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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (7.7/10)

Let's face it: the annual installment of the Call of Duty franchise is probably the most eagerly awaited release of the year for a majority of the gaming public. Every year multiple games end up changing their release date simply because they don’t want to go up against the Call of Duty juggernaut. Considering the success of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, should we be surprised? Absolutely not. CoD4:MW is probably the best shooter I’ve ever played. Then it was announced that Infinity Ward was back to make Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Panic ensued…

It’s impressive that the franchise has gotten to the point that if I were to show you a scene from a game where you are careening down a mountainside on a snowmobile dodging trees, rocket fire, and jerks with guns shooting at you from other snowmobiles only to jump a gorge to rendezvous with your escape chopper you would just look at me and say, "Oh, that must be from the new Call of Duty game, huh?" These over the top action sequences have become synonymous with this franchise, while in other games they seem paltry and cliché. CoD:MW2 does an awesome job of creating memorable moments. There are more than a few that end with you gasping a breathless "Wow…"

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is a blockbuster in every sense of the word: loud, fast, chaotic, and meaningless. Most big summer movies are heavy on action and lacking in plot. CoD:MW2 is no different. The story takes an interesting turn when Imran Zakhaev, the evil bastard from the first game everyone so enjoyed capping at the end, has become a martyr in the fullest sense of the term. He’s the idol of the new Russia, and he has some fanatical followers intent on bringing down the good old US of A.

Initially it’s quite well done (especially the reappearance of an old friend!), but things quickly degenerate into a nonsensical mishmash of various worn war cliches and over the top moments that have you rolling your eyes and slumping back in your seat going "Really? Reeeeaaaalllllyyyy???" If they had toned it down a shade it might have worked… but it ends up coming off as preachy. Literally, the last half of the game, I remember thinking, "Yeah, yeah, blah blah blah, just let me get back to the action already!" Oh, and the ending sucks. It’s ludicrous to the point that it actually pissed me off.

I would be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the infamous "Russian Airport" level. It’s important to the story because it sets up everything that follows it, but let me tell you, it ain’t for the faint of heart. As desensitized as we have become in our culture today it didn’t bother too many people, but it certainly straddles the boundary of good taste. Fortunately, the game will actually prompt you as to whether or not you want it included.

However, we don’t tend to go and watch summer movies for the narrative, nor is that the reason to play CoD:MW2. We play to shoot bad guys. In this regard CoD: MW2 shines as bright as its predecessor does. After a bit of practice you will be popping in and out of your sights, taking down terrorists like a seasoned veteran. Of all the shooters I’ve played I really think that this series has nailed the shooting controls best of all the competition. This is the gold standard.

Graphically, it's an impressive game as well. Sure, CoD: MW2 doesn't improve much over the last few CoD titles but it still... one section in particular was really impressive, when you shoot your way through a market in Rio de Janeiro. Crap is flying everywhere and it looks great. There are no hiccups in the frame rate at all!

I do have some gripes about the gameplay/design. When you get shot there is a blood splatter across the screen to indicate that you have, in fact, been shot. This would be fine, but it is far too intrusive. One hit from an enemy bullet obscures the screen so much that you can’t even see who is shooting you. Now, I realize this is pretty realistic in a sense… but this is a game. Because these battle sequences are so chaotic, with incoming fire from all directions, you can get disoriented quickly.

This would be manageable if not for my other issue. There isn’t really a ‘true’ cover system. I’m still surprised by this, or the lack there of. You can’t go into cover the same way you can in games like Gears of War or Uncharted. If I get shot, you’d better believe my first reaction is to find some cover while I get my bearings, not just ‘crouch’ behind a crate.

The end result is that when you get hit, you can’t see what is going on, and you can’t get cover quickly to get your vision back. You go from enjoying your Tuesday and protecting America and her interests, to being completely buggered very quickly. There are lots of "Come on! $#%&^ *&#&#%!!!!" moments. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve inadvertently run right into the enemy because I couldn’t see what was happening. I feel like CoD:MW2 dances on tiptoe back and forth over that line separating challenging and just plain frustrating.

I have a couple of other minor issues with CoD:MW2. While the sound is awesome throughout the game, it's almost too good in parts. Sometimes the objectives are spoken directly to you by your commanding officer. "Concentrate fire on the far bank!" can get lost in the cacophony of the chaos surrounding you. You can hear him shouting, but you are busy getting shot in the ass and are noticeably unable to split your attention. There were a couple of times when I had no idea where to go next because I couldn't hear my orders. My other problem is that the single player campaign is pretty short. Normally it would bother me more, but they really did cram a lot in to a short six hours. As it was, I was ready for it to be done when it ended. Of course, I don’t play online multiplayer much…

So once again I’m forced to put in my standard caveat about how I don't play games online. Multiplayer, more than anything else, is what Call of Duty is known for, and the primary reason it sells as well as it does. You’ll be surprised here, but I have actually played CoD:MW2 online (at a family friend’s house during a Christmas party… sorry Mom). I didn’t play for very long, but it was still quite fun. I imagine if I took it as seriously as some people I'd become completely obsessed.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 falls prey to the pitfalls of most sequels: the developers simply tried too hard to top the original. That was a mountain to climb; Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is deserving of its unofficial title of the best shooter this generation. As a result, I think that while things are bigger, faster, louder, and crazier, that doesn’t translate to better in this case. But don’t let that dissuade you from trying it, you should, whether you want a great multiplayer experience (the score of my review would almost certainly be higher if I played online) or just a fun shooter to play through in a weekend. Of course, everyone (including me) bought it and it broke sales records so what the hell do I know…


Score = 7.7 / 10

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