How I learned to stop worrying and love the bomb
- Fantastic graphics
- Excellent audio presentation
- Exciting and challenging Single-Player Campaign
- Interesting variety of Multiplayer modes
- Addictive MP leveling system
- Enjoyable Co-Op Mode (Spec-Ops)
- Lacks the control offered by Dedicated Servers
- Host Migration interruptions (a fairly rare ocurrence, however)
- Somewhat jumbled single-player Campaign storyline
- A few overly difficult SP missions
- Checkpoint Save System in Single-player Campaign
Penned by the hand of Wytefang.
By now, everyone’s seen and passed judgment on the once highly-anticipated Star Wars prequels. When people heard about the annoyingly forced insertion of Jar-Jar Binks, the clumsy dialogue and somewhat awkward plot, some fans were disgusted and said, “Why bother?” However, many who did attend thoroughly enjoyed the massively cool Darth Maul/Jedi duel at the end of the movie and the chance to see favored characters from a different time-frame. For those fans, it was very much worth watching, despite any perceived issues.
Infinity Ward’s latest iteration in the hugely popular Call of Duty series reminds me a lot of Star Wars: Ep. 1, in that regard. When, mere weeks before launch, Infinity Ward announced that the game would not be shipping with the de facto Dedicated Server support that PC gaming aficionado’s had come to expect from their First-Person Shooters and that it wouldn’t allow players to lean around corners, AND that it was going to offer a more consolized peer-to-peer matchmaking service instead, a vocal uprising flooded the internet. It didn’t help matters any that the game cost an unprecedented (for PC gaming) $60 (US dollars) for a normal, non-Collector’s Edition of the game.
“Never Bring a gun to a soccer match.”
I originally fell smack-dab into that ticked-off vocal group and I’ll admit to roundly and vigorously criticizing the game on many internet forums. How could they, I proclaimed! We all know that Dedicated Servers offer many perks that simply cannot be denied – the ability to control your playing environment (choosing the maps that YOU want to play on, the ping, the rule-sets and so forth), a less latency-prone playing experience in general, and the ability to implement Mods. I was similarly annoyed by the inability to lean around corners. Infinity Ward had famously stated that “the game isn’t balanced for lean” – a phrase widely derided in online cartoons and by detractors everywhere. The issue that bugged me the most was the extra $10 fee. Why should I pay the same amount for MW2 as a console owner, when PC game developers don’t have to pay royalty fees to Sony or Microsoft? It didn’t help matters that Infinity Ward was staying extremely mum about these seemingly game-breaking changes, either.
However, at the last-minute (several hours before the midnight launch), I stumbled upon a blog post by someone at Infinity Ward (can’t recall who it was) that simply said, “Look, all we’re asking is that you give it a try - that you see how our new IW.Net works. Go watch a friend play the game and see if they have lag. See if the lack of choice truly ruins the Multiplayer experience.” For whatever reason, his challenge struck a chord and I decided that I’d be the guinea pig among my friends for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. I reasoned that at least I could warn people more accurately if I had first-hand experience and if the game was, in fact, awesome, I’d have a great game. I cannot stress strongly enough how very glad I am that I caved at the last-second and purchased this amazingly enjoyable game.
Right off the bat and for the record, I’ll freely admit that not being able to lean is annoying at times. Does it ruin the gaming experience in any appreciable way? Nope. Since everyone else has the same limitation, it barely registers after you’ve played a few online games. It does rankle a bit when your enemies in the single-player Campaign are leaning around corners to take pot-shots while you cannot, but again, it’s nowhere near as bothersome as one might suspect.
“Looks like the rain is flaring up.”
What about the lack of Dedicated Servers? Well that’s a complex issue and one that will be strongly impacted (I suspect) by how you plan to play the game. If you really love playing with the same consistent environment of gamers, playing with Mods installed, or being able to sort your online gaming experience by Ping and Map, you may find yourself frustrated, to some extent. Infinity Ward’s IW.Net is a peer-to-peer (P2P) matchmaking experience rather similar in functionality to how Microsoft’s Xbox Live works. One player is chosen from a game lobby, ostensibly the one with the best PC and fattest internet connection, to host the game while everyone else connects to that specific player’s PC. One might expect laggier gameplay in this sort of setup, but after 263 online matches, I can safely state that this wasn’t the case for me. I can count on one hand the number of times that a game was laggy or unplayable for me. IW.Net also offers Host Migration which switches the game on the fly from one host PC to another if something happens to the original Host PC. This has maybe happened to me 10-15 times at the most and each time it was a very smooth transition. Is it annoying? Yeah, but considering how infrequently it occurs, it was a minimal distraction at best. One other concern that I’ve seen mentioned is whether or not users with a better connection (or host PC users) have an advantage in game terms. Speaking from experience, I’ve simply not seen this borne out in credible fashion. My results have remained remarkably similar both with a lesser ping and with a great ping.
What’s cool is that things are much easier for the greater mass of gamers, the ones who really don’t have a lot of PC experience but who may expect console-style ease-of-play. You simply pick your game mode and the system finds you a match. One issue that did rankle is that IW.Net packs a pretty lengthy intermission in-between normal matches (40+ seconds) and all too frequently the more impatient gamers on that server will abandon ship for a game that may be just launching on a different host PC, rather than wait out that entire intermission. This can cause your lobby to suddenly shut-down, which is admittedly a mild annoyance. However, there is a Team Deathmatch Express mode which offers a shorter delay between matches. You could also argue that the extra time between rounds was implemented to give you more time to fiddle with new character builds – something super appreciated with all the new Perks, Achievements, Accolades, and Unlocks available. I suspect that may be the true reason for the slightly longer cooling-off period between rounds in most game modes.
