Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 as just a game, and not the genocidal product of pure, maleficent evil it’s been made out to be since the infamous announcement of IWNet, is really, really good. The single-player campaign is unflinching and uncompromising, and bravely goes deeper into its own fiction, leaving behind any semblance of authenticity in favor of a campaign more defining and personal. Its multiplayer is a lot of fun, with minor adjustments culminating into a better base game than Modern Warfare’s online component. Evaluating Modern Warfare 2 as just a game, though, wouldn’t be fair. The $60 price point lingers on a platform that isn’t affected by licensing fees, and the lack of dedicated servers is a pretty big issue, whether you care, don’t care, or if you don’t get it at all. You could take all of that as a back-handed complement then, because I still recommend Modern Warfare 2. The game itself is extremely good, even with all the bad decisions that weigh it down. It speaks volumes to the quality of the game, and if 5-hour roller coaster ride and a stable multi-player game sound good at a $60 price point, then you should totally go for it.
Probably the only part of the game that has remained unscathed throughout this whole ordeal with IWNet is the part that doesn’t require more than one able body to play; namely, the single-player. Set five years after everything that went down in Modern Warfare, Modern Warfare 2 picks right up, with tensions still high and climate less than favorable for peace. Modern Warfare 2 starts off on a familiar track; the game tosses you into Afghanistan and takes you across the globe in the next mission before laying down the unbearable, pivotal plot point that changes everything.
You probably know what I’m talking about, and it seriously is a disturbing sequence, serving as the ultimate impetus that justifies every single action and mission that takes place afterwards. It begins to go off rails into the realm of total implausibility soon after, which is great. Modern Warfare 2 boldly goes forward, committing itself to all the ridiculous and insane events that transpire throughout the campaign. The level design has also seen a sizable increase on size and number of potential approaches, resulting in something feels like a cross between Call of Duty 2’s open-ended maps with Modern Warfare’s linear carnage. Every single mission has a memorable, unforgettable sequence that makes such an emotional, visceral impact, that it’s hard to imagine just how much better the upcoming missions can be. And yet, it usually is better. And so is the one after. It’s not just one breathless encounter after another either. Much like Modern Warfare, the game knows when to take it slower, tamping down the scale in favor or smaller, more black ops oriented missions before it unloads another concentrated bag of explosions and intensity.
"…as a collection of events, Modern Warfare 2 is unforgettable."
True, the game’s plot is a tangled mess, with twists that don’t make sense until you infer and connect the dots, and even then, some of the actions characters take can still feel vague. The game doesn’t do that good of a job of explaining anything anywhere. The super-slick loading screens are usually loaded with manly, almost tangential monologue that doesn’t address some of the plot holes that exist, but as a collection of events, Modern Warfare 2 is unforgettable.
But you know, there’s that other part of the game. Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer forgoes dedicated servers in favor of Infinity Ward’s P2P and matchmaking system, IWNet. In short, it works. IWNet finds games quickly, and all but one of the matches I’ve been in worked well. The game masks ping average by representing your connection with bars, so if a 100-ping average sounds absolutely unplayable, then tough luck, or hope you’re the host, which gives you that 0-ping advantage.
Honestly, the IWNet doesn’t kill the multi-player for me. I’ve never been one to join communities or try to become involved in tournament play. No LAN play, no mods, no custom content – it’s killed any possibility of a Modern Warfare 2 community from flourishing, but I’ve never been one to really get into the mod scene or the community aspects of Modern Warfare’s multi-player PC fan base. So no, all the omissions and cutbacks that I’ve brought up in this paragraph won’t affect my overall sentiment of the game, but it’s definitely something that will affect a lot of you, and Modern Warfare 2 is a game that has been dead before arrival for many. Tournament play will be problematic at best, and a game of teams turtling with riot shields at worst. No LAN play is, well, dumb and an unnecessary omission, and not having that range of infinite possibilities modders can bring will dampen the multi-player experience for a lot of you.
"I know I’m sounding increasingly elitist, but honestly, how is such a closed system so accepted?"
