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Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was a game I was terrible at, but one I would return time and again for quick game-scape sessions. The single player campaign was never dull, the story was interesting and somewhat plausible, the multiplayer was criminally addictive, and every aspect of the game felt new and exciting. Last year’s Call of Duty: World at War, while most thought it was a step back, took a bold step SIDEWAYS, with griping World War 2 grittiness, compromising nothing in it’s new (old) direction to World War II away from modern combat.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (MW2 hereonin) is the return to the modern setting, and if nothing, is the literary equivalent of a Tom Clancy/Michael Bay lovechild with its international warfare, betrayal, and explosions. While housing great “HOLY SHIT!” moments, it’s not something you can sit down and deconstruct, which pretentious assholes like me enjoy doing. It’s a masterpiece in shooter gameplay, a benchmark of big-budget showmanship, but in the end, for what?
MW2 suffers in the same way Halo 3:ODST did: poor narrative direction. For all the well-established, perfect aesthetics of the experience, I was left wondering for what benefit did they all serve? The story makes absolutely no sense to me. In the November 13, 2009 episode of the Giant Bombcast (www.giantbomb.com), the Giant Bomb crew had an hour long discussion of the plot and could not definitively come to a conclusion on the antagonist’s motivations. In at least movies and games, I believe great stories are told through precisely crafting a deep and dynamic antagonist or a familiar problem/obstacle, be it a physical villain or emotional vexes.
While being vital to a single player campaign, in multiplayer I not only ignore any lack of story, I recognize that playing with other people has it own narrative depth, even if the people you are playing are ignorant 8 year olds screaming racists expletives. You want to beat them. There’s your story; there’s your motivation. That being said, it must be mentioned that MW2’s multiplayer modes, adversarial and co-op ‘spec ops’ modes, are absolutely brilliant examples of amazing game design. And by game, I mean everything that makes a video game a ‘game’: tasks to overcome, endless rewards, technically sound, varied, challenging, and freakishly addictive.
While almost every mission has a new way of killing people – *pauses to hear collective rolling of eyes* – by introducing new gameplay mechanics, it amounts to nothing meaningful. And that’s all it is: killing people. Don’t get me wrong, I am all for exploring death and sweet machismo warfare in gaming, but the enemies are so vapid. I found myself thinking I was playing the arcade Ghost Squad shooter. Context-less, faceless enemies confuse the issue you are fighting for. It all comes back to under-developed motivations.
I wanted to see this game have more vulnerable situations for the player than the first MW, and MW2 delivered. In terms of actual scripted events, things go wrong regularly, and that always added some interesting tension. When switching between the British special squad, and the American military perspectives, I found the American missions to be the least interesting. The British special squad (Roach/Ghost/Soap) missions were better looking, had more interesting moments (running in Brazil was totally sweet), and were overall more fun.
In the end, the story lacks coherent structure, and MW2’s campaign loses its focus, leaving the player confused and lost. Looking back, the experience of finishing the campaign in MW2 reminded of eating a delicious taco, peppered with tasteless E. Coli bacteria. At first it was delicious, aesthetically pleasing, satisfyingly palatable, but in the end you are left sweating, shaken up, retracing your steps, wondering where it went wrong, and why you keep eating at that Taco Time.
But, of course, you keep going back. Thank you Taco Time hotsauce, thank you MW2 multiplayer.