Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Belated Review of Modern Warfare Two

How does a developer go about crafting the sequel to one of the decades most appreciated videogames? Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare launched to instant success, eventually topping over 10 million sales across multiple platforms. This was a double-edged sword for developer Infinity Ward; they created the current generations most influential first person shooter, yet they themselves must go one better and produce a sequel worthy of the name. Modern Warfare 2 is their much-anticipated attempt.

The campaign kicks off with the player controlling Private First Class Joseph Allen, a US army ranger based in Afghanistan as he takes part in a Humvee assault through an Afghan city, reminiscent of American drama “Generation Kill”. Recognised for his achievements, Private Allen is then whisked off to join Task Force 141, recruited to covertly infiltrate a known terrorist threat lead by the game’s primary antagonist Vladimir Zhakarov. The game then presents a twist, one which provides the narrative fuel to drive the player through to the inevitable conclusion.

In typical Call of Duty style, the game ping pongs between different characters during the story in order to tell each individual section of the narrative. This can leave the game’s pacing feeling flat, often deflating the player when he is stripped of his task force 141 rank and thrown back into the ordinary boots of Private James Ramirez, a generic soldier tasked with performing tedious objectives. For example, whilst one mission has you assaulting a military base under the stealthy cover of a blizzard, the next sees you escorting an Armoured Personnel Carrier through the suburban streets of Eastern America. This stark contrast can be a hindrance to the player’s enjoyment, especially considering developer Infinity Ward’s ability to craft such memorable set pieces, instead forcing you to rely on such genre clich├ęs as an escort mission. Despite the drop in calibre, these set pieces are still wonderfully crafted, with one tasking the player to retake the Whitehouse from Russian invasion, a visually emotive experience that encapsulates the game’s sombre narrative.

The narrative itself is standard action game fare. A slightly unrealistic scenario littered with plot holes but accepted due to its all out epic nature. A tepid Russia un-cover a reason to invade the United States of America whilst the whole world hangs on the precipice of nuclear fallout. I think you’ll agree an exhilarating prospect, and unfortunately in today’s post 9-11 society an ever more plausible one. Filled with multiple twists it is the perfect accompaniment to the games fast paced gunplay.

Although inconsistent, the game really shines during its most intense moments. Fast paced, action packed and full of set pieces you will want to replay, the Singleplayer is nothing but excellent. Highlights include jumping from the corregated iron roof of a shanty Favela hut to reach the dangling rope of a rescue helicopter, and storming an Alcatraz esque prison culminating in a narrative twist most fans of the series can’t help but smile about. Furthermore, the games final sequence is arguably the most enjoyable moment, leaving players with a sweet taste upon completion and a heap of fond memories.

Upon completion of this 6 – 8 hour campaign the player is then introduced to Spec Ops; a co-operative two player mode which presents modified set pieces, some extracted from the campaign, some original, each thoroughly entertaining. The game remains challenging as the missions are varied whilst escalating in difficulty and intensity. Intelligent achievements task the player with completing each Spec Ops mission on the highest veteran difficulty, a challenge truly worthy of the gamerscore (or trophies depending on platform) it hands out. While challenging, the game is exploitable on the hardest missions, taking some of the fun away in exchange for virtual progress. Spec Ops is a “best of” selection from the Call of Duty series, thoroughly entertaining and a worthy addition to the series.

Of course, while these two modes are an enjoyable starter, the games main course is the multiplayer. If you were one of the millions that played Call of Duty 4 then things should be instantly recognisable. Each player can apply 2 perks to give them advantages in combat which help them to rank up so they can unlock special items and camouflage patterns. However this time Infinity Ward have increased the player’s already huge array of options. The range of killstreak rewards (selectable abilities gained after having achieved a certain number of kills before death) has over doubled, now offering the ability to airdrop a care package which enables the player a random ability, potentially a match winning one. The array of attachments which can bolster your weapons effectiveness have also seen a healthy increase, now featuring items such as a thermal scope for spotting enemies in low visibility environments.

Inevitably, all this added chaos would need to be properly balanced for competitive play, and it is this fact that comes back to bite the game. Unfortunately, the incentive proposed by these kill streaks slows the game’s pace down as players are more inclined to wait for their kills rather than risk venturing out and earning them. Matches often divulge into people perched on rooftops or behind dumpsters, awaiting their next victim. When the ability to call in a remote controlled gunship that fires explosive shells is potentially only 4 kills away, then why would the player risk sudden death only to have to start his streak again. They won’t, and it naturally hurts the high paced gameplay of Modern Warfare 2.

This is not to say the game isn’t fun. It is. Players of any skill level can jump into the multiplayer and have some modicum of success, with kills largely defined by who saw who first, meaning map movement is key. And Infinity Ward haven’t lost the ability to make the player feel rewarded, with experience points allocated arbitrarily for challenges such as sprinting a certain distance or falling off a high object and surviving, the player is always progressing no matter their performance in game. A quick applaud to Infinity Ward again for including a completely new set of weaponry in Modern Warfare 2, with any returning numbers completely remade from scratch, making a similar game to Call of Duty 4 seem all that bit fresher.

To quote Epic Games lead designer Cliff Bleszinski, Modern Warfare 2 is “bigger, better and more badass”, although that was the idea. The pressure of creating a game superior to Call of Duty 4 obviously had an affect on the final product, with an over compensating amount of additions that lack balance and meaning. Modern Warfare 2 is a thoroughly entertaining game, one that stands as a benchmark for the genre, but ultimately can’t best its younger brother. [8]

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