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This review is for the single player mode of Modern Warfare 2 only. I have hardly gotten more then 4 hours in with the multiplayer so far and most of that time was spent dieing over and over and over just to get up to a high enough level to unlock a gun I can actually kill things with. More to come on the multiplayer aspect at a later date if I care enough. Also spoilers ahead. So best to read this if you have already played the game or, like me, the story in single player isn't really the reason you bought the thing.
Due to an abundance of Christmas money I have purchased and will now present to you my opinions on Modern Warfare 2: Yes this is still a Call of Duty game but we wanted to piss on Treyarch by differentiating our games in the brand completely from theirs.
Upon booting up the game I wasn't expecting too much. I played Call of Duty 4 and it was a passable game with a few interesting explorations of the first person viewpoint, but aside from one recognizable character and a few interesting scripted events I found the story so vague and uninteresting as to be completely forgettable. When they ran a recap of the first game's story at the beginning of this one I was struck by how little of it I had actually absorbed and remembered and briefly became worried I might be expected to remember any of it. Luckily I wasn't.
The game starts out with a diatribe by Shepard, the games authoritative voice that tells the game's other authoritative voices what to tell you to shoot. He mutters about the Russians not being nice to him and then drops the one phrase you are supposed to get from the conversation “History is written by the victor” you can tell the writers wanted you to remember it because they had Shepard say it twice.
Then comes the boring training sequence and the boring obstacle course that almost, but not quite, completely fails to properly evaluate your skill at the game. This is due to the course only being a measure of your ability to run forward while shooting slowly wobbling targets that don't shoot back while not shooting things that look like the civilians you'll rarely if ever have to avoid shooting in the main game. If you can do this really fast, then you're completely ready for veteran difficulty and will have NOOOO problems…..right.
Then you go to a battle in the city streets of whocaresistan against enemy militia. After a 'oh my god their coming right for us!' freakout sequence in a truck you do some by the numbers corridor shooting through a school, meet up with Shepard on the field, then immediately get told by him to come with him to follow his orders. The conflict in this city ends up being seemingly pointless to the games story.
After the game suddenly fades out at the end of that mission you are dropped into another mission briefing screen. This one is briefing you for the under cover mission you are about to undertake. Everyone knows what's coming here…..a completely different mission from the one you were just briefed on. In the middle of telling your silent-in-game but boring-voiced-in-mission-briefings protagonist Allen about his mission he decides to mention that you have been promoted to a member of the spectres…i mean the rainbow squad, I mean the spartans, I mean the ghost squad, I mean the Jedi…i actually mean task force 141.
Because apparently no game where you shoot things can possibly move forward without them calling whomever you play as 'the best of the best'…probably to make up for the fact that the amount of people you kill and the amount of bullets you soak up are ridiculous and you always end up having to do all the work for an entire army.
So after telling you about your super special awesome promotion he briefly mentions in passing that the other members of the squad are on another super super secret mission. Then you are suddenly torn out of your body and your spirit self teleports to inhabit the body of a mister “Roach” to experience that mission.
So to give you an idea of the 'immersion' at work in this narrative. You go from playing one person in a desert city, to a black screen with some cool technological pictures on it where things are explained to you through heavy handed narration, then you are a second person in a freezing cold mountain climb…..after playing 2 previous Call of Duty games you would think I would get used to the fact that next to nothing ties all these missions in these games together but I really haven't.
So you play as Roach, who is of course completely silent, following around the silent avatar from the first Modern Warfare, Soap…..who now talks….in a thick accent…..kay. After going through some heavily scripted and canned climbing sequences that still manage to be jerky enough to kill you and start you back at a checkpoint if you don't follow the script you end up on the top of a mountain in a slight retread of the 'ghillies in the mist' stealth mission from the first game, only now it's ghosts in the snow or some shit.
It's decently fun and you retrieve the data from a downed satellite and I only died 4 or 5 times from going off the game's path during the more strict parts. One thing I noticed about this was that they gave me a radar on my gun and expected me to be stealthy in a wide open area during the snow storm. I tried my best but it was difficult as the enemy guard patrols seemed completely random, leaving very few if no openings to slip by. So when push came to shove I had to punch my own holes with a spurt from my silenced rifle. I appreciated the attempt to break away from the more guided 'follow behind this guy and do what he says' sections but I still always felt like I was doing it wrong.