I know that many are concerned about a perceived inability to host Clan practices or matches but the game caters to those players with a Private Match option, which still uses one player’s PC as a server (assumedly) while proffering a huge allotment of game options including Map selection and a slightly more intensive selection of game rules than in Call of Duty 4. The Private Server allows for LAN play (assuming you have online capabilities for your LAN party) and Clan play. Not having had a chance to really test that aspect out as thoroughly as I’d like, I’m unsure of how well it will work for a full complement of 9v9 players but barring players from each of the four corners of the planet, it should work admirably enough.
“So THIS is what your candidate considered a rebuilding year?”
My final gripe was about the higher cost of the game and after seeing the total package, which includes a robust multiplayer component, along with the short but thoroughly entertaining single-player campaign, and finally, the addition of the new Spec-Ops mode, which offers 23 different Solo or 2-player Challenges for players to compete, I realized that $60 may very well have been an extremely good price for this incredible bundle of fun.
So leaving aside how pleasantly wrong I was about the new changes to multiplayer, what were my overall impressions of the Campaign, Multiplayer (in general), and the new Spec-Ops mode?
The campaign, for all intents and purposes, plays out much like a big-budget summer action blockbuster – full of bombast, artificial drama, and action, action, action. The plot isn’t terribly coherent but for the most part, it makes sense and ramps up the excitement - precisely what you’d want from an action flick. There were a few missions that proved tricky but with patience and a better recognition of the proper tactics, they are beatable. Still, you can’t help but feel that some levels are unfairly stacked against the player and when mixed with the game’s innate console-style checkpoint save system, this can lead to a bit of undue irritation. Rather than teaching you within the gameplay how to defeat these levels (much like Nintendo does with its famed Mario series), you’re forced to enroll in the school of brute repetition in order to succeed. This is certainly an area that Infinity Ward can work on improving for future iterations (or in their not-so-secret upcoming MMO).
Depending on your perspective towards videogaming as a hobby, Modern Warfare 2 is not without some artificially created controversy. (SPOILER ALERT) In one of the game’s missions, you’re attached as a double agent to a squad of Ultranationalist terrorists who promptly bring you along for a brutal attack on civilians at a Russian airport. Regardless of whether or not you find this appropriate, the real issue is that you’re not given much choice in the proceedings. You don’t have to shoot any civilians but if you attempt to kill the terrorists you’re posing with along the way, the mission ends in failure. I disliked being forced into playing on “rails” like this but in all fairness, during installation the game asks if you’d like to skip a potentially controversial mission so you do have some choice in the matter.(END OF SPOILER)
“So much for the lay-over.”
After tasting a bit of the Multiplayer and filling up on the main Campaign, you’re all set for dessert which comes in the form of 23 different Spec-Ops (Co-Op or Solo) missions. Each mission offers three difficulty levels that reward the player with an increasing number of stars, 1 through 3. Players can shoot (pun intended) to acquire all 69 stars in Spec-Ops and all but two missions can be played entirely alone, if desired. However, it bears mentioning that those two Co-Op Only missions feature some of the most enjoyable Co-Op experiences I have ever had in a Shooter. The “Overwatch” mission features one player as Gunner in the insanely powerful C-130 Spectre Gunship protecting his teammate on the ground who must fight his way through overwhelming odds to reach an extraction point. Success requires keen cooperation and the cheerful application of massive amounts of firepower. The first time you (as the ground-pounder) see the Spectre’s 105mm Howitzer hit home, you’ll be awestruck by the sheer ferocity of the explosive firepower displayed. “Big Brother” is the other, somewhat similar Co-Op Only mission and requires one plater to man a Blackhawk Helicopter’s potent mini-gun to fend off waves of attackers determined to wipe out his teammate before he can be extracted from a nearby rooftop. This mission provides nearly the same amount of bang-for-the-buck as “Overwatch” while requiring just as much tense cooperation. If I had any niggling issues with the super enjoyable Spec-Ops mode, it’s simply that most missions are a bit too difficult in Solo mode.
So what kind of conclusion should gamers derive from this review? Was this a slam-dunk contender for PC Game of the Year? Did Modern Warfare 2 surpass its predecessor or was this a failed console-conversion attempt by Infinity Ward? The reality for many probably lies, as usual, somewhere in the middle. However, I would add the caveat that I believe gamers’ opinions will mostly depend upon pre-existing expectations and their routine playing conditions. Clan gamers who match-up from all around the globe (like many here at TOG) may find that some players simply cannot play without suffering unplayable latency. It’s hard to say, however, whether or not this latency would be ameliorated by Dedicated Servers to any huge extent considering the large distances involved with global Clan games. Those concerned about playing together should be pleased that Modern Warfare 2 does offer players the ability to stick together as a group (while pubbing) through the Invite feature, and from my experience this works reasonably well. The only real arguably annoying issue is an inability in public matches to select a favorite map. I still think, like many others, that it couldn’t have hurt to at least include Dedicated Servers as a back-up option for players who found IW.Net unplayable based on their location and internet connection.
“No one at the Recruiting office ever mentioned Glacial Mountain-climbing.”
At the end, though, it all comes down to one thing: Fun. I had an absolute blast with this game from top to bottom, all minor frustrations aside. For my own internal videogame awards (which I like to call the “Wyties”) this is THE Game of the Year, hands down. Amazing production quality, superb gameplay, a truckload of unlocks, challenges, and game modes, and more than adequate match-making all lead up to a must-play game, regardless of any pre-conceived notions. Until next time, I’m Oscar Mike.
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