‘Modern Warfare 2’ builds on strengths of original

As Voltaire once wrote: “It is a lamentable shame that to be a good patriot, one must become an enemy of the rest of mankind.”

War is brutal. War is without boundaries. War is intense. Those are the ideas that Infinity Ward took to heart when it set about creating the sequel to its widely successful Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. And in that case, it certainly succeeded.

Straight shooter · Modern Warfare 2 is the sixth installment in the Call of Duty series. The game is centered around Taskforce 141, an elite unit trained to hunt down Russian terrorists. - Photo courtesy of Activision

Straight shooter · Modern Warfare 2 is the sixth installment in the Call of Duty series. The game is centered around Taskforce 141, an elite unit trained to hunt down Russian terrorists. - Photo courtesy of Activision

The story picks up five years after the events of the first game. The Russian Ultranationalist Party, the game’s villains, have risen to power, with its deceased leader Imran Zakhaev now hailed as a patriot. With a grand contingency plan at hand, Zakhaev’s protégé, the terrorist Vladimir Makarov, orchestrates an attack on Russian soil, setting off a chain of events that threaten to start World War III.

The player is thrown in with Taskforce 141, an elite multinational unit whose mission is to hunt down Makarov and bring him to justice. Only, the path to justice involves detours into Russian gulags, the streets of Virginia and the rooftops of Brazil.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is in many ways a continuation of what made the first game great. As a first-person shooter, the game is incredibly satisfying, with an easy to follow set of controls and a strong enemy computer opponent.

Also, the game is not centered on one event or field of combat. The player controls a wide range of characters, from US Army Rangers to British SAS officers and, in one breathtaking scene, an astronaut at the International Space Station. Modern Warfare 2 is as high quality as its predecessor.

Visually, Modern Warfare 2 is a masterpiece. Character movement looks and feels organic, while everything from weapons to backgrounds are rendered in gritty detail. Locations range from the claustrophobic favelas of Rio de Janeiro to snow-peaked mountains, and even to Washington, DC, once Makarov’s scheme comes into full effect. There are certain moments in the game where landscapes open up and reveal some breathtaking views.

One of the best parts of the game is how it advances the plot. Instead of the traditional cut scene, the story is told during game play, letting the player interact with plot-important characters and events.

The game feels like an interactive movie. Watching a cut scene of characters escaping from a collapsing prison? Moderately entertaining.

Dodging falling cement and running through a maze of a prison in search of an exit? A thrilling conclusion to an intense level.

The game is wonderfully cinematic, with some of the events in the game rivaling the climaxes of big-budget Hollywood action films.

Not only is the game a visual and interactive treat, Infinity Ward sought out some serious actors to provide voice work. Kevin McKidd, of Journeyman, Rome and Grey’s Anatomy fame, stars as the commanding officer of Task Force 141, and protagonist of the previous game, Captain “Soap” MacTavish. He gives a great performance, mixing dry humor with more heroic tones.

Character actor Lance Henriksen plays General Shepherd, the man behind Taskforce 141, and gives many of the monologues an emotional weight that might otherwise have been lacking. Add in solid actors Keith David and Barry Pepper in supporting roles and the game’s movie-like qualities continue to coalesce.

But the game is not flawless. The single player campaign is relatively short and can be beaten in six to eight hours.

The story itself is so dependent on the events of the first Modern Warfare that new players will be easily confused, and even those who are familiar with the previous installment will find themselves a bit perplexed by unexplained and underdeveloped plot points.

The story has a great premise, but ultimately the execution feels rushed at times, and some interesting twists lose their impact due to ambiguity in their buildup.

But the multiplayer mode more than makes up for flaws in the single player levels. Whether playing with friends at home or online, Modern Warfare 2 features varied and numerous maps, allowing for endlessly original matches. Add in equipment customization and earned-by-experience perks, and multiplayer matches can be more challenging than the single-player campaign.

Is Modern Warfare 2 perfect? No, definitely not.

Is it the best action game of the year? Definitely.

With amazing production values, intense campaigns, a stellar voice cast and the best multiplayer among its peers, it is a truly entertaining game and holds up on multiple plays.

Why settle for lesser first-person shooters when this not only delivers in the format, but redefines it?