After that you jump on a snowmobile and run for the hills. I was just on auto pilot for this section and got through it without any trouble. I still don't get why this game tries so hard to be realistic and then throws in sequences out of James Bond and Hollywood blockbusters to undermine those attempts. It was fun enough though so whatever.
After this my spirit body teleported out to another mission briefing and was back in good old Allen's body to go shoot up an airport in the name of controversy. This mission has been talked about to death so I'll just say my opinion on it from previous rants hasn't changed much and I spent most of the part of the mission following behind the slaughter finishing off people that looked like they were bleeding to death slowly.
I figured I was getting off easy as we finished off the police (whom were just doing their job yet you had no choice but to kill because the incompetent AI couldn't handle that fight without you) until as I was climbing into the ambulance my silent protagonpuppet got shot. At this point I was laughing. Most people probably wouldn't but as the guy whom I thought was supposed to be helping me shot me all I could think of was 'psyche, Heil Hitler!'
This video should explain why.
So one of my semi silent meat puppets got capped, apparently this was a big deal as the Russians will think that americans organized the attack….except one of the other terrorists died in that mission as well…wouldn't they do a background check on that body and at least consider it a fifty fifty chance the americans were involved?
Perhaps they might also consider, oh I don't know, ASKING! We didn't survive a long drawn out cold war with the Russians in a world where both sides would move to full scale conflict every time a SINGLE PERSON from the other country was found acting like an asshole on the other country's shore!…..but I digress.
So, hearing this shocking turn of events, our heroes the super friends…..141 go to hunt down the terrorist, Makarov, who was responsible for the shit storm. Apparently to clear Americas name by getting evidence….or asking him to apologies….or fucking killing him I dunno. It's mostly just a wild goose chase to keep the plot moving.
The goose in question is some arms dealer hiding out in a Favela, which is a type of city in Brazil that was specifically chosen by Infinity ward to be a pain in the ass to fight in. Windows everywhere, blind corners, ambush spots as far as the eye can see. This is really where the combat completely broke down for me. Their were just so many directions you could be hit from, and no help from friendlies for most of the mission (of course), that you spent 90 percent of the mission either dieing, or crouching in a corner trying to recover from half dieing from being shot in the ass. The worst thing is while you were crouching in a corner often times the AI would just roll up behind you and shoot your dead for having the audacity to try and use the game's recharging health. How DARE you take advantage of this mechanic we put in the game so you would die less to die less? You must die you cheating bastard!
After this Soap, whom I wish to all ever loving hell wouldn't have soiled my opinion of him as a player character by rocking a thematically inappropriate Mohawk, tackles the guy you are looking for onto the top of a car dramatically. All of your fighting through the dirt below seemingly being entirely pointless.
Then you get a brief and semi dramatic mission briefing scene…where apparently Russia is launching a full scale invasion of the United States…..wow…that is a lot to believe, game. You're really pushing it. I don't know what the time frame is on this but you are trying to tell me that Russia went from seeing a terrorist attack, to airdropping an entire army on the United States in the time it takes one rag tag force to track down and capture an arms dealer? Are you trying to suggest that the Russians already had the 'America invasion' plans and budget just waiting to be enacted on short notice?
All of my disbelief and anger evaporates, though, when I see the title of the mission where you start to fight them off. WOLVERINES!!!
At least someone on the infinity ward staff acknowledges this game's story for what it is. A paper thin excuse for the team to cram in as much shit as they could steal from action movies into their pew-pew game. So I took that as an excuse to relax for a bit and just enjoy shooting some Russians in the rubble of a bunch of places I've worked shit jobs in. (gas station, fast food…wish they would have included a department store but that would have taken a lot of work so I understand)
The levels wide open nature was a nice change of pace, but the objectives are completely linear Which comes as a problem since having no choice in what order you do the objectives cuts down on your ability to roam, and also it means that often times I would wander off in between mission briefings while hunting the RED MENACE and have to cross over some dangerous ground I could have avoided to get to my next 'do shit over here' point. A more open and dynamic war could have been a life saver.
Then…it was back to the goddamn Favela…..all I remember is plenty of rage and that we had to get out after getting what we needed. I'm sure I died a bunch because holy crap you are outnumbered and out flanked constantly.
Anywho you end up in a dramatic 'get to the choppa' running scene that would be dramatic if it weren't for them putting you right next to the damn chopper, then you randomly miss a jump everyone else makes, then you have to run to the copter again, only much harder and while looking like a spazz. Way to make me feel like a bad ass game.
