bshirk's Modern Warfare 2 (Xbox 360) review

Is This Second Modern War Justified?

Note: Modern Warfare 2's plot is an important component of each individual's gaming experience, so I've decided to make this review spoiler-free. I will not be discussing the many locations players will travel to in Modern Warfare 2, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the read.

I recently replayed Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, so that I'd be ready to ingest every gory detail of its sequel's storyline. The original Modern Warfare is easily my favorite shooter of the current console generation (at least when it comes to the single-player experience), so I was expecting Infinity Ward to at least deliver an equally thrilling sequel.

When playing through Modern Warfare 2, I was looking for worthy gameplay enhancements, exciting new levels, an interesting storyline that continued the plot of its predecessor, and a deep multiplayer mode that would keep me entertained for months. Did Infinity Ward's new title meet my expectations, or at least some of them? And more importantly, is Modern Warfare 2 a worthy successor to a title that is practically worshipped by its fans?

I'm sorry to disappoint you, but I'm going to make you work for those answers. If you want to be a hero (which is by definition someone who knows whether or not to purchase Modern Warfare 2), you have to first go through this entire review, which is basically the written equivalent of boot camp. Don't worry, it won't be as grueling as actual combat, but you may shed a tear now and then.

Okay soldier, listen up! If you've played the original Modern Warfare, you already understand Modern Warfare 2. You don't have to understand calculus to play this title -- you only need to know how to shoot from the hip.

As with the original Modern Warfare, your character can sprint, crouch, crawl, jump, perform a melee attack, hurl grenades, fire weapons, and equip accessories such as night vision goggles. Yeah, all stuff you'd learn in basic training. And if you've played Modern Warfare, you already know that crouching and aiming through your sites is the best way to take out your opponent. This isn't a game (i.e. Halo), folks.

Soldier, now that you've been through basic weapons training, you're ready to hear about actual gameplay changes. The good news is that these changes are easy to learn, since they're basically the equivalent of mastering "two times two" after you know "two plus two." Of course that's also bad news, since there just isn't enough new for lazy grunts like you.

So what are these new additions? Without spoiling too much, you'll learn to commandeer new vehicles such as a snow mobile, you'll climb icy cliffs, wield a riot shield through dangerous territory, and fire a mini-gun atop a moving vehicle. I better not see fear on those faces, because these tasks should be easy for you folks who play video games all day.

You there in the back -- I know you want to know if these new gameplay elements are fun. You're damn right they are, but they don't significantly expand the Modern Warfare experience. For example, you poor excuses for soldiers will rarely find yourselves making use of your new rock climbing techniques. Why? It seems like Commander Infinity Ward just wanted to impress you. He doesn't give a damn about substance. And as for driving a snow mobile? It's fun, but it doesn't quite feel like Call of Duty. It feels more like James Bond if you ask me.

Okay, but is the standard shooting action still fun? You bet! It doesn't feel significantly different from that of the first game, but it's still as fun as ever finding pieces of cover to hide behind, then blasting your foes into oblivion. As usual, you'll want to find a good place to hide to pick off foes instead of running gung-ho into battles like a certain green Spartan. You'll also frequently be attacked from all sides at different elevations, so a keen eye is necessary to spy those cowards that work in the shadows.

Oh, and you're probably wondering, "What happens if I get shot?" Your mommy can't make your boo-boo go away, but your health will magically regenerate. I don't know why, but I wouldn't have it any other way. So I better not hear you lazy grunts complaining.

By now, you're probably aware that Modern Warfare 2's gameplay isn't significantly different than that of its predecessor, but how do the missions compare? The various battlefields you'll travel to are a refreshing surprise, because they're rarely featured in video games (at least not this accurately). Many of these warzones look quite realistic with accurately modeled buildings and spectacular weather and lighting effects. Unfortunately, there are a few missions where the terrain looks a bit plain (and isn't at the resolution it should be), but for the most part, the levels look impressive.

I know that rookies like you would be impressed by realistic battlegrounds, but not this drill sergeant. I expect more from my girl than being pretty, so why shouldn't I expect the same out of my video games? The first Modern Warfare had a cleverly designed plot that made sense of each of the spectacular missions you played through, but with Modern Warfare 2, it felt like Infinity Ward included certain levels for shock value and nothing else. Don't get me wrong, I'm happy that they included these levels, and I wasn't the least bit offended by them, but I felt that they should have been more relevant to the plot.

