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"Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2": Story Review

WARNING: This review is only concerned with the story of a game. Even though the story is an important part of a game, by no means is it the defining component. A game with a horrible story may very well be one of the best games ever produced. It's just that my reviews are not about that.

SPOILER WARNING: The following text may contain spoilers for the people who have not finished the game in question yet. Reviewing the story sometimes makes such things inevitable. 


Back in the era of cold war, World War III was a very popular idea. I still remember all the statistics claiming that the two super powers had enough nuclear weapons to destroy the entire world several times over. Even the most sensible person was afraid, thinking that the fate of the entire planet depended on a simple red button and the finger which would accidentally press it. So we also had theories about a third world war fought with conventional weapons.  
While the cold war is long gone, it is still a potent idea. It could be said that the first Modern Warfare game was suffering from a distinct lack of a world war. Instead of open warfare it focused more on secret operations and rightly so. For the second game in the series the guys at Infinity Ward see it fit to start an all out war between Russia and the US. Although I find it an old and tired idea in this age the whole thing is tied to terrorism to make it relevant today. The fact that a huge war may start because of a simple misunderstanding and a conspiracy and there could be people who would profit from this is a strong idea. Yet we already had several games exploring this and "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" adds nothing significant.
Rating: 1 out of 2 


The setting of the original Modern Warfare game was balanced on the edge of a knife. It was realistic just enough to be fun. We knew that the events taking place in the story were quite improbable but they still remained mostly in the realm of the plausible. Infinity ward resigns to the idea of "bigger and louder" for the sequel and turns the story from a Tom Clancy novel to a Michael Bay movie. 
Physics defying stunts were also part of the previous chapter in this story, but what drives this contemporary near future setting over the edge is how key characters in it behave irrationally giving shape to it. Everything in this world is on overdrive, every picture is painted with huge gestures. Partly responsible for this is the abysmal characters and the nearly non-existent plot structure but when everything happens in such an overstated fashion events lose their impact. Things like this make sense in a setting like Warhammer 40000, but Modern Warfare wasn't a story which needed this. At this level of illogic it does not serve the story anymore.
Rating: 0 out of 2 


As it is with the first part of the story and indeed with all games in the "Call of Duty" series, "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" juggles several protagonists or rather several points of view and playable characters complicating the story by the folly of using first person point of view and mute people.  
There is a confusion about who the protagonist in this story is. In the first game Soap emerged as the de facto hero by the process of elimination. In"Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" the main protagonist seems to be Roach based solely on his screen-time and his direct relationship with Soap. Although it can also be argued that Soap is the overall protagonist of the whole series since when all is said and done he still has the last word. The other character we spend most time with is James Ramirez, a featureless, uninteresting rank and file soldier whose story arc despite being epic ends up as entirely pointless. Things are blurry... 
The reason for the blurriness is the cardboard cut nature of all the characters. All these people are essentially nobodies; disembodied hands holding guns. The military nature of the story seems to take care of all the problems of motivation but it actually fails to do so especially considering most of the main characters go rogue at one point in the story of "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2". The first game could be seen as a prelude to a more complex story but by the time we come to Modern Warfare 2, the audience wants to know more about the protagonist. Who is Soap? Why did he join SAS? What drives him? What motivates him to do all these incredible feats of courage and heroism? What's his issue? Does he have a family? A kid? A wife? If no, why not? This is a guy who manages to cheat death several times, still managing to kill the antagonist. And yet except for him being probably Scottish we do not know anything about him. The question is, why should the audience care? The same holds true for all the characters on the protagonist side. Only Price shows tiny clues of having a genuine personality but those sparks are so tiny they are nearly invisible.  

