Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Or just Modern Warfare 2, as Infinity Ward clearly wanted to call it from the fact that the words "Call of Duty" don't appear anywhere in the game or on packaging for special editions. MW2 is the follow-up to the last game the series' actual creators made two years ago, and picks up five years later. The fate of a few characters is left up in there, but main protagonist Soap returns as a grizzled veteran with a voice (Kevin McKidd's) of his own, taking Price's place as ally in the field and friendly voice in your ear during the game's consistently better missions as a British special operative instead of a US soldier. While the first game's antagonist was defeated, the world is still unsafe as some Russian extremists still believe in his cause and conflict continues in the middle east. You still bounce between multiple characters, trotting across the globe to find and kill new people.
The first game seemed at the time to be somewhat plausible, presenting an interesting military plot punctuated by a couple shocking, unexpected moments. Modern Warfare 2 is much more over the top, constantly in your face with plot twists, betrayals, and every action movie gimmick you can think of. It sort of tosses the believability out the window in an early scene intended to disgust the player, and it mostly succeeds at this goal, but at the cost of your superiors looking like bone-headed morons and doing things that a reasonable government would never consider. Later events make you wonder if things were really as they seemed, but still, you can tell that their goal this time was to tell an exciting story, not represent modern conflict on a realistic, global scale. Bits intended to startle or shock the player are more frequent albeit less effective, because you can pull off the same trick so many times before it becomes old hat. There are a few occasions where they play with your expectations successfully and some true surprises, and in the end I accepted what they were doing and enjoyed the ride. It's just clear at this point that the developers' intentions with the franchise have changed.
Like pretty much any Call of Duty game, the missions are a grab back of solid shooting, truly excellent set pieces, and occasional total clunkers. They never seem to be able to stay away from a level or two where the enemies are just too frequent and too accurate and you just get pinned down from every direction, so your frustration just mounts as you continually restart and muscle your way through by memorizing where they come from. Luckily they get that out of the way early this time, and the latter part of the game is characterized by things that are constantly new and exciting. The single player campaign is fairly short, but these days that's a good thing - five to six hours of original, constantly changing, high quality gameplay are more than enough to satisfy anyone who isn't made of free time. Missions where you sneak through enemy territory with a buddy picking off stragglers are always fun, and even the more bombastic levels are enhanced by the somewhat unsettling locations they take place in this time.
The game looks and sounds great as expected. Solid sound with nice effects, good voice from a mix of recognizable names and industry veterans, and music that always manages to fit the appropriate mood. The textures of some unimportant details are surprisingly bland looking, but anything they wanted to look awesome usually does. And for people who don't play Call of Duty for the story mode, the multiplayer looks intact with some new features, and Spec Ops is an interesting way to extend the game's life without implementing actual co-op into their carefully planned single player. Infinity Ward is still setting the golden standard in competitive online shooting on consoles, and they just happened to put the best one player campaign this side of the Half-Life series in there too.