Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Review: This Means War

Sergeant Gary "Roach" Sanderson answers the call of duty in the highly charged Modern Warfare 2, developer Infinity Ward's immediate successor to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

Modern Warfare 2's single-player campaign picks up five years after the events of the previous game, telling the bloody story of a new conflict between multinational military squad Task Force 141 and Russian Ultranationalists under the leadership of terrorist Vladimir Makarov. It's a relatively short ride, a package fleshed out by the longer-term draw of Modern Warfare 2's expansive — and destined for popularity — multiplayer suite and the cooperative two-player Spec Ops mission mode.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has been billed as the "most anticipated game of the year" by its publisher. The PC, PlayStation 3 and Xbox 360 game has been pegged as the year's biggest, bestselling blockbuster by analysts. But is the game a worthy successor to the multi-million selling Call of Duty 4?

Loved A Thrilling Single-player Campaign: Like Infinity Ward's previous Call of Duty, Modern Warfare 2 is an explosive roller coaster ride of an action game. It peaks with frenetic chases and bottoms out with slow, steady sniper mission and, with a campaign length on par with Call of Duty 4, never overstays its welcome. On my first playthrough on Hardened difficulty — one notch higher than standard challenge — it took me just over seven hours to complete. That may be brief in comparison to Modern Warfare 2's peers, but the pacing is tight, with regular doses of hyper-violent spectacle. That said, the single-player campaign has its faults, mostly from a storytelling perspective.

Awesome Presentation: Modern Warfare 2's globe-spanning adventure features some awesome sights and sounds. From the game's amazing voice over work to its booming audio to its well-designed set pieces, the game's single-player levels — and the multiplayer maps built upon their foundation — feature impressive attention to detail. Levels set in the exotic favelas of Brazil and in familiar suburban streets present the player with locations they've likely never done battle in, a fine contrast to the bleak and barren environments of Afghanistan and Kazakhstan. The game doesn't waste much time expounding upon plot or reason, mostly barking orders at the player between missions as intel swoops by on a mostly black screen. It just does with top notch voice talent. Character modelling has made an impressive leap, with character faces now having... character.

Spec Ops: If you're not quite ready to venture into the foul-mouthed multiplayer noob-slaying frenzy that is Modern Warfare 2's multiplayer mode, the cooperative multiplayer Spec Ops mode offers a stellar two-player experience. Most missions can be played solo — not that you'd really want to — but a few require a buddy. And they're the best of the lot, putting one on the ground, the other in hovering aircraft — an AC-130 in one, an attack helicopter in the other — raining down gunfire upon swarms of computer-controlled foes as the ground-based player works his way across a map. Some of the later Spec Ops challenges can be painfully hard, particularly on Hardened or Veteran difficulty, but most of the challenges are a treat to play with a friend.

A Massive Multiplayer Buffet: Fourteen multiplayer modes may sounds like option overkill, but most of Modern Warfare 2's game types are variations on the familiar, including Capture The Flag, Team Deathmatch, the bomb-planting/bomb-defusing Demolition and the base-capturing Domination. The most enjoyable of these modes, personally, was the Headquarters Pro mode, which spawns capture points throughout the round, targets that teams must hold and defend. It's a mode that requires, for better or worse, active communication among teammates, making for a thrilling and sometimes frustrating experience. Layered on top of the broad game type offering are 16 multiplayer maps, dozens of unlockable weapons and attachments, per-weapon, per-perk and per-item Challenges (that will take dozens of hours to fully complete) and a level progression system that's incredibly addictive.

Its Zimmerific: It's not often that I'll take notice of a game's musical score to the point where it sticks with me, where upon revisiting a level I relish the musical accompaniment as I did with Modern Warfare 2. Beyond the pumped up fanfare, the game's soundtrack ranges from a brooding, disturbing drone to a sweet, sombre ballad, the drama solidified by the musical efforts of Hans Zimmer and Infinity Ward's audio team.

Host Migration Is One Thing: Modern Warfare 2 brings with it a strong multiplayer backbone, featuring ample game set up options and speedy entry into populated games. But it's the multiplayer mode's host migration that saves the game, keeping multiplayer matches going when a host bails. In our experience with host migration, upon losing a multiplayer match host, we were back into the action within seconds, not dumped into a lobby from which everyone quits. From our real-world experience, games have been mostly lag-free affairs, though some experiences were unmistakably spotty.

Hated What Just Happened? Brush up on your Call of Duty 4 single-player if you care about the story-driven events of the sequel, because the delivery of Modern Warfare 2's plot assumes you know it well. The game's single-player campaign can be scattershot and confusing, mostly as a result of the game's hastily delivered orders via intermission and comm transmissions. At the end of the campaign, I was left wondering what the hell just went down and the key players of Modern Warfare 2 got wrapped up in this conflict. The game's campaign mode also suffers from treading on territory that feels familiar to the first, with some storytelling tricks feeling recycled or just plain overdone. Just how many times can we sprint to an escape helicopter anyway?

