Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Review
Read this before you post comments: So you see yet another dreaded 8.9, and convince yourself that it's a bad score. You will likely jump down my throat, call me a whole bunch of names, and vow to never read my work again. And that's all good, if you're a 13-year old who doesn't wish to read and understand the opinion of one game critic, who strongly believes that even though Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is a great game, it doesn't offer nearly enough groundbreaking material to warrant a 9.0. And in fact, at times, the game feels like it's taken a few steps backward in some instances. And before the alarmists and conspiracy-theorists come to claim I'm doing this to get attention, don't even waste your time. If I was, indeed trying to whore in the attention, I'd have given Modern Warfare 2 a score much lower than an 8.9. Moreover, I'd probably choose a massive 1st party game, say, like Uncharted 2, instead of a multi-platform title. Again, it's important to keep your cool and read through the whole review to see where I'm coming from.
Modern Warfare 2 picks up from where the last game left off. The gameplay is very much like the first game, except in this sequel, gameplay allows you to carry two primary/large weapons, as opposed to a handgun and primary/large weapon. Likewise, you can also carry two handguns simultaneously, or dual-wield a pair of secondary guns akimbo-style. Certain weapons have secondary actions, such as shotgun blasts from a standard rifle, or grenade launching out of an automatic. Shooting is superbly precise, and enemies go down like they should, so you won't spend time unloading hordes of bullets into an enemy until he dies.
And that's one of the many aspects I really love about the Modern Warfare games, is that their shooting is absolutely satisfying, the mechanics are practically perfect, and the amount of recoil dialed in is just right. Bullets that hit anywhere in the upper part of the torso are almost always an instant death - as they should be - no matter how far away they came from. Shooting in the legs will render an enemy badly injured, but not completely out of action, as they will continue to shoot from the ground. I've even encountered the enemy A.I. playing dead after shooting him in the stomach, only to see him lift his arm and shoot at me again. Furthermore, the A.I. acts like this no matter what difficulty setting you have chosen, so be prepared.
Differences in difficulty seemed to largely change the accuracy of the A.I., and not so much their brains. The enemy A.I. retains their patterns of running, gunning, and covering, and these patterns are quite intricate, actually. You may see an enemy in one location, but if you don't act quick, he'll make his way closer to you, using the objects in between as cover, all the while taking a few shots at you. That said, prepare to die a lot, no matter what difficulty you choose, as the game environments are laden with baddies everywhere you look...and that brings me to my first problem with the game...
Unlike the first Modern Warfare, the sequel has lost its focus and is now way too run-and-gun happy. The first game had a problem with infinitely respawning enemies, and the sequel has a similar problem of way too many enemies appearing simultaneous. This becomes an issue because if you're in a more linear level like the ones in Rio, you think to yourself "oh, I cleared the group of enemies, so no one should come from behind me", but you'd be wrong. In fact, despite clearing enemies out and advancing, you are never safe, and your A.I. teammates often don't do a good enough job at helping kill an attacker coming from behind you. The game simply throws way too many enemies at you, and there isn't nearly enough support with you to do an adequate job of containing them properly, so you'll often find yourself encountering a cheap death.
The absurd amount of enemies may feel epic at first, reminiscent of games like Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, but it wears thin quickly down the campaign, as it simply starts to feel repetitive and redundant. And in that respect, the first Modern Warfare felt like it had more varied mission structure, mixing the speed with the stealth and the epicness with the tension. Furthermore, the campaign is still extremely short, once again measuring in at about 6 hours of total play, with a not-so-great ending. On top of that, the story is extremely boring, and you almost forget that there even is one - it's just very poorly executed. And while I full well realize that it's the online aspect of Modern Warfare 2 that many of you buy the game for, it doesn't mean that the game should get a free pass into a higher score range just because it has a bustling online world, but we'll get to that later.
Another issue I have is the annoying blood splats that fill up your screen when you're shot. Quite honestly, it's a pointless visual effect that is extremely distracting when you're playing, because it makes it nearly impossible to see the enemy that's shooting you when your screen is stained with red blood and becomes blurred. Now, the easy to solution to this would be to just run away and wait until the stains clear, right? Unfortunately, you'll run into problems doing so...literally. With your screen covered in blood and blurred, it's fairly hard to see where it is you're going, as objects outside of your view will prevent you from running any further, leaving you vulnerable to more hits, once again leading to a cheap death.
