Modern Warfare 2 Review: The Best Headache Ever

Poised to be the biggest game of 2009 and predicted to break all videogame sales records for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 with healthy PC sales too, Infinity Ward’s sequel to critically acclaimed Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has completed its two year journey to completion and deployment. Should you join the fight and buy into the hype overload for this highly anticipated shooter? Heck yes you should; in fact, start making plans for the midnight release or first available opportunity to drop $60 on it immediately.

Yes, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is that good.

Set not long after the original Modern Warfare, the sequel begins with a bombardment of intel to bring you up to speed on the world’s current events. Russian Ultranationalist Imran Zakhaev has been turned into a martyr by an even more dangerous associate after his death, Vladimir Makarov. He has taken over leadership of the radical group and garnered plenty of support for his cause. His influence is global, and his hatred for America and its allies is no secret. To counter Makarov’s nefarious plans, Allied nations have created an elite task force known simply as ‘141’ to take him down.

Infinity Ward has spoken volumes of late about how their emphasis while building Modern Warfare 2 was to create and tell a compelling story. In playing through the campaign, it seems as if the forefront thought during development was to pack in as much chaotic and intense combat as technologically possible on a single disc. Whether done with great difficulty or ease, Infinity Ward has succeeded across the board.

After a very short training drill, you are thrust into the meat of the campaign. It quickly becomes apparent that like the first Modern Warfare, this is no “run and gun” shooter. The chaos of battle strikes early and frequently, where even on the casual difficulty setting your life span can be cut short in an instant. Enemies, explosions and gunfire surround you, and rushing hero advances will only get you filled with lead. You may get a headache from the insanity but you will do so with a grin from ear to ear.

Rookies of the ‘First Person Shooter’ genre and perhaps even seasoned players will have their moments of frustration during the campaign. Not because of cheap AI or glitches, but because of the shear chaos during many of the missions. Modern Warfare 2 immerses you in combat and expects you to strategize and improvise your tactics in the blink of an eye. Enemies will constantly flank and out maneuver you to stay one step ahead. Cover will only save your sorry hide for so long when most is destructible or can be penetrated by weapon fire forcing you to advance. You and your squad never seem to have the high ground and are almost always outnumbered and surrounded by what seems like 10 to 1 odds or worse. It is fast, frenetic, insane, and man is it fun. Few games this generation can come close to matching Modern Warfare 2’s intensity for one level let alone an entire campaign.

The original Modern Warfare has a pretty short campaign experience that carries forward in duration to Modern Warfare 2. Experienced players can push through the campaign in around 7-8 hours but the fun before jumping into multiplayer online play does not stop there.

Special Ops is a new mode to the Modern Warfare / Call of Duty franchise that feels like a new game within a game. It has its own independent missions – with shared environments from the campaign – which can be played solo or cooperatively with a mate. There are four separate groups of missions: Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta. Each offers multiple scenarios of difficulty and tasks. One of the first is simply defending a position with only a sniper rifle, claymore explosives, and a Predator drone to repel wave after wave of enemy reinforcements. The result is instant gratification of seeing how long you can last and is an absolute blast to play. Stars are awarded based on the outcome and are collected to unlock the next Special Ops mission to keep a high replay value alive.

Multiplayer is as much a part of Modern Warfare as campaign and is available with six online game types are including Free-For-All, Search & Destroy, Demolition, Domination, Team Deathmatch and Capture the Flag. The same experience points and unlockable reward system of Modern Warfare are retained with added different kill streak rewards. Imagine after a 5 person kill streak unlocking the ability to call in an A130 air strike. Prepare for crazy online battles.

How does all this thumb straining, mind numbing combat look? It looks jaw dropping amazing, to put it lightly. Modern Warfare 2 is capping off 2009 with the best graphics of this generation thus far. The quality of the character models, textures, lighting, particles, and everything presented is unmatched in its realism. Environments are massive and extremely varied. You will find yourself frostbitten in the snow, sweating under the sun in Rio, and seemingly everywhere in between. Dozens of enemies and allies are on screen simultaneously as walls crumble and windows shatter from gunfire. Vehicles explode in a hail of debris as gunships streak overhead. Garbage, dust, rain and shrapnel details are constantly assaulting your senses. All this polish and detail with zero frame rate drops. I am still in awe and would love to see this graphic engine utilized elsewhere in the future.

Turn up your 5.1 surround sound because you cannot get any closer to real war than this. Highlighted by a Hans Zimmer score, explosions threaten to melt your subwoofer as bullets and soldier chatter draw you deeper into the experience. The stellar audio also works extremely well for drowning out your myriad of curse words as you realize you have been flanked or fragged yet again. Modern Warfare set a bar for gaming audio excellence and its sequel rightfully raises it.

I have no qualms anointing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 as game of the year right now. It is as close to perfection in gaming as current console technology can offer. The polish and production value is top notch and unrivaled. Admiring the attention to detail and playing through the myriad of modes, all of which are strong, will have you playing for months. The campaign can be frustrating, but all that melts away from enjoyment. Modern Warfare is a “must buy” game no matter how you look at it.

– Jason Krahn

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