Crispy Gamer

Games for Lunch: Modern Warfare 2

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Developer: Infinity Ward
Publisher: Activision
Release Date: Nov. 10, 2009
Systems: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PS3
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web site

0:00 Believe it or not, I never actually went back to the first Modern Warfare after my first hour with the game. I liked it, don't get me wrong, but I got distracted by something shiny and never mustered up the energy to revisit it. Tonight, though, I braved 150 or so fans at my local GameStop so I could get you my impressions of Modern Warfare 2 first thing in the morning. I do it all for you ... the readers.

0:01 A quick downloaded update, some logos and fine print, and we get the most nondescript title screen I've ever seen. It's just a smoky background with the title and "Press Start Button" flashing. There isn't even any background music. I thought this was supposed to be the entertainment event of the DECADE. What's with the lame-o title screen?

0:02 I have to turn the brightness slider way up to get it to the suggested levels on my television. Then I adjust the horizontal and vertical margins for my widescreen TV. Why has it been two minutes and I haven't SHOT ANYTHING GRAAAAAAH!

0:03 "Disturbing Content Notice: Some players may find one of the missions disturbing or offensive. Would you like to have the option to skip this mission?" Hmmm, looks like the controversy got to them. "No, I will not be offended" is my answer, but how can I be sure? Is this a legally binding promise not to be offended by whatever nebulous, potentially offensive thing they show me? "If you answer yes, you will never be asked about skipping levels again." OK, I get it! "Yes, never ask me again." Sheesh!

0:04 There's the background music, a low, pulsing tune like a heartbeat. I can choose Campaign, Multiplayer or Special Ops. The Multiplayer says "0% complete." That implies I can complete the multiplayer mode. This confuses me.

0:05 I start the campaign, and the title appears in green on a black background. "For the Record" is the name of the first chapter, I guess. As the credits roll, a worldwide network of green dots and lines appears on a dark map of the world. A few military-style scenes fade in over the map of flags; a guy handing over a gun, the other guy speaking a foreign language and shooting him. I can't understand a word of the dialogue in these scenes ... everyone is so mumbly. I like the trumpet- and string-heavy music, with a Halo-style choir. Green circles like nuclear explosions now show up on the world map. Seriously, I can't understand a word in these scenes. Why can't anyone enunciate? Where are the subtitles? It's all beautiful, but not very powerful...

Modern Warfare 2

0:07 "Five years later." Later than what? What just happened? Maybe I'd understand if I played the last game more? Anyway, a satellite view zooms down on Moscow. "The more things change, the more they stay the same," says Shepherd. "We fought and bled alongside the Russians. We should have known they'd hate us for it. History is written by the victor, and here I thought we'd won. But you take down one enemy and they find someone else to replace him ... yesterday's enemies are today's recruits. Train them to fight alongside you, and pray they don't grow to hate you too." Man, that's deep as a kiddie pool.

0:09 I'm Joseph Allen, Army Ranger, based in Fire Base Phoenix, Afghanistan. I'm placed in control immediately, watching Sgt. Foley address a group of recruits. "Welcome to Pull the Trigger 101." He says he's noticed a lot of them "spraying all over the place," and it makes them "look like an ass." Heh ... he said ass. In the background, some soldiers play a pickup game at a basketball hoop. Foley tells me to "turn around and fire at the targets." I fire at the pickup game instead. The players don't seem to care, or even notice. Are they Supermen or something?

0:11 "See that? He's spraying all over the place." Jeez, Foley, I'm standing RIGHT HERE, y'know. I can hear you! He tells me to crouch and look down the sight, which I do, firing much better.

0:13 Huh ... every time I tap the left trigger, my sight snaps to a nearby target. That's damn convenient for someone like me who sucks at aiming in these types of games.

0:14 I figure out how to throw frag grenades, even thought he game doesn't tell me which button to press (or maybe I missed it?). After that, Foley tells me to "get to the Pit" to run "the course." On the way, I walk through that pickup game. "Get off the court, dude." But I want to join in! There isn't a basketball mini-game? I thought this was supposed to be the entertainment event of the DECADE!

0:16 I follow the on-screen dot (and ever-present white arrow) to the Pit. A grunt greets me. "Remember, switching to your pistol is always faster than reloading." That is good to remember.