There are issues, however, that do bother me – there’s no way to moderate and kick players, there’s no way to set timers and adjusters except in private matches, and you can’t filter for a map you want to play, just hope the game hooks you up with the map you wanted. It’s way more restrictive and suffocating, much more than I thought it would be. IWNet is basically the same system that’s been used for the console versions, and it’s kind of incredible how easily this has been put up with and easily accepted. People are actually okay with not being able to choose your own maps? There’s no anger over not having the option to get in on a 24/7 map? I know I’m sounding increasingly elitist, but honestly, how is such a closed system so accepted? The world deserves better.
Even with all the drawbacks, Modern Warfare 2’s multi-player succeeds, just because the gameplay is so good. It’s still largely the same game as Modern Warfare, with tweaks and balances that make sense. Perks like the notorious Martyrdom have been sorted under Deathstreaks, which are perks that are activated if you die enough times in a row. The same goes for the Modern Warfare perk, Juggernaut, which is now a Deathstreak that buffs your health for 10 seconds. XP has also been scaled, so that you get experience in 50s and 100s at a time for a kill, making rewards more delicious, even if it’s just a perception thing. Bonus XP are also doled out for doing that little extra, like taking out a guy before he reaches his Killstreak or for finally getting out of your dismal Deathstreak. These are small alterations, but noticeably changes how the multi-player plays, and it’s changed for the better.
Perk structure has largely been left unaltered. You get up to the three perks, offering small bonuses like faster reloads. The biggest change is how all perks come with pro versions. The Commando perk increases melee range, while its pro version also comes with zero fall damage. The pro versions manage to act as extra perks, which kind of doubles the amount of perks you can carry. They act more like sub-perks in a sense; the bonuses a pro perk brings wouldn’t be enough to act as a useful perk on its own, but as a bonus for a pro, its useful.
So, there’s still a lot to unlock in the multi-player. You’ll get a taste of basically every single gun in the single-player, and since every single gun in Modern Warfare 2 is completely awesome, there’s a great push to just unlock and unlock. This coupled with XP bonuses, Modern Warfare 2’s multi-player is great. It’d be fantastic without the restrictive IWNet, but that’s how it is. Take that as another back-handed compliment – the multiplayer is so good that IWNet pulls the game down only so far.
The P2P system gets worse once you jump into Spec Ops. With the game’s stability entirely reliant one host, Spec Ops can either be a smartly implemented co-op mode or a succession of one disconnect after another. The game doesn’t host-migrate to the second player; it simply calls it quits and sends you to the lobby. You can’t just go into an open lobby or match-make either, making any of the two-player missions unplayable unless your disgruntled PC friend also caved and bought Modern Warfare 2. And! No voice chat, so the only way to get it working is through Steam’s voice and text chat, which is the worst way to communicate. However, once you get a good, stable game going, Spec Ops is a blast. While most of the missions can be played solo, it’d be the wrong way to play Spec Ops, frankly. The ones that integrate cooperative play are the best ones, as some of them even rework missions from Modern Warfare. “All Ghillied Up” makes its triumphant return as a tense sniper-intensive mission, and the always unsettling “Death From Above” makes its return with the obvious use of the AC-130. It’s a great addition to the game.
It’s really anything outside of the multiplayer game of Modern Warfare 2 when there’s very little to complain about. The game looks absolutely stunning, building on Modern Warfare’s technology, offering better textures, more wonderfully motion-captured animations, better particle effects, better lighting, better everything. Its presentation does so much to draw out raw intensity on the battlefield. The constant chatter and screaming between soldiers, the immense war that’s going around you whether you’re looking that way or not – Infinity Ward knows how to create a spectacle, and it never once feels calculated or rote. It’s always awe-inspiring, and rarely do you feel like you’re being singled out as the Super Soldier who Saved the World. Possibly the only true fault this time is the overabundance of music. Hans Zimmer’s score is great, but when you light Washington D.C. on fire, just let it speak for itself.
With the single-player lasting around five hours, most of your mileage is going to come from the multiplayer. The relentless campaign is a thrill, and just the single-player alone qualifies Modern Warfare 2 as one of the best games of the year, but whether that’s worth $60 is up to you. The multiplayer is fast, focused, and balanced despite all the new additions that could’ve wrecked it. Whether a 100-ping average and a restrictive matchmaking is something you can take is up to you. Modern Warfare 2 is a great game, and if it weren’t for all the PC-defining features that were stripped out of the game, it’d doubtlessly be superior to its predecessor. What we have here, though, is a game that’s lost a lot in its transition to the PC, and whether that’s something you can tolerate, well… you know.