Review: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

ModernWarfare2.jpg In many ways Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is an awkward game to review. For one, it’s such a hyped game that there isn’t much to say about it that hasn’t been said before, and it has already been such a huge sales hit that I doubt there are many gamers out there who need me to convince them of its excellence. Secondly, it is a game built so much around spectacular set pieces — each one more harrowing than the last — that I’d feel extremely guilty if I described them for fear of spoiling a game that really only succeeds by surprising you with unexpected twists and breathtaking, often disturbing war time imagery.

At the same time, it’s also kind of an easy game to review because so much of its makeup is retread from the first Modern Warfare, only with a fresh storyline picking up a few years after its predecessor’s climax. I don’t say that to diminish the experience this game has to offer, but that’s just how it is. You’ll fight alongside many familiar characters and encounter many powerful, memorable moments throughout Modern Warfare 2’s campaign – the missions taking place on our home soil in particular, as well as the controversial (and completely optional) airport massacre level I’m sure you’ve heard all about by now – but too many of them seem to try too hard to replicate similar moments and set pieces from past games, so in the end their impact isn’t as profound.

Much of the gameplay and presentation is identical as well, and any improvements that have been made are incremental at best. Infinity Ward knows how to make a great shooting model, and the FPS gunplay in Modern Warfare 2 has been honed to near perfection with controls that are tighter and smoother than ever. I’m also pleased that they finally got a handle on the enemy spawning problem of past games – no longer do you have to put up with endlessly respawning bad guys until you reach some invisible trigger point!

However, I am disappointed that the checkpoint system continues to be almost random in when it decides to auto-save your progress and that there is still no lean mechanic, two things that caused me a lot of frustration when playing through the campaign on the max difficulty. Call of Duty Classic has peek-and-lean for crying out loud, so why not this?

In terms of graphics and audio, enhancements have surely been made and the game looks and sounds amazing – this is no doubt one spectacular audiovisual production – but nothing jumps out as a monumental leap forward, especially when a graphical behemoth like Killzone 2 already raised the bar so high earlier in the year.

Nothing has really evolved with the multiplayer either. Save for subtle feature additions like kill streak rewards, host migration and the usual assortment of new weapons, perks and maps, the experience-based ranking and unlock system is the same. That’s not a bad thing since the Modern Warfare multiplayer formula remains top of the class in the FPS genre, but, similarly to the rest of the game, it’s tough to get jazzed up to start over from scratch in a multiplayer mode that has now been recycled for a third time. I’m beginning to think that Infinity Ward would be better off creating a persistent online infrastructure so there’s more continuity.

While the campaign and multiplayer are largely familiar, the new Special Ops mode is a welcomed addition to the Modern Warfare arsenal. Special Ops is an independent challenge mode, playable solo or in co-op with a friend locally or online, consisting of short timed missions set within locales from the campaign. Special Ops missions come in a variety of flavors, from wave defense to stealth to escort to assault to elimination to snowmobile time trials, and as you complete them you earn performance stars to unlock new, more difficult missions. A large chunk of the Trophies/Acheivements are dedicated to performance in the Special Ops mode too (there aren’t any tied to the main multiplayer mode that I’ve seen), so there’s even more motivation to replay missions and collect every star if you are a completionist. It’s still not the full campaign co-op mode we really want, but at least it’s a step in that direction.

For many gamers, Special Ops will also serve as a much-needed boost in replayability. The first Modern Warfare caught a lot of flack for being “too short,” and to the dismay of many, Modern Warfare 2’s campaign is just as brisk. Personally, though, I find that the campaign length hits the sweet spot. Its length varies depending on your choice in difficulty – it’s in the 4-6 hour range on the lower difficulties, but can take upwards of 8+ hours on the highest difficulty – and that is “just right” for the type of game Modern Warfare 2 is.

To me, Modern Warfare 2 plays out much like a favorite movie: I can pop it in and experience the full campaign in a sitting or two and have a good time without having to invest myself for hours, days and weeks on end to achieve ultimate satisfaction, and even though the level objectives and plot structure are heavily scripted it holds up amazingly well to repeat playthroughs (I’ve played it through twice already and know I’ll be coming back for more soon). And frankly, the pacing is so tight as is that if the game was padded out at double the length I don’t think it would deliver the same emotional rollercoaster ride effect. That’s my feeling anyway, but maybe I’m just weird!

Modern Warfare 2 is a phenomenal game, no ifs, ands or buts about it. Does it deserve all the hype it has received? Certainly not. And does it feel very “been there, done that?” Absolutely yes. But between its focused, tightly-paced campaign, robust multiplayer and new Special Ops mode, this is one of the all-around best values in gaming and should not be missed.

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Pros:
+ New Special Ops mode is a blast
+ Tight, exhilarating campaign
+ Deep multiplayer experience
+ Same great Call of Duty gameplay and immersion
+ Outstanding graphics and audio
+ Highly replayable

Cons:
– Still no peek-and-lean
– Inconsistent checkpoints
– Campaign may still be too short for some
– Lacks evolution from past games – doesn’t have quite the same wow factor any more

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed on PS3, also on PC and Xbox 360
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Infinity Ward
Release Date: 11/10/09
Genre: FPS
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1-18
Source: Review copy provided by publisher

About the Author

Matt Litten is the full-time editor and owner of VGBlogger.com. He is responsible for maintaining the day to day operation of the site, editing all staff content before it is published, and contributing regular news, reviews, previews and other articles. Matt landed his first gig in the video game review business writing for the now-defunct website BonusStage.com. After the sad and untimely close of BonusStage, the former staff went on to found VGBlogger.com. After a short stint as US Site Manager for AceGamez, Matt assumed full ownership over VGBlogger, and to this day he is dedicated to making it one of the top video game blogs in all the blogosphere. Matt is a fair-minded reviewer and lover of games of all platforms and types, big or small, hyped or niche, big-budget or indie. But that doesn't mean he will let poor games slide without a good thrashing when necessary!