Summary: With no dedicated servers, no lean, and 18-player cap for multi, does Modern Warfare 2 for PC live up to its predecessors? Most of the reviews online have praised Infinity Ward's latest shooter but those reviews were focused for console players -- how does the PC port fare? Find out in today's review!
You killed Imran Zakhaev. He was right there, Price gave you his gun, and you shot him. You thought it was over, but that was 5 years ago. Since then, ultranationalists led by his protégé Vladimir Makarov have taken over Russia and made Zakhaev into the new savior. He’s been raising hell all over Europe, just trying to make an excuse for war. The timber and kindling are set. All he needs now is for a spark to take, and boom. It’s time to get back in the saddle.
From Infinity Ward comes Modern Warfare 2, sequel to the 2007 smash hit Call of Duty 4 and 6th major iteration of the series following last year’s World at War. This is a continuation of the yearly release schedule mandated by Activision ever since the franchise made a big splash on consoles. IW has been taking turns with Treyarch, which has been owned by the publishing giant since 2001 and contains remnants of Grey Matter Interactive, the studio responsible for the expansion to the first Call of Duty.
We’ve all read about how IW has seemingly turned their back on the Windows platform, scorning the gamers that made them successful. They robbed us of many features that have been standard in PC games for years and years, and decided to charge us more instead of less! Is Modern Warfare 2 worth it? You just keep on keepin’ on!
A “Disturbing Content Notice” is the first thing you see when you start up the game. Informing you that a certain level may be found offensive, it offers the choice to skip it with no penalty to game completion. I don’t know what kind of idiot lawyer suggested this, but shame on IW for even entertaining the notion, let alone implementing it. If you come up with a level idea good enough to be in the game, why care if it’s controversial? Just put it in and people can screw off if they don’t like it. Enjoy the free press and put that lawyer to work snubbing baseless suits, rather than coming out with cockamamie ideas. Copping out like this just causes people like me to lose more respect for you than we already have recently.
Once you get past the politically correct mumbo jumbo, the campaign in Modern Warfare 2 is fantastic. It seems they took a handful of the coolest concepts for combat scenarios they could think of, put some story filler in between, and called it a game. I tell you what – there’s nothing wrong with that. Alternating between the roles of a US Army Ranger and various commandos from the elite Task Force 141, you fight in various locations across the globe, such as Afghanistan, Russia, Brazil, and even the USA. It’s always interesting when America is a battleground in games because it’s so rarely done and of course there’s more of a personal investment in succeeding when it’s your home turf.
A ridiculous amount of different weapons appear in MW2. They seem to be randomly assigned to most enemies according to categories for each faction, resulting in the ability to use just about any one you like throughout the game. Some are more primitive, like the sawed-off shotgun and revolver, but more common are pieces from the cutting edge of assault rifles, machine pistols, and anti-tank devices. You don’t get to ride in a gunship this time, but you do get to control air-to-ground missiles fired from a predator drone on more than one occasion.
Infinity Ward has claimed to remove the infinite spawning of enemies, but I’m not convinced. In some areas it sure seemed as though they just kept coming, stopping only when I risked life and limb against my better judgment to push forward. A few sequences were so frustratingly difficult that the only way I could win was by memorizing where the bad guys came from and shooting them the second they appeared. You should never, ever, be stuck in the same spot long enough for that to happen, but you don’t have a lot of choice on higher difficulties when they shoot with near-pinpoint accuracy. Grenade spam is less prevalent, but still as nasty as ever when it occurs, especially with flashbangs in the mix.
23 arcade-style mini-levels, dubbed Special Ops, can be played either alone or with a friend online. These consist of various time trials and shoot-outs set in various locales from the campaign, with the goal being to earn up to 3 stars based on performance or difficulty. Similar to the Mile High Club unlocked at the end of CoD 4, these extra side missions add some much needed longevity to the game’s off-line experience. However, you may not ever play them again after you’ve collected all the stars.
The control scheme hasn’t changed much from previous games except there’s a key dedicated to tossing a special type of grenade like flashbangs or smoke. Mouse-look is pleasantly snappy, thanks to smoothing being off by default. The option is there if you would like to enable it. One other thing that changed, though, is that there’s no ability to lean!
Oh, boy, you know it’s bad when there’s a whole page devoted to this section… It seems there has been a new bit of information revealed about the PC version almost every other day for the past couple weeks, each one bashing us over the head with a lead pipe.
Infinity Ward has tried to be diplomatic and smooth things over, but they tend to put their feet in their mouths, instead. You can forget about console commands or tweaking config files to fix something like FOV or anything else in the game to better suit your tastes – it’s their way or the highway! Suffice to say that, save “custom stuff” like mouselook, text chat, and graphics settings, Modern Warfare 2 is a straight console port.
A few months ago, it was announced that the PC version would cost $59.99, same as its console counterparts. The reason for this is unclear, but the bottom line is, that’s $10 extra that we aren’t used to spending on a game. Steam is the exclusive digital distributor and, in addition to unlocking a full 48 hours after the midnight retail release, there was no pre-order discount or bonus or anything like that. Strike one.
