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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Review

Short single player with good variety and quick missions, multiplayer is quite good but sadly limited on PC.

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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is a first person shooter featuring high amounts of level variety and some intricately crafted single player sequences. It features a strong multiplayer component and a variety of co-operative modes. The game takes place 5 years after Call of Duty 4 and allows you to play a few different characters through the story. The action will take you around the globe for some very quick fire missions only to jump you back somewhere else for more action. It is perhaps both a game strength and a weakness that there is very little time spent in the one area. Old faces will return, voiced well, with much of the story being told in between missions through voice conversations between these key characters. Modern Warfare 2 is all about jumping you from one action hotspot to another without giving you much room to breathe or take stock of what you were just doing. It is perhaps its own pace that lets the game down and the fact that the general gameplay doesn’t quite reach heights of the carefully crafted game segments which you may not have much control over. On the PC the multiplayer while fun and polished comes off lacking some of the features that are generally taken for granted in most multiplayer games.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - 2009
Icy Beards are rendered with high accuracy

The huge amount of variety to single player missions comes from a few design choices which rarely keep you tied around one location or doing the one thing for long. The missions are quickly over and that location is never really revisited again. Once a mission is complete you’ll be taking over another game character across the other side of the world. You generally play as the two main characters Roach and Ramirez, from Task 141 and the American Rangers respectively. There are a few sequences where you play other characters, sometimes very briefly.

The story and characters keep the cohesion even if the missions at times can feel very random. Some sections also felt created purely for shock factor rather than improve gameplay or push the story forward. One sequence in an airport, as a CIA undercover agent, you can participate in the killing of Russian civilians. Not only was this sequence too long but it wasn’t really necessary and only seemed to exist to present the player with a controversial shock sequence. There were also a few later sequences that proved to follow this trend, unfortunately they were major story twists but left me a little bewildered. Without this mission variety the game would struggle to hold an audience for a long period of time. And indeed even with the variety the game only comes in at about 5 hours long on regular difficulty. When the game isn’t jumping you around the globe it is probably showing you some spectacular sequence.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - 2009
Some of the missions are very linear, literally on rails

During missions the game sets itself up for carefully designed sequences, such as riding a snowmobile, driving a vehicle on a runway or even running over rooftops. It’s clear a lot of time was spent on these parts unfortunately some of the other gameplay suffers from this favouritism. I’m not ashamed to admit I died a lot on regular, that’s not to say the game was overly hard. The game saves often; if you die you won’t be repeating much of the game. In the open you are extremely vulnerable to bullet fire which can significantly jolt your vision and partially blinds you with red blood on your screen. I started the game on hardened, a recommended difficulty, but realised quickly that during combat I was spending more time behind a wall or objects than I was shooting foes. I definitely prefer more run and gun gameplay, the regenerative health was almost abused as a time wasting device. It’s good to see that the infinite respawns are a thing of the past. Enemies spawn on rooftops or in alley ways and generally run through or along your field of vision. This creates a much more natural introduction of enemies, even though they are spawning just around the corner it completely blends in unlike some sequences in COD 4. The overly scripted nature of the game shows cracks however. Enemies running up stairs will incur comments from your squad mates. This chatter will continue even if you have killed the enemies, breaking some of the illusion that has been so carefully created.

Multiplayer consists of two main components, spec-ops (coop) and standard multiplayer. The multiplayer feels very similar Call of Duty 4, attributed to the modes, speed, unlocks and flow. There are some cosmetic and core gameplay changes. The biggest core change is the change to kill streaks, players can choose out of a long list of killstreaks to use. Included in this are the care packages which can be called in early on a streak. A care package will be dropped in via helicopter and give you access to much better powers but it’s also susceptible to being stolen by opponents or can be a signal for crafty players to get a cheap kill. The sheer number of killstreaks that are available is also telling of the gameplay. Deathmatch modes are complete spam fests of these killstreak rewards, constant care packages, predator missiles and airborne choppers create situations where you will be killed a lot from AI controlled devices. In some maps some killstreaks are hideously overpowered, like the choppers in open maps.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - 2009
Is it the red or the blue wire?

