canuckeh's Modern Warfare 2 (Xbox 360) review

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The American Dream revised


Having already sold more copies than most countries have citizens, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has now transcended the video game industry to become a major player on the world stage. I feel as if Call of Duty should have its own representative at the UN, bullying countries into trading resources in exchange for Modern Warfare’s two top exports: flashbang grenades and anti-war quotes. Modern Warfare 2’s economy is both socialist and violent, with the government doling out welfare only as a perk for citizens that kill five delinquents in a row. Oh, and there are protesters on the street fighting for the right to have dedicated servers, but no one pays them any heed. Thus, I feel that reviewing Modern Warfare 2 is like a 5 year old doing a geography project on another country, perhaps one inhabited by Fidel Castro. I’m a bit overwhelmed and scared that a patriot will knife me in the back over the false hope of ranking up. But review it I shall, and my verdict is “yeah it’s a pretty good game.” Please don’t shoot me.

So we’re back to the all-too-familiar pre-mission loading screens of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 1. The ones that are too flashy, intricate and excessively graphic-oriented for any real military organization to ever invest in. This time we have a pretentiously wannabe-wiseman in “”Shepherd” going off about war-this and terror-that and behaving like every other pessimist general. Once again, there’s a terrorist threat that outsmarts the Americans (yes, for the second game in a row!) and causes a war between the former Soviets and the former Colonialists. So you’ll flip-flop control of several different soldiers from the US Army and British Special “we get things done” Forces.

Sort-of spoilers in the next paragraph. Though I feel that at this point, it’s safe to say that everyone reading this has finished the game, twice possibly, and engaged in at least one MW2 boycott of some kind before caving to the pressure of wanting to earn that Martyrdom perk.

Post-WW3 People of Walmart.
Post-WW3 People of Walmart.

Do you remember how there was a big news story about how there was a scene so shocking, so controversial that at least three or four people considered boycotting the game? You are given the option to skip “the scene” but really, if you’ve ever played Grand Theft Auto and thought it would be kind of amusing to drive on the sidewalk, then you’ve already committed more despicable acts than this airport mission. One consistent problem with Modern Warfare 2 is that it seems to be trying too hard to shock the audience. Remember how the one voiceless, faceless soldier you controlled suffered a surprise death in Modern Warfare 1? Well Modern Warfare 2 goes Gemini and kills off two voiceless, faceless soldiers, then expects you to sympathize for both. But all of the “shocks” come off as forced, often coming in close succession of each other. And like celebrities, the game tries too hard to come across as “edgy” for showing flashes of being “Anti-American.” So I can imagine many yankee players being a bit disheartened by the campaign. Fortunately, I’m Canadian, and I’ve got bigger problems (like the Leafs) to cringe about. But one last gripe about the plot; the story takes a major shift 4/5s of the way that feels rather jarring; creating a new conflict that gets solved at the endgame while leaving the original conflict untangled. As far as I can tell, the “modern warfare” doesn’t come to an end at the end of the game “Modern Warfare 2”.

But there are enough people that think the campaign for a first-person-shooter is little more than training for the multiplayer, so let me slap their hands away from the keyboards and talk Story Mode. The Campaign missions have a largely similar style to that of the first game; most missions have you going from point A to B, all the while killing off enemy soldiers and sitting in a corner to wait for your health to heal. My first impression of the game was the thought that perhaps it should be renamed “Call of Duty: I Can’t See ****.” The new damage indicator is that the screen fills with blood that seems custom built to only improve Dexter’s performance in online play, and frustrate the eyesight of players everywhere. To boot, the very first mission has players firing at enemies on the opposite end of a very long river, squinting ever so hard at the screen and hoping your retinas won’t be ambushed by a blood splatter. It doesn’t help that the first mission is an anti-climatic mission about a bridge-builder, and the level as a whole seems to exist only to introduce players to the phrase “oscar-mike”. Another mission early in the game was built to discourage players with high blood-pressure. This stage pits you in a village filled with enemies that know the town well, and will use every window and rooftop possible to ambush you and take advantage of your poor trooper vision.

