I’m in a real love/hate relationship with this game and I’m torn on how to present the review. So I suppose I’ll start off with a quick summary: It’s awesome and horribly flawed at the same time. This latest outing manages to improve upon the original in almost every way, but at the same time it also manages to take several steps backwards that mar what would otherwise be a flawless game.
The original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was a big surprise for me and, I think, for a lot of other gamers when we finally got our hands on the release version. Not only were the graphics as new as the setting, but it was clear that Infinity Ward had been paying attention to what the modders had been doing with the multiplayer in previous CoD games. The addition of kill-streak rewards recreated the functionality of some of the most popular CoD2 mods and then when you stacked the RPG-ish XP system that unlocked new weapons, attachments, and perks on top of that it made for a helluva fun experience and a title that is still widely played to this day.
The sequel builds on most of what made the original so damned amazing and that generally is a good thing, though in some places it’s a bit over-the-top. Take, for example, in the singe-player game’s storyline.
I said in my review of CoD:MW that I didn’t pay that much attention to the plot in part because it had you jumping back and forth between a couple of different characters in different locations and was hard to follow when you’re busy just trying to survive the mayhem taking place around you. The plot for Modern Warfare 2 is similar in that you jump back and forth between no less than five different characters throughout the course of the game. If you thought that mechanic in the first game was a tad confusing then you’ll just love it in the second one.
The story is set some five years after the events of the first game and it apparently involves the Ultranationalists (Russians) from the first story gaining control of Russia and declaring the main Russian villain from that game as a national hero and martyr. The new villain, an Ultranationalist lieutenant, is engaging in acts of terrorism designed to ultimately bring tensions between the U.S. and Russia to a boiling point. It’s hard to go into too much detail without revealing a lot of spoilers, but suffice it to say there’s a lot of setup for an eventual Russian invasion of America without the use of nukes and then a whole shit load of plot twists that reveals yet another major villain and sets things up for the inevitable sequel.
Here’s the thing about the story in MW2: Imagine the folks at Infinity Ward weren’t happy with the quality of the story from CoD4 and decided they needed to bring someone in to punch it up for this game. Now imagine that they hired Michael Bay to write it and he somehow got a little confused and thought it was a James Bond film. That’s the sort of aftertaste that was left in my mouth by the time I was finished with the campaign mode. It was that over-the-top at times.
Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Early on in the story you take on the role of Sergeant Gary “Roach” Sanderson who, along with a Captain “Soap” MacTavish, infiltrate an airbase in Kazakhstan to recover a lost ACS module from a downed satellite. It starts off with lots of stealth, but finishes up with a wild snowmobile race to the extraction point and a waiting helicopter. There’s lots of shooting and exploding snowmobiles and trees to avoid until the very end at which point you have to leap the snowmobile over a yawning chasm that in the game looks to be at least a quarter-mile wide. The longest snowmobile jump I’m aware of was around 263 feet by Ross Mercer which is sill a tad bit short of the 1,320 feet in a standard quarter mile. Now I don’t know how big the chasm was really supposed to be, but it definitely looked bigger than what the snowmobile could handle so when I made it across easily it just seemed a rather silly ending to the level. There’s a lot of stuff like that in the single player campaign, but you don’t really notice it being quite so silly at the time because so much of the rest of it is just very cool. When you get done and reflect upon the events, however, you realize how silly a lot of it is.
That’s only a slight disappointment, though. The real disappointment about the single player game is just how short it is. This was a problem with CoD4 as well, but it seems even more pronounced in MW2. I don’t recall how long it took me to finish the first game — it was a couple of nights — but the total time for Modern Warfare 2 was a scant 6 hours. Much like the first game, again, there are collectibles scattered throughout the levels to stretch things out through replaying the campaign mode, but it’s still short by past standards.