Review: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Hell to play
By MITCH KRPATA  |  November 24, 2009
3.0 3.0 Stars


Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 | For Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, And PC | Rated M for Mature | Developed by Infinity Ward | Published by Activision
You're standing in an elevator with men wearing bulletproof vests and wielding machine guns. "No Russian," the leader reminds you, as the doors open to reveal a line of persons waiting at the airport security gate. Your compatriots open fire, mowing down dozens in seconds. They walk confidently through the airport, killing everyone in sight. You can join in the slaughter or simply follow along. What you can't do is stop it. The mission restarts if you shoot one of the terrorists. If nothing else, you have to watch.

This is a mission in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 that has attracted controversy. You don't have to play the level — before the single-player campaign starts, you must confirm twice that you'd like to see a hinted-at disturbing scene. Like the other set pieces in the game, it is executed well, and it would be powerful if not for the full-bore silliness that surrounds it.

Immediately prior to "No Russian," you jump a snowmobile over a 300-foot gap. Later on, you'll fire a heat-seeking missile from the rooftop of a suburban fast-food restaurant, witness a nuclear explosion from outer space, and halt an airstrike on the White House. Modern Warfare 2's predecessor, Call of Duty 4, mixed that sort of thing up with quieter stuff like the chilling AC-130 gunship mission, in which you rained hellfire on pixilated blobs on a black-and-white viewscreen, and a silent sniper mission whose tension was unbearable. In the sequel, you can hardly take a step before something else explodes, another foreign army mobilizes, and another playable character gets killed.

The campaign makes a habit of changing the rules without telling you. You might need to clear a set number of enemies to proceed; you might shoot all day and not be able to advance till you walk past an invisible checkpoint. Some scripting is always nice in a single-player game, but here you feel like a dog on a choke chain.

In all likelihood, most of those who've helped the game gross more than $550 million so far aren't aware that there's a single-player component. And the multi-player mode doesn't send as many mixed messages. It's competition in its purest form: kill or be killed. Standard game types range from free-for-all and team deathmatch to capture-the-flag. Unlike recent multi-player games — Left 4 Dead, Borderlands — that have tried to give a narrative shape to play sessions, Infinity Ward isn't taking many risks. This is essentially a sports game.

The presentation is otherworldly. Modern Warfare 2 moves like lightning, with an audio barrage that never lets up. Killing enemies and meeting in-game challenges earns you experience points and items to use in the next match. You might wonder why you have to unlock entire match types in a game you just paid $60 for. Still, it's always satisfying to call in a stealth bomber after a killstreak. Less satisfying is having some pipsqueak call you a homo after shooting you in the head for the fifth straight time, but these are the wages of Xbox Live.

It adds up to a well-produced but confusing package. Modern Warfare 2 wants to be a game where life is precious, and where you get an extra 50 points for a headshot. It wants you to experience how terrifying a foreign invasion of the United States would be, and it wants you deploy a tactical nuke for fun. It's as though it were trying to shield itself from accusations of exploitation from one side and brutality from the other. A game called Modern Warfare ought to know where it stands.

Related: Review: Left 4 Dead 2, Review: New Super Mario Bros. Wii, Review: Assassin's Creed II, More more >
  Topics: Videogames , Technology, Call of Duty, multiplayer,  More more >
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