Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
|a game by||Infinity Ward, Inc.|
|Platforms:||XBox 360, PC, Playstation 3|
|User Rating:||7.3/10 - 118 votes|
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|See also:||Call of Duty Series, First Person Shooter, PvP Games, AAA Games|
There Are a number of points in your life when you realise you're doing something wrong. Getting your arse consistently handed to you playing an online multiplayer FPS is the one that springs to mind, having recently attended the Modern Warfare 2 event in Los Angeles.
A more stinging example is when you decide to have a sensible night's sleep to avoid the more obnoxious symptoms of jetlag: and the first person you meet in the morning says, "I went to a strip club last night - $25 and she let me smack her arse!" The look of unparalleled joy on his face, and the fact I wasn't even jealous, left me feeling like I was missing out on what it means to be alive.
Anyway, back on track. Call of Duty might have flown the PC coop and built gigantic, billion-dollar nests on the consoles, but while Sony and Microsoft wage the war of special edition consoles and timed exclusives, let's just be glad that Infinity Ward are committed to PC development, and let's never talk of Call of Duty 3 again.
So far, we've had a glimpse of MW2s single-player campaign, and the Special Ops co-op mode has been showcased briefly. Today, though, it's all about the PvP multiplayer side - with three new maps cycling on the 32 machines. Favela is your dusty shanty town, with tight maze-like roads occasionally opening up into areas filled with burnt-out cars and fizzing pylons. Then there's the dusty expanses of Afghan, with mountainous brown terrain and bunkers providing hiding places and sniping spots. Finally there's High Rise, which breaks with the dusty theme and lets you wage war around an office block and on roof-tops.
Pie multiplayer side of Modern Warfare was characterised by two things: progress and prestige. In terms of progress, the kill streak awards were instant reward for persistent murder, and the levelling and unlock system provided a compelling wider picture to keep you going. For prestige - well, you could trade all your progress for a shiny badge that proves you're awesome.
Death streaks give heroic losers the chance to redeem themselves, with health boosts and the ability to steal your killer's class, to see how he was kitted out The unlocks are constant too. Level three grants access to all five predefined classes, and level five lets you create five custom classes.
A class load-out now consists of your unlocked primary and secondary weapon, two pieces of equipment, three of your unlocked perks, and a death streak.
The prestige elements have I also been built up. Now, you don't just get to show off with a badge that proves you've voluntarily given up your top-level soldier 10 times, like some kind of suicidal maniac.
Now you unlock emblems through a separate achievements system. This is connected to Accolades - end-of-game awards given to those with high kill-to-death ratios, or who've done good at protecting their flag.
In the potentially intimidating world of online shooters, MW2 tries to be friendly, offering bonuses for every notable situation. Killing someone who's nearing a kill streak or who's recently killed you or a teammate; using a variety of weapons - all these things offer an XP boost and awards that can lend even the worst player a sense of dignity.
When you get that balance right, thrilling the hardcore and letting the ungifted join in, you're onto something pretty big. Modern Warfare 2s multiplayer is nothing desperately innovative, but it's a completely slick and friendly experience that looks set to easily replace its predecessor in the multiplayer throne.
The Gunned-Down Rundown
What's new, without bullet points
When there's nothing ground-breakingly new, but a lot of little tweaky improvements, it's difficult to summarise why a game's better, especially in a way that won't alienate people that haven't played the first Modern Warfare multiplayer. So here's a wee list of what we know. There are at least three maps - Favela, Afghan, and High Rise - and two new multiplayer modes - Capture the Flag (really, it's new - don't question it) and Demolition, which involves planting a couple of bombs.
You'll have 15 kill streaks to unlock, nine of which have been revealed, with menus implying that the being able to fire at your opponents from an AC-BO Gunship plane is only the third-best Meanwhile, there's a new world of customisation both useful (death streaks and secondary weapons) and cosmetic (emblems and accolades).
Download Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
There Are Hundreds of things more offensive than the airport level in Modem Warfare 2. And by mixing those things with one another in increasingly offensive ways, the total number of things that MW2's airport level is less offensive than becomes unfathomably huge.
For example, it is less offensive than an identical level in which all of the civilians' clothes fly off as they get shot. And that's less offensive than a similar level in which only the women's clothes fly off. So you see how, on this scale, shooting polygonical civilians in their faces is almost the most inoffensive thing possible.
On a less facetious note: is it really that big a deal? People have enough of a collective moral compass to prevent depravity from becoming lucrative. I don't think you'll ever make much money from sliding a digital Berretta into the puckered anus-pixels of a German Shepherd.
MW2's nugget of controversy, I felt, fits nicely within the context of the game's barmy plot. It could've been done better - but then so could the unremarkable level in the airfield - yet it accomplished something few other games have, of any genre.