The antagonists do not fare better. In a good story the motivations of the antagonist is always thought provoking. "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" takes the motivation of "General Hummel" in "The Rock" and gets it entirely wrong. Sheperd, the main protagonist revealed by a plot twist is little more than a madman. Hummel never intended to launch the missiles. He just wanted the government to pay for and recognize the deeds of all the forgotten soldiers. For similar reasons what Sheperd does is starting World War III. This is so absurd and over the top, that it can only be attributed to his mental instability. And "yes it does not make much sense but he's insane" is not really good storytelling.  
As for Makarov, I can't decide if shooting an airport full of his own people or starting World War III instantly because of a terrorist act is more insane... which brings us to our next point of interest... 
Characters: 0 out of 2 

Plot Structure:

...or the lack of it.  
"Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" is essentially a bunch of grandiose action set pieces held together by a very thin string of plot. You often get the feeling that they first designed the scenes and wrote the plot between the scenes to make sense of the progression. Which was probably the case here... It feels like a McG movie which takes itself seriously. And no one likes such a thing... 
In the previous title the greatest strength of the story was that the developers felt comfortable cutting to the point of view of several different characters. This eliminated the idle walking sections of traditional shooters and kept the pacing up. We see the same structure here. The problem then is the sheer size of the events. In "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" events are so big that they require a reasonable period of build up. However the game doesn't have time for that. It's a shooter and it wants to do what it was designed for. As a result, instead of a proper story building up the major events in a logical fashion we get a few words quickly explaining what is happening and why, and then saying go go go go and dumping you into the action.  
Often things progress too quickly and with too few reasons. It's more of a spectacle than a proper story. As a result, the audience quickly stops caring about the story completely. The lack of interesting characters doesn't help. 
How come the terrorists in the original story now rule Russia? When and how exactly did that happen? Is an overseas occupation of the US the best way to conduct warfare? Where is the preliminary air assault? Exactly how is this occupation a surprise to the US government? What in the world are the CIA and the NSA doing?  
A few terrorists shoot people in an airport... (again never mind the problem about them getting into that airport with large automatic weapons they could not have possibly concealed) One dead guy happens to be a CIA agent. So Russia declares war... Does this really make any sense? Why would CIA do something like that? Why would Russia risk war? And if the Russian government is simply insane, why do they need the airport thing in the first place? They could have simply said "You know what we should do? We should invade the US!!" 
There are two main loosely connected story arcs. Roach and Soap's storyline seem to be the main one. Ramirez is the victim of an entirely pointless plot development. He has absolutely no effect on what happens. Soap doesn't fare much better. In the end you will find yourself saying... "Huh.. and?" But you won't get any answers.  
Ironically the airport scene criticized by many people as being there only for the sake of causing controversy turns out to be the best piece of interactive storytelling in this whole mess. You may not shoot anyone as a good guy but in the end you will get shot yourself. That would be a very dramatic and ironic moment in which you will feel helpless and betrayed. Then again you may choose to shoot every innocent in sight too. In the end you will get shot anyway, and the war would have started because of an asshole who's dead anyway, so what's the point? You could start shooting people and then have mercy and stop... etc. It's a small but powerful character moment modifying the story in a small way. Sadly it doesn't have any impact on the general storyline. Which needs any impact desperately.  
 Rating: 0 out of 2 


"Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" is competently written but you won't find anything memorable other than the excellent soundtrack by Lorn Balfe and Hans Zimmer. There is a theme you could hum to yourself but frankly Zimmer had written better stuff in the past.
Jesse Stern seems like he wants to write better stuff but probably the plot which urgently wants to get from one action scene to the other gets in the way. Still there is no subtext, no interesting moments or quote worthy one liners. The writing just works in a way that you won't hate it. By comparison Gears of War had an empty storyline and flat characters too but the writing made you want to care about those characters. "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2" lacks that kind of authorship. But then again it never sinks to the depths of Japanese action adventures either. At least that's a relief. 
Rating: 1 out of 2  

OVERALL:  2 out of 10
(0-3= BAD, 4-6= AVERAGE, 7-10= GOOD)

Already Reviewed: "Infamous", "Batman: Arkham Asylum", "Wet", "Planescape: Torment"
NEXT REVIEW: "Uncharted 2: Among Thieves"