Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Review (Xbox360)

Thanks to a rather silly retail situation, you may have been playing Modern Warfare 2 since Friday whilst weíve been clawing at a copy under embargo; in which case youíll already know that Infinity Wardís latest is not to be missed. Far from shunning the weight of expectation, the developer has honed its well-worn formula to a logical and achievable shine; crafting a campaign that surprises with scope, but rarely in mechanics.

From the safe and comforting assault course opener, this is a title that oozes a confidence built on collective experience. Itís the sort of videogame that understands exactly what its audience wants, and doesnít flinch in delivering set-piece after set-piece with barely a pause to load the next scenario. The politics may be questionable, but the commitment certainly isnít; and that may yet run Infinity Ward into deep trouble in the coming weeks.

Do not mess with this man.
The Gulag turns out to be one of the best levels.

If youíre the last person on earth reading this not to have noticed, the developer has Ė controversially - included an extremely graphic depiction of a very specific act of terrorism early on in the game; which the player has full control over. Unsurprisingly, this is something of a talking point - most recently within the British Parliament as I write - and to ignore the issue would be remiss.

What Iíll say is this: The level in question is, without doubt, the most thought-provoking that Iíve yet encountered in any mainstream game. Itís also a pretty sobering experience provided youíre immersed in the atmosphere and context, but can easily be ignored or skipped if you donít want to put yourself through a fairly clearly-defined moralistic mill. In short, itís powerful in a way that videogames rarely are; and despite the abhorrent undertone running beneath, I canít help but admire it in some twisted way.

Of course there will be a significant chunk of the audience that end up wondering what all the fuss was about; and for those of you of that persuasion, MW2ís action beat and constant assault on the senses will prove the primary draw.

Atmospheric colour abounds.
Vehicle sections are handled well.

Itís here that Infinity Ward steps above and beyond criticism with superlative gunplay and a visual panache that Ė at times Ė borders on best-in-show. Enemies crumple realistically under fire, set-piece animation is integrated in an almost seamless fashion within the level design, and youíll be hard-pushed to spot a single respawning set of foes - which is about bloody time, even if early reports of nerfed veteran difficulty as a direct consequence are to be believed.

The crisp 60fps console versions are surprisingly well-detailed, and if youíve got a decent rig waiting at home, then please hail the new king of PC graphics benchmarking - for the next two years at least. Colour and lighting is noticeably improved in this second iteration, and whilst the environment remains resolutely non-interactive, itís a moot point when the developer is happy to blow up everything for you with relative frequency.

Whilst the majority of the mission structure will be familiar (follow the tank, destroy the AA gun, clear the house, etc), new additions are also pleasingly well judged, from vehicle sections that work within the confines of the physics engine to climbing mechanics that offer up a healthy dose of tension - itís all integrated with a strong taint of money and talent behind the scenes. Treyarch may well be an improving off-year custodian, but this is Infinity Wardís baby; the fingerprints are unmistakable.

Brutal yet pretty particle effects.
In typical Infinity Ward style, those buildings don't last too long.

Aside from the relative brevity of the campaign, multiplayer is already proving the time-sync from hell that youíll no doubt have been expecting. Weíll save discussion of dedicated servers and 9vs9 PC-limiting for another occasion, but suffice to say, outside of that controversy, things are pretty smooth. Games are already easy to come by and well matched, and IWís revised ladder of unlockable content and perks is positively addictive and more evenly-paced than the original.

As a whole, MW2 is spectacular in all the right areas; building and refining on the most solid of bases. And although its political heart might not be in the Ďrightí place, at the very least it might make a few people think rather than skim through on muscle memory and twitch reactions. Thatís a rarity in itself, and something to be respected in an age of apathy.

Top Game moment:
Firing a machine gun one-handed whilst rocketing down a mountainside on a snowmobile.



By Richie82 (SI Member) on Nov 10, 2009
Finally - a review that hasn't been clouded by the massive hype. Nice work, my ex-Gamer's Universe compadre!
By Jake_SI (SI Elite) on Nov 10, 2009
Looking forward to getting my hands on this game.
By BlitzKrieg (SI Veteran Member) on Nov 10, 2009
Man i luv MW2, the 360 version is really good, and the new online search pwns!, i like the campaign its real well planned and very very smart,i wonder waht happened to markov tho?
By Jake_SI (SI Elite) on Nov 12, 2009
I got this yesterday, and finished the campaign on hardened difficulty today, was a bit short, but not too bad, and well worth it, because the story and gameplay and everything about it basically, is awesome.

This game is well worth the money, it definately lives up to the standards that MW1 set for it.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Nov 17, 2009
I have to wait for my son to come over and open his B'day present to play this puppy . Looking forward to the ride IW sent us on this time round.
By angelone (SI Veteran Member) on Nov 16, 2009
It was probably one of the best single player campaigns I've ever played, and the music was phenomenal.
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Nov 17, 2009
Hans Zimmer has done the score, so I'm hoping they'll release it seperately as a Chrissie present.
By stuntkid (SI Elite) on Nov 19, 2009
Finished this on hardened also. Wow! Absolutely great game. Great gameplay, story, music etc etc. Gonna take a break from it and return later on veteran!!
By herodotus (SI Herodotus) on Dec 10, 2009
Seconded. Excellent game with an amazing storyline (up yours Yahtzee). Anyone complete the Museum level on Veteran yet?