Modern Warfare 2 PC Singleplayer/SpecOPS Review
An overdose of spectacle makes Modern Warfare 2 slightly spastic compared to its well-paced prequel, but still a great ride. Stunning coop and competitive multiplayer round out the package.
Game: Modern Warfare 2 (Also Known As: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2)
Developer: Infinity Ward
Gameplay Tested: Completed Story Mode on Hard and all the SpecOPS Missions
The original Modern Warfare was the first Call of Duty title not set in World War 2 and the first Infinity Ward title to leave that time period a well. Known to PC gamers are the team behind Medal of Honor: Allied Assault and the original Call of Duty, Infinity Ward's newest title was highly anticipated hit a real homerun, not only for its amazing PC multiplayer but also for its slick and well-paced singleplayer story mode. Modern Warfare's campaign put you in the shoes of the SAS and Marines in a story filled with spectacle and tense moments, but also great characters and quiet reflective moments which built tension and allowed you to catch your breath, resulting in a cinematic adventure with no real equal in the "on-rails" FPS genre. How does Modern Warfare 2 stack up against this debated masterpiece? Not as well as one might hope, but still plenty well enough to be worth playing.
Modern Warfare 2 begins 5 years after the original and offers roughly the same exact format. There is a training mission, a couple of easier opening missions and then the normal missions spread across three acts. Just like the original each mission is seperated by a video which explains story developments and sets up the action, but unlike the original game almost all of Modern Warfare 2's story progression happens in these videos, rather than gameplay itself. There are story moments in the actual missions, but they feel much shorter and much more forced than they did before, leaving the videos to sort of "mop up" after the mission and make it all make sense. This is especially true in the later stages of the game, where the videos (which cover the loading screens) take three or four times as long to play than the loading bar takes to fill, constantly throwing information at you hoping to make the story gel in your head before putting you back on the frontlines.
One of the best examples of this limited storytelling in the actual gameplay segments is the end or begining of levels. In the original game getting to the end of a level often meant some dialogue would occur as the chopper took off, or a cliffhanger moment would occur leading into the video between levels. In Modern Warfare 2 the screen often goes black just as you reach your final objective, and the levels often start right as the action does, leaving you no time for reflection or preperation. If the goal was to make the game even more fast-paced and action-filled it succeeds, but often at the cost of pacing and storytelling. There were a lot of amazing moments in the original game where after a long and tough fight to get to an evac zone I got to take off in a chopper and watch the battle continue below while my commander thanked us all for getting the job done. In Modern Warfare 2 there is no resolution like this, not even at the very end of the game, there is only the next action segment, the next loading video. It lacks pacing and a smooth tempo, despite its amazing spectacle and rush moments.
On top of all that the core story itself can be lacking. It seems to be trying almost too hard at being a summer blockbuster with constant twists and turns in the plot, focusing more on shocking moments and betrayls than on consistency and immersion. The original Modern Warfare felt like stepping into the shoes of the SAS, even if it was exaggerated and Hollywood-esque, but Modern Warfare 2 feels like a Hollywood film from start to finish, and the twists and turns can feel forced at times, especially near the end of the show. Add this to the somewhat sloppy pacing and lack of in-game story moments and Modern Warfare 2's singleplayer campaign definately feels below par compared to the original.
If all of this sounds too negative, it is only because the original game had one of the best singleplayer FPS campaigns of all time, so the sequel needs to be judged not only in comparison to that, but also for how well it expands and improves on that game, and it does poorly in these areas. All of that aside though, let's get to the good stuff: Modern Warfare 2 consistently surprises you, offers spectacle than cannot be matched elsewhere and still has great characters sherparding you through interesting locales and missions. For the singleplayer FPS player who enjoys linear and fast-paced storytelling and action, there is no need to worry, buy the game. Just don't expect it to be quite the masterpiece the original was.
The actual gameplay in Modern Warfare 2 is almost identical to the original, which is to say there are a few changes but it sticks very close to what made the original game work. It is a Call of Duty game and still has that familiar feel or corridor shooting in seemingly open enviornments, though in this game the engine does allow for a few segments with larger and more open level design, notably in the US Army Rangers side of the campaign. Much has been said before of "monster closets" in the Call of Duty series, moments where enemies spawn from certain rooms or areas continously until you reach an objective or kill an ungodly amount of enemy forces and this is still present in Modern Warfare 2, though perhaps slightly better masked.
