I've literally made myself sick playing this game. Not since Batman: Arkham Asylum have I binged so badly on a game. I've lost a lot of sleep and neglected a lot of chores. To be fair, I wanted to get through the campaign as early as possible and move on to the Specials Ops co-op mode and the multiplayer. A mere six-and-a-half hours after I started, the single player campaign was conquered (on Hardened difficulty) and the meat and potatoes of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 beckoned. Twelve hours of multiplayer and six of Special Ops saw me finally setting the controller down to start the review.
When writing most reviews, the game in scrutiny can be measured to a standard. Some people like to detract for flaws. Some like to add merit for ingenuity or solid gameplay. Most try to do both. In considering Modern Warfare 2, there are a ton of good and bad facets; this game is by no means perfect, but it is unquestionably a show worth the price of admission.
As usual, the start of the single player campaign puts you in a short tutorial mode cleverly disguised as a training mission. The set piece for Modern Warfare 2's tutorial level is as detailed as the rest of the levels, despite being around just seven minutes in length. The very next mission throws a battle at you and gives a good taste of what's to come: namely, a cinematic scripted event during gameplay, an intense firefight, and plenty of AI chatter. It also serves to introduce the game's several upgrades, including the removal of grenade spamming and infinitely spawning enemies.
Somehow, Infinity Ward managed to improve on Call of Duty 4's visuals. Textures are cleaner and more detailed. Smoke billows and expands, at one point even swirling realistically as AH-6 helicopters pass through. It's not a huge improvement, but it shows how committed the studio is to detail and immersion on a visual level. The sounds of the guns leave a little bit to be desired, but voiceover work is spot-on and the music is suitably epic (we would expect nothing less from a score by Hans Zimmer). I particularly liked the higher level of destruction that takes place during pretty much any mode. In the single player campaign, a bullet to the tire of a parked vehicle deflates it. Anything made with glass spiderwebs, then shatters...and there is a lot more glass this time around, both in single- and multiplayer. Some of the destruction is scripted, but enough exploding cars and burst water mains await your personal touch that it feels like you have an integral role in changing the immediate environment.
I'll go ahead and say it now: overall, Modern Warfare 2 is one of the best games this year. Sure, Infinity Ward has botched the pre-release hype generation, but there's no denying that the core gameplay experience is incredible. Finely tuned controls that are mimicked for other franchises, an engine that has been used for at least three other Activision games since Call of Duty 4, and the near-infinite replayability of multiplayer: online, LAN support, splitscreen offline multiplayer, and two-player co-op - online and off. Modern Warfare 2 is a must-play game for anyone who enjoyed its predecessor; the only gamers unwilling to partake in this experience are those who feel the need to exercise consumer politics (an honorable cause, by the way).
Special Ops has turned out to be a bit of a surprise hit, too. It takes some of the scenarios straight out of the single player campaign...some of them are restructured missions from Call of Duty 4...and some are completely original. They are all very fun, and while we maintain that four players would be a better option, Special Ops proves that there are plenty of great co-op moments when even just two people are playing. I've spent some good time showing my wife the ropes, and used four hours of couch co-op Special Ops to generate some classic memories with my best friend. I am obligated by my convictions to admit that I haven't laughed and carried on so much over an offline multiplayer/co-op game since the glory days of GoldenEye. Much to my excitement, there are quite a few Special Ops missions to keep me busy for a long time. It literally exceeds the single player campaign in length and variety. A quick informative note: much of Special Ops can be tackled solo, but there are a handful of missions that require two players.
Where the game falls short of being the year's best game, though, it falls hard. The grenade spam may be gone, but the enemy AI seems to adapt in an unbalanced way: respawn at a checkpoint more than once, and the unaware bad guy around the corner will suddenly anticipate you. The story itself is a joke, stealing liberally from a whole generation of action movies and throwing in a controversial scene that seems to be designed just for a media frenzy. The extremely well-balanced multiplayer matches are marred by the exclusion of Xbox Live Party chat in most of the popular modes. Online servers for the PlayStation 3 version are managed by a third party contractor, and early reports are that connecting to a game has been frustrating and largely impossible for the first five days after it was released. Special Ops doesn't have matchmaking. Since we're not reviewing the PC version, I won't mention specifics on the laundry list of profit-driven and consumer ethics issues surrounding this title, but if you've been reading our news posts, you're probably already well aware. And let's not forget the largest blow of all: co-op removed from the campaign and limited to two players, all so that you don't ruin your own experience.
It seems like these problems - especially the implications and assumptions of the developer - would drive public opinion down, but the plain truth of it all is that Modern Warfare 2 has everything it needs to stand on its own as simply an extremely fun, addicting game. It could have been much, much better...and yet, many other studios will work for years trying to reach the bar that Infinity Ward has so cavalierly set.
It may be a hard pill to swallow, but in terms of both co-op and single-player: most of Modern Warfare 2's drawbacks are overshadowed by tried-and-true gameplay and high production value. And of course, the multiplayer aspect is unrivaled on consoles. Can I recommend this game for Game of the Year? Eh, probably not. Can I recommend it for your Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3? Absolutely. What little co-op there is really shines, and I anticipate many "sick days" full of Modern Warfare 2 in the coming year.