The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was, in a word, superlative. Fawned
over by critics and rabidly defended by its massive fanbase, the game
was an instant blockbuster that topped sales charts and spawned an
online community the likes of which are rarely seen outside of timeless
classics like Counter-Strike and StarCraft. Developer Infinity Ward is
aware of the microscope that Modern Warfare 2 is under. Only a few
flaws show up under even the greatest scrutiny, though. Modern Warfare
2 is an unqualified triumph.
MW2 takes the concept of
action-packed first-person combat, plops a live grenade at its feet,
and mows down its friends with an incendiary minigun. If you have time
to breathe, it’s because you’re being flanked. Every reload is a tense
few seconds of unwelcome defenselessness. Each enemy dispatched yields
a surge of adrenaline that soon gives way to fear as his allies eagerly
unload in your direction.
To excel, you have to master the use of
various tools, starting with smoke grenades, thermal vision, Claymore
mines, and Predator drones. It’s extremely helpful to familiarize
yourself with each weapon class; assault rifles, LMGs, SMGs, pistols,
and explosives all have vital roles. In the co-op Special Ops mode (and
the single-player campaign, to a lesser extent), even more diverse
skills come into play. Targeting allied support units like Stryker
APCs, defending hardpoints with sentry guns, and directing the
overwhelming firepower of an AC-130 or helo-mounted minigun are all
Modern Warfare 2’s competitive multiplayer offering is
the soul of iterative design. New ideas arise like third-person play
and death streaks, but nothing substantially affects the core gameplay.
On the other hand, the tweaks are almost uniformly great.
Weapon-specific unlocks, cosmetic titles and callsigns, and upgraded
“pro” perks contribute to a dramatic increase in the depth and breadth
of persistent progression. The strategic variance of each map invites
hours of study and experimentation. Included due to the mountain of
feedback, the playlists (preset rotations of maps and modes for groups
to play through) offer delightful bouquets of varied-yet-similar
gametypes for all tastes.
To get a sense of how the subtle
changes to Modern Warfare’s online formula have profound effects,
consider Headquarters Pro mode. In the original game, a team simply had
to gain uncontested control of the hot zone to earn a point. Now,
you’ve got to hold it for a short time to score. With this simple
alteration, the mode is about positioning and teamwork rather than
twitch skills and a mad rush to the designated spot. Locking down an
area for half of a minute is a much different task than briefly
clearing it. Infinity Ward went for this kind of change rather than
rocking the boat with player-controlled vehicles or some kind of
persistent world battlefield, and it works. Modern Warfare is arguably
the most beloved online FPS of this generation, and MW2 surpasses it in
nearly every way.
The most significant change in this sequel is
the addition of two-player co-op in the form of Spec Ops missions. The
lack of co-op in the story-based campaign is disappointing, but Spec
Ops successfully adapts what Call of Duty does best to a cooperative
setting. Most of the missions involve the kind of spectacular setpieces
that Infinity Ward is known for, while still capturing the tension of a
battle against overwhelming odds. These single-shot challenges range
from providing aerial overwatch for a buddy on the ground to assaults
on fortified enemy positions and stealthy infiltrations. Since there
are no AI companions in Spec Ops, it all comes down to you and your
buddy’s skill and rapport. Spec Ops deftly captures the spirit of
teamwork that all the best co-op experiences have, from Left 4 Dead to
It’s easy enough to storm a collapsing and
Russian-infested Golden Gate bridge with a skilled friend at your side
on Regular difficulty. Cranking it up to Veteran is much harder, but
still very doable. Staying alive on a tight urban street against a
dozen swarming, aggressive, flanking foes while waiting for your
buddy’s helo to circle back around to a decent firing solution is much
harder. Taking down the super-tough Juggernaut enemies (we’re talking
multiple assault rifle clips to drop) blitzing your limited cover while
being suppressed by snipers and machine gunners is a brutal challenge.
Spec Ops offers all this and more. Only elite players will complete all
of the Spec Ops scenarios on Veteran. The process is fantastic
entertainment regardless of skill level, though.
To a greater
extent than the other modes, the campaign suffers from the fact that
Modern Warfare’s spectacle has lost a little of its shine. The pacing
leaves something to be desired, with some sections feeling like slogs
through clearing streets and houses while waiting for the next awesome
setpiece. Lackluster ally AI often results in cheap-feeling deaths when
your compatriots fail to shoot the guy right in front of them or forget
to clear a room they pass. The high points, however, are as powerful
and impressive as anything. One particular scene, which I can’t discuss
without spoiling, will be one of the defining gaming moments of this
year. I would still lay out the purchase price for the single-player
campaign, but it’s definitely the least impressive of the three ways to
play Modern Warfare 2.
There’s not a lot to complain about here.
I still disagree with gaining quantitative advantages via perk upgrades
in multiplayer, the AI missteps in the single-player are irritating,
and the controversy over the lack of PC dedicated servers is a shame.
They’re not anywhere near enough to make more than superficial dents in
the game’s overall brilliance, though. Modern Warfare 2 is a
masterpiece of careful iteration, with an unmatched presentation and a
well of content that will take months to run dry.
Upon starting a new game, players are
given the choice to opt out of a morally gray mission with no penalty
to their Achievements or Trophies, and with no effect on the story. The
option is there for a good reason – the mission in question makes the
player a part of truly heinous acts. If you’re on the fence about
letting your child play this M-rated game, this will likely push you
over the edge. On the other hand, the mission draws the morality of war
and espionage into sharp focus in a way that simply shooting the bad
guys cannot. It is presented and handled in a mature way that avoids
feeling tasteless. By choosing to skip this controversial scene, you’ll
be missing the most emotionally affecting moment I’ve experienced in a
game this year, and possibly ever. The subject matter is mature in a
fashion that goes far beyond a topless lady or a messily curb-stomped
alien; it deals with issues like the relative worth of a human life and
the idea of heart-rendingly difficult sacrifices for the greater good.
If this mission felt in any way exploitative or tasteless, I’d be the
first to call for Infinity Ward’s head. The skill with which it is
handled in the game, however, makes me proud that our medium can
address such weighty issues without resorting to adolescent
Infinity Ward says that the PC
version is functionally identical to the PS3 and 360 builds that we
played for review. However, we were unable to spend hands-on time with
the PC game. When we have that opportunity, we will revisit Modern
Warfare 2 and publish a separate review if there are any substantial
differences. Until then, please consider this our definitive review for
all platforms that the game appears on.
Email the author Adam Biessener, or follow on Twitter, and Game Informer.