Sunday, September 26, 2010

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Back in the day, when you wanted a shooter you had only two real options; World War 2, or a futuristic/alternate reality shooter. With the exception of a few games, most non-WW2 shooters were not set in modern times with modern weapons, and the few that were the exception were often made with ‘hooks' that sometimes made them so off the wall that it never appealed to the mass market. But after a WW2 shooter veteran, Call of Duty, broke the trend and made their wildly popular Modern Warfare entry, it was such a game changer that they even had to split their franchise into two different properties, Infinity Ward sticking with Modern Warfare, and Treyarch continuing on with the WW2 line (World at War). A vast majority of people played the sequel as soon as it came out as the buzz for it was near deafening, but that aside, I figure I'll put my two cents in anyway.

For those of you who have avoided First Person Shooters like the plague, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is the sequel to the original game. The story is a direct continuation of the first game, and makes absolutely no attempt to explain any of the events of the first game except with a type of ‘random images and sound clips' blurred sequence that plays in the opening credit sequence. This was a problem for me as I was unable to play the first game until afterwards and was lost on the story. But from a first-time perspective, the story involves the American military continuing to deal with unrest in the middle east while a secret multinational task force attempts to deal with increasingly difficult problems. Events in the first game have left an extremist party controlling the Russian government, creating a hero out of the villain from the first game. To make matters worse, one of his lieutenants, Makarov is continuing the work of his past superior, only his methods are far more drastic. As the task force attempts to track him down he gets closer and closer to his ultimate goal, an all out war between Russia and America that will bring down the west.

The game play is little changed from the original game. What the game offers is extremely well refined. You move through various missions as various characters, each one playing a part in the story. For the most part you shift between an Army Ranger working with his squad to help deal with an invasion at home while in other missions you jump into the new rookie in taskforce 141, working with the original protagonist from the first game who now acts as your superior officer to help him counter Makarov's movements. Your weapons change from mission to mission and you can pick up extra weapons that enemies drop or you find along the way. Often weapons have particular attachments which help to increase their effectiveness. Stealth weapons have silences and sometimes heartbeat sensors, sniper rifles have scopes and sometimes thermal sights, and rifles usually have a red dot or holographic sight and a grenade launcher. Weapons differ and all handle in their own distinct way so the attachments allow for an even more varied feel for each one.

Like most FPS games you move from simple ‘point a to point b' sections, to dislodging and sweeping actions of removing dug in enemies, to defensive areas where you have to prevent the same from being done to you. They also include areas where you have to sneak quietly past patrols, using stealth rather than brute force. Sometimes you even get a bit of swat team style action where you have to breach walls and doors and take out enemies before they can take out hostages or fire back on you. This is aided by a rather good aiming mechanic. Aiming down the sights reduces bullet spread and increases accuracy, and crouching increases that even more. When aiming down the sights, the gun auto-aims at an enemy, allowing you to aim at targets in quick succession. This can be very useful as sometimes enemies wear camo that makes them very difficult to spot. This is made more difficult when you take into account like paper flying in the wind and ash or other objects floating about that can be distracting to the eye and break up a silhouette.

That is only one of the three aspects of this game. The other major single player section of the game is the Special Ops mode. This can be done single player, split screen, or online with a friend. This involves you going through various missions, such as defending a soldier on the ground with an AC 130 in the air, or making it across a heavily defended bridge under a time limit, or various other missions. They attempt to cover every aspect that can be done with the game and it's engine and any aspect covered in the second or even the first game. Depending on the difficulty you choose or how well/fast you complete the stages, you earn stars. Each mission earns 3 stars maximum, and unlocking stars is needed to unlock different missions.

The last aspect of the game is the one that was a major focus of the first game, the multiplayer. Multiplayer has undergone the most improvements since the first game, since it was one of the reasons the game sold so well years after the release, people continuing to play the multiplayer well after they finished the single player campaign. Like the first game, you run through various maps, either on teams or free-for-all, your characters one of two factions for each map (Army Rangers vs. militants, Task force 141 against militia, etc.). There are various modes of play, the basics being team death match and Domination. As you play the game, you earn experience for kills, and for captures in games like domination, sabotage, etc. You also earn extra experience for various actions, like killing someone who killed you, killing someone guarding or taking a capture point, killing an enemy in a skilful way, and other means. Your experience unlocks extra levels. Each level adds benefits, the first being custom classes you can make. Second you can unlock weapons and abilities, different abilities like going undetected by UAV's, more melee range, and faster movement. What this game adds is extra abilities, and the ability to level them up with enough use. One ability allows you to do more damage with bullets, but use it enough and you can do more damage to vehicles as well.

