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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 [PS3 Review]

Developer: Infinity Ward
Publisher: Activision
Game Rating: M (Mature)
Players: 1-4 (18 online)
Sound: Dolby Digital
HDTV: 720p, 1080i, 1080p

After the circus of anticipation that preceded Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s release, and the whirlwind of money that swept  initial sales figures into the low bajoolians, one question begs to be asked: Is the game worth the hype? The answer is pretty simple: Yes — with a couple of quibbles. First off, the game looks like pure sex. The new IW 4.0 game engine takes the graphics to a whole new level of goshwow, and expands level sizes appreciably. There aren’t as many games out there taking advantage of the Playstation 3’s graphical prowess as there should be, but this is definitely one of those that do.  Also, the game’s AI is head and shoulders above that of any previous Call of Duty release: Not only are bad guys smarter, but so are the NPCs watching your back. The in-game chatter is also much more compelling. Whereas earlier games treated you to a finite amount of canned incidental dialogue, the chatter in WM2 actually pertains to what’s happeniang on a micro level. So if you hear one of your squad NPCs shout that there are three bad guys coming up behind you, you’d better turn around fast. Previous Call of Duty games had some broadly situation-specific dialogue; the granularity of it in MW2 is impressive, to say the least.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is yet another game that uses well-known actors to voice certain characters, most notably Kevin McKidd (who played Vorenus on the BBC/HBO series Rome), and Billy Murray, who played Captain Price in Call of duty: Modern Warfare, and who spent a couple of seasons as a regular on the BBC’s EastEnders. Also, anyone who’s seen Aliens or watched an episode of Millennium will recognize the voice of Lance Henriksen. Using known film and TV actors this way can seem gimmicky, but it really does add a big-ticket feel to a game.

Gameplay is generally a blast, with enough action to keep adrenalin junkies pumped, and a fast-moving storyline that nudges the player along without sacrificing too much freedom of movement. However, In a world where Ubisoft moves Ghost Recon units as well as it does, WM2’s lack of a cover system makes it seem dated. Lacking cover aside, the controls are the same familiar setuop as you’ve come to expect, and being able to ignore the controls and just shoot things equals untimigated fun.

On a more macro level, there’s a lot of action that serves no purpose other than to move the half-baked story along. Aside from the usual mix of shooting and driving scenarios, MW2 throws a level at you in which you have fallen off a roof in a Brazilian shanty town and somehow lost your weapon. You get a set amount of time to run for your life, avoid the bad guys and reach your team’s helicopter. This is pretty reminiscent of games where your character gets captured halfway through and has to escape, unarmed, from an enemy base or space station. It’s a pointless way to reward the player for success up to that point. In this case, the level adds nothing to gameplay; the object isn’t to make your way to safety by stealth or kill someone to get his gun. You run. Against a clock. Fun.

Similarly, the No Russian level and the “level” where you do nothing but turn an astronaut’s head to watch a nuke explode over Washington serve no purpose other than to move you further along the prescribed storyline; neither one had to be a playable level. The civilian-slaughter and ultimate payback in the airport during No Russian could have been part of the inter-level narration, and the astronaut should really have been a cutscene. Though Infinity Ward could be forgiven for playing the controversy card to move units, the astronaut puts an inexcusable ding in the game’s polish. Some players are okay with the whole game-as-cinema concept, and these guys will have no problem with stuff like this. For those who like games to be games, these levels may sting a little.

But Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s weakest link is definitely the  storyline. The plot falls down completely without the context laid down by the first Modern Warfare, and it’s honestly just plain stupid. Essentially, the game takes the logical leaps from the first Modern Warfare, then runs way too far with them. So, whereas the action in Afghanistan or Rio seems believable, other locations call for too much suspension of disbelief: The sight of Russian belligerents parachuting into suburban Virginia or pegging your buddies from within a charred White House are good for pulling at American players’ heartstrings, but it’s just too over the top for a game franchise that’s based in such a generally realistic context.

On the multiplayer side, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has taken significant steps away from its predecessors, but in a good way. The game’s top menu gives the player three choices: Campaign, Multiplayer and the new Special Ops cooperative-play option. In Special Ops, you and a friend fight off waves of invaders, race down snowy slopes and so on to earn stars and improve your ranking.

The standard multiplayer connects you to the usual universe of kids who grew up with controllers in their hands, and who will toast you alive if you’re, say, over 30 and use a mouse and keyboard for most of your gaming.The rewards you get for slaying enemies in multiplayer range from the merely cool to the totally epic. If having a friendly helicopter or C130 pummel your enemies isn’t good enough, keep killing and you’ll end up with a tactical nuke in your pocket, which will wipe the floor with the other team and hand you an instant victory. In fact, it seems pretty clear that multiplayer is Modern Warfare 2’s raison d’etre. The single-player campaign is much too short and the multiplayer just too well-executed for it to be otherwise.

The upshot? Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is money very well spent. The game is far from perfect, but it features enough cinematic action, exhilarating play and experience rewards for a win. For best results, spend most of your time in multiplayer or ignore the campaign’s story completely and just enjoy the show.

Crave Factor – 8
(out of 10)

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