Russians have invaded U.S. soil, and the player is trapped in a plaza filled with three fast food corporate giant restaurants providing the only cover. This should be a highlight of Modern Warfare 2, with Russian paratroopers continuing to file in, jets constantly streaming overhead, shattering glass, smoke in the distance, and air raid sirens blaring.
Instead, Modern Warfare 2 shows it’s fallible, for a brief moment turning an intense, violent firefight into a chore. Forcing the player to run across a parking lot and up to a roof for an RPG is fine. Taking down enemy helicopters is a satisfying achievement, even in the steroid-driven Michael Bay-inspired action this series is known for.
Then, the design is such that you have to do it twice. A building on the opposite end of the parking lot contains the other RPG for the second chopper, and as luck would have it, the commanding officer happened to catch a glimpse of both weapons during the fight. This is not a short walk, particularly given the sheer amount of firepower being slung in the player’s direction as A.I. partners are gunned down. This is not necessarily challenging, certainly less so on lesser difficulties, but frustrating in how unnecessary it is.
The area is incredibly closed, and the level offers little sense of progression. Enemies come from all angles, orders are issued to defend a direction, and you respond. The stage design is a glorified square with bushes and a few buildings.
The problem with the level is that it stops the game cold following a morally questionable run through a Russian airport. The scene exists for a number of reasons, certainly establishing the villain, Makarov, as a callous human being. His troops, the player included as an undercover U.S. agent, exit an elevator and begin firing. Direction here is spectacular, as the player cannot run, forced to walk and witness the hysteria they are either part of or simply witnessing.
This is where the story is gaining ground, and a dual helicopter assault grinds it to a halt. So yes, Modern Warfare 2 is flawed, if only for a half hour or so. Everything else about the campaign is another achievement for Infinity Ward, capturing that same fast-paced, smooth first-person shooting experience this franchise consistently produces.
It is the little touches, and the scripted “wow” factor, that create the tightly wound whole. As the player starts, they walk an American military camp where two soldiers play a one-on-one basketball game. The animation is not repetitive, and incredibly natural. Others are working on vehicles, writing letters, or chatting. Small controllable game touches include a brief moment in space, while a fantastic finish makes the final boss logical and tense enough to justify its placement as a finale.
The “wow” factor is certainly in place, the highlight being a remarkable run through the streets of Washington, which are being rained on by helicopters after an EMP assault. Soldiers are screaming for you to move, explosions cause more explosions, debris hits the virtual soldiers in the face, all orientation is lost, and yet there is a sense of control behind the scene. Few games can manage that level of chaos, while still allowing the player the feeling that they remain in control of their life, or at least one that pushes them back to the prior checkpoint.
Modern Warfare 2 will live on through its multiplayer, now loaded with new perks including the ability to pick your kill streak weapon. Spec Ops missions fill in for the lack of campaign coop nicely, and if you’re skilled enough, versus multiplayer now allows you to drop a nuke at a 25-kill streak, instantly ending the match. Michael Bay would be proud.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Language. This game can also be found on: Xbox 360, PC.