Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Beware the jam! Yes, that's right. While numerous gaming flops of the past might have been left with egg on their faces, Modern Warfare 2 turns the tables and flings jam at yours. Getting shot? Underfire from a well-trained enemy? Don't worry, you'll feel nothing, notice no change in performance, and will have no real indication of how much you're hurt. Instead, you'll be covered in tasty, nutritious jam, which gradually disappears (perhaps eaten by flies or wasps) if you hide in a corner for long, boring minutes. Yes, Call of Duty returns with its special brand of desensitized, pointless warfare, with more macho shouting, token-gesture vehicle sections, backstab-based online multiplayer and a raft of new, inept squadmates to do everything but back you up. Yet despite such glaring inadequacies, the game is actually, dammit, most excellent in more ways than most games can dream of.

Modern Warfare 2

Play alternates between allied soldiers, with American Ranger Joseph Allen the main focus among US troops, and new UK fledgling Roach, under the command of Soap (now Captain) MacTavish, which players will recognize from the original Modern Warfare, the controlled element of the British Forces. In both storylines, it's easy to find yourself initially detached and uninvested in any of the characters. Very little motivation is provided for anything, and the game initially relies too heavily on players already being fans of the series, and does little to prove itself afresh. However, masterfully, the game will eventually grab you, perhaps even without you realizing, making you care for the characters and their plight. With the usual brand of Modern Warfare twists in the storyline, it's hard not to gasp at a few surprise moments, and no matter how hard you try not to, you'll almost certainly end up caring for the troops you're with.

In keeping with the modern threat of terrorist attacks, the enemy is a terrorist by the name of Vladamir Makarov, but operations to uncover the unfriendly man's organization go somewhat awry, awakening a far greater enemy which threatens more than just oil or over-zealous loans. As the rest of the game unfolds, UK and US forces are thrust into a wide variety of incredible set pieces, featuring oil rigs, nuclear submarines, ice fields, breaches, last stands, desperate escapes and more. It might be a bit linear next to games like Fallout 3, but it's impossible to deny the immense spectacle of the proceedings.

Modern Warfare 2

For fans of weaponry and, in particular, the fine details of each scope, grip and rifle type, there's a massive range of guns to play with. For everyone else, there's the guns, the zoomy guns and the really zoomy guns. Either way, there's plenty of stuff to chuck about, each quite satisfying and apparently quite authentic. Providing variety are Javelins, with a most-excellent target-tracking system, and the mighty Predator UCAV, whose payload can wreak havoc with tremendous accuracy in deadly aerial assaults. The use of such weapons doesn't dominate the gameplay though, with ammo often in short supply, or Predator drones getting shot down by a well-prepared enemy - and those things are outside the range of most people's pocket money. The knife makes a return, for fans of up-close attacks, with melee kills playing an important role in the game, but it's the sniper rifles that are the most fun to use, with pinpoint accuracy and unbelieveable stopping power.

As memorable levels and scenarios begin to outnumber the daft, detached rubbish of the earlier stages, the difficulty steadily ramps up, though even on the Hardened difficulty, the game shouldn't stretch most experienced FPS gamers. There are a few moments where confusion over objectives and direction will be the only undoing, not the level of opposition, but it's nicely balanced on the whole, and there is, of course, the unlockable Veteran mode to try out in a second play through. With the campaign lasting only five or so hours, there's little time for things to get too difficult, but both the short length of the game and any deficiencies in gameplay are compensated beautifully by the game-saving Special Ops mode. Composed of a series of stand-alone short missions, taking some of the best elements from both Modern Warfare games, Special Ops missions allow co-operative or solo play, online or offline, with selectable difficulty taking the challenge from average through to severe. At Veteran difficulty, it's almost essential to have two players, protecting eachother's backs and reviving eachother when required.

