The popular mantra more is better has never felt so appropriate, at least not in this respect. Modern Warfare 2 isn’t a revolution, far from it, but refinement to within inches of genre perfection. If last generation will be remembered, from an FPS perspective at least, for the escapades of a certain jade super-soldier, then this generation belongs to Infinity Ward. Aggregated perhaps by the image of Captain Price’s favourable moustache.
But the hype train is a precarious thing, racing toward its goal with lavish PR speak and ever more extravagant advertising campaigns, rarely does it arrive without leaving those on board slightly worse for wear. More often than not, the destination doesn’t quite resemble that which was advertised.
On this occasion however, the train has arrived and the view is spectacular.
An adrenaline infused campaign that, as with previous titles in the franchise, incorporates three separate story threads piloting toward a predictably convoluted conclusion, may not be the heart of the experience for the vast majority, but it compliments the other components and builds upon the strong foundations set with Modern Warfare. This is a rich package intended to satisfy as wider audience as possible and the inclusion of a more dynamic campaign is only evidence of that.
Enemies are no longer infinite in their number, gifting the player a truer sense of purpose when moving forward beyond the will to reach the next invisible threshold. Missing in action as well are the obtuse and always infuriating teleporting grenades, even on veteran difficulty you’ll rarely be caught out by an explosive thrown from an impossible angle.
And so the game is free to revel in the favourable. Easier? Certainly, veteran only dares challenge the competent player on a few occasions, but that’s no different to ODST, which amassed an abundance of praise. Instead the campaign focuses on the cinematic edge and solid gameplay that made Modern Warfare so memorable. Though there’s no AC-130 replica moment, the game isn’t short on the unforgettable. Whether that’s ascending a snowy mountain in order to silently infiltrate a Russian air base or the equally adventurous snowmobile getaway, it’s certainly more outlandish, but it’s also more enjoyable for it.
Infinity Ward aren’t afraid to tread in controversial territory either, going as far as to allow the easily offended to skip a particularly contentious mission. Whether that comes across as a shallow attempt to spark controversy or a smartly manipulative way to add some depth to the antagonists is debatable, but it’s promising for the industry as a whole that Infinity Ward are willing to attempt to tackle mature subjects so frequently visited by cinema or literature.
The campaign spans the familiar but upholds its sense of urgency throughout, fights rarely tire and frequent changes to the level design means it’s easy to see through in one sitting. Weapons feel as tangible and varied as ever and the inclusion of dozens of attachments makes for more fluctuating play. However compared to other contemporary titles Modern Warfare still feels dated. Friendly AI is no longer purely aesthetical but never as charismatic as it should be, that we are super-powered may be a fantasy within the minds of many of us, but it would be beneficial for the friendly AI to perform a little more admirably. And Infinity Ward is still a developer subscribing to the age-old formula whereby increased difficulty is informed by a decrease in health and an increase in enemy accuracy. AI is standard issue throughout – enemies operate without much consideration for themselves, but with the genre moving in a direction whereby difficulty isn’t solely dictated by frustratingly effective armies, Modern Warfare still feels slightly outdated.
During the new Spec-Ops campaign however, these issues rarely appear. A co-operative (though masochists can opt to play alone) set of twenty-three missions ranging from the simple to the macabre, it’s arguably better than the solo experience and as good as the vaguely similar-in-concept Horde/Firefight co-operative modes seen in Gears of War 2 and Halo: ODST.
Here challenge presides over story and repetitiveness. Rather than pitting you against endless waves of drones, each challenge, derived from the main campaign, sees you working toward a unique goal. Only two actually require another player – the fantastic AC-130 mission, lifted straight from the previous campaign where one player pilots the AC-130 whilst the other has to wade through the level to a checkpoint before the timer expires. Played on veteran it’s a perfect combination of exhilarating teamwork and arduous challenge.
Others include stealth infiltrations; missions similar to Rainbow Six’s revered terrorist hunt and the seemingly impossible Juggernaut deathmatch – a Spec-Ops inclusive enemy, a super-soldier adding further difficulty to an already demanding campaign.
Compared to the single player, Spec-Ops is a far more tactical, methodological process. Rambo stay at home, these missions are designed to be tackled together and the ability to revive downed players transforms some of the latter levels from impossible to improbable.
The only noticeable omission is the option to choose your own outfit, something that gave Terrorist Hunt an almost endless appeal; tackling levels with a riot shield or pistol gave Ubisoft’s co-op inclusion a social edge Spec-Ops lacks. Regardless, as a bridge between a fantastic campaign and spectacular multiplayer, it’s a perfect inclusion that helps round Modern Warfare 2 out as a must have package for the FPS devotee.
So just how do you follow up the most popular contemporary online FPS. More. More. More. Not only is this quite inarguably the pinnacle of online console gaming, it’s so far ahead of the competition it’s almost embarrassing.
Maintaining the same foundations that caused the popularity explosion of Modern Warfare, this second version takes leaps forward that will undoubtedly cement it as the console shooter for the remainder of this generation.
The depth on display is intimidating yet within half an hour even those unfamiliar with the multiplayer side of the game will feel at home. Perks, weapons and kill streaks have been refined and the inclusion of death streaks leaves room for even the least proficient of players.
Replacing the mandatory killstreak routine of before is a huge list of awarded assists. Remote-manning the AC-130 turret, tactical nukes, sentry guns and ammo drops are just a few of many and with the option to unlock and utilise three at a time, matches are far less procedural, the tactical nuke (awarded after a rare killstreak of 25) even brings the game to a halt, annihilating all players and the environment.
The weapon selection has also been increased and spread more evenly between the seventy levels. With an array of new and old (double that of before) to boast, the danger is that a detrimental unbalancing is present but there’s no such issue. With secondary weapons spanning shotguns, grenade launchers and pistols (which can be duel wielded) the balance has never been so diverse, or so in tune.
The maps themselves are far more natural too, the favela especially doesn’t at all seem like a choreographed map designed for a videogame. Of course it is but it’s far subtler; the open roofs perfect for rifles, the confined and twisting alleys a playground for shotguns and yet it never feels contrived. It’s natural and individual maps are no longer habituated by one or two key buildings whereby control can give one team a substantial upper hand over the other.
Outside of the core multiplayer itself the already expansive list of challenges is dwarfed by a daunting array of accolades, further challenges, and rewards.
And it’s the constant rewarding that catapults Modern Warfare 2 to the top of the ladder. Whether aware of it or not, you’re persistently working toward a goal, not just capturing a flag or planting a bomb, but a series of personal goals be it the next prestige, a new weapon attachment (of which there are now dozens) or a new killstreak bonus. It’s worryingly addictive.
There’s simply too much to mention in one review. Inclusions such as gaining additional points for the first kill of the match may seem trivial, but when stacked beside the impossible depth of the rest of the multiplayer, you get something quite stunning.
If you’re not an advocate of the Call of Duty franchise or the genre itself then this is by no means going to convert you, it’s a refinement of its predecessor not a revolution. Equally if you aren’t going to utilise the multiplayer aspect disregard the following, the campaign doesn’t verge upon the quality of Naughty Dog’s recent killer, nor even Halo.
Regardless of your preferences though, Activision would have you believe Modern Warfare 2 is the second coming, and for the console FPS aficionado, it’s hard to argue otherwise.