Thanks to a rather silly retail situation, you may have been playing Modern Warfare 2 since Friday whilst we’ve been clawing at a copy under embargo; in which case you’ll already know that Infinity Ward’s latest is not to be missed. Far from shunning the weight of expectation, the developer has honed its well-worn formula to a logical and achievable shine; crafting a campaign that surprises with scope, but rarely in mechanics.
From the safe and comforting assault course opener, this is a title that oozes a confidence built on collective experience. It’s the sort of videogame that understands exactly what its audience wants, and doesn’t flinch in delivering set-piece after set-piece with barely a pause to load the next scenario. The politics may be questionable, but the commitment certainly isn’t; and that may yet run Infinity Ward into deep trouble in the coming weeks.
Do not mess with this man.
The Gulag turns out to be one of the best levels.
If you’re the last person on earth reading this not to have noticed, the developer has – controversially - included an extremely graphic depiction of a very specific act of terrorism early on in the game; which the player has full control over. Unsurprisingly, this is something of a talking point - most recently within the British Parliament as I write - and to ignore the issue would be remiss.
What I’ll say is this: The level in question is, without doubt, the most thought-provoking that I’ve yet encountered in any mainstream game. It’s also a pretty sobering experience provided you’re immersed in the atmosphere and context, but can easily be ignored or skipped if you don’t want to put yourself through a fairly clearly-defined moralistic mill. In short, it’s powerful in a way that videogames rarely are; and despite the abhorrent undertone running beneath, I can’t help but admire it in some twisted way.
Of course there will be a significant chunk of the audience that end up wondering what all the fuss was about; and for those of you of that persuasion, MW2’s action beat and constant assault on the senses will prove the primary draw.
Atmospheric colour abounds.
Vehicle sections are handled well.
It’s here that Infinity Ward steps above and beyond criticism with superlative gunplay and a visual panache that – at times – borders on best-in-show. Enemies crumple realistically under fire, set-piece animation is integrated in an almost seamless fashion within the level design, and you’ll be hard-pushed to spot a single respawning set of foes - which is about bloody time, even if early reports of nerfed veteran difficulty as a direct consequence are to be believed.
The crisp 60fps console versions are surprisingly well-detailed, and if you’ve got a decent rig waiting at home, then please hail the new king of PC graphics benchmarking - for the next two years at least. Colour and lighting is noticeably improved in this second iteration, and whilst the environment remains resolutely non-interactive, it’s a moot point when the developer is happy to blow up everything for you with relative frequency.
Whilst the majority of the mission structure will be familiar (follow the tank, destroy the AA gun, clear the house, etc), new additions are also pleasingly well judged, from vehicle sections that work within the confines of the physics engine to climbing mechanics that offer up a healthy dose of tension - it’s all integrated with a strong taint of money and talent behind the scenes. Treyarch may well be an improving off-year custodian, but this is Infinity Ward’s baby; the fingerprints are unmistakable.
Brutal yet pretty particle effects.
In typical Infinity Ward style, those buildings don't last too long.
Aside from the relative brevity of the campaign, multiplayer is already proving the time-sync from hell that you’ll no doubt have been expecting. We’ll save discussion of dedicated servers and 9vs9 PC-limiting for another occasion, but suffice to say, outside of that controversy, things are pretty smooth. Games are already easy to come by and well matched, and IW’s revised ladder of unlockable content and perks is positively addictive and more evenly-paced than the original.
Top Game moment:
CALL OF DUTY: MODERN WARFARE 2 VERDICT
As a whole, MW2 is spectacular in all the right areas; building and refining on the most solid of bases. And although its political heart might not be in the ‘right’ place, at the very least it might make a few people think rather than skim through on muscle memory and twitch reactions. That’s a rarity in itself, and something to be respected in an age of apathy.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Firing a machine gun one-handed whilst rocketing down a mountainside on a snowmobile.