Article by Ryan King
At long last that mysterious teaser trailer makes sense. Remember? The green pulses set amongst a dark background, with only the sound of Russian voices and clothes being zipped up to keep you company.
“Remember, no Russian,” intones a hushed Moscow accent before a ‘ping!’ as metal doors slide open. At this point, the trailer explodes into a montage of images.
In the game itself, it leads to one of the most shocking moments in the Call of Duty series to date. We won’t spoil it for you but let’s just say you’re best avoiding Facebook and Twitter today if you don’t want the moment ruined before you experience it yourself.
It’s testament to Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2′s brilliance that it’s the first of many talking points. Not just because Infinity Ward knows how to shock and unsettle you with a jolting surprise or plot twist, as we saw with the nuclear blast in the original Modern Warfare. Not even because Modern Warfare 2 has more standout set-pieces than you can count on your fingers.
No, the talking points will be because this is a shining example of how to craft a sequel. People will talk about their crazy co-op run through Echo Tier in Special Ops, or their Predator Missile shot in multiplayer that killed five people, or storming the Gulag prison showers with just a riot shield. The amount of gushing and praise you’re going to hear, it’s probably best to avoid Facebook and Twitter anyway.
That MW2 is brilliant won’t shock anyone. That it has done so well and still feels fresh without relying on gimmicky innovations makes its success remarkable.
It’s no real surprise that there are no real surprises with the gameplay. There’s a war going on and you’re thrown into the middle of it with a gun, some grenades and your instincts. We’ll skim over the basics of the plot to avoid spoilers – Zakhaev’s demise at the tail-end of Modern Warfare has left a power void, which is promptly filled by powermonger Makarov, who manages to find a way of provoking a Russian war with America.
What starts off in Afghanistan takes you all around the globe, as Infinity Ward threads a tight storyline throughout the carnage – the locations constantly change, old faces return and traitors lurk on the horizon.
As you’d expect, Modern Warfare 2 hangs its gameplay from spectacular set-pieces – these are some of the best you’ll see in any game. The opening level sees you plunged in the middle of a gunfight on the outskirts of an Afghan town. You call in an air strike – cue Infinity Ward’s first chance to flex its graphical muscles and really show off – then hop onto the back of an armoured vehicle’s mounted gun as your squad makes its way into town.
Curious Afghan villagers look on with interest until the local militia show up and trouble kicks off. Your vehicle screeches through the tight streets searching for safety as the whoosh of RPGs whistling past drowns out the panicked shouting, while you’re desperately swinging about on your mounted gun trying to get a hit on anything threatening. The vehicle upturns, you’re scrambling to your feet and then fighting your way through an abandoned school.
It’s an explosive opening that sets the tone, as Infinity Ward crams set-pieces in wall-to-wall as you rampage through Brazilian favelas, snowy airfields, guarded oil rigs and rural American towns.
It’s no exaggeration to say that there is not a single dull moment right up until the final showdown, which is as dramatic and satisfying an ending as you could ever hope for. It even manages to leave room for a sequel so blatantly that it might as well announce ‘Modern Warfare 3 is coming!’ right there and then, yet it still doesn’t feel cheeky.
Mixing it upSo far, so obvious. We knew Modern Warfare 2 would pack visuals to make your Xbox 360 purr, just as we knew it would carry punchy set-pieces to shotgun your senses. What’s really clever is how Infinity Ward has come up with fresh ways of remixing the old formula.
As mentioned, the controls stay the same all the way through and the rules of the game are never broken. It might seem like a strict limitation but Infinity Ward has managed to include Bouncing Betties to deal with, a desperate escape from Brazilian militia when you’re unarmed, a burning city that you need to pick your way through with all your electrical equipment shut down, a siege that you need to survive until you upload important data, two warring factions to find a safe passage through… listing them all would ruin the experience of discovering them for yourself, but every level demands something new from your battleworn abilities.
Even when Modern Warfare 2 branches out and tries its hand at stealth, hostage rescuing and even a snowmobile chase – pushing about as far away from the core guns ‘n’ explosives formula as it’s possible to go without tearing at the seams – it still feels natural and familiar.
Part of it is due to the fact that the core game is so polished you can see your own reflection in it, no matter what it’s trying, but it’s also because Modern Warfare 2 almost always sticks rigidly to the same controls. It just finds different ways of using them. One of the trademarks of the Call of Duty series is a funnel-neck design, as you’re pushed through linear routes by a never-ending army of respawning enemies.
Yet Modern Warfare 2 is confident enough in its abilities to break with its own tradition – one level sees you holding off infantry, armoured vehicles and an attack helicopter from the roof of a diner before scrambling across the street to a fast food restaurant and digging in there. As for respawning enemies, they’re either there or cleverly disguised behind some smoke-and-mirrors coding. Either way, you feel like you can dig in and make headway before risking a charge forwards.
Tough goingOnce the final credits roll in, there’s the infamous Veteran difficulty to tackle. Veteran no longer sees you pinned down behind a concrete slab as a barrage of grenades land at your feet. The grenade count does get bumped up, but they’ve been reigned in so the constant ting-ting-ting of their bounces no longer rattles around your skull with alarming frequency. It’s tough, just not frustratingly so. As a result, it’s the easiest Veteran mode seen in the series, but by the same token, it’s also the fairest.
It’s a worthy compromise, and the reason the soft Veteran mode doesn’t hurt Modern Warfare 2′s hardcore appeal is the inclusion of Special Ops.
If you want to get kicked in the teeth over and over again by a brutally tough difficulty setting, this is the mode where can fill your boots with your own salty tears. Special Ops is a series of small missions that are split into five different tierings – Alpha, Beta, Charlie, Delta and Echo. By the time you manage to scavenge enough stars to tackle Echo, you’ll be a bruised, battered, broken mess. And that’s without even trying for the max three stars rating…
Even better, Special Ops can be tackled in co-op. This is Infinity Ward’s nod to the gaming trend du jour as you can tackle every mission with a partner in tow. The missions themselves cover stealth assaults, hostage rescuing, blowing up cars and bomb defusing.
The best missions see you covering the grounded player from the sky, either in an AC-130 gunship or using a helicopter’s mini-gun – seeing your partner chewing up infantry and cars to save your arse at the last second is an exhilarating high-five you simply don’t get outside of single player or multiplayer.
And yes, multiplayer is every bit as good as you’d expect. Infinity Ward has refined rather than revolutionised the Call of Duty 4 formula, but the key here is customisation. You can create a personalised profile with your own emblem and call sign, unlock your own killstreaks and even unlock ‘pro’ versions of perks if you want to push your character as far as possible. It’s polished, smooth and leagues ahead of almost every other FPS on Xbox 360.
The only criticism of the entire package is that the single player campaign is short. If you’re not a gaming magpie who will be distracted by the search for bonus enemy intel items and you don’t have sausages for fingers, you’ll lick through it in under eight hours.
Yet Special Ops covers this by providing a stern challenge that will live on far beyond the campaign’s life, while multiplayer will push Modern Warfare 2 into next year and beyond. This is a textbook example to other developers of the love, care, attention, polish and guile needed when crafting a sequel. An essential purchase for all FPS fans.
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Head back into battle in this direct feed footage.
Video Rating: 4 / 5
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