First things first; we ought to settle the controversy surrounding ‘that level’. Yes, _Modern Warfare 2_ does have a level in which you commit a terrorist atrocity in a Russian airport but to criticise the game for this reason would be to take it out of context. Though almost wholly unpleasant to play, this level is a narrative device; certainly not a glorification of the murder of civilians or a trivialisation of violence. Other reviewers who argue that this is the case (the Daily Mail, unsurprisingly, plug this line pretty hard) are deliberately misleading: there’s no gain to be had from shooting innocents. It’s the kind of scene that films have been using for years – games just aren’t so popular among the tabloid press.
Back to more important matters. It seems pretty strange reviewing a game that has already caused such a sensation – really my only purpose here is to explain why. So let’s assume that you already know all about the media hype and the London premiere. Let us also assume that, like me, most of you got the game on the day of release (some of you queuing through the night in the bitterly cold Leamington streets, I saw you). So, in the wake of the biggest media release ever (yes, bigger than Star Wars), there is one burning question that stands out: was it all worth it?
I’ll set my stall out early; my answer is both yes and no. I’m not saying that to be contrary, _Modern Warfare 2_ is an amazing game after all; it’s just by no means perfect. For a start, the single player campaign is almost unforgivably short, much like that of its predecessor _COD4_. For a game with a higher retail price than any other (on all of the platforms supporting it) this was a fact that, for me, was pretty difficult to stomach. Infinity Ward would no doubt argue that leaving players wanting more is a reflection of their success, rather than a failing; but surely they didn’t intend to have their forums bursting with boasts of completion times under five hours. As flaws go, this brevity is a glaring one – it is testament to the level of polish and entertainment offered by _Modern Warfare 2_ that I don’t hate it for this. In fact, rant aside, I bloody love it.
_Modern Warfare 2_ is really COD4+. This sounds like a criticism but, given the foundations upon which the sequel was built, it is anything but. Almost every aspect of _Modern Warfare_ has been improved; made bigger and faster. This game has pacing like no other I’ve seen – it’s the only media experience that fits the cliché ‘roller-coaster ride’. The narrative picks up five years after the events of COD4, with the player controlling Sergeant Gary “Roach” Sanderson for the majority of the game. Roach is a member of Task Force 141; a unit comprised of the finest Western soldiers formed to combat global terrorism. ‘Soap’ MacTavish, COD4’s main playable character, returns as your commanding officer. The story is completely mental (unsurprisingly the game has been dramatically altered for the Russian market) but serves its purpose and is written with tongue firmly rammed in cheek. The mission-briefing storytelling is a touch weak for this generation, but everything that takes place in-game ties it all together brilliantly.
And that’s where _Modern Warfare 2_ continues to shine. From the moment a level starts, right through to its end, Infinity Ward throw so many scenarios and gameplay elements at you that it’s impossible to pull yourself away until you’re done. Along similar lines to the battle situations found in _Uncharted 2_, the beauty of the combat is that it offers you several possible routes and countless moments where you choose between action and stealth. This combination gives the illusion of freedom even as the game ushers you down what is a mostly linear path, and it’s a marriage that works supremely well. There are very few games that force you to continue playing because you can’t wait to see what the game throws at you next but, in this regard, Modern Warfare 2 presides over this elite group as the example to follow. There are just too many crazy moments in the game to list here but I’ll give those that haven’t played yet a flavour: a favella war in Rio and snowmobile cliffjumping both appear in the game’s first hour.
_Modern Warfare 2_ is undoubtedly a very pretty mistress too. For a multiplatform game, the fact that it gets so close to _Halo_, _Killzone_ and _Uncharted_ is hugely impressive. There’s so much going on on-screen that the few frame-rate issues it sometimes has are entirely forgivable and the attention to minute detail is astounding. OK, so I should be ashamed that I shot the chickens, but isn’t it amazing how realistically the feathers fly?
Now for the multiplayer, for reviewing _Modern Warfare_ without it would be like generous loving: pointless. While the single-player provides all the fireworks, the full might of _Modern Warfare_ is felt online. While any praise for the online multiplayer will probably have a price put on my head by the PC community, for a console game this is as good as it gets. Having watched the likes of _Uncharted 2_ foray into the world of online gaming with a patronising ‘aww’, Infinity Ward have extended their lead at the top of the online tree.
Unlike _COD4_, however, the improvements here are only marginal. The new killstreaks and bonuses level the playing field somewhat online. The result is that veteran players and newcomers can enjoy without anyone being called ‘teh n00bzer’. While this change is a genuine step forward and can alter the face of a game (particularly the random perk-drops, which spark mini attack .vs. defend scenarios within each game), others, particularly the third-person view, barely get beyond gimmickery. That said, _COD4_ was, for my money, the best online multiplayer game going and _Modern Warfare 2_ is a worthy successor to the title. The introduction of the new spec-ops mode, allowing two players (either online or offline) to take on a series of missions entirely separate from the game, adds to the game’s playing time significantly. While this has been executed just as well in other titles, the function definitely represents an addition to _Modern Warfare 2’s_ already formidable online armoury.
_Modern Warfare 2_ is not only the game to define this console generation, it is perhaps the biggest example of the entire medium. I’m not, however, entirely certain that it’s even the best game of this year: there’s stiff competition out there, after all. It’s still amazing and a game very much worth falling in love with, particularly online for console users. I just wish, I wish the singleplayer campaign wasn’t over so quickly. With an RRP of £54.99, a game this short can’t be given five stars no matter how desperately I want to.