By Matt Carey
The one thing that truly defines a human being, certainly in the west, is not invention. It is not communication, compassion, charity or even humility. It is complaining. It’s too hot, it’s too cold, it’s too long, it’s too short, it doesn’t fit, it’s too big – whatever the subject, we can find fault. Video game developers get their fair share of the whinging too. One only needs to trawl around assorted video game message boards and forums to learn of this. Just this morning, researching for this article, I have read complaints that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is not ‘sim’ enough, that there is not enough recoil on a .50 cal, and that some guns are overpowered. Is this a case of a flawed game, or a flawed mentality in those populating the forums?
Infinity Ward had a hell of a lot to live up to. Call of Duty 4 was such a massive success that there was no way that the true sequel (discounting last years’ CoD: WaW) wouldn’t generate its’ own hype. Expectation needless to say was high. The problem Treyarch ran into last year was that copying the same format and only throwing in the odd tank, or changing the timeframe during which the game was set, just wasn’t enough. Sure, it played just like CoD4, but there was something missing. By taking the same formula and putting a retrospective twist on it, a great deal of the fun was lost. As such, a year after release, more people play its predecessor online. How could IW possibly avoid the same pit-falls?
Although the multiplayer is a massive – and I do mean massive – facet of the Call of Duty franchise, the fourth iteration managed something that very few first person shooters ever manage to achieve; the player cared about many of the characters in the single player story. Captain Price, complete with ultra-cool handlebar moustache, has even gone on to garner cult status. For first person war games especially, this level of empathy from the player is rare.
Set five years after the events of Call of Duty 4, the world finds itself in turmoil again and, although the battle was won, it seems that the war has not. Instead, a bigger, nastier enemy has surfaced from Mother Russia causing all manner of death and mayhem. And so, on we go through assorted modern locales, from set piece to set piece, trying to avert global disaster.
It is the standard fare for these types of games, and whilst unoriginal, it has been executed here with aplomb. The story itself twists and turns all over the place and for the most part is involving and well told. There are unsurprising surprises along the way and, as mentioned, set pieces sprinkled abundantly throughout designed to drop the jaw and widen the eyes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have the same sense of urgency that its (true) predecessor revelled in and, with a 2nd sequel quite obviously in the pipeline, the story deteriorates towards the end into a mess of “Did I miss something?” I won’t give too much away, but it did seem to be a case that Infinity Wards’ attention was focused too firmly on leaving things open, without fully explaining why.
Before I continue, I should really mention the now infamous airport level that has garnered much publicity. For those that haven’t heard, the player takes the role of an under-cover operative in Zakhaev – the terrorist’s– organisation. Under the command of Makerov, you, and his goons then walk through an airport terminal killing any innocent civilians that get into your line of fire. The level is risky, and certainly disturbing, but doesn’t succeed in doing what it set out to. The intention of Infinity Ward was to demonstrate to just how sick and heartless terrorists are, and to demonstrate what kind of decisions the people entrusted with protecting our way of life are faced with. To take down the enemy by becoming the enemy is an extreme way of showing this, and unfortunately it doesn’t work. Sure, this is a work of fiction, but it is belittled by the second half of the level which degenerates into a level like all the rest; you versus people shooting at you. Instantly, you forget that you are the bad guys as you shoot down wave after wave of police.
However, this is my take on it. Every person has their own opinion, and I leave you to draw your own conclusions too.
Call of Duty 4 featured, at the end of the main story, an extra bonus level set on a plane. The ultra-hard, 30 second, Mile High level became an instant hit, not just because of the difficulty level, but because it was something new and different. Here, we find the concept expended upon massively with the new mode named Special Ops. Set across five levels of difficulty, each level with its own set of mini-missions, the mode takes certain points, areas, and set-pieces from the single player experience and alters them slightly. Here, they become a way of playing them in co-op. Each mission has a selected difficulty level, and upon completion, a certain amount of stars are awarded. Choose the easiest, and you will find one star gained; the hardest will net you three. The more stars you acquire, the more missions become unlocked. There are 5 tiers in total, from “Alpha” to “Echo”, each with ever increasing challenges contained within.