Deathmatch modes are unlocked to start with and serve to get the players into the action before they hit level 20 when all modes are unlocked. Domination matches turn down number of rewards being called in; here they are more enjoyable rewards where you can mostly focus on player versus player combat. Then there are modes like Search and Destroy in which the gameplay speed drops significantly, you’ll be going through levels slowly, crouched on the lookout for enemies probably with silencer attachments. There is a broad range of modes that cater to different game speeds, my preference was middle of the road where the game was still fast but killstreak rewards weren’t just being constantly called in.

There are cosmetic changes, far more challenges and title / emblem icons that again are unlocked through gameplay. These emblems are basically like an avatar of sorts that is displayed during the game when you die or spectate for example. Having all these weapon unlocks is quite good for progress but it seems to have put an even greater disparity between new players and long term gamers. Those with some of the better unlocks have a much better chance to win during combat. An example would be the bling perk letting you equip the still overpowered grenade launcher with another valuable attachment. The improvements don’t stop there, to keep you playing the weapons and attachments continually get better making some of the earlier player levels trivial.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - 2009
You broke my nose

Spec-ops are a series of cooperative missions with various objectives that include familiar maps from both MW2 and even COD 4. There is a gunship mission where your partner mounts the AC130 and reigns fire from above to cover you as you move through a short level. This was pretty fun but could have been greatly improved with some more objectives. There are assault missions to eliminate enemies in an area and there is even a modified sniper mission from COD 4 where you put on some ghillie suits and go for a crawl through the grass. Some of the challenges could have been completely thrown away because they didn’t offer any real replayability and are short or fairly ordinary. There are a few good missions, and on harder difficulties it can be quite good to go through them even multiple times. It’s also good to see some randomness to these missions so on replay they don’t become trivial. One mission featured a juggernaut enemy that appeared twice, however the time of his appearance changed on replay, introducing an uncertainty preventing too much rushing.

On the PC side of things the multiplayer is left wanting in comparison to its predecessor. The shift to peer 2 peer hosting provides an inconsistent battlefield where you will have a bad hosts or spots of bad lag during otherwise lag free matches. That’s not to say it’s a horrible experience, more often than not the games go smoothly and pings are reasonable. This is mostly due to the impressive netcode that compensates well for lag.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - 2009
Pings are now bars, hosts are obvious but connections can be good

However quickly revisiting COD 4 again will demonstrate the power the old game has over the new one. One example would be how you must wait possibly 30 seconds while the server migrates hosts after the host rage quits. Parts of the multiplayer have been removed and it no longer supports server mods. Missing is team auto-balance, and you can’t even switch teams should players leave, unforgiveable in any PC multiplayer game. You can’t vote for a map or mode change, there is also no text chat in the lobbies as opposed to the score card with text chat in COD 4.

There is no way to vote kick players and the game customisation is completely up to the host. There are some tweaks like no perks but you are at the mercy of the matchmaking because there are no filters aside from choosing a mode. The game seems to be designed around playing with groups of friends but many people on PC might rather hop into a random server. As quick as the “Find Game” button might be, it’s not really much of an improvement over a good server list with favourites, just less clicking. The implementation creates a game that Infinity Ward wanted everybody to play, which greatly limits potential tweaks.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - 2009
No filters, no server lists, just find me a game... soon please

Spec-ops mode doesn’t have text or voice chat so you are left to use Steam or other services. The lower player counts in multiplayer games had no negative impact, the modes, speed and maps are designed around this 6 vs 6 gameplay. I preferred lower player counts in COD 4 anyway as it made the game more focused. More players and it would become a spam fest with the standard sized maps. Even though I rarely use lean in games, a few times I tried to use lean only to be further disappointed. As good as the multiplayer can be on PC, basically identical to the console versions. It simply lacks options and is too inconsistent to be completely enjoyable. Even though the current player counts are quite high it is still a shadow of its predecessors.

