Picking up immediately after the end of the events of COD4, MW4 offers a bleaker, more intense single player experience than its predecessor. This time around, the conflict gets personal--too personal, in my opinion--with a bizarre and horrible sequence in which you must walk through, in slow motion, and either participate or just watch as a Russian gang assassinates virtually all of the pedestrians in an airport. The sheer violence of this episode is staggering, and it's completely unnecessary, as it could have easily been shown briefly in a cut scene instead, and I'm unclear what Infinity Ward was thinking.
A family-friendly glimpse at the infamous airport scene.
Worse still, the airport sequence results in Russia launching an invasion of the United States. Much of the single player experience then takes places in the ruins of destroyed Washington D.C. and a very familiar American suburban town, both of which I found terribly uncomfortable. Consider the difference between fighting in a place like 1940's-era Berlin (older COD games) or some dusty Middle East city few Americans have ever visited, and then compare it to all-out warfare in your backyard. It's disturbing, and purposefully so.
The single player campaign is surprisingly short and that the story isn't resolved--the game ends in a stinker of a cliffhanger, a la Halo 2--makes it a bit unsatisfying as well. And let's face it, fake history is, well, fake. It does lack a certain gravitas.
It sounds horrible, eh?
Snowmobiles! My God, man. Snowmobiles!
The thing is, it's brilliant. Graphically, MW2 is the most impressive Xbox 360 game to date, by far, and as a friend noted this week, it's shocking to realize how much graphical oomph developers are still able to wring out of this four year old console. The music--by noted film score veteran Hans Zimmer--is equally outstanding. I've only wrapped it up on the normal skill level, but will be back at it with the toughest, veteran skill level soon. Yes, it's disturbing. But maybe that's the point. This is war, after all. Ultimately, for all its faults, the MW2 single player experience is still terrifyingly impressive. It's the new standard by which all games will now be judged.
Modern Warfare 2 is chock full of amazing action sequences like this roof-top chase in Brazil.
Also worth pointing out is a related SpecOps gameplay mode that builds on COD4's arcade mode and works much like a similar mode in Rainbow Six: Vegas 2 (see my review). In this single or cooperative play mode, you're given the chance to complete a series of timed mini-missions taken from the single player campaign, earning points and up to 69 stars. It's a nice way to stretch out the single player by going back to particular episodes and trying to maximize kills, efficiency, and other challenges.
Call of Duty:
Modern Warfare 2
Single player rating
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