Sunday, May 08, 2011
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
After the block-busting success of the first Modern Warfare iteration of the Call of Duty franchise, and fourth in the series, a direct sequel was inevitable. The first three games were successful takes on the World War 2 first person shooters that had gained popularity since the Medal of Honour games arrived on the Playstation, but Modern Warfare saw the series leave history behind to plump for a ‘near future’ take on conflict.
Rather than attempting to capture the feel of present day warfare, CoD 4 opted for a globe trotting action-fest which split missions between different military forces and perspectives (mixing mainly ground-based first person segments with aircraft fire support via grainy camera footage, for example). In its desire to deliver the big thrills it even included the aftermath of a nuclear explosion, albeit in a mainly scripted form.
This forced perspective is used fairly liberally in the follow up, with a couple of key sequences seeing your avatar fairly helpless and forced to observe the action with little chance for input, allowing the developers to keep you locked in on the narrative rather than wander off and look at the sky while something important happens.
Despite the mainly linear nature of the game and the use of inter-mission briefings to push along the distinctly 80s plot the message is still a little garbled with little background before you’re suddenly in the shoes of a CIA mole in a Russian terrorist’s gang, following as they gun down dozens of civilians in a Moscow airport.
The outrage sparks a war between Russia and the US, allowing the game to flit between the efforts of ground troops trying to reclaim heartland USA and special forces trying to hunt down the terrorist behind it all in clearly defined locations - a Rio favela, an oil rig, snow-bound military base, forest compound etc.
Whilst the plot wouldn’t look out of place in one of the more ambitious actioners fronted by the likes of Seagal or Van Damme in their heyday, the game offers undeniably exhilarating action as you often find yourself scrambling between cover, a near-overwhelming enemy force crawling out of the woodwork and taking out members of your AI controlled team. On the higher difficulty settings the intensity is almost too much, forcing you all too frequently to dive behind walls as the screen goes blurry and blood-smeared in the preferred way of announcing imminent death since games achieved the visual fidelity to do away with health bars.
On normal difficulty the campaign can be breezed through within a day of solid gaming, but aside from the challenge of going back to find the in-level collectables (intel), there is also a series of one-off ‘special ops’ missions which utilise certain play styles (stealth and sniping, riding a snow-mobile, defusing bombs against the clock) and have more of a score attack feel as they tempt you to go back for short bursts of action and beat you previous performance.
What has made the series a success, however, is the combination of hardware ownership and broadband access at the time of release that gave enough consumers the option of taking the game online in order to shoot friends and strangers in the face. I’ve no doubt that it’s a very polished aspect but not having played online for about three years (partly due to a stint of poor net access and partly due to the many late nights with Halo 3 and the like) I wouldn’t know.
Without this element CoD: Modern Warfare 2 is a highly polished shooter which offers up enough of a challenge to keep FPS fans happy, fairly decent AI and varied levels which manage to disguise the open corridors with some gorgeous artwork. It stands up well in a crowded market, but as a single player experience it’s not special enough to compete with the likes of the innovative Oddworld: Stranger’s Wrath or the daddy of single player FPS’s, Half Life 2.