 My teacher used to tell me Gi Joes and war video games were government-funded enlistment campaigns
 My teacher used to tell me Gi Joes and war video games were government-funded enlistment campaigns

So the game, by mere existence of a few blemishes, doesn’t match the quality of the original Modern Warfare. I played through that game’s campaign twice, both times a year apart, and I can vividly remember critical aspects of every level. On that virtue alone, I was already decided that there is no way Infinity Ward can conjure up enough original ideas for the second, and while I was halfway right, what does exist makes for a thrilling time. Large chunks of the experience still comprise of the player shooting terrorists, finding cover to recover your infinite self-regenerating health and the occasional upchucking of the enemy’s grenades back in their direction. And many of the Call of Duty-isms are still here; you’ll still pop smoke to avoid fire from a tank, you’ll still have a legion of fellow troopers with only a last name to identify their existence before they die in the line of fire and are never mentioned again, and you’ll still have the philosophical quotes greeting you when you die. (Though one gets the idea that after 6 years, Infinity Ward is starting to run out of quotes. This game’s lines are less “anti-war” than they are “pro-murder.”) But the game still manages to keep an upwards pace; you’re almost never a sitting duck, waiting for respawning enemies to come forward and die at your rifle’s grasph. There are some decidedly creative set-pieces, like a gunfight set between different fast-food restaurants in the kind of neighbourhood you could live in. It’s that startling juxtaposition between chaotic warfare and hometown suburban comfort that Resistance 2 tried to recreate but drowned in a sea of brown colour schemes that makes these missions so fun to play. And then there are some cool new toys, in particular a laptop that not only allows you to drop missiles from the sky, but aim them from a glorious first-person perspective of sadism. Now that’s cheeky fun. So the campaign, ultimately, is great, and all I have to say to Infinity Ward is “yeah, you guys got your work cut out for you in the next game.”

At least they’ve made multiplayer modes that can last awhile while IW sits on their hands and thinks of every possible military scenario that might be fun. “Spec Ops” is a two player co-operative mode that has the common courtesy to be playable via split-screen, an option that far too many games are forgoing nowadays. (I can’t be made to list all the games, but I would like to specifically express my disappointment in Nintendo for botching this one on the new Excitebike game. Seriously, Nintendo? Screw up a multiplayer mode?) Here, two players have to work together on a variety of missions, ranging from “shooting bad guys in a mission ripped off from the campaign” to “shooting guys in a mission ripped off from the Gears of War 2 Horde mode.” Still, if you have a friend that’s ready and willing, the sheer quantity and variety of missions available will give you something to waste many a substance-driven evening away with.

 Military bromance.
 Military bromance.

And then there’s the now-legendary Call of Duty 4 competitive mode. The rage that has been driven from me by this mode. As before, the game is driven by perks, both awarded for kill streaks in-game and through a level-up experience system that grants weapons and upgrades over time. The problem I had is the same problem that capitalism presents in making the rich richer and the poor poorer; players who were already bound to dedicate endless nights to the online component earned the advantages over the already-less skilled, less committed players…like me. There’s no way for me to argue this mode and not hold up a cardboard sign reading “I SUCK!” But the real issue with this multiplayer is that someone unfamiliar with the genre now has to spend many hours of leveling up and getting thrashed if they desire to make it big in the FPS game. And now we’re seeing perks become commonplace in games like Killzone and Uncharted. Modern Warfare 2 has more perks, more ranks and a dedicated fanbase that has been playing this game for two years now. Suddenly, the hurdles for a new player got a whole lot more steep. The American Dream, it seems, has been perverted to become “achieve success in a Call of Duty game.”

But the odds are that you already know whether or not you’re buying this game for the perk-based multiplayer component. And I guess there are people that eagerly look forward to starting back to level 1 and grinding their way aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaall the way back to the top. As of this writing, Modern Warfare 2 has only been out about ten days and I already competed against level 60 troopers. Some people should contemplate stepping outside from time to time. But it’s the campaign that I invested money in this game for, and my prognosis is this; it doesn’t quite pack the same punch as the first Modern Warfare 1.And granted, it may try a little too hard to dethrone that very same game. But taken as a whole, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 2 is pretty damned great. An exciting, action-driven shooter for a more…excessive generation.

4 stars

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