I haven’t slept more than 6 hours in three days. No, I’m not cramming for as test. I didn’t just have a baby, and I’m not a complete insomniac. Infinity Ward has done it again.

MW2-6

I’m an old man. I played the original Wolfenstein 3D when it was first released on the PC. I’ve played all the Dooms, Quakes, Call of Dutys, Half-Lifes, Unreals, Battlefields, and Jedi Knight games ever made. I love console FPSs as well. I will always have extremely fond memories of GoldenEye, Turok, Call of Duty 1 through 3, and many more. Thanks to my own interest, and working for EGM for several years, I have played just about every FPS (good and notoriously bad) ever made.

I say all of this for two reasons: I don’t play the single-player parts of these games anymore. I know Infinity Ward did a great job, I know it has an excellent story and I’m sure it is extremely fun. I simply have no interest in taking out AI characters in FPS games anymore. The challenge is to outwit and destroy real-life gamers who have the same skills and abilities you have.

The other reason I gave you my life story is to attempt to convey to you my inability to explain my love for Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. As I said before, I don’t play the single-player campaign, so my adoration for the game has nothing to do with knowing these levels I already played and enjoying them in a multiplayer setting. The formula is not completely original – team deathmatch, a handful of other game modes that have been done in Counter-Strike or one of the other 1000 FPS games out there. Yes, tires roll down the street when the nearby car was blown to bits and pictures fall off the wall, but that level of detail has been done before. So what makes this game so special?

For me, a game is only fun if the controls are tight. Many people will disagree but I will always feel that the Nintendo 64 had one of the best controllers ever made for a console, and it was the analog stick specifically that gave you a never-before-seen level (on the consoles) of control and accuracy for great games like GoldenEye and Turok. The PS2 Dual Shock also had great precision with its analog sticks, but I never felt the PS2 did justice to the FPS genre. The feeling of Modern Warfare was just perfect. The Xbox 360 controller is a perfect fit for an FPS. Movement, climbing, sniping, precision gunplay from afar…all of it just “felt right”.

The “feeling” of a game is somewhat nebulous. It’s a personal preference thing. Some people might say the original Rainbow Six felt perfect to them. One part of MW that is undeniable, however, is it had a very near-perfect multiplayer experience. A few highlights:

– Weapons, weapon attachments, and items you unlock by not only gaining levels, but also successfully using said weapons or items.

– A killstreak reward system for 3 kills, 5 kills and 7 kills that added strategy on both teams, evasion for one and pressing the enemy at a vunerable time for the aggressor.

– Perks that you earn by gaining levels that also help you get kills and that take some skill to master (all except Martyrdom, Juggernaut, and arguably Last Stand).

There are other things that made MW a spectacular FPS – attention to detail, limited MW2-4environment destruction that you could strategically use to hurt opponents, and more. Call of Duty 5 touched on many aspects that made MW great, but the WWII setting, the old-style weaponry, and levels the size of Texas made the game a little more difficult to love.

This brings us to Modern Warfare 2. I was dreading this game. How in the world could Infinity Ward take their formula, add some of the great ideas introduced in CoD 5, and still make a fun and challenging game. Now I have to wonder if I was smoking crack when I thought it wasn’t possible. These guys are FPS gurus. Where some companies have no idea what made their game a hit and try to change the formula to reach people who may not have played the previous game, Infinity Ward knew exactly what made MW great and they have made a game that is even closer to perfection (a feat I would have thought impossible a week ago).

There isn’t a single thing from the original MW that hasn’t been addressed and improved. Not one. I am more a gameplay fanatic, so I won’t go into the graphics other than to say they are perfect.

– Enviornments are rich and detailed, and there are far more destructible items.

– The addition of snow and how they have worked with rain is simply amazing.

– Character models are much more realistic, and there are far more skins.

Simply put, the game looks as improved  as you would expect after two years.

The following is a list off the top of my head. It details how aspects of the original Modern Warfare worked, and how MW2 has improved each one.

MW2-3

Level Design
When I started playing this game, I thought this would be a deal-breaker. The level design in the original game was near perfect. The levels were mostly medium and small sized, with plenty of places for snipers to hide, and also plenty of areas where skill and accuracy with a weapon would allow you to do much better than just holding the trigger down using a fully automatic weapon. The problem is (something I didn’t realize until I spent time with MW2), I knew every inch of those levels. In just a couple of Prestiges, I knew every spot someone could be hiding and I was prepared for them all. In MW2, the levels are HUGE. It’s almost as if Infinity Ward looked at the MW map pack level Creek and thought to themselves, “This is a good level, but it’s way too small.” I was frustrated right away by the number of places someone could hide and wait for you to walk by to ambush you. Dozens of buildings, cargo containers, and obstacles litter the field and all of them could be potential hiding spots. At first glance (the first 10-15 levels in fact), I had thought the designers dropped the ball. It took some intense playing to realize that I was underestimating my own ability to learn levels. What Infinity Ward has done, is realized players have evolved beyond medium to small maps.  They have created levels that seem to be the size of Texas, but are in actuality completely learnable. Already, after just a few days with the game, I have re-trained my brain to look in every window, on every roof, and near every obstacle for an opposing team member. This was the same strategy you had to learn to do well in the original, it’s just become 10 times more difficult – and since we have at least two years to play this game, it was completely necessary. Good call guys, I stand corrected.

