I’m a bit behind on this one, the game having come out in November, but I recently unwrapped a 360 copy of Infinity Ward’s latest freedom-is-awesome, terrorist Russian Arab South American buffet-of-crazy-insurgents-killing shooter. I’ve put in a good two hours now, which means that I’m probably 97% through the single-player campaign if some of the early complaints about the game are so (that’s not true, I kind of suck at shooters unless I play them on a PC, but Call of Duty games, including Modern Warfare, have always been 360 fodder for me, and always will be), and here’s my Close Impressions of the First Kind.
Modern Warfare 2 came under some fire just before release, when it was learned that one of the game’s early scenarios, “No Russian,” featured a fully interactive level in which the player took the role of a terrorist who, with his terrorist buddies, opens up on Moscow International Airport and kills, oh, about a zillion screaming civilians. Reaction was harsh, but I defended the move (as did many others) on the grounds that games have a right to portray vicious things as part of telling serious, adult stories. The presence of interactivity doesn’t preclude that.
And yes, “No Russian” is a pretty brutal sequence, one which you have the option to skip if you’re weak-kneed. And yes, the character you play isn’t a terrorist at all but an undercover covert operative. And yes, you don’t have to pull the trigger if you don’t want to. You’re going to get shot in the face by the bad guy at the end of the mission no matter what.
But “No Russian” had been built up so much that by the time I played it, it lacked a certain horror. It’s sort of the equivalent of telling people that The Ring is like the scariest movie ever. Say that and once they see it, they kind of shrug it off. Personally, I was much more shaken up by “Wolverines!”, a later mission in which the Russians retaliate by, in very World in Conflict style, invading the United States. Racing from house to house fighting off Russians was unsettling, just as much of Massive’s classic RTS was.
But then my suspension of disbelief circuit shorted out. All this is happening because an American’s corpse (your corpse, actually!) was found to have participated in the Moscow Airport massacre. While we in America will bomb the shit out of you for looking at us funny, and we’ll cruise missile your ass just so we can have an excuse to buy new cruise missiles, and we’ll happily turn prisoners over to other regimes to be tortured, we’re really not in the business of walking into airports and shooting them to pieces. That not just the Russians but the entire international community is apparently convinced – by the presence of a single dead American dressed like one of the terrorists – that the legitimate government of the United States is now planning and perpetrating Mumbai-style terrorist attacks is a little hard to swallow, and that the same international community ignores a massive three-pronged retaliatory invasion of America in which it is stated that they “are killing a thousand Americans for every dead Russian,” is similarly questionable. Especially since the actual bad guy is a Russian and the opening of the game makes it clear that the whole wide world knows who he is and that he’s bad.
Anyway, Modern Warfare 2 jumps between protagonists like a heavily armed globetrotting jackrabbit, often employing the dulcet tones of actor Lance Henriksen to give instructions on who you’re to shoot at next. The action is even faster and fiercer than that in the original Modern Warfare, a game that was pretty white-knuckled to begin with. And like its predecessor, despite FPS games rarely working to my comfort on the console, it does work here. The simple double-trigger move still snaps to your nearest sighted foe but this time actually requires that you be pointing in his general direction, and enemy AI leaves absolutely no room to relax even on normal difficulty. I have it paused in the other room right now and that’s pretty much the only way to get a break from the hectic action.
The game’s proprietary IW4 Engine looks… well, frankly amazing; less stylized than Unreal or Crytek powered games and yet still bright and open, eschewing the overdone brown-and-gray grittiness we see in many serious wargames. And like all the Infinity Ward-produced Calls of Duty, this one features outstanding gun mechanics, grenade physics (finally a game where a trained soldier can throw a grenade more than nine feet), and similar nods to realism while retaining the Halo style “your health regenerates to full if you hide for a while” approach of a corridor shooter. While fans of tactical shooters of the Operation Flashpoint variety likely scoff at this, so many bullets are coming at you from so many angles in Modern Warfare 2 that to do it any other way would just be unfair. The multitude of in-mission checkpoints are also welcome, allowing you to quickly get back to where you were after you die, which you will, many times. Cue the priest, ex-lawyer, or other slack-jawed anti-game petard who feels compelled at this point to announce dourly that “life has no reset button,” and look around for applause as though they were the first person to have come up with this idiotic remark.
I have little interest in multiplayer console shooters, though my friends and I do get together a few times a year to shoot at each other and Modern Warfare 2 will likely become our staple. I like single-player games, and though this one has been accused of being short, so far it’s been a barrel of monkeys, Russians, Arabs, and Brazilians, all of whom I’ve shot. Since Modern Warfare 2 broke every entertainment sales record across all media on the day of its release (5M sold in fewer than 8 hours), it’s nice to see that – as far as first impressions go, at least – the game seems to deserve the rewards it’s reaping.
Life may have no reset button, but this blog has a Publish button, which I am now going to push and then go back to killing… shit, I’ve lost track. I think it’s South Americans right now. Back to killing South Americans in Modern Warfare 2.