Makarov: Modern Warfare 2's antagonist Vladimir Makarov puts the player in a very uncomfortable, disturbingly violent situation that may offend or upset some players — probably a very tiny fraction of the blood-lustful Call of Duty playing population. This can be skipped from the get-go without punishing the player, but... who's going to do that? While in context the level that made me hate Makarov helps to justify the events of the game, it doesn't make it enjoyable.

Abandon All Hope Ye Noobs: Call of Duty fans new to the multiplayer landscape of Modern Warfare 2 may want to find some skilled, friendly teammates to play with. Public multiplayer matches can be a bloodbath for the low-ranking noob, a frustrating, sharp learning curve that's made more punishing by some of the game's killstreak rewards and higher-level unlocks. Spending much of a round being liquefied by AC-130 rounds, Predator missiles or Pave Low fire from above is not uncommon, something that may sour one's enjoyment while playing online. Players may be rightfully concerned about the balance of the game's killstreaks, which, if you're not well-versed in Modern Warfare multiplayer, can be intimidating. Fortunately, options for setting up private matches that disable killstreaks and perks, are easy to access. New users may find it similarly frustrating to not have total access to all of the game's multiplayer modes from the get-go.

Modern Warfare 2's single-player storyline doesn't deliver the same highly charged thrill of its predecessor, despite offering memorable cinematic moments and a massive spike in collateral damage. But Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was a tough act to follow, an uncommonly taut campaign delivered in less time and with a then-fresher modern coat of paint. The variety of environments in which one plays through Modern Warfare 2's campaign adds wondrous distinction to the game, even if some of the series' previous stand out storytelling tricks feel more like Modern Warfare tropes.

Fortunately, Infinity Ward has expanded impressively on the game's multiplayer components. Competitive multiplayer is flooded with content, a deep collection of well-crafted modes, maps and unlockable goods that will likely keep players committed to Modern Warfare 2 online well into level 70 and beyond. Spec Ops mode offers an outstanding bite-sized mix of mission-based levels and two-person multiplayer, a cooperative mode that both rewards and challenges. Together, the three pillars of Modern Warfare 2's package make for an impressive experience.

Modern Warfare 2 may not innovate or raise the bar as impressively as Call of Duty 4 did in order to grant it automatic game of the year consideration. The better praise it may deserve is that it's likely the game that many will be playing well into next year.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was developed by Infinity Ward and published by Activision for the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC on November 10. Retails for $US59.99/$AU119.95. A copy of the game was given to us by the publisher for reviewing purposes. Played through single-player campaign on Hardened difficulty, through 80 per cent of Spec Ops cooperative mode and tested multiple online game types on Xbox 360 at an Activision sponsored event. Additional time was spent with a retail copy of the title at home, focusing on the game's online mode.

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Comments

    Disappointed there's no mention of how good/bad the PC Multiplayer is. Would be nice to see a follow-up piece delving into that side of things, rather than just playing it on the 360 & saying "all's great, good job!".

      Agreed!

      The reviewer's "bad parts" basically say:
      "If you're a noob wuss who's never bothered with CoD series before be careful when playing MP"

      Exactly, I'm more interested in the PC version and the multiplayer aspects.

      I'll tell you know, mate, it's bad.
      The Lag, compared to COD4, is just immensely terrible. Because I'm already a reasonable distance from the exchange, I had an already fairly high ping, but it was still very playable, but now it's really, really terrible.
      I just cannot stand getting killed when standing behind a wall, then watching the replay, where it shows you prancing about in the open.

      I'm really annoyed by IW's talk of "balance" when it's clearly balanced for console. The mouse accuracy combined with the lag is really, frustrating. And no lean, it's so sad.

        And just to confuse you with an opposing view heres my multi-player experience! I'm up to rank 19 now and have yet to join a game without full ping bars. I don't host them either as I have cable the the upload is much too low, so far though the MP has been sharp, lag free and enjoyable to play. But, I live in Melbourne.

        Unfortunately a friend of mine who lives in Perth has said its been nothing but bad for him, and getting 2 bars at very most, so perhaps the experience varies hugely on your population density.

          That's really unfair.

          In games that have dedicated servers (i'm using TF2 as an example, because IMO it is the best example of the community driving a game to it's maximum), there are servers all over Australia.

          Many ISP's also offer incentives to play on their servers, for example, if you are with internode and play on a games.on.net server, it doesn't charge you any bandwidth!

