Platform: PC/PS3/Xbox 360
Developer: Infinity Ward
Come, friendly bombs and fall on Slough – Betjeman.
Come violent bombs and bullets and stuff and fall on Brazil and Kazakhstan and Washington – Activision.
There is a very good reason why developers Infinity Ward and Activision sold millions of their first Modern Warfare take on the long-standing Call of Duty first person shooter. The game was bloody – and bloody good.
Modern Warfare 2 follows the same pattern. It also has the same negative – it’s way too short, particularly for a game with a 55 quid price tag – although the extra bits and pieces do help in terms of value.
As you may recall, at the end of the first Modern Warfare, your character may have been on his last legs but you still had enough gumption to pick up the gun thrown at you and shoot the shady Eastern European bad guy in the head. This memorable scene – and the rest of the first game – is recapped, cinematically, in the opening sequence to MW2. After a quick training session – shoot targets, avoid destroying photos of civilians - you’re then thrown back into the fray. The mission? More shady East European bad guys. Did someone at Infinity Ward have a bad holiday or something?
This time the main target is Makarov, Russian terrorist extraordinaire, who’s got fingers in all sorts of pies necessitating trips around the globe. And shooting people. And planting bombs. And breaking dogs’ necks. And raining all sorts of impressive satellite-controlled artillery on their heads with your “hold X to pick-up” laptop.
The story is surprisingly twisty, even by the standards of the first game. As you race, as assorted personnel, you’ll be the subject of all sorts of betrayals and slowly come to realise that you’re just a pawn in a very big game. In the meantime though, you’ll get to crawl stealthily through the snow, chase arms dealers through the narrow streets of a Brazilian favela – while shooting his cronies with a variety of guns – rescue hostages from a heavily-defended oil rig and see what America would look like if the Russians invaded.
It’s this mix of locations and game genres that gives MW2 its impressive edge. The stealth levels are extremely tense, particularly with the swirling snow that reduces visibility to a matter of centimetres. The much-touted snowmobile chase is fun but all too brief. The huge fire-fights are insane: thanks to AI improvements, the favela on the hardest level requires eight sets of eyes and about 14 hands, the (almost) climactic scene at Makarov’s safe house needs double that and, ideally, a nuclear weapon or two. The time challenges – reach the submarine before the clock reaches zero, etc – are much tougher than they first appear. Happily though, as you’d expect from the bullet-loving designers, you do have a LOT of pixellated hardware at your disposal. Guns with heartbeat monitors. Thermal sights. Sniper rifles that can take out three enemies from a 1000 yards with a single bullet if they’re standing in line. And, best of all, big missiles from space that you can steer by computer. Tip: aim for the petrol tankers. They’re hilarious.
As before, you’ll also be using the buttons and triggers for a variety of activities, from picking up information to breaching walls and controlling your ice-picks as you scale a mountain. There’s also the obvious usage: killing people. This includes, in the game’s politician-baiting moment, going undercover to help Makarov massacre hundreds of innocent passengers at a Moscow airport. Or, if you prefer, firing non-existent bullets at just another group of people who don’t bleeding exist. If you’re feeling wussy though, you can opt to skip this particular moment of mayhem. Just don’t expect us to respect you in the morning.
You will, sadly, rattle through the main game in a matter of hours, although Hardened and Veteran levels are as psychopathically difficult as ever. However, you’ve then got all the online options to explore and, in a neat new touch, a load of challenges to complete. Some of these require two players but, rather nicely, you can link up with a friend remotely to help you with the requisite death and destruction.
You’ve also got assorted multiplayer options, of course, the usual mix of Team Deathmatch, Capture The Flag, Free-For-All, etc. As with the first game, these are excellent and non-laggy, slick and massively popular. You will, of course, get stabbed in the back of the neck by a chavvy 10-year old in general play – seriously, don’t they ever go to school? – but you can also limit games to your friends. The game’s locations – particularly the favela and an aeroplane graveyard – are nicely varied (and offer blade-wielding smug 10-year olds way too many hiding places) and, as you’d expect, new maps are in the offing.
Revolutionary? Not a bit of it. Graphically impressive, violent, fun and everything else you’d expect? Hell yes.