Sometimes a game just doesn't need a grand introduction with superfluous commentary; sometimes, a confluence of hype, controversy and mass anticipation do much better at setting a stage. While such contexts can reign over clairvoyance and produce misguided reactions, they can also supply oversensitive misgivings. This is a conundrum Infinity Ward and Activision face with their second departure from the World War II genre. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is neither as disruptive to the first-person shooter genre or innovative as its predecessor, but by keeping steadfast to a proven formula Infinity Ward shows they know how to make thrilling and addicting games.
With gratuitous action straight out of a high-budget, military-filled Hollywood blockbuster, Modern Warfare 2 bombards you with intense sequences, which might not always seem plausible but which are completely exciting to play. From film, your senses of sight and sound only allow you to witness what kind of chaos is happening on-screen; in a game, however, those same senses produce reactions that in-turn have an impact. Obviously Infinity Ward recognizes this and doesn't pull any punches when they successfully re-create some intense summertime action flick scenes in the game.
Depending on what kind of difficulty you qualify for in the opening training course, Modern Warfare 2 takes you on a fairly short ride best described by the kind of quotes you'd see in the aforementioned film trailers: “Intense; Explosive; A high-octane, action-packed thrill-ride.” You get the point. What the game is missing, however, is “Poignant.”
While Treyarch remains faithful custodians to the original Call of Duty IP, letting players experience historical moments, Infinity Ward's modern-day-though-somewhat-futuristic game feels like it takes too much for granted in its storytelling efforts to create drama. In true CoD fashion points-of-view for an overall conflict bounce between characters with updates in goings-on during between-level loadscreens. As the United States is invaded by a Russian army you're thrown between sequences of soldiers in their effort to fend off the encroaching enemy and a Special Forces unit abroad trying to stop the terrorist who ignited the conflict. The perspectives play extremely well of one another as the actions of Task Force 141 effect the Marines' situation, but the conflict-driven focus loses its steam with leaps in building tension and characters dying off everywhere.
Ultimately, the story feels pasted together with intense set pieces and recycled moments from the first Modern Warfare game acting as the glue. Truly, this sequel's greatest hurdle is the series' first game. Little things like hearing a soldier yell, “We're Oscar Mike!” one too many times or even the convoluted story of betrayal and at-any-cost exposition would have been fairly easy to overlook had the first game not flowed so seamlessly or set the bar so high with unique sequences.
Precedent plays less of an impact on the multiplayer side of things, however. The game remains just as addicting and deep as the first, if not more so. The addition of a third-person perspective game type is more of a fun distraction than practical extension of competitive gameplay as it lacks optimized adaptation of the first-person mechanics, but new perks, equipment and leveling systems ensure longevity to matchmaking. Kill Streak awards feel a bit unbalanced and annoying this time around, but are easily dealt with if you communicate well with your team.
To some degree, Modern Warfare 2 feels a bit more 1.5 with little innovation to the overall scheme of things, but the addition of cooperative gameplay in Spec Ops helps to positively differentiate the game. Played either locally (LAN or splitscreen) or with an invite to a friend online, Spec Ops provides for some entertaining one-off challenges. As variations on missions pulled from the story, they're a fun way to re-visit some of moments in the short campaign—with a friend nonetheless.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was a powerful entry into the first-person genre and an example of how linear gameplay could be exciting. With the game's sequel, similar mechanics and moments prove less of an impact but still provide a great deal of entertainment. Looking great and sounding better than ever thanks in part to voices like Kevin McKidd and the music of Hans Zimmer, Modern Warfare 2 is by no means a substandard entry for the series—it's just not as good as the first game for the most part. With the sequel Infinity Ward continues to show their mastery of the multiplayer mode, but it's going to take more from the entire package than just the addition of cooperative play to satiate gamers the next time around.