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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Review

Gene Park's picture

Above and Beyond the Call of at least One Duty

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Screenshot

HIGH Covering a human player with AC-130 armory.

LOW A hole-ridden plot that ends in obvious sequel bait.

WTF Tactical nuke?!

Infinity Ward has its greatest argument for moving away from history's most documented battles in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 . From gothic Russian gulags to a D.C. battlefield that feels like a precursor to Fallout 3's Capital Wasteland, the setpieces are no longer silicon documentaries, but rather extended tours into the developers' frenzied gun-fetish daydreams of national landmarks being destroyed. 

The game is of two minds. One offers a faux-high-minded military fantasy. The other, of course, is to provide the perfect multiplayer shooting experience—an honor argued for heralded titles like GoldenEye, Halo, and Counterstrike. The latter succeeds wildly. The former less so, but Modern Warfare 2 swaggers in with nuclear aplomb either way. 

When it comes to multiplayer competition and cooperative gameplay, who am I to deny this game's greatness? The controls are almost ergonomic, fitting like a well-worn glove. The multiplayer maps, from war-torn Afghanistan to a terror-ridden airport, are huge, balanced and believable. Online, the player can level up to gain new skills and weapons to customize your character. The plus-figure you see with every confirmed kill feed a narcissistic desire for superiority only the best role-playing games can provide. 

Nobody expected any less. The biggest surprise from the first Modern Warfare is the sublime Spec Ops mode. It has been initially compared to Horde Mode in Gears of War 2, a comparison that is both incorrect and unflattering. 

Spec Ops mode is the single-player game stripped down to its most elemental, except it can be shared with a friend. They are objective-based missions without the fuss of a story or character motivation, and despite the surge of cooperative play in games, Infinity Ward was still able to innovate. If you're like me and have wished of playing the gunner of a God-like AC-130 warship protecting a teammate through a nightmarish warzone, then our fever dream has been fulfilled. It's an offering you can't find anywhere else. Then there are snowmobile races, helicopter escort missions, and house-to-house, diner-to-diner fighting in Americana. The missions are challenging, hectic and the sense of virtual reward after completing a mission on the hardest difficulty setting is immense.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Screenshot

Modern Warfare 2 achieves glory in online competition and cooperative play when it sheds the pretension of its single-player campaign, which tells the tale of an all-out war between the U.S. and Russia, and the shadow group of international operatives who try to cool the instability. 

First I'd like to point out an easy but unfair criticism of the Call of Duty stories; that its writing is reminiscent of the critically-maligned blockbuster filmmaker Jerry Bruckheimer. It's better than that at least. It's all very loud and macho, but there's a very natural sense of pacing. Infinity Ward shows great affection for some of its characters, particularly "Soap" Mactavish, the protagonist from the first Modern Warfare who returns as this game's nigh-certifiable superhero, although not its main playable character. The plot and character development thankfully avoid any jingoism. The game's morality is muddied somewhat, making it more intriguing than your standard Nazi caper. 

Composer Hans Zimmer (The Dark Knight) has a score that swells as the player approaches a burning White House. It's a lot of sound and fury, and it's hard not to get goosebumps. Infinity Ward has an acute sense for player behavior, triggering events and musical cues as the player guides the camera through an open battlefield. 

Unfortunately, it's hopelessly mechanical. I couldn't help shake the feeling that I was merely being a cameraman, dutifully pushing a camera dolly to the next perfectly framed shot. It's then that you start to see the puppeteer's strings, the trigger points for events. Everything falls into place so neatly, it shatters the illusion that this is a living, breathing battlefield where anything can happen. "Anything" never does, unless it is scripted to do so. 

Infinity Ward treats the campaign as sort of an endgame to the old school hardcore game design of bigger and better. Any sense of dynamics is provided under strict authorial control, which is both admirable, and also quite frankly, a bit predictable. The trick of giving first person camera control to different characters (recalling the presidential assassination stage from part one) is reused, sometimes to great effect like the controversial level in which the player goes undercover in a terror cell's attack on a civilian airport. But the rest often falls flat, especially since Infinity Ward seems to be confused on deciding what kind of story they want to tell.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Screenshot

Some levels, notably the American-based ones, are all about the logistics of the battle. It's about the guy next to you, it's about being told what to do and not asking any questions. It would work if the game kept with this chilly, forlorn mood. Ridley Scott's film Black Hawk Down remains a powerful narrative without any one character dominating it. But the other levels are saddled in the yippee-ki-yay upbeat tones that draw the Bruckheimer comparisons including out-of-place one-liners, sloganeering, Saturday morning cartoon villainy, and madcap impossible escapes of explosions not seen since, well, a few weeks ago with Uncharted 2's Nathan Drake.

