this is the definitive version of online multiplayer. If you enjoyed Call of Duty 4’s online mode, this feels like an evolution, not a revolution.
But that’s not all! In response to the community’s thoughts on the level Mile High Club in COD4, Infinity Ward has made an entirely new game mode based on the concept of short modes designed to be played when you don’t have time to get into multiplayer. The whole setup is brilliant, designed to be played in co op with another player but still able to be a challenge for one. It’s based on a stars system, ranging from 1 to 3. Each mission varies in its objectives, but as a guideline the faster something is done, the more stars you receive. This mode has some really good missions, with my favourite being a two player one where one person takes control of a soldier on the ground fleeing enemy spec ops while the other player takes up position in the control terminal of an AC130 gunship raining fire down upon pursuing forces. These missions are really short and limited to only 2 players but are great fun to play, by yourself or with a buddy.
The game also looks really good. It is running a version of the COD4 engine, but with a few major tweaks. Several scenes are jaw dropping, with the mission that takes place in a blizzard being a perfect example of brilliant art design mixed with actual gameplay use, an idea Infinity Ward use in nearly everything they do. The levels that take place in DC are also spectacular, with the mixture between pitch darkness with the burning buildings whose smoke clogs up the sky. The models and animations for the characters also look a lot better, with a greater range of facial animation rather than either shooting or in pain. All the gun and equipment models look excellent as well, even if the reloading animation for the FN FAL is cringeful (you try reloading by knocking the half empty magazine out with another magazine). The care also can be seen in the sound design. The general FX is pretty good, but the voice acting is excellent. Kevin McKidd almost manages to depose Billy Murray’s Captain Price as coolest voice ever with his portrayal of McTavish, your character from the first game. The voice of Gaz also returns as Ghost while the voice actor of your new CO General Sheppard (which is Lance Hendriksen of Aliens and Terminator fame) really suits the character. The true star is the voice of Makarov, who oozes menace the few times he appears. He actually is someone you may come to really dislike.
Before I wrap up, I need to make a point. A major story that appeared in the media around Modern Warfare 2’s release was the leak about its mission, No Russian. For anyone who doesn’t know, this is a level where you play as a character alongside the supreme bad guy. In this mission, you enter a Russian Airport packed with civilians when you proceed to open fire on them with a machine gun. It’s a little disturbing, especially if you turn rounds and notice the injured dragging themselves out of the way. However, it is no worse than many scenes in film or on TV. The big outcry was that it was a game portraying this and games are still linked to being children’s material. Modern Warfare 2 in the UK carries a big fat 18 rating on the front of the box and for good reason. This may be a point where a parent should maybe actually look at what they are buying their child.
Modern Warfare 2 was the biggest game of 2009 and deservedly so. Although it doesn’t change the core formula of Call of Duty 4, why fix what isn’t broke, this game is one of the best this year. It is essential that everyone at least tries the game, even if it’s just to see how ridiculous the singleplayer get and to see how much fun the multiplayer can be.
In the months after release, some of this enjoyment has been slightly brought down. At various points, the multiplayer has suffered several major glitches which led to periods where the matches were dominated by certain weapons or tactics. This seems to have balanced out now thanks to multiple patches. The other major thing is the 1500 Microsoft points map packs. Most players I know haven’t bought them based on the price and the fact only 3 of the 5 maps are new (the others are remakes from COD 4 such as Overgrown or Crash). I think it is going to set a dangerous trend with map packs at 1500 points instead of the more usual 800 or 1200 points mark. That said though, the multiplayer is still one of the best available today and still gets millions of players even 7 months after release.