Modern Warfare 2 Review…But First, an Apology

Before this review, I repetitiously told myself there would be at least half a dozen other posts so as to keep myself engaged in the one thing I am most passionate about. As fate would have it, there were other things in store for me before I could return to the dream: finding a job (a damn decent one at that, as far as this economy is concerned), a mother crippling herself via watering the garden, and bouts with the insidiously annoying swine flu. Alas, I return seasoned and stronger still from my outdoor excursions, but not without a twinge of disappointment in myself for not writing sooner. In any case, to those who may have been waiting so long for this post, I humbly apologize.

Now, on to business.

the original Modern Warfare stimulated the gaming community in ways we had long dreamed of. There’s nothing wrong with playing FPS based in historical warfare missions, but after the ump-teenth iteration, we get the jist. In the time of unknown enemies and cloak-and-dagger bombings, we called for a modern day shooter that pulled no punches and wasn’t timid in throwing in some graphic—often times disturbing—content. Infinity Ward seemed to swoop in from On High and deliver unto us our prayers. Now, with the bar set high and the pre-orders amounting to the most in Activision’s history, Modern Warfare 2 had no easy task ahead of it.

Did it succeed in living up to the hype? Absolutely. But does it surpass its predecessor? Unfortunately not.

That is not to say that MW2 fails any category or grading scheme that any developers can conjure up; quite the opposite actually. The second-by-second chaos is still ever present in each level, the weapons still retain the most realistic feel and impact of any shooter, and the spec-ops missions allow friends an avenue to team-up ala Gears of War style and complete miniature missions without the hassle of online fraggers and snipers breathing down your gun muzzles every moment. From start to finish, it is an adrenaline-infused ride of emotions and gunpowder that’ll leave you breathless, humbled, and disturbed all at once…it’s just a little rough around the edges.

The solo campaign sets the tone for the entire game with a short and juicy six hour story that picks up five years after the original Modern Warfare leaves off. While one does not need to have played the original game to understand what’s going on, there are certain characters and portions of the story that only veteran players will get if they’ve completed the first game. Pushing that aside, I feel that the story suffers most from trying to be bigger than its predecessor in every way. While the first MW focussed on a compelling story that intertwined modern day fear with a distant yet palpable threat, the sequel seems to tread in Michael Bay territory and go over the top with sensational violence and visceral game play. That means bigger explosions, more narrative twists, and an even crazier finale. While that’s all well and good for the occasional adrenaline junkie, I was a little confused towards the end as I was struggling to get a grip on what was going on. I know there’s something about a nuclear sub, a crazy Russian, a captured ACS module (whatever the hell that stands for), and D.C. in total ruins, but it’s difficult at times to put the pieces together myself when the clips between missions show more flashy images than actual story substance. I felt a little like Infinity Ward was hoping all the intense action was enough distraction to prevent me from questioning the plot holes, however little in size and amount they may be.

But as veterans of the Modern Warfare name know, the solo campaign is only an extended warm up to the real meat and potatoes of the franchise—Online Play. Again, MW2 achieves at expanding the role-playing elements of the first in just about every way possible. More guns, more attachments, more killstreak rewards, and more customization in between. Rather than just placing a red-dot sight on your M4A1, later levels allow you to place a shotgun, thermal sensor, or even a heartbeat attachment to it to tip the odds in your favor. The perks system has been rounded out with a larger number and allows players to improve those perks by using them enough times. Increased perks means more accurate shooting, longer sprinting, and little things like more health or ammunition. And if personal customization wasn’t already robust enough, players can now unlock dozens of symbols and call signs that can be mixed and matched to your own preference. I found myself smiling when I was shot in the head by a sniper fanatic with a call sign “Not in the face” surrounded by flowers. It’s little details like this that further push the online component into greatness by combining a massive list of things to do, while maintaining a relatively simple structure to unlock everything.

In fact, the list of things you can customize and perform during play is so big, it actually feels a little too much at times. During the first few rounds of play, there were so many things happening at once that I almost forgot that my primary task was to “eliminate enemy players”. It seemed for every kill I made, I was getting bonus points for some arbitrary condition that I had no idea existed. Then, couple that with kill streak signals of UAVs, friendly packages, predator missle and AC-130 warnings, and you start to get a feel for how much can happen in the span of a few seconds. By hour ten, I was customizing kill streak rewards, grenade preferences, secondary weapon attachments and perk enhancements like the best of them. Don’t like the usual TD or CTF modes? MW2 offers a little over sixteen modes of multiplayer, meaning there’s no room to complain about lack of variety.

Finally, the spec-ops missions are a worthy side dish to the story and online play, giving the player the opportunity to two dozen different challenge missions that test the players abilities in different ways. What makes this mode unique, however, is the opportunity to pair up with a friend via splitscreen, or find a random helping hand through the PS Network. Working in tandem with someone who doesn’t make decisions based on algorithms gives a fresh turn to the Modern Warfare experience that doesn’t quite fit with either online play or in story mode. It’s something different, even if you can’t quite tell what that is. I say this because while spec-ops are a useful distraction from the online component, it feels a little underdeveloped and doesn’t quite have that coding pinache Infinity Ward has come to be known for. The battles are fierce, yes, and some of them are just downright hard as shit to beat, but some of the maps feel mundane and monotonous, especially by the third tier or so.

As an aspiring critic of video games, we are taught and trained in two manners: Firstly, to scour the mechanics and look for any inconsistencies or sore thumbs throughout the vast array of video game content. This requires time, dedication, and a surplus of patience rivaled only by saints and mothers. The second manner occurs when we take those precious steps back and view the entire experience and it’s multitude of technical, emotional and physiological chords that tie it all together. if one looks closely, it is apparent that MW2 has its own flaws, however minute they may be. But as a game, an adventure, and a window into observing what we as society are truly afraid of happening in our world, on our soil—Modern Warfare 2 stands as a testament to game design mastery. It is macabre, thoughtful, and at times uncomfortable to even watch, but when you stand back and realize that a video game is provoking these emotions, then you will fully appreciate what Infinity Ward has given us.

 

See you in the next level,

Gray

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