So is Modern Warfare 2 a statement, or pure fantasy? It's pure fantasy, for sure, and the developers are likely to agree—but there are inklings of the single-player campaign aspiring to be so much more. The storytelling, however, lacks clarity of thought and vision, which brings up another question of whether Infinity Ward won't take it further, or maybe they simply lack the eloquence. 

Whatever the case may be, the game is also a statement on Infinity Ward's strengths. Every trailer they released was not just promotional material, it was sabre-rattling to other publishers, daring them to release another game this week. And it worked. The holiday season is noticeably bare, and Modern Warfare 2 stands tall, with its brilliant, value-packed missions, maps, and promised endless nights of thousand-yard stares and slack-jawed home entertainment. It is a commanding presence in living room electronics. 

But most importantly, it's a powerful affirmation for those who define games less as art, and more as a sport of group dynamics that fuels the innate necessity of "must play" human contest. There is no greater argument. Rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via retail purchase and reviewed on the Xbox 360. Approximately 10 hours of play was devoted to single-player modes (completed twice) and 18 hours of play in multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game contains blood, drug references, intense violence and language. The violence is not over the top, but realistic. The biggest red flag is an early mission in the game where the player is party to a terrorist attack on a Russian airport, where dozens of innocents are murdered.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: All essential dialogue is subtitled, though some of the radio chatter is not. Minor audio cues that let the player know where the enemies are coming from are usually not represented, but the game does a good job of guiding the player's eyes anyway.

Category Tags
Platform(s): Xbox 360   PS3   PC  
Developer(s): Infinity Ward  
Publisher: Activision  
Series: Call of Duty   Modern Warfare  
Genre(s): Shooting   Online/Multiplayer  
ESRB Rating: Mature (17+)  
Articles: Game Reviews  

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Fantastic review Gene. It's

Fantastic review Gene. It's refreshing not to have to slog through a four-page feature-by-feature dissection of the game; you get right to the meat of the experience, which is exactly what good criticism should do.

I guess if I were more a multiplayer fanatic I'd be more interested in the title. $60 seems like a lot of cash to plunk down for a five-hour, linear campaign. It's the linearity and inflexibility of CoD's campaigns that's always turned me off; I mean, I enjoy a good thrill ride too, and I do enjoy the series, but I don't hold them in the same esteem a lot of people do because I think that the best games are ones that allow precisely the kind of "anything can happen" dynamic you describe.

excellent review

As much as I hate to say it, this is a very good review, Gene. Your writing is incredibly accurate and you put into words exactly what I wanted to say. Well, I mean even better than I could write it certainly. PM me your gamertag.

Screenshots

Uh, both of those screenshots are CLEARLY from COD4, not MW2.

Cool

Jeremy wrote:

Uh, both of those screenshots are CLEARLY from COD4, not MW2.

I was going to say the same thing.

Gene, I was hoping that you would write a review. Good job.

Screenshots updated

Jeremy wrote:

Uh, both of those screenshots are CLEARLY from COD4, not MW2.

We've updated the screenshots.

Very Good Review, Well Done!

This is the first review for this game I have read all the way through, Straight to the point and very useful. I have got this game, and I think the score may be a little harsh, but I understand why he gave it what it got. As this is my first CoD, I am obviously more amazed by everything, but I do understand that the common (non fanboy) opinion is that it is largely the same as 4. glad to see a review not with the droves (Also you are the joint lowest score on Metacritic)

Why Infinity-Ward bothers to

Why Infinity-Ward bothers to add campaigns to their games is beyond me. All of the COD games have been total rail shooters. Go here, trip that invisible trigger kill somebody. Go there, set explosives. I'm board. Multiplayer on the other hand is very enjoyable. I think Infinity-Ward should hire an AI programmer, it is 2009 after all. Their campaign game design is circa 1985 with updated graphics.

Guys, in todays gaming

Guys, in todays gaming world, its all about MULIPLAYER. Even if MW2's campaign mode was not linear, and was lets say 20 hours long it still cannot compare to months- even years of multiplayer action. So my main point is, you cannot rate this game so poorly it just talks bad for your judgement!