Instead, Modern Warfare 2's plot felt disjointed, and didn't feel nearly as exciting as that of the first game. Too many of the missions felt like the exact same battles you experienced in the first game -- only with a different tile set. And to make matters worse, I didn't play a single mission that felt as satisfying as crawling through the grassy fields of the ghost town, Chernobyl in a ghillie suit. That's not to say that Modern Warfare 2's missions were bad, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that they felt a bit empty in comparison to those of the first game.

So the campaign wasn't quite as exciting as that of the original, but how are the additional modes? One of them, you'll be right at home with, but the other is a brand new mode designed to be played alone or with another player (online or local). Soldier, I'm going to tell you right now that you want to play this new mode: Spec Ops, with a friend. Split-screen can make seeing enemy soldiers a bit more difficult due to Modern Warfare 2's detailed environments, but you'll still have a much better time with a comrade at your side.

These co-op missions are basically scenarios from Modern Warfare 2 and the original Modern Warfare broken into chunks. Spec Ops' bite-sized missions are perfect for those who like to accomplish small goals in say, a period of five minutes. Each of these missions has three rankings you can earn, and some of them have to be played on higher difficulties in order to obtain new missions.

During these scenarios, you'll perform tasks such as taking out snipers wearing camouflaged gear, racing snow mobiles, and you'll defend check points until a certain amount of time has elapsed. There are at least five different sets of missions, so fans of cooperative gameplay will be kept busy for awhile.

Modern Warfare 2's online multiplayer is a bit more meaty, with nearly a dozen courses and several different modes. Fans of the original Modern Warfare (who aren't tired of its multiplayer) will probably find quite a bit to like here, as the level design is amazing, and there are plenty of character customization options as there were with the first game. It's unfortunate that Infinity Ward once again omitted an online split-screen option, but what's there should still be enough to satisfy a hardcore Call of Duty fan.

My favorite aspect of Modern Warfare 2's online multiplayer is its meticulously designed maps. Some of its maps may be a bit large for eight-player games, but with the right amount of players, a great time can be had by all. These maps have so many wonderful places to hide including carefully hidden trenches, dilapidated buildings, sandy caves, and even high grasses.

These hiding spots not only make Modern Warfare 2's courses feel like actual warzones, but they also give players plenty of opportunities to ambush opponents. This is both a positive and a negative trait, because it gives you the opportunity to remain out of sight, but at the same time, you'll often find yourself getting picked off by opponents from unseen locations.

Another online gameplay feature that I'm conflicted on is Modern Warfare 2's ranking system. It's similar to its predecessor in that it allows players to unlock new ranks, titles, symbols, modes, weapons, and gear, and as with the original Modern Warfare, you'll be granted experience for killing enemy soldiers using certain weapons and obtaining headshots, among other things. You'll also obtain bonus points for avenging allies and ending killing streaks, which feels quite nice if you're someone who finds it difficult to survive on the battlefield.

Earning points for your accomplishments certainly feels great, but other aspects of the ranking system may feel unfair to new players. Personally, I felt that awarding veterans who perform well with new, far superior equipment made it even easier for them to send rookies like you back home. Why Commander Infinity Ward granted vets with fighter planes and helicopters when rookies only get pea-shooters, I don't know, but it definitely feels like you rookies got short changed. You may still have fun despite these glaring flaws, but I know that some of you won't be able to take getting bombarded immediately after spawning.

You greenhorns have finally made it through basic training, so I think it's time I told you a little secret about Modern Warfare 2. If you're smart, you probably already learned this during training, but if not, it's time that you're made aware that Modern Warfare 2 didn't live the phrase, "Be all you can be." Its predecessor is an amazing showpiece of first-person shooter design, but Modern Warfare 2 merely feels like more of the same.

That isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's worth mentioning that its missions generally lack the excitement and ingenuity of those of the first game. Fortunately, however, Modern Warfare's sequel isn't broken, and there are some welcome new additions such as Spec Ops, but with another year of development and better planning, it could have been a lot more. If you soldiers survive this conflict, let's hope that Commander Infinity Ward sends this series off with a proper finale. But enough chit-chat, it's time to begin your mission!

Pros:

·          Infinity Ward was brave enough to include locales and topics that few developers would touch

·           Several of the campaign levels are superb recreations of real-world environments

·          Excellent controls and weapon variety

·          Realistic sound effects and dramatic music enhance the experience

·          Spectacular multiplayer arenas

·          Spec-Ops is a nice addition for fans of co-op gameplay

Cons:

·          Most missions felt mundane compared to those of the first game

·          Certain settings were used mostly for shock value instead of enhancing the experience

·          Includes very few gameplay or visual enhancements over the first Modern Warfare

·          During online multiplayer, veterans are still given an advantage

·          When online, prepare to go solo because of rampant racism and a lack of team coordination

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