Saturday, January 2, 2010

Call of Duty 6 - Modern Warfare 2

"Few games were hyped more than Modern Warfare 2. Few games deserve it as much as this game." That's the sort of thing you might expect me to say if I were a fan of the series. In truth, I haven't been that since the second game. You know what I have to say about this most recent episode of the Call of Duty series? It's probably one of the most dull and uninspired titles of 2009.

Not that it isn't jam-packed with non-stop action; like its predecessor, Modern Warfare 2 goes full throttle from the start and never lets off the gas until the end of the game. That is, in part, one of its failings. You are never ever given a moment to stop and appreciate the experience; as soon as one explosion-filled encounter ends you are immediately thrust into the next. You are relentlessly pushed forward, and if you dare to stop to catch your breath, endless waves of re-spawning enemies do their best to ensure it is your last. It is emotionally exhausting, visceral, bloody and ultimately has all the depth and engagement of a game of Pac Man.
Lost is the franchise's original goal of reliving the trials of an average Joe thrust into extraordinary circumstances; the bulk of the game puts you in the shoes of a unstoppable super-soldier who can soak up bullets like a tank and drop regiments of enemies with pinpoint precision (albeit one who gets knocked unconscious at the end of every other mission; it became almost comic by the end of the game how often the screen faded to black). The hostiles are faceless bad-guys and the combat has all the involvement of a game of Doom. But at least Doom wrapped itself up with an atmosphere of horror and gore; Modern Warfare 2's storyline is shallow and unbelievable, original in some of its settings but in none of the plot or characters.

The game is most famous, of course, for its multi-player. I can't comment on that; I (and as surveys have shown, the majority of gamers) don't play online. The single-player has all the frenetic pointlessness of a deathmatch game, so fans of the latter will probably enjoy the former. The game also ships with a selection of "special op" missions which can be played alone or cooperatively; tasked with specific goals such as "kill 30 tangos" or "finish the mission in 45 seconds" I found these more enjoyable than the main campaign because they were more focused. Even so, after five or six of these missions even the appeal of these missions started to fade; killing for the points (or "stars" in Modern Warfare 2 parlance) you are awarded for each success was not enough to keep me interested in the long run.

To add insult to injury, this "next generation" game looks anything but; even with settings maxed, it looks dated. The lighting lacks the sophistication of modern engines, the levels are archaically non-interactive, the animation is stiff and there's an artificial highlighting around the character models. Worse, there's rarely anything interesting to look at (although it's hard to tell since you're never allowed to stop and take in the scenery). It's not a bad-looking game, but it is surprisingly unimpressive on the graphical front. The engine itself may be capable but the artists didn't use it to its fullest potential.

The sound was disappointing too; in a game filled with all the bangs and booms of modern combat, I'd expect my sub-woofer to smoke from all the work it's being asked to do, but everything sounds flat. The soundtrack is unoriginal and fails to heighten the experience in any way, and the voicework - though competent - is an endless stream of faceless men yelling useless (and largely unheard) instructions that I quickly learned to tune out.

Modern Warfare 2 wasn't completely without inspiration; some of the levels - particularly those fighting in the suburbs of the US Capitol - had an appealing intensity to them (not surprisingly, these were the levels where I was not playing the role of an elite super-soldier but an average grunt part of a combined ops team). These levels offered the surreal horror of fighting a bloody conflict in such the familiar, homey setting of downtown USA. Beyond that, though, there was little to raise Modern Warfare 2 above the typical first-person shooter. At best, it's an average title. If you love the multiplayer, then doubtlessly this isn't a title to miss. Otherwise you may as well pick up "Soldier of Fortune 3" or "Rogue Warrior"; you'll get almost the same single-player experience for a third of the price.

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