I've been a gamer since 1987, if you are a FPS fan this is truely the most enganging, with the most beatifully crafted visuals , most rewarding, FPS action packed game you could have hoped for!

If you don't have Xbox live, do yourself a huge favor - go get IT. As I mentioned todays games are all about multiplayer. COD MW2 multiplayer is by far the best on any system realesed up to date!

@OJ

I personally don't give a flying sh*t about multiplayer. Neither do a lot of people. Don't make the mistake of projecting your preferences and personal surroundings to the rest of the world.

I'll get MW2 later this week and might even check out the spec ops mode. But apart from that the singleplayer experience is my main interest. If it doesn't deliver there, the game fails for me and in this case I wouldn't see a point in rating it as high as it is.

If it would be a multiplayer-only title I wouldn't care, since I'd not spend money on it then. But it is advertised as both, so I also want my share and don't see why your preference for multiplayer should weight more than my preference for singleplayer?

p.s.: I'm a gamer since 1985, so who do you want to impress here? ;)

I was bored with the

I was bored with the multiplayer in mw1 after the first week. I don't see how the multiplayer in mw2 would be any more engaging. I'll stick with l4d as that actually uses real teamwork and is a very satisfying game for months, or bf2 which has been great for 3 years. I can't believe they are charging 60 dollars for this game on pc, I've never seen any pc game be more than 50. Why the change? And with the elimination of dedicated servers I really have no faith in the longevity of this game for me. l4d could get away with it because its just 4vs4 and is a campaign. For a game with more players than that and not with the same team-focused objectives where having one person more or less makes a huge difference, then theres no reason to have gotten rid of dedicated servers. I don't want to be in a match with a hacker and there be no way to boot the person.

But the game did sell 5 million copies apparently, so guess what I think doesn't matter. People flocked to this game like people flocked to Transformers 2 in the summer.

Your score is too low.

I don't understand why metacritic is posting your score as 80/100 when it isn't stated in a numerical fashion on the review itself.

Secondly, most people don't spend the entire single player campaign inching through levels to see which where and to what effect the invisible lines trigger new events; this is because part of the game experience that they're going for is a measure of cinematography and honestly I can't say that going nonlinear is really all that helpful in making a really rich and compelling experience. I mean in theory it sounds awesome but I've found that it just waters down a game's capacity to provide distinctly satisfying and polished gameplay.

Lastly, artistic value is all fine and dandy but what it boils down to is that just because this game isn't Bioshock doesn't mean that it wasn't made with the highest degree of care and attention to detail and to accomplish the goal universal among video games: which is to be fun. and 140000 people online at 10 in the morning on a weekday will tell you that it is oh so fun. which is why 2 years from now before modern warfare 3 comes out there will still be 140000+ people playing in the morning on a weekday and as effortless as IW may have made the game look it really is a masterpiece not in originality obviously but in taking a great formula and *perfecting* it. which personally I find to be a very artistic endeavor.

andrew n. wrote: Lastly,

andrew n. wrote:

Lastly, artistic value is all fine and dandy but what it boils down to is that just because this game isn't Bioshock doesn't mean that it wasn't made with the highest degree of care and attention to detail and to accomplish the goal universal among video games: which is to be fun.

It's funny, but I posted this comment at the same time as you: Fun is meaningless.

Hi Andrew, thanks for your

Hi Andrew, thanks for your comments.

I honestly don't feel my score is low at all. I wish there was a way I could post the overall review scale GameCritics.com has here, but as we've explained over and over again, we love to use the entire 1 through 10 scale.

If I gave Modern Warfare 2 an 8, that means I believe it's an amazing game that is a must play for fans of the genre or series. A four-star film from a major newspaper translates to an "80" on Metacritic. And I don't think anyone can argue that a movie receiving four stars is a bad score. More like a must-see film right? Just like I think Modern Warfare 2 should be played by most gamers.

And the entire reason why I started the review off praising the multiplayer is because I recognize the multiplayer's importance and high quality. Did I not describe the game as sublime, at least for one mode? Brilliant? These aren't words I'd use for any average game, and I'd hope that my review left the impression that I frickin' love Spec Ops mode.

Modern Warfare 2 is a great game, and 80 is far from a low score. It just happens to be the case that video game reviews don't know how to count from 1 through 10, just 7 through 10.

