Sunday, November 15, 2009

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Review

THIS REVIEW WILL CONTAIN SPOILERS! Mostly because it's impossible to talk about how stupid the plot is otherwise.

Ah, Call of Duty... once a sort of niche game held in high regard by the PC shooter crowd, the franchise has become another whore for Activision to pimp annually since the launch of the Xbox 360 back in 2005, split between series creator Infinity Ward and Treyarch. Traditionally, the Infinity Ward games have been stellar while the Treyarch games have been a tad more mediocre. Last year's Treyarch-developed Call of Duty: World at War bucked that trend with a slick presentation and by taking place on World War II's Pacific front, a front rarely covered despite the over-abundance of games set during World War II.

Sadly, Modern Warfare 2 also stands against convention as a somewhat lukewarm sequel to 2007's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

To be sure, the game has all of the hallmarks of an Infinity Ward Call of Duty game. You've got some intense firefights and adrenaline-pumping scenes. Main characters can and will die. When Modern Warfare 2 is at it's best, you'll think it's one of the best games available today. Three problems prevent it from living up to its potential, though.

For starters, the game is way too short. I was only playing it when I only had a half hour or hour of free time. If I had more, I was playing Dragon Age: Origins. Three days of playing it off-and-on was all it took to run through the single-player campaign. It's shorter than the first Modern Warfare, and maybe half as long as World at War.

Second, every time you finish a level and think, "Man, that level was awesome!" the next level is going to suck. One of the early levels has you infiltrating an enemy base in the snow to recover a module from a downed satellite. You've got some stealth bits before all hell breaks loose, leading up to a big firefight and a snowmobile chase. It was great! The next level, though, has you slogging through some Brazilian slums chasing some informant. The local militia is trying to stop you, and the level more or less consists of you moving to a spot where you have cover, shooting an impossible number of enemies, moving up a little bit, and shooting more enemies. The number of enemies is so ridiculous that it kills your suspension of disbelief and ruins any immersion you had, and the level is flat out boring to boot.

Lastly, the plot makes no sense. Granted, Call of Duty has never been a series known for its gripping narratives. For many of the games in the series, simply playing out the life of a soldier against the backdrop of one of the bloodiest wars in history is enough the carry the game. Without that historical setting, Modern Warfare was forced to come up with a plot about a Soviet ultranationalist funding a terrorist takeover of an unnamed Middle Eastern country to draw attention away from his own attempts to restore Russia to its Soviet days. Modern Warfare 2 picks up that thread five years later, but makes zero sense out of it. See if you can follow me here... one of the followers of the main bad guy, named Makarov, is committing acts of terrorism in Europe... because he hates Europeans? I don't know. A general named Shepard recruits a fellow named Allen to infiltrate Makarov's cabal. Makarov takes Allen with him on a mission to kill a bunch of people at an airport, except Makarov kills Allen too. Allen is exposed as an American, and somehow instead of investigating for any ties to the European terrorism, the Russians invade the United States. They're able to sneak attack, because somehow the Russians had an American military satellite, and it had some kind of codes that were cracked before Task Force 141 could retrieve it. To stop the war, Task Force 141 decides to get some intel on Makarov in the hopes of exposing him. All they can figure out though is that there's a prisoner in a gulag that Makarov hates. So 141 decides to get the prisoner, and it turns out it's Price from the first game. He joins 141, but he's crazy now. He thinks he knows how to end the war, so he takes 141 on a mission to take some Russian sub, which he uses to launch a nuke at the United States. Great plan, right? When that doesn't seem to stop the war like Price thought, the 141 try to find Makarov. They split into two teams, and while they don't find him, one team finds intel that proves he was behind everything. They bring the intel back to Shepard, and Shepard kills them because... I have no idea. Then the remaining two members of the 141 (Price and his buddy Soap) decide then that it's more important to kill Shepard now than to end the war or capture Makarov. So that's what they set off to do. The campaign does end with Shepard's death, but that also leaves the war and the whole thing with Makarov unfinished.

If you're a fan of the Call of Duty franchise, Modern Warfare 2 is still a good game. I'm sure the multiplayer will keep people entertained on Xbox Live until the next Infinity Ward Call of Duty. But in a market over-saturated with shooters, Modern Warfare 2 is a little shorter, a little more stale, and a lot more stupid.

Final Score: B-

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