0:18 I walk in past the opened door and, before I know it or I'm ready, insurgent-shaped targets pop up and I'm told to FIRE! I forget all my training and shoot from the hip. Then when I miss, I reload instead of switching weapons. Then I hit two civilian-shaped targets as I make my way through the winding course. Also, apparently I missed two bad-guy targets. GAH! At least I learned how to sprint and melee. My final time is 79.3 seconds, after all the penalties. "Yeah, that was all right, I guess. You need some serious polish, though." Are you high? I was AWFUL. I have to try that again...

0:20 Much better this time, with a 53.9-second finish this time. I'm still a bit slow on the draw... I stop firing before the target has gone down. The game keeps telling me to aim down my sight even though I AM aiming down my sight. One more try...

0:22 A time of 47.5 this time around. "All right, I've seen worse. You've got a few rough edges, though." I believe him this time.

0:23 Based on my performance, the game recommends a difficulty of "Regular." That's above Recruit, which is "for players who are new to first-person action games" but below Hardened, which says "your skills will be strained." On Veteran it says "you will not survive." I almost want to pick that just to prove them wrong. ALMOST!

0:24 As I go back up the stairs: "They blew the bridge! We've gotta move." Everything is chaos. "Get in your vehicles, we're moving out." I get 15 Achievement points for "Back in the Saddle." Fade to black and back to the satellite view. Pan down to a 3-D wireframe of some tanks rolling by. "We are the most powerful military force in the history of man," Shepherd says. "Every fight is our fight because what happens over there matters over here... Learning to use the tools of modern warfare is the key to our survival and their destruction." Hey ... Modern Warfare! That's the name of the game!

0:26 Back to a first-person perspective, I'm lying on the ground. "Get up, private Allen, Rangers lead the way." A guy gives me a hand up and I guess I'm off, into the chaos in front of me.

0:28 I can barely see a thing, there's so much splashing water and shrapnel and debris flying around in the air. I fire blindly across the river until the game tells me to switch over to my grenade launcher. I do, and fire some grenades blindly I can barely make out some explosions ... I hope that worked! Behind me, someone calls out that there are enemies at "10 high." Amazingly, I know what this means, and I turn slightly left and upwards and pop off six enemies in quick succession. Satisfying!

0:29 "The bridge is complete, we're oscar mike, move out." Oscar Mike? What is that supposed to mean? Is it longhand for "Om"? Like the sound you make when meditating? When things are peaceful?

0:30 I run up the stairway to the top of the bridge and try to run into a nearby jeep, as instructed. As I run toward it, it rolls forward slowly and actually RUNS ME OVER at about two miles an hour. I die in a bloody mess. Are ... are you kidding me?

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0:31 This time I get in the vehicle uncrushed, and immediately jump behind a mounted chain gun and "prepare for airstrike." Some jets fly by and take out a large building in front of us, sending up a HUGE cloud of very real-looking smoke. Everyone cheers, and there are more calls of "oscar mike." WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?!

0:33 As we head into a dilapidated town past signs for downtown and "Victory Street," a fellow soldier tells me to "scan the rooftops for hostiles." The thick dust kicked up by the trucks makes that a leeeetle tough. It doesn't matter, "This place is dead." What I can see through the smoke looks amazing. As we roll by, a civilian in a red shirt dashes out of an alley and into a hut, scared out of his mind.

0:34 We pass by a balcony with unarmed militiamen staring us down. "I bet they're scouting us." "Yeah, but that don't mean we can shoot 'em." DAMN RULES OF ENGAGEMENT!

0:36 Holy crap! Sniper fire pings off the jeeps, but we don't know where it's coming from. As the lead car rounds the corner, it starts firing. Soon I'm joining them, revving up my chain gun and rattling the entire scene as I fire near blind. I know I'm hitting something, but I can't make out what. "Retreat, back up!" someone yells, and we do, FAST! I'm still firing blindly, not caring what I hit, as splattered blood obscures my vision, gooey and wet and very RED! I stop firing long enough to see some snipers and actually take them out. "RPG, rooftop, dead ahead," someone calls, but I'm too slow to react and get blown out of the car.

Modern Warfare 2

0:38 "You are Hurt! Get to Cover!" Good advice there, game! Unfortunately I'm not good at following it, as an unseen sniper gets me from my position behind the truck. "We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty," reads a very out-of-place quote from Edward R. Murrow.

0:40 This time I start out outside the jeep and not hurt, and I have the presence of mind to get into a nearby building and away from the incoming fire. A guy on the radio tells me to get upstairs. I literally run into an enemy on the stairs, hitting him point-blank on my way up. My companions do a lot of the work for me as I follow them.