    Totally agree with what Aaron said. Its the first COD game that I am NOT going to buy. Its a slap in the face to PC gaming. Its a pity this review ignored the obvious host of issues and letdowns for the pc. No lean, no kick player vote etc etc...

    Can't wait to get my hands on this sequel... yummy!

    yeah anyone know how pc matchmaking goes?

    Why is the Australian flag back-to-front on the left guys sleeve?

      Because a flag's canton should always be in the position of honor...i.e. facing forward, rather than a person's back.

      http://www.marlowwhite.com/faq-why-is-the-flag-patch-reversed.html

    The first game had a memorable story?

      Lol good point!
      It was an awesome campaign but confusing as heck story. COD series is good with the back and forth but it confuses you at the same time.

      All i really got the first time around was all the yankee characters died when you controlled them and the British survived... hmmm...

      But i would say COD4 had memorable MOMENTS compared to MW2. I agree that MW2 is just trying to repeat itself from COD4 but also repeats itself from MW2 with all the heli rescues etc.. etc..

      Oh and i laugh at how IW have tried to label this as an original IP. Its a sequel as evident from the 2 after Modern Warfare. And the story continues on. It still has COD in its title on the box. The multiplayer is pretty much the same. Why not be proud of your previous installment and the COD series and accept its NOT a new IP. Does it matter IW? Either way its an awesome game so accept it as a COD game.

    I agree with Aaron. I'm yet to find a review of the PC side of things and how shocking or not the multiplayer is.

    I mean, 9 v 9 and p2p play is a big change from 32 player dedicated servers.

    That's the genius thing Infinity Ward have done.

    All reviews that have come out on the launch date have tested multiplayer only "on Xbox 360 at an Activision sponsored event."

    Yes, it might have been online, but it was still a sponsored event and thus fails to replicate reality. I know you've spent time with the game at home, but when you really start putting more hours into the larger types then you'll find that things just aren't as rosy.

    Namely, thanks to the inability to search by region (why Infinity Ward thought their matchmaking system would be sufficient I'll never understand).

    The problem I've found so far is that the smaller types (Team Deathmatch 6v6 for example) work just fine - there's little lag issues although occasionally you do notice delays here and there, but you can definitely get used to it.

    On the larger gametypes though, such as 9v9 Domination, the lag becomes painfully unbearable. Every time you try to sprint, you'll be pulled back - that's the lag - and there are delays all over the shop.

    Incidentally, "we were back into the action within seconds" is a bit of an exaggeration. My first experience of host migration took a full minute before the action resumed, and subsequent migrations have at been at least 30 seconds in length (31, 40 and a full minute).

    FYI, I'm playing the PC copy.

      While I think those crap are excusable on console, it is intolerable on PC.

      What's the point of dropping a few grands on a PC, hoping for a great play experience, when you are held back by such technical difficulties?

      I have never been a big fan of CoD, and this is the final nail in the coffin for me. I would rather stick with a dev that mistreat console port like Valve--they know where the good shit is. Hopefully they'll never abandon their ideals.

    I'm on Xbox360 and host migration still isn't fantastic. I'd say 30 seconds to a minute of waiting to migrate the host, for a game that had little over a minute left. Didn't seem to be much point. And I would say approximately half of the games I've played were laggy, and half of those were tolerable whereas the other half were incredibly frustrating.

    Also am I the only one unimpressed by graphics? There are a lot of minor decorative objects strewn about which looks good, looks realistic, but up close a lot of textures look horrendous. Some metallic doors with what I think are rust marks are especially bad, reminding me of the first xbox.

    I'm so sick of people complaining about the MW2 PC version. Uughh, I can't lean - Like it matters to overall gameplay. ughhhh its only 9v9 - Perhaps the maps are smaller and therefore accommodate 9v9, Besides, it's not like you'll be killing more than 9 players at once anyway.

    If you want to complain about PC then do so about the Lack of Console or in-built recorder, which are things that actually matter.

    BTW, i'm getting PS3 because i, like the majority of people, don't mod games or bother sharing visual evidence of my gaming.

      "I’m so sick of people complaining about the MW2 PC version. Uughh, I can’t lean – Like it matters to overall gameplay."

      Umm yeah it does thats the whole point.

      "because i, like the majority of people, don’t mod games"

      No, but I'm sure that you, like the majority of people, make use of mods and/or community generated content.

      I'm so sick of people who claim to be gamers when they allow companies that devolve the gaming landscape while bending over to receive a spanking from the massive wads of cash being made from their blind consumer obedience.

      The funny thing is so many of the maps would be massive amounts of fun with 12v12 or 16v16.

      Being crowded, or playing with small numbers, provides different experiences in itself.