Then the game got boring. It was mostly going through one mission from each side back and forth, taking objectives that I'm sure were pushing the story ahead in but that I couldn't honestly recall why they made any damn difference in the grand scheme. It's just an American suburbs level, an oil rig level, a prison level. It's like fucking super mario brothers. You got your Ice level, your fire level, your boring generic plains. I was in the shit at the time I was playing them and it was fun but….boy not very memorable when I forget most about them the day fucking afterward.
Then in the prison level it turns out you are rescuing price from the first game. OH MY GOD! CONTINUITY!!!! I nearly orgasmed. Finally a character I actually recognize(Mohawk Soap doesn't count. I only recognize the back of his eyeballs.)
The level where you fight around the ruins of Washington DC was pretty nice. It's interesting to see Fallout 3's concept put into a graphics engine that wasn't outdated. The level's pacing and corridor shooting wasn't particularly fun but at least it was good eye candy. Also. OH MY GOD CLIFFHANGER!!!! Your helicopter is shot down! Will you escape certain doom? Tune in next time, same spirit body jumping time, same spirit body jumping channel!
Then for some reason the newly freed captain price immediately runs his team over to take a nuclear sub. A firefight with the original Russian owners ensues. Then we entrust the man who was just recently let out of prison and is having a tiff with his commanding officer onto the controls of histories ultimate death bringer…..and then act surprised when nukes get fired.
Then we are in space….wait what the fuck? So you just watch and go duh as what is obviously the nuke starts flying toward American soil. Since I've read the dark knight returns I immediately thought 'Cold bringer style eh? Okay' and then as I thought, price's nuke does a high atmosphere detonation. The exact same sort of thing solidus was trying to do to Manhattan in Metal Gear Solid 2. This of course results in an EMP wave that blankets the entire DC area and shuts off all electronic devices….oh and that astronaut you were spirit body jumping to got killed but who gives a shit?
This then leads to the coolest fucking first half of a level in any shooter ever. Planes and helicopters rain from the sky due to the emp and cause chaos as you climb your private first class somespanishsoundingname puppet to safety. The irony of your squad perhaps surviving BECAUSE your helicopter crashed before the blackout seemingly lost on everyone.
Then you make your way through a dark and tense war zone where it's impossible to determine enemy from friend and you have to rely on good old fashion grit and gunpowder to get through without any red dots or heartbeat sensors or anything. It's like the nuke blasted you back to call of duty 2.
The later half of the level dragged on a little with some frustrating open trench fighting where it was impossible to stay alive from all the fire you were taking from all different directions yet it was impossible to kill everything that was shooting you before you moved. I feel like that section was a bit too reliant on luck.
The section after, in close quarters fire, made for a maddening ordeal as well. As I noticed first in the oil rig level, when the friendly AI is not moving forward they stand looking strait forward and let themselves be flanked and bypassed on side paths constantly, seemingly aiming downrange at a far away enemy they never seem to hit. This often leads to an enemy waltzing right through your line as you are picking off enemies at range. Said enemy then shoves a shotgun up your ass while you wonder why your friendly troops won't cover you. I often found myself shooting friendly troops in the dark of the white house simply because I couldn't trust that things that were behind me weren't going to blow my balls off.
After finally securing the 'whiskey hotel' that sarge with the voice of that guy who's in every shooter and my voiceless meat puppet wave around flares to stop a bombing run on the white house…then you never see them again for the rest of the game. Oh you're going to kill Makarov now. Remember him? I didn't think so.
Anywho you play as Roach again. With every character who was in the last game suspiciously absent as your team has split up. After a dramatic ambush scene that ends up being entirely pointless except to give you a few new and creative ways to get killed and have to start over you clear Makarov's safehouse. You find nothing there but you have to defend it to…get this…download data! Only the most overused excuse to have to stay in one place for a long time ever. What follows is the worst sequence in the entire game.
You basically have to set up claymores randomly around. Then play a crescendo event from left 4 dead except the zombies have guns and the three people defending with you all stand staring strait ahead and shooting at the obvious enemies in front of them while they get killed with easy to avoid flanks from their ass while you can do nothing to save them because you are crouching in a corner waiting for your dick to grow back from when 20 people blew it off.
Ghost, the only unkillable NPC you get this mission, stands in a room at the front of the house firing out the window and never moving even after all the enemies pour in only through the side and back, giving him nothing to shoot at where he is. Thus at the end of the day it's you vs 30 men with shotguns. The men with shotguns are also often throwing flash bangs. The person who designed this level can fuck himself and die.