The missions themselves don’t always take their cues directly from the main story though. So whilst you may recognise the enemy base you are currently attacking, the enemies, weapons and vehicles all aimed in your direction will not necessarily be the same that you have already experienced. However, I was pleasantly surprised when choosing the first mission in the “Bravo” tier. I was sure I recognised the level, and told my partner, who was manning a gunship and providing cover from above. Halfway through the level I realised we were actually taking part in a level from the original Modern Warfare. The level that the multiplayer map “Downpour” was based on, to be precise. Instead of this being an infuriating level, it became a nice piece of nostalgia.
There is also a great variety in the missions. One minute you will be sneaking through snow filled forest corridors, the next ducking from hut to hut in a Brazilian village. It is a refreshing addition to the Call of Duty franchise, and the opportunity to go at it with a friend is a welcome one. Needless to say, the further you progress, the harder things get, with some of the later levels rivalling, and exceeding the difficulty of Mile High. Tactics are essential, so whoever you choose to tackle these missions with, make sure they know what they are doing.
At first glance, the graphics are much the same as they were before. However, it isn’t until you start walking around snow capped mountains and see the hazy figure of the enemy through a blizzard, or dodge falling aircraft in Washington that you truly start to appreciate the effort that has been put into making this one of the most visceral, awe inspiring visual experiences ever seen. In fact, as my character emerged from an underground bunker into a night time assault on the Whitehouse my jaw became so embedded in the floor it took my hours to prise it free. Truly, the pictures that you see here do not do the game justice. It may be a cliché, but to see this game running is truly a beautiful thing.
Of course, the real meat and bones of the title is the multiplayer. Is it better? Is it going to keep us playing well after Treyarch’s attempt next year? Is it just more of the same with more stuff added? Well, the answer is yes, yes and, umm, yes.
At first glance, this is exactly the same as we have seen before, only on new maps, and for the most part, I could leave it there. What has been added seems superfluous and not necessary to adding to the experience. Some time with the game will reveal this not to be true, and the tactical decisions you may have made before are suddenly thrown right out of the window as you start again from scratch.
Before getting down into the nitty gritty, I’m going to mention the game modes. All the game modes we know and love are back, but now, more have been added to the mix. Capture the Flag is no more, and no less than you would expect and the title would imply. Demolition is a fantastic new take on Search and Destroy, whereby every member of the attacking team has a bomb, and both targets must be destroyed. This works fantastically well, and matches run a fine line between mayhem and tactical play. 3rd person Team Tactical is no different than other game types, except that your character is viewed from an over the shoulder perspective. Personally, it’s not for me, but many others are raving about it. Either way, it’s nice to have the option.
The best, and simplest, new option on the menu is that of Mosh Pit. This is not a new game-play type though. Instead, selection of this will find the game rotation truly mixed. Your first game may be Free-For-All, the next Search and Destroy, and so on. So, instead of sitting playing Team Deathmatch all day, it mixes things up and keeps things interesting.
As you may expect, the range of guns is huge, with only a few changes to the weaponry line up from the previous game. When creating your initial class, you will find things a little different than before, so let’s take things in order of how you would set the class up.
The first stop is obviously your primary weapon. Whichever gun you choose is at its basic state; no attachments, no camouflage…nothing. However, there is a nice handy list, showing not only what you can unlock for the gun – grenade launcher, heartbeat sensor, etc – but also what is required to unlock them. This simple idea makes life so much easier as you don’t find you spending half of your time trawling through menus.
And so, onto your secondary weapon. Once upon a time this meant “what pistol do you want”, but now other items have been thrown in here; joining them now are shotguns and launchers of varying kinds. Again, each of these have their own little challenges that you can choose to ignore or work through, unlocking items for your secondary weapon of choice.
The ‘equipment’ bracket is a new one, and encompasses old favourites such as claymores and frag grenades. Thrown into the mix this time are throwing knives -which can be picked up after use – riot shields, and the handy, but time consuming, tactical insertion. The ‘special grenades’ section is no different than has been seen before though, featuring stun, smoke, and flash grenades.
The perks section has been given a massive overhaul this time round, and it will take players some time to work their way around it, and find a preferred arrangement. There are still three slots for perks, and first inspection would indicate that there is less going on here than has been seen previously. However, each perk selected has two levels – normal and pro. Use of the perk will eventually unlock the pro side of things, which then adds yet another benefit. Sound confusing? Not really. Let me explain. Take ‘marathon’ as an example. This handy little perk gives the user unlimited sprint. Obviously for a game mode like Capture the Flag, this is handy, I’m sure you will agree. However, by the time you have legged it for 26 miles, you will unlock pro. This means that not only do you have unlimited sprint, but now you will also be able to climb obstacles faster.