I didn't make an argument for nonlinearity. I didn't ask for a sandbox. I don't think Call of Duty would necessarily be better if it went all Liberty City on us.

And FYI, I'd probably give Bioshock an "80" or even "75." I loved the story, but the gameplay leaves me wanting. Both games aren't perfect.

If I could somehow command

If I could somehow command all game reviews to review each part of a game separately, then I assure you, Modern Warfare 2's multiplayer would get a perfect 10 or 100 or five stars, or whatever.

Unfortunately the single player is part of the game, and there's nothing I can do to change that. As one poster said earlier, he doesn't know why Infinity Ward even bothers with it, and after MW2, I am inclined to agree.

I'm sure I'll log my fair

I'm sure I'll log my fair share of time online in multiplayer. It would just be nice to see Infinity Ward come through with an equally great campaign experience. I got hooked on FPS's with the Halo series and no game has captured the campaign experience better IMO in a FPS. I'm not looking for sandbox- just some choice, and you just don't get any of that in Infinity Ward games (as well as Epic Games). The argument for the linear nature of the game is story telling and cinematography - great, go to Hollywood and make a movie Infinity Ward. Storytelling in war games I think are totally unnecessary just as they are in a sports game. If you're into any of the various sports games when was the last time there was a story to go along with it - do you enjoy the game any less? Now having a little setup is probably needed and some story elements to move things along, but when they set the player down in the battlefield let the player use any tactics or available pathways he or she wishes to meet the objectives. For me the bottom line is this -- buy MW2 for it's online element as the campaign only shows how games have not really progressed much since the 80's.

WTF

"The holiday season is noticeably bare, and Modern Warfare 2 stands tall...". What planet are you living on? Im pretty sure the market is flooded with good games at the moment. This site is pretty cynical and bitter though, so I could see how their might not be that many good games in your eyes.

matt wrote: What planet are

matt wrote:

What planet are you living on? Im pretty sure the market is flooded with good games at the moment. This site is pretty cynical and bitter though, so I could see how their might not be that many good games in your eyes.

Flooded? I own a PS3 and have already bought Demons Souls so that leaves Assassins Creed 2 after I rule out MW2 on account of a 5 hour single player campaign. For me, that's one game to look forward to before xmas, so I dont agree with you. Nor with your assessment of this site.

I like Gamecritics specifically because it doesn't kowtow to the business end of the business. Game site that features ads are beholden to promote games (Gamespot=Gamestop,etc), whether they're good or not. Borderlands was a utter turd of a game, and this was the only site I found where they actually said it. But read the review of Bionic Commando or Flower or Rise of the Argonauts and see if you think this site is cynical.

Uhh. The industry itself has

Uhh. The industry itself has acknowledged that the holiday season is lacking in big hitters. All the big publishers have already made their case in the past two weeks. That's it for Christmas man.

It's a well-documented fact that many publishers pushed back releasing their big hitters because of the recession, and having to compete with the likes of Modern Warfare 2.

RandomRob wrote: matt

RandomRob wrote:
matt wrote:

What planet are you living on? Im pretty sure the market is flooded with good games at the moment. This site is pretty cynical and bitter though, so I could see how their might not be that many good games in your eyes.

Flooded? I own a PS3 and have already bought Demons Souls so that leaves Assassins Creed 2 after I rule out MW2 on account of a 5 hour single player campaign. For me, that's one game to look forward to before xmas, so I dont agree with you. Nor with your assessment of this site.

I like Gamecritics specifically because it doesn't kowtow to the business end of the business. Game site that features ads are beholden to promote games (Gamespot=Gamestop,etc), whether they're good or not. Borderlands was a utter turd of a game, and this was the only site I found where they actually said it. But read the review of Bionic Commando or Flower or Rise of the Argonauts and see if you think this site is cynical.

Not only is this site full of jaded game reviewers, it does it to garner attention as well. The fact that you and they think this holiday season is bare for games, is not only ludicrous, its ignorant. "Holiday season" has always meant the two months leading up to December. Where have you been? November has always been the biggest month for videogames. And as far as "barren", try and play Dragon Age, Left 4 Dead 2, Uncharted 2, New Super Mario Bros Wii, ODST, Assassins Creed 2, God of War Collection, Forza 3 and not to mention Modern Warfare 2. If thats not enough games for you, or you cant find one of those triple A titles to like, then God help you.

You seem like, really

You seem like, really angry.. maybe Anonymity isn't really your thing.

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