All through this mission they are telling you enemies you should be firing at and threats coming in from various directions, but it doesn't matter. You can't engage the enemies before they become close range threats because there are so many of them that when you walk out of the house you just get cut down in the open almost instantly. I don't know what the game designers were expecting me to do in this level. It wasn't communicated well at all and they did nothing to help me figure out or execute it. Considering half of this game is being led with a leash by an unkillable buddy who tells you all your plans you would think they would make it a little more friendly.
At one point I actually got a checkpoint…and then was swarmed so completely that it was impossible to win. I tried 12 times in a row. Their was no way out of the situation. So I restarted the level, threw claymore mines around randomly, and prayed. I eventually after the sixth try or so got lucky and me and Ghost ran like hell to the rally point. For drama I get injured along the way and ghost drags me to Shepard. Who is waiting in person (uhm…why?) for us to deliver the intel we got.
So we hand him the intel and…PSYCHE! Hail Hitler! Turns out Shepard is a murdering douche…for no adequately explained reason or motivation. Uhrm…..k. Now ghost and roach are dead. Shepard is the new bad guy and you forget about the dangerous terrorist for the entire rest of the game (even asking him for help on on occasion). You teleport over to play as….SOAP AGAIN OH MY GAWD IT'S LIKE THE FIRST GAME LOLOLOL!
No, seriously. I don't mind this at all. A little bit of a call back to the first game is pretty much what this game needed to shake off some of it's dregs. Still it is kind of weird that after being a chatty guy for the entirety of the game up to this point Soap turns into a mute again as soon as you jump into his shoes. It's like your spirit cuts out people's tongues.
Then comes a speech about that 'History is written by the victor' line Shepard said from Price. In it he says 'history is full of liars.' I personally then shouted “DUH!” because I already had that opinion when Shepard said the line to begin with. I at least was relieved that Infinity ward's writing staff didn't repeat that line at the beginning of the game twice because they thought it was SOOOO true!
The mission where dodge through the battlefield of Shepard and Makarov's troops who both want to kill you is interesting….if a little frustrating since both sides seem to prioritize you a little too heavily once you come in their line of sight. Storyline wise it's sort of just you finding out where Shepard is and deciding to eight six the stupid bastard. Makarov helps just to find some way to not get killed until the next game.
Then you storm his base, more corridor shooting in a cave like military structure. Yawn. This level actually feels like a level from Army of Two…and that isn't good.
Then you chase Shepard down on a boat….eh. The snowmobile didn't really need a sequel.
Then both sides crash and you are drunkenly stumbling at Shepard with a knife. Him trying to run and you trying to kill him while both of you are half dead from a crash reminded me of Pulp Fiction, which made me smile. Then you get freaking stabbed and get all woozy as you watch price and Shepard rock some old school fisticuffs. This section has few complaints from me. They deliver on the dramatic tension and make you forget for the moment that the storyline is goofy as all hell in your blind admiration of Price being a sexy badass who saves your butt a lot and your wish to see Shepard with a knife sticking out of his head.
Coincidentally you then notice that their seems to be a knife in your hand….the problem is it's the one stuck in your sternum. You jam on the X button until your fingers somewhat resemble the pain your suppose to feel when you pull a freaking knife out of you and then you get to toss the knife at his face and BAM, you win. Price drags your half dead corpse up and your plot convienience transport picks you up. Then, like every other mission in the game, this one ends without any wind down or closure. Only instead of getting another jarring body swap and mission briefing the credits are dropped in your lap unceremoniously. Then….i dunno some living mannequin museum. I don't give a shit.
In summary, Modern Warfare 2 is a mess. They fixed nothing that was wrong with the first game, their level design is too ambitious for it's own good and the AI can't keep up at all, and I still managed to have a shit ton of fun with it at parts. So bully for it. It managed to impress me without really impressing me.
For a game about the hunger for blood of a roving spirit that takes over the bodies of soldiers, rendering them mute and incapable of anything but shooting and following orders, it is suprisingly fun. As a realistic or nuanced potrayal of war it gets as far as 'war bad, soldiers good, people who betray america bad.' and doesn't really have the time to get anything else across.
It's only 2 forms of storytelling are very short but awesome first person view sequences, and overly wordy but utterly pointless mission briefings. Neither of which manages to tape together all the action movies they wanted to squeeze into the game into a solid narrative.
On my standard one word scale of how a game made me feel I'd give it a “Adequate”
Now I'll start working on the multiplayer….my ass is already sore from all the kickings it's going to get.