Just mention the name Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 in front of any geeky gamer and watch them magically transform into giddy school girls, dancing in a fit of nerdgasmry. The game's official release last week turned every GameStop across North America into mini Mecca's, where gamer's everywhere made their pilgrimage to line up and buy their copy. The question is, was it worth the wait? I've put CODMW2 to the test and am happy to report, not only was it worth the wait, but is, in my opening, a strong candidate for game of the year.
*WARNING: SPOILERS FOLLOW*
Again with the terrorists
CODMW2 picks up where the first title left off. Five years have past since you killed that nasty Russian terrorist Zakhaev on a blood-stained bridge in Russia, and now his sole surviving spawn – who apparently carries the same evil gene as daddy – wants to avenge his fallen father by blowing up the free world. Kids today. Life before, your job, or rather the characters you play, is to hunt down and kill this little bastard before he does serious harm to himself and others. That's the setup.
*Again I want to warn you all that I will disclose several spoilers in this review. Stop reading NOW if you don't want me ruining the surprise ending for you. You were warned.*
The game's single-player mission begins in a highly controversial level known infamously as "No Russian". Controversial because it contains graphic depiction of the brutal slaying of several hundred Russian civilians who are merciless gunned down in a crowded airport by terrorists – including yourself. Yes, you. In this level you play a US Army Ranger working undercover to infiltrate the said terrorist group by posing as one its junior members. As part of your initiation you must become a willing participant in the murder of innocent women and children. To be fair, the game does warn you about this level upon first launch and even gives you the option to ignore it entirely (i.e. skip ahead). Choosing the latter option will have no impact on the game's storyline. After you've killed all the poor souls in the Russian airport, and murdered your way through security, it's time to make your speedy getaway with the rest of your bad company. As the escape vehicle appears and the gang begins boarding, a surprise twist awaits you – in the form of a bullet to the brain. It seems the terrorists were on to you the entire time, and actually staged this entire bloody massacre with you as guest of honor. The motive? In short they wish to start a war between the US and Russia. And with your corpse and identity placed at the scene, all of Mother Russia will be up in arms to learn that an American soldier, working under direct orders from the US government, has murdered hundred of Russians, World War III will break out. Unfortunately, the terrorist plan works.
Despite efforts to stabilize the situation politically, Russia wants revenge. And they deliver it in the form of a full scale invasion of the United States. Red Dawn style.
And this is where the single-player mission begins to lose me. To be clear, CODMW2 is simply amazing and awesome. But its plot is also incredibly far fetched, requiring a great deal of belief suspension on the player's part – a little too much for my tastes. Here's why.
First, the Russians deploy a massive airborne assault on the continental United States, managing to penetrate our defenses by hacking into Uncle Sam's satellite systems and blinding them to their presence. In short, we don't see what's coming. Ok, the satellites I can believe. But what about ground radar? What about our entire Navy floating out at sea? Somewhere, somehow a massive airborne invasion force comprised of several hundred fighters, bombers, and heavy lift aircraft would be spotted at some point. But let's say for sake of argument that doesn't happen.
From here the plot goes from "Gee, that's rather hard to believe" to "Are you freaking kidding me?!?"
Now that Russian paratroopers have landed on U.S. soil, it's your job to repel the invaders, which is easier said than done. Apparently, in this game, the entire U.S Army is comprised of a few dozen infantry soldiers with no air or armor support. I mean, come on, the battle is fought on our own soil and our troops have NO EQUIPMENT, and are completely outnumbered, while Russians drop from the skies above by the thousands. A scene right out of D-Day, Northern France in 1944. In fact, not only do the Russians outnumber American troops, they somehow managed to transport heavy armor as well – tanks and BMPs are EVERYWHERE. The real head scratching moment came for me at the appearance of Mi-28 Havocs, the Russian counterpart to our own AH-64 Apache. These are short range attack helicopters for crying out loud! How did they get halfway round the world from Eurasia to North America with those tiny fuel tanks – and by the hundreds no less? Come on guys, this is just silly.
If you can swallow this difficult to imagine scenario, keep a large beverage nearby because more than a few aspirin will be required for what happens next.
