How does one begin to review the biggest triple A title of the year? Well for starters, you don't. If you have any idea what the meaning of "time and money well spent" is, you'd have picked up a copy already. What I'll do instead is share my thought's on what I've experienced so far. Oh and OMG! OMG! It's fan-fuckin'-tastic. Slight spoilers ahead if you've not completed Call of Duty 4, otherwise we're golden. A game that sells 5 million copies in it's first day of release doesn't need much justification, it only makes sharing one's experience more widely acceptable.
Loved: The single-player campaign. Infinity Ward does a great job of always building up your character by making you feel like you're a big part of a small team only to have your expectations shot down. Literally. It's one thing to end a cutscene featuring a dramatic nuclear explosion that sends shockwaves towards your helicopter, by simply fading to white, but to have that scene fade back in, putting the player in complete control of crawling out from the aftermath and ultimately laying out to die, is what Infinity Ward excels at. I mean come one this is a game where everyone but the hero dies at the end. If you thought Modern Warfare did things well, Modern Warfare 2 does to a standing ovation. Don't get me wrong while the story does have some great "ah you fucking bastard I'mma kill you" moments it's also littered with some that have you rolling your eyes, wondering "really? I almost died but you happened to grab me at the last minute AGAIN!". It's great and all but feels a little overwrought. Maybe it's the British charm but these characters will grow on you and I'll simply mention that Prisoner 627 turns out to be one hell of a fist-pump-in-the-fuckin-air moment. I also may have read to much into the story as I found myself in moments with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Political satire? Hmm.
Modern Warfare 2 is not without it's share of controversy and right from the get go, before you do anything else, the game asks if you would like to play or skip an optional mission later in the game and asks for confirmation. I wish there were an option for "fuck yes!" and to confirm "would you like this mission to happen at Kirk Cameron's pad and have it populated by canon fodder in the form of his Sonny Bono looking pal and have the final boss be Kirk Cameron and fucking banana." FUCK YES! Oh and throw all the pro-lifers in there for good measure. Yeah fuck 'em. Great moment that only emphasizes Infinity Ward's brilliance and set's forth the mood.
The gameplay feels remarkably refined and the pacing of both story and action/stealth segments transition smoothly between one another. Remember "All Ghillied Up"? There are a couple of those moments scattered throughout. While their are vehicle segments, they can be thought of more as interactive cut scenes that help glue the different acts together. Without spoiling too much, towards the end of the game you'll reach an airship graveyard where two factions are killing each other and your goal is to reach the other side without making you their target. After surviving the trek to your getaway car, the driver is shot and you need to steer the jeep into an airship. Yeah, intense I know.
Multiplayer is Modern Warfare 2's bread and butter. The game has legs based on this factor alone. Modern Warfare laid the groundwork for what multiplayer games should be. From the tick that appears on your crosshairs when you've made contact, giving an indication that some poor sap is about to get pissed, to the precision and care taken in crafting some of THE best controls ever implemented into any game, period. It's gotta mean something when you're girlfriend, who's never liked, let alone played a first person shooter, falls in love with a game like Call of Duty. I don't think she fully understands the lock-on/auto-aim mechanic of the left trigger but to have it work so beautifully without any knowledge of it speaks volumes.
14 game modes, each slight variants of the usual Capture-the-flag, Team Deathmatch, and Search and destroy, along with 16 maps ship with the game. I gave Infinity Ward some flak for only releasing one map pack for Call of Duty 4 but gave them the benefit of the doubt that the reason for it was so they could concentrate on MW2. It seems they definitely put the time they were granted to magnificent use. The maps are gigantic, and have a rambunctious almost World at War feel to them. In Favela corridors are tight and campers can easily find severely good hiding spots as well as some great vantage points for snipers who get to some high ground quick. I was never a big fan of Domination mode, however these maps are so expansive they just lend themselves to well thought out strategies. It also makes calling out enemy positions easier by simply calling out "dude over by C to the left of the tank" instead of "hey over to the right, I mean left, the car, jeep, oh wait your over by BOOM!" FUCK.
Guns are here in spades. There are so many of them, even though my good pal, Barry "hyperlink" Peterson may recognize them all, I have a feeling IW threw some in simply to fuck with us. Shotgun attachment for an M4? Really? Who could shoot something like that? They've also pushed customization to an all time high. Each primary weapon has a choice of not one, not two, but ten different attachments. Grenade launchers to heartbeat sensors. Equally overwhelming are the choices in kill-streak rewards, and perks. Leveling up unlocks kill-streak rewards and allows you to customize deployment of such rewards. 3 kills give you the usual UAV, but 4 kills give you a care package, which randomly drops a kill streak reward that can easily be taken by the other team so make sure you drop your flare in a safe spot. 5 Kills provides the player with either a sentry gun, which if placed strategically can net you some rad amount of XP. If you happen to be a bad ass and reach 25 kills you get a game ending, yes game ending, nuke. At any point if a player acquires a 25 kill streak, and if he's a douche, consider the game over. In case you are wondering, the ever so tough decision of whether to Prestige or not is reached when you hit a level 70. Infinity Ward promised those who reach a level 5 prestige will get more than simple gold weapons as they did in COD4. Time will tell.
Balancing: How do you balance a game that has so many tweaks to it. Well that's just the thing. Every perk and every weapon can essentially be counter-balanced, with true skill relying on overall reaction time. Whoever reacts the quickest gets the kill. In some instances though, and quite honestly to make the game that much more fun for weak, MW2 introduces Death-streak rewards. If you go 4 deaths without a kill you can use copycat which lets you steal your killer's class, painkiller gives you a 10 second health boost on respawn after 3 deaths with no kill and the ill-favored Martyrdom and Final Stand are now death streaks instead of perks. I don't mind martyrdom, I honestly feel that if you're dumb enough to not move on after a kill you deserve that 'nade up on yo grill. My favorite weapon in World at War was the sticky grenade and MW2 brings them in the form of Semtex grenades. It's gonna be a tough call once I unlock claymores to decide which to STICK with. HA! On a side note grenades now show a trail behind them as you fling them around. Nice little touch.
There's also Spec Ops mode which is a 2 player Co-Op mode that helps kill some time while waiting for the gathering of friends for some all out Multiplayer. Specs Ops pits you and a friend into some environments with AI controlled opponents with the simple task of surviving. It's exactly what I was expecting and every bit as fun, as Rainbow Six Vegas' Terrorist hunt save for the cheap AI. Sorta.
That pretty much sums it up for now. As of launch day I know there was an issue with the PS3 version of MW2 not registering trophies and matchmaking problems, however from what I hear a patch has already been issued for the trophy issue. On the multiplayer front, PSN's servers are hosted by third parties as opposed to Xbox Live's servers being host ed by Microsoft directly. So Inifinity Ward is waiting for Demonware to get some more servers up and running. Apparently they weren't expecting such a huge server load. Amazing.