This level showed, explicitly, why the MW2's bad guy was a bad guy. No vague threat of nuclear attack, or blurred FMV of him brooding and looking a bit evil, but a proper massacre shown in the first-person. That is, at the very least, original.
The Early 21st Century is a conflicted time to live. On the day that the bodies of six British soldiers were flown home from Afghanistan the biggest entertainment launch of the year/ decade/millennium took place in the shape of a videogame set loosely around the Afghanistan conflict.
Afforded the full blockbuster premiere treatment, Modem Warfare 2s launch party was a surreal affair consisting of staff in military fatigues mixing cocktails and handing out trays of brownies. Following a midnight set from Dizzee Rascal, the game was given out. The free bar was closed an hour before schedule as the place immediately emptied. Journalists turning down free drinks in favour of a game? That's seismic.
Not as seismic as what will probably be referred to indefinitely as "That Level". This is, of course, the now notorious fourth level of the game, a morally reprehensible atrocity exhibition that marks a watershed for gaming from which there may be no return. Now I'm a big horrible ugly man who has seen many disturbing things, yet the first time I encountered the No Russian level is still seared into my brain, even in its befuddled post-party 4am state. In terms of incongruity it's a bit like watching a Carry On film only for Sid James to whip out his , tumescent phallus 10 minutes in.
Here's how it pans out. The game begins in obligatory newbie friendly mode at a boot camp in Afghanistan as you take control of new recruit Joseph Allen. It's literally a shooting gallery, teaching you the basics of wielding a weapon on the pretence of showing some locals the ropes. You're then sent to something called The Pit, a test of your skills that yields a recommended difficulty level. On the way there, you are given an opportunity to drink in the detail, and it's a wondrous thing. A rudimentary game of basketball is taking place, some recruits are repairing a Humvee, and a fat bloke sits on his arse shoving a chocolate bar into his gaping maw.
Having passed the test with flying colours, it's then onto the conflict proper, with an urban level that may have been lifted directly from the HBO series Generation Kill. A variety of weapons are called for, you get to ride in a vehicle, and make your first kill blood as you reacquaint yourself with the intensity that marked the groundbreaking prequel. It's instantly gripping, a textbook assault on the senses that leaves you reeling and hungry for more. Of course there are numerous casualties, but this is war, and it's a case of kill or be killed.
The next level is a slight change of pace, the much-demoed Cliffhanger level, where you play Gary 'Roach' Sanderson under the tutelage of Call of Duty 4 star SAS Captain 'Soap' McTavish. A big hairy beast of a man, Soap makes Bear Grylls look like Graham Norton, and you will learn to love him. He's a bulletproof presence who'll lead you through the conflict, barking orders at you in a terse Scottish burr. He saves your life a number of times, and even if you know what's coming it's still tense stuff, culminating in a sequence that could easily precede the titles of a Bond film. The Ski-Doo chase perhaps isn't the thrill ride hinted at, and you naturally get to the escape helicopter with seconds to spare, and move on to the next level.
At this point you're warned that what follows is disturbing and asked again if you want to play it, with the guarantee that it won't affect your progress in the game. In other words, it's entirely gratuitous. And then you're asked if you're sure you want to play it.
Of course you want to play it, you've paid for the game and you're an adult. Clicking yes, it's explained that you - Joseph Allen - are going undercover with a terrorist group led by the game's main villain. The screen goes blank and you hear what sounds like something being unzipped. You're not in a Gents toilet, but in a lift, which comes to a halt to reveal a packed Russian airport. You and your four faux-comrades step out, each wielding automatic weapons.
A security guard shows some concern, at which point the terrorists emotionlessly open fire, mowing down hordes of civilians who crumple to the ground in a screaming bloody mess, as an entire check-in gueue is decimated. No detail is spared: the injured crawl for safety leaving trails of blood, only to be mercilessly put to death. At this point you can't run, making the methodical slowness of the death walk that makes it so affecting, the inexorable extermination of wave after wave of innocent people. You're of course expected to join in with the bloodbath, but morally it's not easy to get involved.
It's perhaps a validation of the power of the medium that you genuinely feel sullied by it.
Not wishing to blow my cover, wandered into a bookshop and took out some paperbacks. I also shot some tills, which spat out money, and lit up some hand luggage, which impressively spilled its contents on to the blood-soaked floor. You can't shirk from the slaughter entirely, as the police are called, and in order to finish the level you will have to murder them.
The whole thing leaves an unpleasant taste, and you have to question Infinity Ward's motives in including that level, other than to garner publicity and giving pundits a further opportunity to demonise gaming. If they claim that it was to advance the story and establish the villain of the piece, then the whole incident could have been explained in a cutscene or a voiceover.