Weapons
The guns are amazing. Just as in MW, each one might take some getting used to, but every weapon is capable of taking you to the top of the kill board. In MW, a secondary weapon was a pistol you used if you ran out of ammo on your primary weapon (not counting if you pick up another weapon on the level or are using Overkill). In MW2, the secondary weapon is every bit as important as your primary weapon. There are machine pistols (think Robocop’s pistol), shotguns, pistols, and launchers. You might think Shotguns have been downgraded since they are just secondary weapons now. This is not at all the case. You basically have Overkill from the start. All secondary weapons can earn upgrades just like primary weapons, and they are all exceptional guns in their own right. Plus, as you can imagine, the number of guns have increased exponentially. You still earn upgrades and attachments to these weapons by using the weapon in question. New attachments include a holographic sight (an upgraded red dot sight), a much-improved ACOG sight (although this will be debated. I have heard many people who think it takes far too long to open up the sight, but I think this will be something people get used to), a Thermal sight (which puts everything in black and white and players show as bright white – it’s a million times better than you might think), and the heartbeat sensor from the movie ‘Aliens’ (which works very well but is not too overpowering because of its range). Older attachments are still around such as silencers and the original red dot sight, but look much better of course. Some of the weapons from the original game appear as well such as the P90, the Mini-Uzi, and the dreaded M-16 – all feeling almost exactly the same as they did in MW and somehow working perfectly in this environment. Deep Impact is not a perk anymore, it is something you earn by killing people with that specific weapon — improved weapon attachments are earned by using that attachment in battle. There is also a perk called Bling that allows you to use two attachment instead of one, and Bling Pro allows two attachments on a Secondary Weapon! More on improved Perks later on.

Sniping
Sniper Rifles are obviously weapons, however the improvements are so incredible, I feel they deserve their own shout out. Sniping in the original was a simple affair. Not always easy mind you, but fairly straightforward. There were five sniper rifles, from a single shot bolt action to the ever-popular Barrett. You could add an ACOG scope to these rifles, and that made guns like the M21 almost superior than an automatic on some levels. The movement of the camera when you were scoped was slow, but smooth. Jump to MW2 – somehow, some way they took the formula and rebuilt it into the most perfect sniping simulation I have ever played. The entire game moves a lot faster than its predecessor, and the same goes for this very important element. You start with the last Sniper you earn in MW, the Barrett 50 Cal., and it works beautifully. It looks and feels very much like it did in MW. The difference in sniping in MW2 (besides the speed) is the addition of new attachments including silencers. This is another reason the level size actually works extremely well, and with all of the new Killstreak bonuses and the addition of Thermal sights, not nearly as overpowering as you might think.

Perks
Perks have been completely reworked. You can tell Infinity Ward really strived to balance this new system, and they succeeded. They still have Extreme Conditioning, but since the levels are so large, they also included the Perk ‘Lightweight’ to make you move even faster and with both of these you can sprint the entire length of all levels. An extreme improvement is the ability with Bling to use two weapon attachments, so you can now have an M-16 with a red-dot sight and a grenade launcher, or a Light Machine Gun with a thermal sight and a silencer – again, not quite as OP as you might think, but very fun. Martyrdom, and Juggernaut are now part of a system called Deathstreak which is a stroke of genius — If you die three times in a row, you have a special perk such as Martyrdom, Juggernaut, and new additions such as Copycat (copy the person’s class who killed you which will be HUGE for low level players), Final Stand (Last Stand from MW except you can crawl, use any gun, and live if no one completely kills you. These Deathstreaks are great. They give you an added boost if you are having a bad game, and if you have Juggernaut or Martydom, it’s only because you are not doing well. Last of all regarding perks — if you use a perk enough, it will upgrade to a ‘Pro’ level. This improves the Perk slightly. For example, Marathon is what Extreme Conditioning was in the original game, and when it turns into Marathon Pro, you will climb obstacles much faster as well.

Killstreaks
I won’t go through an entire list of killstreaks. They are available right away in the game anyway and suffice it to say that they have successfully upgraded this aspect of the game great. There are now killstreak rewards all the way up to 25 kills. all the favorites are here —  UAV, airstrikes, helicopters…and many more including radar jamming, other kinds of airstrikes and other kinds of helicopter attacks. You also get to choose which three killstreaks you want. You unlock more killstrewaks you can add to your arsenal of three active killstreaks at a time. It’s a great formula and its another way Infinity Ward has put the choice in the players’ hands.

This is a simple review as I am only level 50 in multiplayer and have not gotten access to all the perks and weapons available in the game. It is WELL worth noting that they also fixed arguably the worst aspect of Xbox Live multiplayer in the original Modern Warfare: The hosting system. I am not a programmer by any means so my explanation will be simple to the extreme, but here goes — every game of Xbox Live multiplayer had one player who acted as the host (presumably the one with the best connection). If the host disconnected mid-game, the game would end. This was one of the most annoying things about multiplayer. In MW2, they at least attempted to fix this. If the host leaves mid-game, the game ‘pauses’ and a new host is found. The game then resumes five seconds later. This is not 100%, and games have been lost, but a huge, HUGE improvement. Great job guys.

Great job all around. As I said at the beginning, there has not been a single aspect of this game that has not been improved. I will edit this entry and probably write another one when I reach the new level cap (which is 70 by the way) to discuss how they handled the idea of Prestige and what the last 20 levels have to offer. As it stands though, Infinity Ward has raised the bar about 20 feet on a genre that has, quite literally, been done to death. An amazing game.