Then there was the mid-October bombshell regarding a complete lack of support for dedicated servers in multiplayer. That means no server communities or admins, no mods or other customizations, and no guarantee of a decent ping. Instead, you will play online using their proprietary IW.Net match-making service that somehow chooses one of the players to be the host. Not only does he have no say in hosting, but indeed there is a pause in the action to allow shifting to another host if he leaves the game. VAC will be used to keep cheaters at bay, but everyone knows that isn’t fool-proof, which could leave you at the mercy of a dishonest competitor in the absence of any other sort of governance. Strike two.
Finally, last week it was confirmed in an interview that even the PC version will be limited to 18 players online, or 9 vs. 9 matches. This is nearly half the number allowed in its predecessor’s ranked multiplayer, which maxed out at 32, and quite pathetic compared to the unofficial CoD 4 capacity of 64, which is also common in other competitive shooters. If I were to speculate as to why this is, I’d say it has something to do with their efforts to make multiplayer playable with their asinine listen server setup, even on slower connections. Strike three, you’re out!
Killstreak rewards are special abilities that you can use when you kill a certain number of enemies without dying. Their power increases with the size of the streak, i.e. at 3 you are given access to UAV reconnaissance that shows enemy positions on your radar, while a streak of 7 allows you to call in an attack helicopter for close fire support. Other rewards include carpet bombing, an EMP burst, and even a tactical nuke that instantly wins the game for your team. Only the best players ever kill more than 25 in a whole round, so it would take a lot of luck and/or skill to reach a streak of that magnitude and unleash the ultimate weapon.
IW.Net is a new matchmaking service created to work with Steam, somewhat like what is used in Left 4 Dead. However, with no support for dedicated servers, the game is hosted by one of the players, leaving you subject to his whims and/or connection issues. When you go to find a game, you will either join an existing lobby or be chosen to create one yourself, and there is a 60-second “intermission” before the round begins. At that point, you hope and/or pray that a) the slots fill up, b) the host doesn’t leave and cause the 60-second countdown to reset, and c) that you aren’t booted because you were “unable to connect to host” or the “game lobby closed.” That said, the system is relatively painless when it does work; it just doesn’t work all the time.
I saw that the riot shield made its way into multiplayer... We all know what happened when Valve introduced it to version 1.6 of Counter-Strike, but perhaps things will be different in MW2. It was certainly annoying in the campaign when you encounter enemies with shields, since they can shoot while wielding it, but that’s not the case when a player has it equipped. Both hands are required to hold it, so you can only melee-bash someone with the thing, and it doesn’t completely cover you unless you’re crouched. It may or may not provide protection for your backside when it’s not in use, too, but I’m not quite sure.
At the end of the day, I quite enjoyed playing MW2 online. I do wish the maps were bigger, since I never really need a scope. I wish there were dedicated servers so that more people could play and I could have a more consistent ping with a more reliable connection. I also wish I didn’t have to wish for stuff that Infinity Ward has delivered before but for some reason decided not to this time. Regardless, if you’re content with the way multiplayer is now, there’s no reason why you won’t enjoy it.
While it probably won’t win any awards in the visual department, Modern Warfare 2 is certainly not lacking, either. The character models in particular look great, as do the weapons and vehicles. Foliage looks very lush and un-cardboard-like, and textures are pretty darn high-res where it counts. The sprite-based smoke sticks out like a sore thumb compared to other new games that have moved on to using particles instead, but you can’t say they didn’t try to improve it; moving through smoke causes the sprites to displace, and fast-moving vehicles create a swirling trail as they exit a cloud of the stuff.
Depth of field is present, of course, but it can be glitchy, as seen in a screenshot where the effect that should be applied to buildings in the distance show through the tree. Another scene has a gun being pointed right in your face, with only a few inches at the end of the barrel able to be seen in front of a curtain of blur. This provides for compelling effect but is completely unrealistic.
The bright side of graphics that don’t try to push the envelope too hard is the performance. Even at 1920x1200 with all the options enabled and turned up, my framerate scarcely dropped below 60. This isn’t surprising, considering the minimum requirements state that a GeForce 6600GT or Radeon 1600XT is sufficient. You’ll need to be a bit better off in the CPU department if you want to be able to host a multiplayer game efficiently though.
You can’t have a Call of Duty game without a symphony of pulse-pounding, pants-wetting, PTSD-inciting sound effects right? They’re all here, from the bullets whizzing past your face and the grenade plunking down beside you to the death screams of friend and foe alike, as well as everything in between. The voice work is tight, as usual, and it seems that now your squad leader will call out enemy positions and give move orders dynamically, based on objects and landmarks in the environment. This became especially apparent when fighting through an office building and my CO shouts, “Tango behind the copier!” One odd thing I noticed is that it seems Infinity Ward discovered a new piece of military lingo and then decided to throw it in your face every two seconds. You’ll know what I’m talking about within the first half hour.
The music underscores the drama of the campaign, particularly in the State-side levels. They really drive the point home with slow, long notes and succeed in communicating the “Oh my god, they’re attacking America! Oh no, they destroyed the capital!” melodramatic vibe, but it gets old after a while. Okay, I get it – an attack on US soil is very emotional. You can knock it off with the sobbing violin now…
Intense action weaved through fantastic, theatrical storytelling. This game still does what the series does best: take you on the single-player ride of your life.
Single-player campaign too short. Why have a Spec-Ops mode when the main storyline is lacking?
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