Our ratings for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 on PC out of 100 (Ratings FAQ)
Presentation
86
Animation is still good but not as impressive as two years ago, graphically not a major improvement, more colour saturation and still looks best on PC
Gameplay
82
Single player has improved in terms of greatly limiting respawning enemies, guns handle much the same but your screen can jolt quite a bit on impact.
Single Player
77
Lots of mission variety, but still a very tightly controlled experience with very little room to move off the rails. Game is about 5 hours long without much replay value, highly scripted.
Multiplayer
81
Unfortunately not up to the standards set by Call of Duty 4, gameplay seems sound with some modest improvements and loads of unlocks but the experience is nowhere near as good on PC as it could be. Spec-ops extends the lifetime of the game.
Performance
(Show PC Specs)
CPU: AMD Athlon AM2 5600+ @ 2.9GHz
GPU: Powercolor Radeon x2900xt 512MB
RAM: 4GB DDR2
OS: Windows Vista 32-bit
PC Specs

85
Slight improvement in visuals but probably runs a little slower, a few crash problems in single player and some in multiplayer.
Overall
82
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is let down by the inconsistent, stripped down multiplayer experience that held some really good promise. Single player is short with some interesting story twists.
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#8 Dec 3, 2009 13:55:07 (Dec 3, 2009 13:55)

kamikaziechameleon
 Just comparing MW2 to the fastest DM game ever, UT.  UT being very competitively minded back when that mattered made people spawning invulnerable for a few secs, really changed the MP DM landscape.  Its just a step back i guess to have spawn killing be a problem again, it was something that previously people spamed forums about.  Maybe I'm hard on MW2 since it is considered in many circles as the end all be all of shooters and MP games, I like the game but it has some very apparent flaws throughout its design.  Maybe they though spawn kills & spawn in kills where a magnifiscent invention, but this really goes against the whole concept of the kill streak.  I also prefer objective based combat but I always like the UT DM, the DM in MW2 is fun for me, despite in my opinion to appear flawed on a very basic level.  I feel like without killstreaks they haven't improved the in game exprience for MP since COD 1.  
 
I've been spending alot of time in the game I'm just reaching a 3 star general.  The objective modes are not well realized, to often they drop a full player count into a tiny map creating a cluster F#@& not allot of fun.  I could even swallow their shtick about the matchmaking service if it did a better job of fitting player counts with suitable maps, but it doesn't, I've been dropped in 4 players on the largest map, not alot of fun if you didn't have a amazing sniper kit built.  Teams don't auto balance when players leave, and you can't select teams, etc....  I know some of this is retread from your review, sorry, I'm just ranting because I'm in what feels like a abusive relationship with this game and I can't leave till I'm reach the max level and fully realize the relationship for what it is.
#7 Dec 2, 2009 18:12:59 (Dec 2, 2009 18:12)

nutcrackr
Thanks guys. The multiplayer is really designed around high speed action. I suspect they may have even listed their goals as being able to engage in a fight very quickly after spawning to keep people interested. When you set it up that way even new players can get kills if an enemy spawns in front of them with their back turned..
 
For me after a few early rounds of Deathmatch modes I left it behind because it didn't seem strategic or intelligent enough. You spawn in, see the first guy, shoot him or die. Plus I prefer objective based mp anyway.
 
They did however introuduce a variety of modes that have different speeds, but that's not going to help people who like slower deathmatch modes, they pretty much miss out. I think you are one of the few annoyed by it because the expecation for MW2 is for this very quick engagement after spawning, either dying or killing.
#6 Dec 2, 2009 08:29:52 (Dec 2, 2009 08:29)

kamikaziechameleon
 @ nutcrackr
 
You are right, this is infinity ward 4th COD game and the second one where they actually cared about the multiplayer, and yet this problem has persisted, it has been made worse every iteration of the game since they decreased map size (and now player count)  every game until now.
 
