Multiplayer is typically where gamers spend the most time in COD titles, and this will certainly be the case with MW2. They're in for a treat: Like COD5, MW2 multiplayer is bright, colorful, and an improvement over the basics offered in COD4. Unlike COD5, however, MW2 takes a step back by removing multi-step assists and vehicle access. But the pros outweigh the cons here, and if you've been playing along from game-to-game, you're going to love what you see here.

If you're familiar with COD4 (or 5) multiplayer, you know that you acquire new weapons and new weapon capabilities as you advance in points. For example, when you first pick up, say, an M16 rifle, you're given no attachments, but you can get some over time. In COD4/5, most guns would have three levels of Marksmen challenges (at 25, 75, and 150 kills, or whatever) and three levels of Expert (i.e. headshot) challenges. Each Marksmen challenge nets a new attachment, something like a silencer, sniper scope, extra-large magazine, and so on. In MW2, the number of challenges per weapon generally increases. Some still have three, but many have 5, 6, or even 8. This increases, dramatically, the amount of time you will spend with every weapon--assuming you want to improve their capabilities, of course--thus expanding the amount of time you'll want to continue playing this game.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
This heartbeat sensor can find enemies hiding inside of buildings.

Also improved is the perks system. As with COD4, you get 3 perks per weapon, and these can range from such things as Scavenger (the ability to pick up ammo off any fallen enemy) to Marathon (unlimited running) to Stopping Power (increased bullet damage) and so on. In MW2, you now have Pro perks, which further expand your capabilities, providing for more strategic load-out planning, per-weapon. These Pro perks expand on traditional perks in nice ways. Stopping Power Pro, for example, extends the Stopping Power effects to vehicles (which in this game are just flying, automated vehicles like helicopters). Scrambler Pro doesn't just jam nearby enemy radar, it also delays claymore explosions.


Some perks from previous games--like Martyrdom--have been moved into a new Death Streak system. These function like perks, but you get one per weapon. They provide an action that occurs when you die a certain amount of times in a row without scoring. For example, the Painkiller death streak provides you with a health boost when you respawn, the idea being that you do not die again immediately. It's one of a few ways that MW2 improves multiplayer for those that are doing poorly.

Another nice change is the point system. While MW2 returns to the old 2-point assist scheme (20 points in this game, as kills are now 100 points, rather than 10 as before), you get so many other points for other things that it's almost not an issue. If you die three times in a row without making your own kill and then finally get a kill, you get a 200 point bonus for recovering. The bonus points are everywhere, and it will help make ranking up (and getting better weapons and capabilities) less painful than before.

Another huge--and ultimately, very important change--involves kill streaks. In COD4 and 5, as you achieved 3, 5, and 7 kills in a row, you would receive kill streak bonuses that provides, in COD4, a UAV (in-game radar), an airstrike, and a helicopter attack, respectively. These kill streaks were static and never changed, and if you mistakenly went from, say, 5 kills to 7 without first triggering the airstrike, you would lose it.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
The multiplayer levels in MW2 are diverse and excellent.

In MW2, this has all changed for the better. Now, you can customize which kill streak bonuses you get and you get more over time as you improve in rank. You always have three to choose from, but you can choose which ones to utilize. And as important, you never lose them. If you get a Care Package (random kill streak or ammo, dropped in a box from the sky) kill streak bonus at 4 kills, for example, but forget to trigger it and then get a Predator Missile kill streak at 5, you still have access to both.

The new Kill Streaks are ingenious, too. In addition to those I just mentioned, you get such things as sentry guns, attack helicopters, harrier strikes, and, among other things, even a level clearing nuclear attack, though that last one requires a 25 kill streak. But it gets better. Thanks to enemy care packages that are dropped from the sky, you can even pick up other player's kills streaks and thus get access to kill streaks you haven't yet enabled for yourself. For example, I was able to utilize a blistering AC130 attack thanks to my theft of a enemy care package; this is a kill streak I've not yet enabled for myself.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
With the AC130, you can bring down death from above.

There are so many changes like this in MW2, in fact, that the game could be rather confusing for those who have not been playing along since at least COD4. (Previous to that, the COD multiplayer games featured set weapon load-outs for each team.) This is a minor but very real concern, and I can't imagine how a neophyte would ever handle this game.

Put simply, MW2 features the ultimate multiplayer experience offered thus far on any Xbox 360 game, and it's clearly going to be leading the Xbox Live rankings for months--possibly years--to come. Hopefully, Infinity Ward will also support gamers with additional levels over time; this was a huge boon to COD5 players, as that game eventually saw three map packs and another free multiplayer maps over the past year. (COD4 only had a single map pack release.)

Final thoughts

It's hard to imagine a better game than Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 appearing this year: This is a title that not only lives up to the hype, but blows way past it. Compare this to such hype-tastic games as Halo 3 (snore) or Gears of War (killer single player, lamest multiplayer ever) and you can see what I mean. Excitement for this game has been building all year, and with the release finally upon us, a little letdown is to be expected. That's not what happened.

Yes, there are some questions. I'm curious why Infinity Ward went hardcore with a controversial scene in which terrorists kill hundreds of unarmed civilians, given how unnecessary the episode was to the somewhat short single player game. I can't explain why they turned their back on the superior multiplayer assist scheme from COD5, or why there are no controllable ground vehicles in multiplayer. Some of the effects in multiplayer are kind of odd, too, like the money that flies out of your body when the opponent achieves "payback". Please.

But these are just nits. And as was the case with Windows 7, when there's nothing major to complain about, you go for the small stuff. COD:MW2 is an intense, adult action game that delivers, in spades, and that's true whether you prefer the single player campaign. If you don't want to be shocked or horrified, maybe you shouldn't be playing a rated "M" game in which the goal is to kill enemy combatants that no longer offer the comfort of identical, easily identifiable uniforms but instead prefer to exist in a dirty, shadowy, all-to-plausible alternate reality. That's what COD:MW2 provides. This is the best game of the year. It may just be the best video game ever created.