The short answer for the impatient is a definitive "yes". If you have any interest in shooting games, intense action, stunning graphics, engaging storylines, dramatic mood-setting music, frenetic gameplay or an excellent online experience, Modern Warfare 2 is a must-have. It really is that good. For anyone who needs further convincing, here's the long answer.
The story follows on from the previous Modern Warfare title, although it is now five years later. The Ultranationalist party, villains in the previous game, have managed to seize control of Russia, and former Ultranationalist leader Imran Zakhaev who was killed in Modern Warfare, is now seen as a martyr. Vladamir Makarov, a lieutenant in Zakhaev's regime, continues to raise the ire of the US military by reigning death and destruction on Europe via nefarious acts of terrorism. When an undercover CIA operation to stop Makarov goes horribly awry, Russia gains sympathy from the rest of the world at the expense of the USA, and is able to openly invade the USA without UN intervention.
The most controversial chapter of Modern Warfare 2 happens early on, when new recruit Joseph Allen is sent deep-undercover to infiltrate Makarov's inner-circle. During this chapter your party mercilessly guns down unarmed civilians in a Russian airport. You have the option to participate in the slaughter, or to stand back and watch the carnage unfold if slaughtering innocents is not your cup of tea (you will also be asked multiple times if you would like to skip the chapter altogether). This chapter has led to perennial video-game critic, South Australian attorney general Michael Atkinson, to call for the game to be banned in Australia. It's confronting, but at the same time most people will be able to recognize this is a video-game, not real life, and will move on quickly once the chapter is complete. This chapter sets up the remainder of the plot, so it's not entirely frivolous, or there simply for shock value as some have suggested.
The controls are identical to last year's title – L1 looks down the sights of your weapon or zooms in on targets if you have the sniper rifle equipped, R1 shoots. L2 throws a flash grenade to disorient the enemy, whilst R2 throws a frag grenade to, um, explode them. R3 controls your knife for melee attacks, and holding down L3 makes your character run. The direction buttons are used to select other weapons you have in your arsenal, some of which will be mission specific, like claymores, predator missiles (lots of fun), grenade launchers and laser targeting.
Whilst campaign mode is very short, players can also undertake Special Ops missions set in locations seen throughout campaign mode. There are four sets of Special Ops missions (Alpha, Bravo, Charlie and Delta), with five missions in each. Each mission awards up to three stars based on your performance, or the difficulty level you've selected. The stars are important because you'll need to gain a certain amount before the next set of missions is unlocked.
There's a pleasing amount of variety in the missions – some are straightforward "kill everyone" missions, whilst others have you defusing bombs, racing snowmobiles or sneaking through enemy lines with just the sniper rifle and your own guile to see you through. There are also a few co-op missions in Special Ops mode, during which one player generally rides in a helicopter and lays down support fire for their friend on the ground as they make their way to a target area. The missions are simple in plot but a lot of fun too. The difficulty of Special Ops missions in general can vary significantly even when played on the same setting, but unlocking most, if not all of the missions is certainly achievable.
Looking back at our review of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare it must be stated that we placed far too much emphasis on the single player, and not enough on the multi-player modes and longevity. This remains, to this day, one of the most impressive multi-player games of all time. Part of the reason we have taken so long to get this 'major' review online, is to spend a lot of time playing the multi-player components and indeed we have already clocked well over 30 hours of online gameplay. So what can you expect from Modern Warfare 2? A hell of a lot actually...
We'll start with the game modes, and there are tonne of them in this game. Initially only a couple are unlocked but as you move up in the rankings other modes get unlocked. These modes include the following: Team Deathmatch, Mercenary Team Deathmatch (no clans), Free-For-All, Domination, Ground War, Demolition, Sabotage, Headquarters Pro, Search and Destroy, Capture the Flag, 3rd Person Team Tactical, Hardcore Ricochet: SD, Hardcore Team Deathmatch, 3rd Person Cage Match, Team Deathmatch Express, Mosh Pit (which is a mixed bag of game modes) and Hardcore Ricochet: HQ Pro.
As you can see from the list most have been ported from the previous Call of Duty titles but the biggest new addition is that of the third person modes which see you playing from over the shoulder. There is no option to switch to a first person mode here, but that would certainly provide an uneven playing field. This is an interesting, and rather impressive, new option indeed.
New to Modern Warfare 2 is the ability to set your own Killstreaks. There are fifteen killstreak rewards in total with three available to be selected at any one time. Do you select a UAV after 3 kills, or the Care Package at 4 kills. How about the Attack Helicopter at 7 kills, Stealth Bomber at 9 kills, AC-130 at 11 kills or for the mother of all Killstreak rewards the Tactical Nuke at 25 kills! In a similar vein you can also select a Deathstreak reward when you're on a bad run which may include the ability to copy your killer's loadout, or get additional health among others.
Criticising the multiplayer component of Modern Warfare 2 is akin to picking faults with the Great Wall of China or Eiffel Tower. It's such a monumental triumph for the creators that finding faults is really taking things to the extreme. Indeed in terms of gameplay there is little to fault with a wonderful system for upgrading weapons and character abilities. Still if we are to pick a few faults the inability to restrict games to territories often leads to massive frustrations for Australian gamers as they are lumped in with games in Europe or America and thereby struggle with pretty horrific ping times. We also feel that there should have been a few more maps then the 16 provided. Sure there will be map packs in future (for a fee of course), but the XBox 360 will have exclusive rights to them for short periods of time (the exact length of which has not been disclosed as yet). Still, small issues in an online component that we will be playing for months.
Another part of the reason MW2 looks so impressive is that there's always a lot going on graphically - there's an almost ever-present smoke-haze around the battlefield thanks to the various artillery being thrown about, tanks, helicopters and enemy soldiers all move about firing their weapons, creating more and more on-screen destruction and yet the screen-tearing that is so prevalent in many other PS3 titles is nowhere to be seen here, and no matter how much action there is on-screen there is very little, if any, slowdown. Bullets impact differently based on what they hit; they'll blast holes in concrete but not penetrate it, but will fly through walls comprised of flimsier materials and strike home on those unlucky or foolish enough to be hiding behind them. Characters are well animated and move realistically, fires and explosions look as they should, with a heat-haze emanating from them, heck, even dogs look good in this game.
With Modern Warfare 2, Infinity Ward has delivered a wonderful game for both newcomers and franchise veterans alike. It's definitely worth noting that the single-player campaign is extremely short (5-6 hours), with Spec Ops adding the same again, so anyone not looking to go online with Modern Warfare 2 needs to consider this fact before buying. If you want to go online though, Modern Warfare 2 is, quite simply, a must-have. This is a fantastic game, one that will no doubt be in the running for multiple end of year awards, including the coveted Game of the Year title.
Review By: Mike Allison & Dave Warner (Online Multi-player)