You would be hard pressed to find another franchise more firmly embedded on the public consciousness over the past few years than Call of Duty. Since the series’ emphatic leap from WWII-era first person combat to the more contemporary shenanigans faced in 2007’s Call of Duty 4, developer Infinity Ward has subjected the franchise to a much-needed shot in the arm, with Modern Warfare garnering universal acclaim, mountains of awards and racking up countless hours of play time on PSN and Xbox LIVE. Unsurprisingly, Modern Warfare 2’s unveiling earlier this year was met with prodigious applause among punters and industry folk alike, with launch celebrations falling on London’s swanky Leister Square this past Tuesday. Crammed full of salivating gamers, celebs and legions of blokes dressed in cameo gear, Modern Warfare 2’s premiere not only proved a fine bash in its own right, but, concurrently, offered a fine testament to the sheer impacting nature video games are starting to have on pop culture. Of course, this leads us, inexorably; to ponder the following– does it ultimately live up to the hype?
Opening up half a decade after the events of its predecessor, Modern Warfare 2 once again has players hopping between two distinct factions throughout the game– the U.S. Army Rangers and elite British forces, Task Force 141. Any fears that the constant switching between two forces puts a damper on an extremely compelling narrative can be put to rest immediately; Modern Warfare 2’s plot unfolds in a cohesive, gripping manner not unlike past iterations in the series, and the constant changing of factions actually compliments the proceedings immensely. After all, each time you change roles, you’re itching to find out what’s been going on across the other side of the globe.
Any preconceptions you may have on Modern Warfare 2 are justified in abundance upon your first mission – Infinity Ward has wisely plumped for the ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ philosophy for its mammoth follow up, and we’re frankly chuffed they did. Sure, it’s as heavily scripted as it’s always been, but every explosion, ambush, twist, and turn has been conceived with such meticulous attention to detail, that you won’t give it a seconds thought. Locations remain just as satisfyingly diverse as always. One minute you’re sniping at enemies through a raging snow storm, the next you’re battling against overwhelming odds in the middle of a quaint Virginia suburb, USA, military aircraft flying incongruously over the rooftops and picket fences against a pitch black sky illuminated by the flicker of AA fire. Lengthy shootouts are punctuated by adrenaline-filled set pieces, pitting you on snowmobiles, jeeps and choppers in high-speed antics, while the regular on-foot missions rarely have a chance to descend in to monotony thanks to the brutal AI and varied mission parameters. Indeed, adaptability is paramount to survival, with some missions requiring the application of stealth, others focusing on a search and destroy mentality, methodically dispatching your foes alongside able squad members, while at the other end of the spectrum, you’re defusing bombs and extricating hapless hostages. Controversially, one particular episode has you assuming an undercover identity with a group of nefarious Russian folk embarking on a killing spree at a bustling airport. You, of course, are obliged to join in the massacre in a bid to keep you identity intact.
Still, despite its inherent familiarity, Modern Warfare 2 isn’t entirely devoid of surprises – there’s still a dose of welcome gameplay tweaks you’ll encounter. Among the most noticeable include the ability to scale snowy mountainsides, utilize riot shields for added protection, fresh weaponry, and other tweaks that help flesh out the proceedings and distinguish the game from its predecessor. However, these merely play second fiddle to the meaty Special Ops mode, which remains one of Modern Warfare 2’s most substantial efforts. Here, players tackle bite-sized missions either solo or with a friend (either online or split-screen) set in locations plucked straight from the main campaign – fundamentally, Special Ops is the closet you’re going to get to a full-fledged co-op experience. Fortunately, missions are richly diverse and in no short supply, ranging from sniping, search and destroy, racing snowmobiles, defusing bombs, quick kills and more – make it through alive and you earn yourself a gold star, which are in turn utilized to unlock further mission sets.
What’s more, the game rewards hardship, with additional stars unlocked if you’re able to crack the higher difficulties or plow through your objectives in record time. Teaming up with a mate is the best way to go, though, and the sense of accomplishment is practically overwhelming when you successfully coordinate your efforts with your partner and subvert the enemy’s plans (one of our favourite was assisting our ground-bound friend by unleashing terror from above in the mighty AC-130 gunship). Ironically enough, however, it’s the fact that Special Ops proved such a competent affair that we felt disappointed at the lack of a genuine co-op campaign, as you realize just how great it could have been. Still, fingers crossed for Modern Warfare 3, eh? Speaking of the campaign, it’s woefully short, though it remains such a challenging, action-packed affair that you’ll want to plough through it multiple times over, especially on the higher difficulties. Enemy laptops containing varous intelligence also make a return, affording ample replay value if you are to unlock all the hidden goodies on offer.
Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer component remains as compelling and horrendously addictive as past iterations, albeit this time with a few new twists. Your basic game modes remain in tact, whether it’s the mammoth kill spree of Free For All or the strategic-based operations of Capture the Flag. We were chuffed to bits, however, that Infinity Ward saw fit to tweak certain parameters, such as the fact matches no longer unceremoniously crash to a halt if the host ups and leaves. Perks once again form the nucleus of online play, encouraging copious amounts of playtime in order to rack up experience points and bolster your character with bonus items and weapons. Fresh ideas this time around include the ability to play in third-person mode under certain conditions, heaps of new weapons and equipment, along with over a dozen new kill streak awards (predator strikes, calling in air support among others) Don’t get us wrong; while the campaign and Special Ops will provide hours worth of enjoyment, it’s ultimately the multiplayer that’ll eat up most of your time and ensure the game remains firmly embedded in your PS3 well in to 2010. In short, it’s one of the most compelling, rewarding online experiences you’ll indulge in this year. Indeed, we spent virtually an entire weekend playing the game, and have only just scratched the surface.
Infinity Ward’s impeccable coding also extends to Modern Warfare 2’s visuals and sound effects, with the scope of detail injected in to the game’s battlefields nothing short of impressive. Explosions kick up clouds of dust obscuring your view, wrecked cars lie burning in the street, and crumbling buildings hang precariously on their foundations as the roar of gunfire and vociferous radio chatter fills the air as you press forward the assault. As with the original Modern Warfare, voice acting is also top notch and remains a consistent affair throughout, particularly Captain Price and Soap, voiced by Billy Murray and Kevin McKidd, respectively. Meanwhile, Hans Zimmerman’s pulse-pounding score is the perfect stable mate for your adrenaline-filled antics, injecting everything from heart-thumping intensity to gut-wrenching poignancy in accordance to what’s transpiring on screen.
As a sequel, Modern Warfare 2 is more than a worthy successor to its critically acclaimed predecessor. Viewed as a standalone effort, it’s probably one of the most accomplished video games we’ve dissected in years, and one of the most beautiful to boot. Whether it’s the gripping campaign, pulse-pounding multiplayer or immensely rewarding Special Ops, Modern Warfare 2 is an essential purchase regardless of your affiliation with the Call of Duty brand. In short, buy this game now – and that’s an order, soldier.