Modern Warfare 2: Review.
Souvik Friday, March 19, 2010Unimpressed. It was good to be 'Soap' MacTavish again but then again, I guess that was the problem - I didn't find any novelty in the game. The plot was pretty stale and I'm tired of having to be an American Ranger / Marine or British SAS. At least, in the older CoDs one got to play as the Russians as well - Enemy at the Gates style. Are there no other armies in the modern world that are worth fighting in? I'll go for a Foreign Legion game! If I want to court controversy, I'll go for a Hurt Locker videogame or a Battle of Algiers videogame. Now that would have all the tension of a violent FPS but with a complex plot and multiple viewpoints. Not the viewpoints of the good anglo-saxon world versus the bad everything else. CoD 6 could well be renamed 'Blame it on the Russians' - typical Hollywood Cold War plot that's been done to death a hundred times over. Seriously, the invasion of Washington D.C. by the Russians was the ultimate tacky element. Sadly, it also reflects the paranoia of a superpower. Anyway, perhaps the tackiness was the result of an intentional subtext by the designers: I noted that I spent the same time and effort in defending and dying for a) a Burger King outlet, b) a sample American residential area and c) the White House (Whiskey Hotel!) , of course. So the equation seemed liked a+b+c = America and embody the American dream that you stand for. At the end of American campaign, my companions (or is it me?) say that we'll bring Moscow to ruin: eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, disturbingly. Of course, the whole fracas is the result of a misunderstanding created by two rogue characters in the USA and Russia. All the familiar formulae for a successful Hollywood movie are punched together here but the game very predictably leaves off the 'making sense of it all' to the next part. I really wish Activision invested more in the actual story but then that's me and I'm sure loads of people enjoyed being part of the US and British forces and changing the world through an on-sofa shootfest. Actually, the game reminds me of Die Hard: thoroughly enjoyable for what it is but something that has become the too common and bulk-standard entertainment which could be exchanged for something that explores the issues in greater depth.
The graphics and sequences are good but not better than Modern Warfare 1 I thought (but I played both on Direct x 9, Geforce 8800 GTX and XP Prof 2). MF 1 excels and far surpasses the second game in its sequences and its plot. The Al-Assad plot (although a tad tacky but quite enjoyable , almost like 24, which also has an eponymous character), the spine-chilling Pripyat sequence (especially where a whole battalion walks past while you hide in the grass), the sniper sequence where you try to kill Zakhaev and of course, those unforgettable moments on the gunship where you blow up pixellated enemies still haunt me. I can recollect nothing as impressive as the above in the second game. Except ...
Except the one bit I was not supposed to play for moral reasons. Yes, I was the US infiltrator in the terrorist squad that gunned down all the people in Moscow Airport (now renamed). It was really disturbing, very disturbing. I tried killing one of my terrorist comrades in rage but then the game would kill me off and not let me progress. So it made me a bystander to the carnage but I felt I needed the lesson. This would certainly have made a valuable addition to my trauma paper (co-written with Jenna Pitchford) had I experienced this sequence when I was trying to address the criticism. Play this sequence if you have any doubts about the moral trauma that videogames give rise to /point to. You're not shooting zombies or aliens any more and turning an automatic on people, baggage and glass (somewhat scarily reminds me of the Bombay massacre in 2008) - yes, that makes a difference. To me it does.
The other thing I liked about the game was that whatever you do, your player-character is killed off by the game-plot in a few sequences (opposed to the one in MF 1). For me, this does quite a few things: it highlights the complex phenomenon of death in games and by subverting success shocks the player in his or her state of involvement.
I have quite roundly chastised the designers but I am not so sure now that I remember how the game's credits are designed. These are by far the most innovative credits I've seen in a game for a long time. I was reviewing the game not the credits so the comments above stand; however, in this case, one is left feeling that if one ignores the credits, one misses the point. The credits show the Activision studio where the designers (their virtual selves) walk around the lobby and various parts of their office amongst seemingly alive models of the game-characters who are constantly acting out bits of their in-game roles while standing in areas with a placard about their role in front of them like in a museum or art gallery. The whole place is some kind of videogame Hollywood. Or even a gallery of movie art (there is a section called the Call of Duty museum in the game). Activision is certainly showing the game as an artifice and the plot for what it is - a consumer-friendly tale that the public is assumed to love. I thought when I played the game, that it was way too stereotyped and at times, couldn't help wishing there was some reason behind this. For the first time, I think, I watched the full credits: the designers made their point; they messed up your involvement yet again, made it a meta-experience and left you with a critique of the entertainment industry. That's how I like to read it ... I haven't asked any of the designers.
As a game, I definitely rate the first game higher but that's not to say I didn't enjoy this one at all. I definitely wouldn't put it in my list of ten best gameplay experiences. However, reading the game like I do, from cover to cover, I think I'll take back the 'unimpressed' that I started this post with.
'Literature is a combinatorial game that pursues the possibilities implicit in its own material [...] but it is a game that at a certain point is invested with an unexpected meaning' - Italo Calvino