0:41 Almost as soon as we're upstairs, we drop down and cross to an enemy-filled schoolyard next door. In the school, the halls are also filled with enemies, along with lots of school-related detritus. I start out reluctant to shoot, for fear of hitting my companions, but I get over it quickly. Of course, my new itchy trigger finger means the computer-controlled allies take a bit of friendly fire.

0:43 At the end of a hallway, I have the presence of mind to throw a grenade into a big group of enemies that pop out. I almost never have that much presence of mind in these games. Must be the Mountain Dew Code Red that's keeping me up at this late hour.

0:44 The smoke effects and shrapnel and blood that keep obscuring my vision look amazing, but they make it impossible to tell what's going on. From a "war is hell" perspective it's great, and probably very realistic. From a gameplay perspective, it's pretty frustrating! I can barely see the enemies!

0:45 I keep passing weapons from fallen enemies. The game says I can pick them up, but I have no idea if I'd want to. They all have strange names that are just strings of letters and numbers that make no sense to me.

0:46 The enemies look just like the good guys unless you look REALLY close. A red reticle is the only clue that I should shoot.

0:47 Being able to regain full health by hiding behind cover really takes me out of the moment, but without that ability I'd be totally toasty.

0:47 "Gentlemen, good work on taking the town," says a guy with a mustache at a checkpoint. He's Shepherd, and he'll brief me on the chopper. I'm reassigned to the middle of the Pacific. "So how do I look?" "Like one of the bad guys, perfect for your undercover assignment. ... Welcome to the 141, best batch of handpicked warriors on the planet." I'm taking out some Russian madman, I guess? The talk is so cryptic, and doesn't really explain what's going on. Anyway, we fade in on the Siberian wastes, looking at a guy in a thick coat smoke a cig. He's MacTavish, and I'm supposed to follow him. A jet fighter flies overhead. "Break's over, Roach, let's go," he says as he throws his butt into the snow. Hey, that's littering. Was that the offensive scene?

0:50 I follow MacTavish as he sidles along a very narrow ledge, despite the fact that I can't see my feet when I look down. MacT (as I call him in my head) breaks out some ice picks and climbs a sheer wall of ice. "All right, the ice is good, follow me." I alternate the left and right triggers to swing the icepicks and climb. The way the ice cracks as I dig the picks in is quite striking. It doesn't improve the dull gameplay, of course, but stilll: preeeeetty.

0:52 "Good luck mate, I'll see ya on the far side," MacT says as he takes a flying leap to grab a far ice wall. He motions for me to follow and I do, sprinting, jumping, and grabbing with my picks. I slide down the wall, catching a grip just before the ice runs out. My viewpoint swings around and looks down into the abyss. I try to grab one pick with two hands and pull myself up, but I lose my grip. As I fall, MacT grabs me and swings me up. It comes off as incredibly scripted, but damn if it didn't get my heart pumping.

0:54 I've got a silenced ARP with a heartbeat sensor out now. It has a little radar on the side -- any unknowns will show up as white dots, apparently. Is that a real weapon? Because if so, that's terrifying.

0:55 "Roach, these muppets have no idea we're here. Let's take this nice and slow." Muppets! He counts out "1... 2... 3..." and we fire as a couple of jets scream by. "Nicely done." Cold!

0:56 Around a corner we do the synchronized shooting again. It's ... not as cool the second time. "Storm is brewin' up," MacT observes as white, misty snow engulfs everything. It looks incredible.

0:57 MacT suggests we split up. He'll provide "overwatch" from the ridge, while I use the Blizzard to sneak in. They won't see me until I'm "very close. Use your heartbeat sensor and good luck." Easy for you to say ... you're safe on the ridge!

0:58 I tap one guard in the shoulder as I approach, then get a headshot in as he runs toward me. "Not bad." MacT takes out another, and I take out a third sitting in a tower. Next up: planting some C4 in a fueling station. "We may need to go to plan B if things go south." If that's not foreshadowing, I don't know what is!

1:00 "There's a truck coming, stay out of sight." My only option for doing that is ducking into a shack with two guards, one smoking, one sitting. I take out the smoker, then hit the sitter as he gets up with some shots in the thigh. "Nice one."

Would I play this game for more than an hour? Yes.
Why? The smooth-as-silk gameplay and the extremely atmospheric graphics. Not for the nearly impossible-to-follow story.

This column is based on a retail copy of the game purchased by the columnist.

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