At first, a great many of the perks seem to be pointless, but perseverance and experimentation reaps rewards, and before you long realise that everything has a use, whether it be to garner an advantage for a certain game mode, or to counter-act the perks used by others.
‘Deathstreaks’ is a new addition. Most players, no matter the skill level will once in a while find that they have been killed a few times in a row. ‘Deathstreaks’ aim to give you a slight advantage should that happen to you. The player may only select one for use, but now this is the place you will find martyrdom, final stand – a new version of last stand that will enable you to stand back up if no-one polishes you off in time – and joining the mix is copycat and painkiller. The latter only gives you more health after respawn, but copycat enables you to copy the load out of the last player to kill you. If he is a level 50+ player, and you are not, this could help you balance things slightly and start dealing out death of your own.
To be honest, ‘deathstreaks’, whilst a nice addition, don’t really provide you with anything advantageous. Sure, it’s nice to get an extra kill upon death for example, but that’s all it is. Nice. Still, better to have than to have not.
‘Killstreaks’ however, have been given a massive overhaul. In the past, it was simply a case of three kills gave you a UAV, 5 kills gave you an airstrike, and seven kills gave you an attack helicopter. Now though, the player has the opportunity to unlock new and assorted rewards. The three previously mentioned items are there, but now joining them in the mix are sentry guns, stealth bombers and even a tactical nuke, a device so heinous, the game finishes instantly, with all players killed and your team announced as the victor.
There are some limitations as to how a player selects his three items. Each item is stuck to the required amount of kills so, for example, that rather nasty nuke cannot be doled out before 25 kills in a row has been attained. However, the player can select what they want. So, to demonstrate, I may select as care package drop after 4 kills, a Harrier strike after 7, and an AC-130 rounding things of at 11 kills. There are quite a number of combinations, and the player must chose what they think will provide them with an advantage given their perceived skill level limitations. This all works extremely well, and again, game types play a factor in this. For example, is a nuke going to help you out on a game mode like Search and Destroy? Probably not, as the chances of you getting to 25 kills on that mode is pretty much nil.
Finally, Infinity Ward have enabled the player to edit their own name tags. As you play the game, you will receive accolades based on what you have done during the game. These accolades, along with completing challenges, award the player call-signs and tags which can then be used on your name tag. There is a huge amount of these to unlock, and coupled with the fact that the game doesn’t give any indication of how these are achieved, the chances of running into people with matching name tags are slim. There are literally thousands of combinations for the player to mix and match their way through.
The wealth of options and unlockables on offer here is staggering. At first, I found it all to be very bewildering and in some ways, wishing for the simplicity of Call of Duty 4. Stick with it though. The welcome variety in game types, the constant unlocking of surprises, and the solid game-play foundation that the title has been built on ensure that this is truly a wonderful experience. Out of curiosity, I did go back and try out the original Modern Warfare. Yes, there are people still playing it. However, I struggled. It isn’t until you go back to it that you truly appreciate the fine tuning to every little aspect of the multiplayer.
There was no real way that Infinity Ward could make a hash of this. Many have always held the firm belief that IW make the better games in the franchise, and this title certainly doesn’t do anything to dissipate that argument. There are faults though. The single player campaign isn’t quite as challenging as it could be. In fact, on veteran, it still only takes a handful of hours to plough through, and less than one to wander through again, picking up any intel you may have missed. Although that is really just for the achievement hunters amongst us. Special Ops -whilst fantastic – would have benefited from a different approach. Whilst it is nice to be able to play with a friend, a change in the build of each level when played solo would have been nice. Killing 50 people in co-op on veteran is challenging enough, but to do it by yourself is tortuous. And most of the things that make multiplayer as infuriating as it is rewarding are still prevalent.
But this really is nit-picking (you can’t blame Infinity Ward for parents buying their children this game, for example). In truth, this is the most complete package since The Orange Box and Halo:ODST, showing the latter just how it is done. Everything from the controls, to the storytelling (for the most part) to the multiplayer is by far and away the best experience on any gaming platform to date. There is no massive improvement anywhere, but each individual aspect is a tiny bit better than it was before. This all adds up, and the sum of all these teeny tiny improvements is a game that doesn’t fail to deliver, on any level. There will still be people whinging about something though. It’s what makes us human, after all.
9.5 out of 10