And anyway, what story? The Rizla-tliin plot seems to consist of four blokes called things like Meat, Ghost and Jet going to an exotic location and finding a bloke who knows the whereabouts of another bloke in another continent. This is warfare as travelogue, with a trail of dead that spans the globe and back. Twice. For instance, with the dirty business of the airport massacre out of the way, you're off to Brazil, hunting some bloke through the favelas of Rio in the shadow of Christ the Redeemer.
This is one of the trickier levels, as it's hard to get your bearings due to the fact that every twat with a machine gun or grenade launcher is generally stood above you, causing you to spin round in a circle of your own doom. Furthermore, shooting peasants in a slum under a tourist attraction doesn't particularly feel like modern warfare. This nagging doubt continues when you're in North Virginia defending a restaurant called Burger Town that's piqued the interest of dozens of enemy soldiers, who may or may not know what they're fighting for.
This is of course still an adrenaline-filled ride - shooting helicopters out of the sky is fun anywhere - but compared to something like COD4's seminal All Ghillied Up level, the Hollywood accusations would appear to have some resonance. All the same, the Burger level lets you try out some of the new hardware, namely the Predator drone: a remotely controlled plane that can be used to wipe out infantry. You're even congratulated if you kill 10 or more in one strike, like some kind of human bowling game.
Elsewhere, new gadgetry is introduced when required, but you're not boinbarded with it. It's possible to negotiate most levels using the weapons of your choice, with the big guns coming out for the occasional set piece.
On a more defensive note, the riot shields provide some welcome relief, as well as some physical gratification when you smack a nearby foe upside the head with one.
As previously, the screen is often spattered with your own blood -essentially a visual health meter - and constantly seeking cover is a genuinely stressful business, with gunfire's default setting apparently being extreme. Without visual clues it would largely be impossible to know what to do, and having a dot to follow, or a guide as to how far the next objective is proves invaluable, particularly as the shouted instructions tend to be relayed against a cacophony of explosions.
Thankfully subtitles are available, even if they're largely in military speak. It's not a massive leap of faith to suggest that Infinity Ward have been watching Generation Kill - a TV series about the 2003 Iraq War. It's a bleak portrayal of warfare, where shitting in a hole is as much a part of the conflict as calling in an air strike. What it shares with Modern Warfare 2 is language, and fans will be immediately familiar with jargon like "oscar mike", "danger close", "stay frosty", "interrogative", and "how copy".
That's arguably where the realism ends though, as some of the action in Modern Warfare 2 is preposterous. The game is essentially one jaw-dropping set piece after another, with the occasional scripted event ensuring that the story -thin as it is - continues in the obligatory absurd fashion. You certainly can't argue with the variety, which sees you variously tapping into American paranoia by protecting the streets of Washington from invading Russians, or tearing round an oil rig rescuing hostages, with a neat slow-motion effect requiring you to kill the captors before they execute their prisoners.
With shorter missions than COD4 you should able to complete the campaign in less than 10 hours, the brevity being something of a Call Of Duty trademark. That said, such is the intensity of the experience, you probably wouldn't want it any longer, as it's a genuinely nerve-shredding business.
There's often talk of emotion in games, but Modem Warfare 2 has no truck with such concepts, instead it delivers a sheer adrenaline rush that genuinely makes your heart beat faster, often causes you to contort your face, and frequently invites the emission of venomous language.
Given the hype that we've had to endure over the past year or so, living up to it was always going to be a difficult task. Short of the game actually fellating you, it was virtually impossible to fully meet our expectations.
That's not to say it isn't an astonishing game - there are moments that will cause your jaw to drop - but in many ways it becomes apparent that COD4 was the genuine breakthrough title. What Infinity Ward have done with the sequel is to ramp up the action to such intense levels that you can't help but be overcome by it. This game is an irresistible assault on the senses that'll have you bucking in front of your monitor for the duration of the single-player campaign.
Of course the purists will scoff at such fripperies in favour of the seminal multiplayer mode, which builds on the foundations laid by the original, despite the lack of dedicated servers. While you could feasibly drag the campaign out over a week, the multiplayer could arguably last years. And that's before you consider the all-new Special Ops mode, a series of brief missions culled from the main campaign and playable either solo or in two-player co-op.
Modem Warfare 2 isn't an unreasonable package then, and all things taken into account, a game that you should probably consider owning if you have any interest whatsoever in the military FPS genre. It may be more of the same, albeit with a more ludicrous approach to warfare, but as a technical achievement it's largely unrivalled, with gameplay that is rarely less than ferocious, a rousing soundtrack, and voice-acting that manfully manages to carry off the cheesecake one-liners.
The hype for Modem Warfare 2 may have bordered on the hysterical (and at least that's over), but Infinity Ward have largely delivered on its promises with something of a landmark title. So it's a shame then that all anybody is going to talk about from now on, is that airport level.