Review: Shooter of the year.
Let me jump right in and get straight to the point: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is by far the best shooter of the year ? heck, the best shooter since the original Modern Warfare debuted two years ago. Infinity Ward has proven yet again that it is the premier FPS developer on the planet, making better-known giants like id, Valve, Epic and Bungie pale in comparison.
What makes Modern Warfare 2 so good? How about frantic non-stop action straight out of a Hollywood blockbuster, outstandingly detailed visuals, an epic musical score by Academy Award winner Hans Zimmer, and the beloved ear-splitting gunfire and explosions that really suck you into the experience? Sure, many other shooters have these elements but no one can put it together in such a thrilling, intense package quite like Infinity Ward.
The story picks up five years after the events of the first game, where more ultra-nationalist Russian terrorists are determined to make BIG trouble for the US. Once again, you play various US and British soldiers embarking on various missions across the globe to hunt them down. You will fight in the claustrophobic slums of Rio de Janeiro, the icy mountains of Kazakhstan, the deadly streets of Afghanistan, and several other shocking but oh-so-cool locations. Levels are still linear, but there are multiple pathways to keep things interesting.
And yes, there's ?that? level, the controversial airport terrorist mission that lit gaming forums on fire when pre-release footage was leaked on the Internet. In an attempt to assuage the controversy, Infinity Ward has made the mission optional; you can skip it without affecting the storyline or your ability to earn Achievements. It's easy to see why so many people were offended; it's a very disturbing mission that makes you feel extremely uncomfortable but then again, that's the whole point. It is designed to show you first-hand the disgusting horror of a terrorist attack, and in that respect it works.
What doesn't work is the story as a whole; in fact, it is the weakest part of the game. The story is fractured, convoluted and so far-fetched you simply can't get into it. It feels like a bad return to the old days when a ?story? was seemingly slapped on at the last minute to try and connect the game's various unrelated levels together. This is something Infinity Ward needs to devote some serious attention to in the sequel. And don't think this is a minor matter; think about the dramatically different experience between Gears of War 1 (which had virtually no story) and the sequel, with its grippingly emotional and hauntingly memorable story. If Infinity Ward was able to put together a cohesive, interesting story, Modern Warfare 2 would have easily scored a perfect 10.
Of course, many hardcore gamers could care less about story; for them, it's all about the action and Infinity Ward doesn't disappoint. The frantic balls-to-the-wall insanity returns but with several welcome revisions. The infinite respawning system for enemies is back, but is less obvious and frustrating than before. Now you can actually clear out some areas before advancing, or can thin them out enough to safely advance without having to face a fresh new wave before even taking two steps.
Enemy AI has been improved as well. They still smartly seek cover and will try to flank you, and will charge you if they are caught out in the open. Most importantly, however, they will actually turn their attention towards your AI squadmates, unlike previous editions where they pretty much ignored everyone except you (although in the hardest Veteran difficulty setting, they still have an annoying tendency to focus on you).
Your AI squadmates have also benefited from some improvements, where they also seek cover and will actually shoot at enemies and provide adequate support. Unlike previous editions, I have yet to see my AI teammates ignore enemies who are right in front of them or just sit there dumbly and not do anything. They still sometimes block your path or jump into your line of fire, but with far less frequency than before.
Your AI squadmates also shout out eerily realistic warnings that are so specific, you'd swear you were listening to a live person: ?Tango on the second floor of the ice cream store!? and ?Enemies to the east behind the red car!? When they shout out a warning, you'd better pay attention because they are usually spot on.
Mixed in with the standard FPS action are vehicle missions that have you racing down a mountain in a snowmobile, gunning down terrorists in a helicopter and barreling through rapids in a Zodiac. Sadly, there is nothing like the beloved AC-130 mission from the original but the action is so fast-paced you'll never have time to miss it.
The single player campaign is short; shooter vets can probably zip through it in six hours or less. But Infinity Ward's games have never been about length ? they have always been about packing in the most intense shooter experience you can have, and they have once again delivered and more.