      Think back to COD4. How many times did people enjoy crowded matches on Killhouse or that map with the four crates (and it turned into a massive air-strike/nade fest)?

      More importantly, I'm kind of pissed that I can't join a specific server that has a custom map cycle/ruleset. That's a kick in the balls more than anything else, because it means we all have to a rigidly defined IW experience.

    Just clocked the single player on ps3 in 4.19hours. I don't care so much about the length overall (to be honest i was glad it was over because the story sucked) but the amount of repeat events was lame. First time I breached a wall/door was kind of cool. Then I had to breach another and another etc... every other section seemed to be breaching walls, sprinting to a helicopter or watching another main character get betrayed and killed.

    Not only that but the ending is like a kick to the nuts. Lets not wrap anything up or provide any form or resolution to the shambled mess they call a story.

    Don't get me wrong, I understand multiplayer and spec ops are still epic. My complaint is with the single player game only. But did anyone else finish it and feel relieved that the experience was over?

    Anyone else having problems with partying up on ps3?

    my mates and i could not connect to each other at all. Following an invite automatically brings up invalid game :( we tried for hours and in the end had to go solo multi-player.

    "Just how many times can we sprint to an escape helicopter anyway?"

    In a game about modern warfare.. in which heli drops and evacs are constant.. oh, just the once I suppose.

    ..

    @David Brady

    There are problems you're not the only one. I saw this on IW forum as a work around.

    One person invites the other to the party. Once the invite is received, that person should sign out of the PSN and then sign back in. Then accept the invite and it should put you into the party!

    I've been playing MW2 for PC since the game was released. I've not once experienced lag in any online match. I think there is nothing wrong with the way IW has created the online matchmaking. There's less people, yes, and the matches are shorter time length, but it's still just as action-packed as CoD4 was. You can still play with your friends as long as they're in your party when you jump into the matchmaking lobby. I don't see why everyone's making such a big fuss out of something that works completely fine.

    I have clocked up alot of time on pc multiplayer. Anyone who plays other games online with skilled players will notice the lag and get frustrated. If you try and play any time other then the afternoon you end up with Europeans or Americans. The mp is as bad as console gaming.

      Can you step off your high horse for one freaking second? The MP console gaming isn't so bad. I've played a lot of matches (almost all ground war) at all times of the day. I agree that I get partied up with americans nearly all the time and at best can maybe get 4 green bars. But i've played matches where I have one red bar, and it's on par with green. I personally find it so much better than the frst one, i watch my killcams and find that I the lag is at a bare minimum, if there is any lag at all. I'm loving it.

      This is why pc gamer are the bane of the industry, and why I hope it dies. You all consider yourselves above everyone else and think of console gamers as little kiddies content with whatever developers and publishers feed us, when that is not true.

    People saying they've "not once experienced any lag in any online match" makes me seriously wonder about their observation skills.

    Sarah: What game modes are you playing? What times of the day are you playing?

    Do you really think people would be complaining about lag if it wasn't there?

    The fact that IW.net has turned online play into something of a roulette wheel is a massive problem, one that IW have shown no signs of rectifying thus far.

    Apart from the utter disaster of the multiplayer method chosen by IW - just what drugs were these virgin nerds doing before they actually came up with the most ludicrous plot ever...

    The Soviet Empire - in its heyday - would never have been able to attempt, let alone succeed with an invasion of the continental US, so how the fuck are we supposed to believe that a Russa devasted by a civil war could??? To actually explicity state that they could catch the US unawares beggars belief...and all of that on top of an unexplained reason as to how Russia suddenly goes from winning the civil war to losing...and thus friend to foe...

    The plot in this is razor fucking thin and completely stupid - its as if some 12 year old wrote it after reading one too many crap novels...I know, I know, its a game and you cant expect great storylines - but some sort of creditability would be nice...

    In short - an undetected invasion of the continental US by a force large enough to include Armour, AA, SAM's and Helicopters...do me a favour...what a load...

    IW - fire whoever wrote this crap...its total BS...

    No doubt some smelly virgin nerd will reply trying to justify how it is in fact all possible...but that will indicate how fucking dumb they are...

    There is not a single miltary analyst that would agree with that being possible...

    I am sick and tired of the server issues on this game..

    How much longer do the Australian's need to wait for this to be fixed ?

    I am sick of shooting nothing to then see the killcam of the guy who kills me and it doesnt even show me shooting! goes to show the lag !

    It's an unfair disadvantage & I think with all the money Infinity Ward made off this game they could do something about this.

    AT LEAST TREYARCH HAD AN OPTION TO SELECT LOCAL PLAYERS ONLY.

    I'll definitely be keeping this in mind prior to my next infinity ward game purchase.. and this may just make an small impact & eye opener for such developers if everyone else did the same.

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