Shooting mechanics and such are identical to the original. You can carry any two weapons at once and grenades, both frag and smoke. Grenades have their own button as opposed to being in your weapon rotation, which works well for fast-paced games like this. The enemy AI is mostly stupid, even at higher difficulty levels, though they will use grenades to make you change position and possibly do some limited flanking. In the end though, the game is mostly a shooting gallery with down-the-sight aiming being a priority, and you've almost surely played this exact game before with different levels and story. Modern Warfare 2 loses some points due to feeling more like an expansion pack than a new game, which is almost the norm now-a-days, but it is still great gameplay you have enjoyed before and with the new spectacles and levels will almost surely enjoy again.
SpecOps is for all intents and purposes Modern Warfare 2's coop mode, which for coop lovers like me is a great addition. It uses segments from the main game, the previous game and a couple of unique settings to present arcade-like challenges for one or two players. It is worth noting here that the second player must be a Steam friend, there is no matchmaking for SpecOps and indeed you will find yourself posting on forums asking for people to play with you if you plan to invest a lot of time in the mode. Still, this is a good time to mention that Steam integration does a lot for Modern Warfare 2, allowing you friend lists and achievements in a community enviornment you likely already use and already have established, greatly increasing its use. Compared to a game like Borderlands which recently launched and used the almost ancient and useless Gamespy system, Steamworks is a massibe step-up.
Unfortunately I found SpecOps to lack some of the campaign's charm, mostly due to it having no story at all and feeling like a simple arcade shooter, rather than an immersive story-driven one which is what many people will expect coop to feel like coming from this franchise. It is unfortunate the game has no campaign coop, but SpecOps is still a robust and worth-playing mode, and with Steamworks attached it adds the bonus of showing off to your friends how many stars you have collected (stars being your reward for beating challenges in SpecOps). It can get addicting, though difficult, to try and get all the stars and unlock all the levels.
It is worth noting that robust DLC add-on packs are expected for Modern Warfare 2, even on PC due to the use of Steamworks, and we can almost surely expect more SpecOps missions at a later time. Whether this excites or annoys you will depend on your feelings on DLC itself, but this player is looking forward to seeing what they put out.
-Graphics and Sound-
Modern Warfare 2 looks almost identical to the original Modern Warfare, though some areas are larger and some textures look more crisp and detailed. Compared to a PC graphics powerhouse like Crysis, or even max settings on a game like Far Cry 2 or Brothers in Arms: Hell's Highway, the game can look quite old. Still, it looks better than the original and better than World at War, and with max settings you some forced AA the game can look very smooth and details most of the time, especially on characters.
Sound is done extremely well. Every gunshot and explosion sounds intense and crystal clear. Voice acting is superb with some well-known actors like Lance Henriksen and Keith David, as well as Call of Duty series veterans from previous games. There is nothing to fear in the presentation of Modern Warfare 2, it looks stunning and sounds stunning, just don't expect it to look as good as games more designed for high-end PC graphics.
Like a lot of games now-a-days, Modern Warfare 2 had a lead development platform on the Xbox 360, but the PC port is still a great version of the game and almost surely the superior one for PC gamers. In addition to perfect mouse-aim and menus, the PC version comes with some more detailed textures on the PC spreading the game out to two DVDs worth of content. The PC version has a graphics options menu similar to the original Modern Warfare, only this time texture filtering is set automatically and looks quite good, no need to force it. You can force AA past the in-game max of 4xMSAA if you wish using your driver control panel with a very acceptable impact on performance. Modern Warfare 2 runs very well on modern systems and I was able to run the game with 16xMSAA at 1080p at a locked 60fps on my GTX 275 graphics card.
Some issues do arise for old-school PC gamers however. First off the Steam integration offers a lot of benefits, but it also acts as restrictive DRM preventing resale, so if that is an issue for you take it under advisement. The game's FOV has also been seen to cause problems for some PC gamers, as it is set at 65 which, on a computer monitor close to a player's face, can feel tight and zoomed-in for some gamers. There is a hack used to increase the FOV already available on sites like www.widescreengamingforum.com, but these hacks could lead to a VAC ban on Steam if you are playing online, so use them with caution. For multiple-monitors gamers this FOV hack will be required to play across your monitors unless there is a patch to address the issue, so keep that in mind.
Modern Warfare 2 is a very fun and exciting PC FPS game with tons of intense moments, captivating spectacles and unique level design. It is also a bit of a mess in plot and pacing, and it suffers from some bad decisions in story design. The SpecOps mode is a great addition however, especially for coop junkies, and the core gameplay and story is plenty enough to satisfy fans of the franchise. For full price Modern Warfare 2 feels a little too close to the previous game, and a little weak compared to the original, but big fans of the series should still grab it right away, while more casual fans should probably wait for a price drop.