In addition to new weapons and attachments, there are also new and custom kill streaks. In the first game, you had only UAV's, air strikes, and finally a helicopter. Now you can choose kill streaks like counter UAV's, sentry guns, EMP blasts, even tactical nukes. The simpler benefits take just a few kills, like the sentry gun needing only five, while the game ending nuke requires a total of 25 uninterrupted kills. The game also adds a bit of bragging in the emblems and titles. As you go through the game, your special achievements, such as killing two enemies with one bullet, or going a whole round without dying, unlock special extra XP bonuses, as well as titles that you can add to your character title. As well as that, you sometimes also get emblems that look like badges that appear alongside your title. Once you reach the level cap of 70, you can choose to continue into prestige mode. This resets you back down to level one, but opens up new achievements, new titles, and increases you creatable character slots by 1.

The game tries to be perfect but has a few flaws that do bring it down a touch. For one, the story works very well but near the end it makes twist that seems to make no sense and brings it down the quality of the story. It just makes no sense since the story works so well up to that point and suddenly makes such a hair-pin turn for no reason. Speaking of the single player story, this one is laughably short. It takes a little more than 4 hours to get through all the missions, and I've been told that the story in the first game was much longer. The special ops and multiplayer offers more replay, but to have the main play mode to be so short, it seems rather unfortunate. One suggestion was that they shortened the main campaign to make room for the expanded multiplayer and special ops modes.

The multiplayer mode also has some problems. The special ops is fine at what it does but it can get very aggravating and repetitive. When you flop a mission, you have to start at the beginning, and this is a huge problem in missions like one where you have to escort someone to a pick up point while providing cover with a helicopter. It is timed and requires every last second to clear enemies and move forward, but if you foul up at the very end, as it usually does, you have to start at the very beginning. With longer missions like these, it would have been nice if they at least had a mid-point checkpoint, rather than forcing you to start all over again. The multiplayer section has some bugs such as a cheat that lets people use a weapon to cause massive damage, and a bug that remains even after various updates. The most problem is how the game deals with lag. When you are lagging, it's common that what you see is an after image of an enemy. If your lagging a half second behind, everyone you see is a half second behind from where they really are. What the game also does is that if you're lagging, all your bullets, even if they land, do ‘glancing' damage. That means that if someone is moving faster than you, they need 2 or 3 bullets to put you down. It also means that if you manage to hit someone while your lagging, you may need to unload 15 rounds into them before they go down, even if your hitting them where they actual are and your using the same weapon. The game seems to consider all shots from someone moving slower to be weak glancing blows and not do as much damage. When you're lagging, this is infuriating as you have to pour fire on enemies and this leaves you open to counterattacks.

A lot of the other multiplayer problems are not the fault of the game but mostly other players. One can find himself getting slaughtered in multiplayer because your team-mates are utterly incapable of working together, it just all depends on the players. Taking into account all the aspects of the game, it's rather interesting to say the least. The mechanics are so clean and well made that it can be considered one of the best shooters out there. The only problems are relatively small and can sometimes be overlooked, however they are enough to keep this from being the perfect game. The ending is very open ended so its going to be interesting to see where they take this game next. I'm curious to see if they will find ways to improve the multiplayer further or leave it static to expand the single player to even it out. As it is, I'd say the game is mostly 30% single player, and 70% multiplayer. The game is so multiplayer heavy that if you don't mind a quick single player mode, the multiplayer will definitely keep you busy for a while. As of now the game has no expansions for maps but I'm sure that will change soon enough. There are enough people clamoring for more content to increase the number of multiplayer maps. This is a definite buy for anyone who enjoys multiplayer games and first person shooters.


  1. Wow, very detailed review of CoD: MW2. It's funny how at the cost of making a better sequel they made so many offbeat oddities and errors. Oh well, it's still a great game, though I was expecting a better looking version of Modern Warfare 1.