The Russians have ignited World War III all for the sole purpose of… killing American civilians? You read that right. They've come here to kill 1,000 Americans for every single Russian murdered in the game's opening level. Do the math and that number comes out to several hundred thousands. Now granted, Russian's sometime let their passions get the better of them but this borders on a national bipolar disorder. Crazy.
The Battle of Burger King
Your first encounter with the Russians will reveal the shocking sight of their armored vehicles rolling through a once quiet suburb, shooting up homes (they are here to kill civilians, after all) and anything that moves, including family pets. With the help of your squad, you must fight back at the Russians with everything your have, which unfortunately isn't much. As I said earlier, in this game you are outnumbered and outgunned. The Russians have all the heavy gear. You have your helmet and your gun, and be thankful the game's designers didn't find reason to remove those from the storyline as well.
The truly comical moment of this game comes in an Alamo style last stand to defend a neighborhood strip mall in which you fight from rooftops at fast food restaurants. Their names are unlike any real-life fast food chains, but the resemblance's are there (Applebees, Burger King, Taco Bell). Parking lots become battlefields. Burger joints become fortresses. Drive up windows become shooting galleries. The scene is epic, with lots of fast paced action. In this level you are tasked with Rambo style acts of heroism, like bringing down enemy attack helos with shoulder-fired Stinger missles, conveniently located inside a Taco bar (free with coupon) across the street – of course you have to fight your way there and back through a hail of bullets and borscht. Once you've dispatched the choppers, enemy armor begins giving your band of brothers a good workover with 50 caliber machine gun, which you then must take out by means of a doppelgänger Predator drone circling overhead which has the unfortunate habit of sometimes falling under enemy control and working against you. Never send a droid to do a man's job.
And yet after all this bloodshed your efforts to defend the fast food alley were in vein. It becomes clear the place is a total loss and soon reinforcement's arrive to liberate you, not the town. Run away, fight another day. It's all crazy, but unquestionably entertaining.
People to Kill, Places to Bomb
At this point you are transported into several other personas set in different locales such a decaying South American city, where U.S. Special Ops search for this elusive Ruskie responsible for the outbreak of World War III. An Oil platform in the Alaskan region, where you play as Navy Seal sent to rescue hostages from said Oil rig. A frozen polar naval base that you must infiltrate and prevent a Russian missile submarine from firing its nukes. And a Russian prison island, in which you must free an old friend, while the U.S. Navy uses the facility for target practice.
But it's the homeland levels that offer the most action, and invoke the most emotional response. Particularly during the battle for Washington – the game's final level. As you and your squad-mates fight your way through the crumbling remains of our nation's capital, in a captivating apocalyptic scene, you can't help but feel a sense of resolve as you gaze upon the burned out shell of the White House. The shredded capital building. The battered Word War II Memorial. And scorched Washington monument, that serves as evacuation point for remaining U.S. forces, where you watch the Russian army overrun and annihilate America's national treasures. Gripping stuff.
The single-player mission also holds several more surprises, which I won't spoil for you entirely. Needless to say, it's immensely entertaining. If you can accept its far fetched plot and brief gameplay – just under five hours.
What about Multiplayer?
But of course the real point of any game is to play against other players online. And CODMW2 delivers a stellar multiplayer component. Starting off with a selection of Special Ops campaigns taken from the single-player mission where you and/or other players (up to four) compete head to head in timed missions based on speed or level of difficulty. These are cooperative levels designed to be played alone or together – your choice.
The real gold however is in CODMW2's full-on multiplayer gameplay, which is substantially revamped from the original. Weapons loadouts are now a bit more robust in that you can set a another primary weapon as your secondary, meaning two badass guns instead of just one, and a wimpy sidearm – I call dibs on the shotgun.
You also get new upgrades such as blast shields, which are effective even at close range for protection from heavy weapons. Watch out for grenades though or you pay dearly.
Killing streaks now offer a new set of rewards in the form of such niceties as Predator airstrikes and attack helicopter support, radar tracking data for whodawhatnow on enemy movements.
The list goes on.
Put together, CODMW2 is a simply a colossally kickass game that you must put on your holiday wishlist, if you haven't done so already. It's crazy single-player plot is a bit vexing, but that minor quibble is easily offset by so many wondrous facets that earn it my Editor's Choice.