Modern Warfare 2

Highlights of the Special Ops mode include stealth levels where players attempt to reach a particular goal while evading enemy patrols. It's a very simple concept, but for those that recall the Ghillie Sniper mission in the first Modern Warfare, the thought of more levels in the same vein is a tempting prospect. It's not all quiet and careful though, with assault, elimination and more resulting in levels for all appetites. The key though is the fact that you can play with a friend. Scurrying through bushes together preparing for a simultaneous strike on a patrol, crouching back to back in a field of enemies, healing your buddy while under heavy fire; these are all tremendous experiences that bring out the very best that gaming has to offer. While the competitive mode brings out the worst in humanity, Special Ops gives that rare glimpse at the kinder side of human beings that seems so lacking in modern times.

And on the subject of kindness, with Activision increasing the recommended retail price of the game, development costs have obviously soared, so you can expect a visual treat. Well, sort of. In reality, the game is a good step forwards from the first Modern Warfare, but Infinity Ward and Activision will find themselves sorely shown up by Naughty Dog's Uncharted 2 in the 2009 awards categories. An early sign of weakness in the game's visuals was the result of a moment of boredom in an early level. After unleashing a truck-mounted minigun directly into a stone wall, the six or so bullet holes left in the stone had left about as much impact as a light breeze. With on-rails levels, it'd be tricky to integrate real-time destruction in the way that Red Faction or Battlefield Bad Company does, but the total lack of real interaction with the environment itself is a bit disappointing. Still, the character models are very realistic, most of the environments do look good from a static point of view, and to put it in perspective, it is still probably in the top ten games for graphical excellence this year, it's just not what you'd expect for such an expensive game.

Modern Warfare 2

The score is pretty good though, with Hans Zimmer, famous for the musical delights in dozens of films including Gladiator, producing an interesting performance, with a couple of stand-out tracks that set the mood perfectly in a few scenes. Sadly, a few sections blend into the background leaving no impression, neither subtle nor moving, which is a shame, but mirror's the weaker areas of the game aptly. To a similar standard are the voices. Several actors deliver admirably, with series favourites maintaining good form and his-voice-is-in-everything Keith David adding a little gravitas to the American assaults. Perhaps the greatest amount of effort is put into the weapon noises though, which are positively stirling. There's nowhere near the imagination that a Ratchet and Clank game has, but that'd be inappropriate in amongst the realistic screams of innocent civilians under fire. Instead, every weapon packs an aural punch, and with the volume set to silly, you could have a lot of fun in your living room.

However, the greatest draw of the game for many will be the Competitive mode. There's little point dancing with the details, when things can easily be summarized as follows: if you liked the online in the first game, this will blow your socks off, assuming you have socks on, otherwise it's probably not even worth switching on. In Modern Warfare 2, things are bigger, better and more. Customization and perks are taken to new levels and there's more stuff to achieve and aim for. Some will refer to the online play as a tense, balanced exciting affair. Others will regard it as a backstabber's paradise with imbalanced gameplay that makes you either too weak to fight your opposition or too strong to make it in any way satisfying. If you can predict where you sit, the decision should be easy. If it makes a difference, the many trophies of the game are largely centered around the Campaign and Special Ops aspects of the game, with little trophy reward for online play (but plenty of in-game awards to chase). For those without an internet connection, this should still mean that every trophy is attainable.

Modern Warfare 2

With the potential for downloadable Special Ops expansions, this game could grow yet further (and, in doing so, likely cement people's views over Activision's pricing strategies), but what is already available are three distinct experiences. If you're a fan of all three, this game is essential. The Special Ops mode is by far the star feature, but a largely solid Campaign backs it up to present an excellent single-player experience. The Competitive mode won't suit everyone, but it will no doubt be extremely popular, with packed servers well into next year. For many, Modern Warfare 2 will be the game of the year. That view is certainly not shared on MeteorStorm, but it's still a cracking game.

Game details

Game logo

Publisher:

Activision

Developer:

Infinity Ward

Players:

1-2

Online:

1-18

Release:

2009-11-10

Trophies:

51

Review summary

Gameplay:

Terrific Special Ops missions, but a bit pants elsewhere

Graphics:

Up-close textures aren't great, but beautiful at distance

Sound:

Good voicework, thumping effects and decent music

Lastability:

The three distinct modes will keep players occupied

9.1

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