Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
There is a certain sick irony to playing Call of Duty on PC these days. The series got its start on the platform years ago, and was something of a killer app for PC gamers. Sure, there were the console editions: the PS2 and Xbox got their Finest Hours, their Big Red Ones… even the 360 got the wildly successful Call of Duty 2. However, the flagship titles were still on PC. Then, as much as PC purists would like to deny it, Call of Duty 3 happened. It was a console exclusive, something that just felt bizarre for the series - a numbered entry, no less. And then Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare happened. The high sales and popularity of the game on 360 and PS3 propelled the franchise to new heights, and Infinity Ward took note of this.
Modern Warfare 2 is a console game. It bleeds out of every orifice of the PC port. There are no dedicated servers. There is a maximum of 18 players. There is no server browser, only painfully console-minded matchmaking lobbies. There is no command console. Mod tools will most likely never materialize.
Take all of this as you will. As a PC gamer, these things are almost inexcusable sins, features that are usually taken for granted on the platform. Fortunately (or perhaps unfortunately, depending on how you look at things) none of these issues change the fact that Modern Warfare 2 is a fantastic game.
Picking up the pieces from Call of Duty 4’s all-over-the-place plot may not seem like the best move, but Modern Warfare 2 expects players to remember key events and names from the previous game. Call of Duty 4 was hardly Shakespeare, given that the plot felt like a loose excuse to create an intense situation for players. In Modern Warfare 2, the story is much more prominent. It’s hardly high art, mind you, but the plot is presented in a fast-paced manner akin to the Bourne series of films, forgoing traditional exposition and instead plunging players into a flurry of action. For those who pay close attention, the story will be an exciting military thriller. For those who lose the thread - and who can blame them, considering how loud and fast the game is? - it will probably seem like a jumbled mess.
It may not have been the wisest decision on Infinity Ward’s part to make this game a direct sequel, but given what they had to work with, Modern Warfare 2 does it admirably. Cohesive story or no, the set pieces and overall presentation in the game should evoke base emotional responses from most players, something that a lot of games fail to do - or even fail to try. Modern Warfare 2 is a roller coaster ride in the purest sense: a short, sharp ride that punctuates ridiculous drops and twists with moments of slow build up.
Unfortunately, that analogy extends far beyond where it should be welcome. Like any coaster, the excitement dies a little on a second run. Modern Warfare 2 is built around surprises and one-off cool moments. Entering a room in slow motion and blasting goons in the face is amazing the first time around. On a second play through, it feels routine. Fighting for your life with your last rifle magazine in the husk of a downed helicopter is thrilling, but again, it wasn’t a foreseeable twist the first time the level was being played. All of these events are meticulously scripted, and are indeed intense. Still, the magic wears thin after a few rides, and damn if it isn’t a short ride.
Thankfully the multiplayer suite rectifies that. The over-the-top nature of the campaign definitely permeates the competitive side of the game, too. Dual-wielding, riot shields, and harrier jets make for a decidedly wackier experience than some might be expecting. Despite the fact that there are usually less than 18 players in a match, Modern Warfare 2’s new perks and kill streak rewards go a long way to make battles feel a lot bigger than they really are. Commanding an AC-130 in the middle of a match seems ridiculous, and it is - and summoning a nuke is even sillier - but there’s no denying that it is about as fun as an online shooter can get. There are also a few frilly little bells and whistles, such as callsigns, which are tags that go alongside a player’s name. These are given out like achievements, and range from shooter-related - “High Caliber”! - to the downright tasteless - “Blunt Trauma”! and “Smokescreen”! - come to mind. I get it, Infinity Ward. Weed jokes. Cute.
Stripping away these grandiose additions, however, Modern Warfare 2 is still a tightly-wound online shooter. It has the same reward system for all of the guns that Call of Duty 4 had, which went a long way to make that game more addictive. There are a plethora of new weapons, too, and the amount of attachments available make it worth leveling up with each and every one of them. It’s a gun nut’s dream, and a real step up from Call of Duty 4. It’s not much different, mind, but it is bigger and better.
The gameplay is, for the most part, the same as it ever was in Call of Duty. Aiming from the hip is fast and loose, and players are encouraged to aim down their gun’s sights to pick off their targets. It’s a tried and true control scheme, and it’s a clever gameplay mechanic that offsets the otherwise blistering pace of both the campaign and multiplayer. Death comes swiftly, so cover is a necessity, and it’s not rare to find sprinting for your life a better option than standing around and blasting bullets everywhere. It’s easy to get into and hard to master. Modern Warfare 2 is twitchy and intense.
The visuals have gotten a slight overhaul, too, although they’re not radically different from Call of Duty 4. Lighting is vastly improved, and the animations are even more detailed than they were before. Everything looks dense and gritty, which fits in nicely with the overall tone of the game. The graphics aren’t overwhelmingly great - Crysis and a few other PC games have it pretty beat in that department - but they are animated with such fluidity that it doesn’t really matter. The sound, on the other hand, is unrivaled. The voice acting is great, and the guns sound appropriately punchy. The music, overseen by none other than over-the-top-soundtrack master Hans Zimmer, fits perfectly. The overall presentation is top notch, and a visible step up from previous games in the series.
In essence, Modern Warfare 2 extends upon the philosophy that Call of Duty 4 seemed to exude. Instead of branching out and trying radical new things, it simply polishes well-established things a little harder, pushing out another massively entertaining title that gets online shooter mechanics right, and then some. The story will either wow you or completely underwhelm you, but there’s no denying that it’s at least presented with an impressive amount of flair. It’s a shame that PC gamers won’t get any of the typical perks for buying it on their beloved platform, but as annoying as those omissions are, they don’t detract from the actual meat of the game. Modern Warfare 2 will leave you breathless, regardless of which system you play it on.
Nine out of ten