If MP games in general don't suffer this problem, even deathmatch ones(UT), then how come I feel like the only one who is annoyed by it.  Kill streaks don't seem valid when they are achieved in such a way, same goes for dieing before getting one because of a spawn in kill.
 
Excellent review by the way.
 
On another note, I feel like kill streaks could really work into other games like battlefield perhaps, maybe not kill streaks, maybe you accumilate points for team stuff, capturing control points or healing or something then get to call the AC 130
 
@ sirdesmond
 
I also think this is one of the fairest reviews I've read ever regarding a  high profile launch.   I just feel like the spawn killing and general lack of MP gameplay polish and is overlooked because the leveling system in this game is more comprehensive than WOW.  This is a shooter, leveling is great, I love it.  I just would have liked for reviewers to talk about the actual multiplayer gameplay experience more.  There is more to MP that dedicated servers or not ya know.
#5 Nov 28, 2009 17:02:22 (Nov 28, 2009 17:02)

sirdesmond
I really liked this review.  It feels fair and gives MW2 credit where it is due without bowing down at the feet of Infinity Ward like so many of the reviews I've seen have.
#4 Nov 24, 2009 18:22:40 (Nov 24, 2009 18:22)

nutcrackr
I think even cod 4 had a lot of situations where you spawn behind or in front of enemies for cheap kills. Especially in deathmatch modes were you have a lot more kills and the maps can be deceptively small. It really doesn't take long to run across them when the game speed it so fast.
 
 
MW2 deathmatch modes highlight this probably even more. I don't think the maps are too bad, there are a few crap ones but you get that in any game.
#3 Nov 24, 2009 11:54:35 (Nov 24, 2009 11:54)

kamikaziechameleon
there is nothing like being one kill from a big kill streak to have a enemy spawn in the room with you and be killed before calling in the big one.  That isn't be being a bad player or anything, just getting robbed.
#2 Nov 24, 2009 11:53:05 (Nov 24, 2009 11:53)

kamikaziechameleon
 I also didn't care for the level design in non deathmatch modes, they feel very disorienting and A symetrical often but not in a good way for me Only HQ is any good but that is still a spawn kill fest.  While they seem designed for TDM or HQ.  I prefer the other modes of play except that the maps just don't feel good for them so ultimately i play TDM and spawn die.
#1 Nov 24, 2009 11:49:38 (Nov 24, 2009 11:49)

kamikaziechameleon
 I  had very mixed feelings about the game too.  One moment your in a very scripted visual feast on a snowmobile(high action not very real)  the next your in a air port shooting civilians not something that blends with the brukheimer production values of the rest of the game even if the level is interesting to you or not, it doesn't fit with the style of the rest of the game,
 
I felt like the online is two steps forward three back, partying up is great for groups of friends but if you want to have a user defined experience like all the great hardcore overgrown servers in the first you'll be left wanting.  Map rotation is horribly implimented since some maps are designed for no more than 4 players and yet get stuffed with the full 12 causing the major problem with basic deathmatch in MW2, spawn killing.
 
Every other online experience has resolved spawn killing(atleast on pc) Counter strike, Day of Defeat, TF2, L4D, Battlefield, Unreal Tournament, Fear, Enemy Territory, etc.  some how infinity ward thought they were above this causing for the regularly occuring experiences of enemies spawning right behind you, and you spawning right in front of enemies.  these kills don't ever feel good, it isn't player skill just being screwed by the Spawn AI.  It isn't unusual to be spawn killed 3-5 times in a row on fully populated maps.  This is without a AC 130 blowing up the map.  Deathstreaks are a great Idea but ultimately don't fix any of these problems they are like alcohol on a wound, it's still a open wound just cleaned up a little.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 box art Platform:
PC
Our Review of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
82%
Great
The Verdict:
Game Ranking
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is ranked #343 out of 1840 total reviewed games. It is ranked #28 out of 69 games reviewed in 2009.
342. Killzone 2
PlayStation 3
343. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
344. FIFA 10
PlayStation 3
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87 images added Nov 15, 2009 04:04
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