And would you believe that I also have a problem with the online gameplay? I mean, yes, online is fantastic fun, largely thanks to the superb game mechanics still present, such as the experience points. And it's a great way to collect tons of items/perks and upgrade your character, giving it an almost RPG-like element, which makes the online gameplay so endearing. But 18 players? Really? I mean, I've been refraining from making any sort of comparisons to other FPS games, but we have games offering 32, 40, 60, and soon, 256 player online matches...and Modern Warfare 2 still offers 18? It's just odd to me that a game with such a massive budget, so much hype, with such a talented team doesn't, at least, offer an extra eight players or so two years later. To me, this industry is all about progress, and in many ways, I feel like Modern Warfare 2 doesn't make very much of it over the original.
The assortment of multiplayer modes is great fun, though, and if you're fine with the 18-player limit, then you'll still find a lot to love. Free-For-All, Search & Destroy, Demolition, Domination, Team Deathmatch, and Capture The Flag should be all self-explanatory, but with these new modes also come a host of new features. First, and foremost, no longer will matches get dropped if the host leaves - instead the game pauses and a new host is selected, which allows the game to resume from the moment it stopped at. Next up, are the kill streak rewards which there are 15 of. Kill streaks are achieved when you accomplish an uninterrupted streak of kills, as a reward for achieving a streak kill, you will be given a reward to use during the match. One such reward is summoning an assault gunship to rain hell on your enemies from the sky. Another is gaining the ability to use a remote missile strike and controlling the missile yourself. Of course, some of these rewards are harder to achieve than others, and they are not random, as a 25 streak earns one thing, and a four streak earns a whole other.
Visually, from the moment I booted up Modern Warfare 2, I was met with disappointment. First, the game still runs at a sub-720p resolution, so if it's not looking as sharp as you'd like on your HD screen, you know why. Second, the textures leave a whole lot to be desired, as you're going to see one low-quality texture after another almost everywhere you look. And while it's normal for a game to have even a few low-res textures (Uncharted 2 had a few), Modern Warfare 2 might have a bit too many. Once again, all of this is met with disappointment, because I had assumed that two years later, we'd be looking at a powerhouse of a game. And while the lighting in the game is superb, the animation practically flawless, and the environments/locales nice to look, your eyes may still focus on those textures, and your lungs will let out a sigh. Also, the smoke effects have an awkward and flat look to them, reminiscent of stuff I've seen in PC games many years ago, at the start of the decade. But, despite that, Modern Warfare 2 does run super smoothly, as the game is V-locked, so that means no screen tearing, and the framerate hovers between the 40-60 mark, which makes for a smooth experience.
Audio is still as good as it was years ago, but with even more ambient screams, chants, cries, explosions, and just general chaos. You'd be doing this game, and yourself, a disservice if you didn't have your PS3 paired to a sound system. And I know that I'm always going on about audio setups, but you simply have to understand just how important it is in a game like this, where audio is an extremely immersive gameplay tool. There is a solid amount of voice acting here, both during missions and in between them when you are being briefed. Voice work is very well done, as you'd expect, and you likely won't find any complaints here.
Once again, it needs to be stressed that this 8.9 is not a bad score, and if you'd like to discuss or argue it in the comments, I can only welcome calm and professional responses. My basis for the score is one that boils down to a number of issues, one of which is Killzone 2, which I felt offered more as an overall package. Now, it was only a matter time before I made a Killzone 2 mention, and I figured it'd best be done during the conclusion. As is normal in any industry, there are benchmarks, and it is only fair that those benchmarks are constantly tested and compared to. I believe that Sony had set a certain bar by offering a game that looked astonishingly good, boasted 32 player online matches, a great story, a lengthy and very enjoyable campaign, and sounded absolutely insane. I expected Infinity Ward to do all of that and then some, but ultimately their game falls when it comes down to the campaign, online limitations, story and visuals. It does have an online core that does provide more depth as far as rewards and extras go, and the co-op gameplay is great too (even if it isn't campaign based), but it's not quite enough to overcome the rest of Modern Warfare 2's shortcomings.
Had it not been for the existence of Killzone 2, this game would've easily scored in the nines, but the balance of things change when there is that one benchmark that is so well rounded in practically every aspect, that, to me, it'd almost feel like I'm lying to myself by saying Modern Warfare 2 is as good as the benchmark. As it stands, Modern Warfare 2 is a great game, there is no doubt about it, but its shortcomings make it feel as if the game has stagnated and doesn't feel evolved, at all. And in some ways, I actually think the first Modern Warfare was better. Shame, but that's just my opinion, as heartbreaking as it may be for some of you to read it.
11/12/2009 Arnold Katayev