"When itís not trying to congratulate itself on the supposed brilliance of its subtext, Modern Warfare 2 remains one of the tightest titles on the market."
In one level of Modern Warfare 2, I was sneaking around an airbase in a blizzard while my grizzled mentor tried not to be overly condescending on the airwaves. Our mission was to make our way to a hanger that contained some stolen spy McGuffin after rigging explosive stuff to explode dramatically when we so chose. The whipping snow made me an unseen threat, able to bypass most patrols so long as I didnít stray close enough to tread on their toes, and my mentor turned out to be my guardian angel complete with a .50 sniper rifle, who blew a hole in the skull of anyone sniffing too close. My vision impaired by the conditions, I used a heartbeat monitor to feel my way around the encampment, edging away from large groups of activity and capping solitary guardsmen just so my partner didnít get all the kills. It was tense; I knew that one single mistake would mean the entire base would empty and do their level best to leave me a frostbitten corpse, bleeding in the snow.
Of course, I got sloppy. Of course, a lot of angry soldiers, suddenly aware of my presence, wanted me very dead indeed.
But something remarkably odd happened right there. Whether the enemy platoonís reaction to an intruder was to suddenly evolve super eyesight that could slice through the blizzard or if my panicked retreat led for me to glow hot neon pink, I suddenly found myself very visible. People I couldnít see developed the uncanny ability to suddenly spot me from across the base, and plough AK47 bullets into my face. I, being sensible, hid under a wooden platform and abused the fact that they were unable to kneel down and get a clean look at me, then shot them in all in the knees and ankles until they were dead. Then I went back to sneaking around as if nothing had happened.
As well made as Modern Warfare 2 is, there are moments when itís very clear that, despite its grand efforts to make you believe otherwise, it really is just a video game. Maybe that sounds ludicrous when stood alone and out of context, but Infinity Ward seem to have set their own trip-wired claymores; they wanted their title to be an intense and unique experience, but itís hard to get caught up in the gritty realism of war when having a large portion of your torso evicted due to a point-blank shotgun blast only takes a few seconds of sitting quietly in the corner to repair.
When taken as nothing more than a game, Modern Warfare 2 excels. The single-player campaign isn't the longest you'll ever play, but the scenarios are wonderfully varied, moving you from sweeping blizzards to the abject poverty of the Brazilian slums, to middle America sans soccer moms and full of angry foreign people with impure intentions. One mission has you taking control of a fast food joint then, in an unintentional bit of satire aimed at the American populace, defend it to the very last man from wave after wave of insurgents. Thereís so much to do -- too much to do, and youíre forced to rely heavily on the AI-controlled ally troops who shout warnings about new flanks being under pressure, who are able to hold their own in any ensuring fire-fight and who donít mind that much if you accidentally mow them down with friendly fire. Maybe theyíre big fans of irony.
That level has you rushing from point to point: secure building A; move wounded VIPs to position B and defend; retrieve rocket launcher from stockpile C to get rid of incoming gunships. The stages are basic in design and execution, but all the more brilliant for it; the entire scene is constantly alive and the fighting doesnít simply cease just because youíre not an active part of it. Yes, you need to lead the charge to retake a pharmacy, and itís you who needs to mentally plot the best path to avoid the patrolling APCís who will mow you down effortlessly should you stroll into their crosshairs, but itís the flood of friendly troops that surge behind you that will likely storm the building while you mess around with smoke grenades and thermal image-equipped assault rifles. The battlefield is awash with the burning husks of cars, the scars on the concrete left by the raining death of whatís little more than a floating missile platform you can abuse to wipe out large bodies of hostiles, and the constant illumination of muzzle flashes and grenade blasts. Under these conditions you donít have time to ponder about the grandeur message Infinity Ward are trying to convey and, more importantly, you donít care. Youíre playing a video game and youíre having a blast.
Other ideas donít work as well. No Russian is supposed to be a mission that challenges our view on the media, but, instead, manages only to be half a level of walking around with aggravating slowness and shooting targets that donít shoot back. The game warns you from the first boot up of the game that it intends to shock you and even gives you the option to bypass the stage, making you promise instead that you wonít be shocked by what it throws at you, but itís hard to take such a serious predicament with the gravity it perhaps deserves when whatís unfolding is still, very obviously, a video game. Dead bodies mount up, but theyíre clearly the same handful of models wearing slightly different clothes and, when someone breaks the monotony and finally fires back, injuries are, as always, healed should you duck away into a safe corner for a few seconds. The mood Infinity Ward try to set is continually sabotaged by the very thing that makes the majority of Modern Warfare 2 playable. Itís a step too far; pregnant with ambition though it might be, itís a merciful failure. If their darling scenario was to succeed, the sacrifices made to the overall picture would be catastrophic -- it would be a video game trying its level best not to be a video game. Shortly thereafter, the evil of man is relegated to the backburner where it belongs so you can get on with shooting people before they shoot you.
When itís not trying to congratulate itself on the supposed brilliance of its subtext, Modern Warfare 2 remains one of the tightest titles on the market. Maybe the finale comes too soon (and itís polluted by our overused friend, the Quick Time Event) but the game doesnít have to end when the storyís been played out. Infinitely customisable death-matches await anyone with on online console or the applicable number of pads and friends, and the fantastic Special Ops mode lets you and a partner take on any number of scenarios snipped from the main game or devilishly difficult unique ones. You could be running the assault course the game proper introduces to you as a tutorial, or you could be stranded on an oil rig in the middle of the ocean with only a platoon of heavily-armoured psychopaths for company. Thereís exhaustive options to be explored that more than overwrite the disappointment associated with the briefness of the campaign, and the pratfall of over ambition is easily forgotten in the midst of the next frantic fire-fight. Theyíre only ever a few seconds away.
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