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There are a few signature characteristics of Call of Duty games—at least, the ones developed by series-creator Infinity Ward. First, the games feel real. The story unfolds as you play through a conflict as a few normal soldiers—regular guys on the ground who find themselves thrust into extraordinary events. They aren’t supermen. The campaigns are plausible, even if they’re fictionalized or set in the near future, reinforcing the feeling that the experience could take place in the real world. The third characteristic is that there’s usually a deep, engaging multiplayer experience thrown in the game for free. Unfortunately, in this outing, Infinity Ward whiffed on all three counts, much to our dismay.
Let’s start with the seven-hour single-player campaign. Instead of playing as normal grunts in this year’s entry, you end up playing as junior varsity supermen—an American soldier who’s always in the wrong place at the wrong time and the protégé of one of the characters you played in the first Modern Warfare. While none of the characters you play are named Jor-El, they’re a long way from the untrained Russian conscript who was handed a single clip and chained to the guy with the rifle at Stalingrad in the first Call of Duty. This creates a sense of unreality that’s reinforced by the game’s ludicrous plot twists and completely unbelievable characters. (Warning, spoilers appear in the next paragraph!)
Let’s run down the awful-cliché list: We have a power-mad terrorist intent on destabilizing the world, a warmongering American general at the center of a vast conspiracy, an old friend who returns from the dead, even more rogue nukes, good guys who must choose between following orders and saving the world, and the Russians invading the United States to cap the whole thing off. The result is a single-player game that feels like a bad mash-up of the action scenes from 24, The Rock, Black Hawk Down, and pretty much every war movie that’s come out in the last 10 years. Worse, the famed set-piece encounters that are another Call of Duty hallmark are almost all cribbed from the first Modern Warfare—with an added twist to “keep things fresh.” While in the first game a squadmate grabbed your arm and pulled you into a chopper at the last possible second, here he misses the grab. In Modern Warfare, your Marine got nuked and you lived through his dying moments; this time, the nuke ends up being relatively harmless. There are a few high points—we especially liked visiting the International Space Station—but overall, single-player misses the mark.
And we haven’t even gotten to the infamous airport scene yet, which feels like nothing more than a desperate attempt to generate controversy (and free publicity) in a game that needs neither. There’s absolutely nothing profound or artistic about a scene that’s essentially a non-interactive rail shooter.
The game’s multiplayer is quite good, and uses the same RPG-lite perk and weapon-unlocking system as Modern Warfare. There are hundreds of hours of amazing multiplayer action in the $60 box. Unfortunately, the multiplayer component is marred by a lack of dedicated servers—while we love the matchmaking lobbies, we’re never sure whether our awesome round is a result of our mad skills or a host ping advantage.
At $60, Modern Warfare 2 is more expensive than most PC titles, and if you’re not interested in the multiplayer experience, the single-player and co-op missions just aren’t worth the cash. The multiplayer is good enough to rate an 8 verdict on it’s own, although with the option of customized dedicated servers it could have scored much higher.
Very compelling multi-player; weapons feel great; co-op is a great addition.
No dedicated servers; skip the single-player; recycled set pieces; the airport level.