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.