Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 review

  • Three excellent game modes
  • Messes with FPS conventions to great effect
  • Literally years of entertainment guaranteed
  • Signposting can be confusing
  • Your team can be frustatingly stupid
  • No 'look round a corner' move

I've already gone on the record to say I'd have been happy If MW 2 was just a new story mode and some new multiplayer maps. Clearly I underestimated Infinity Ward's ambition. Recently Robert Bowling, Creative Strategist at IW, told me Hideo Kojima was one of his game dev heroes and this shows in the way MW2 isn't afraid to mess about with the conventions of the FPS for dramatic effect. It's so much more than just a 'new story'.

It takes balls to have a player fail a leap to a helicopter, then demand he runs weaponless and delirious through a hostile South American shanty town while being picked off by bloodthirsty guerrilla fighters. Or how about forcing you to go against every human instinct and blindly counter-attack an invisible and heavily armed enemy through a thick smokescreen with nothing but a gun and a knife - especially when you've been used to using a thermal scope.

Then there’s the controversial - and astonishingly affecting - covert knife kill you’re prompted to make while hanging from a rope above an unsuspecting soldier. Want to know what it’s like to watch the life draining out of a man just two inches from his face? Now you know. And speaking of contentious moments, we’re certain the first time you have to fight the Russians in idyllic, white picket fence American suburbia will inspire mixed reactions from more conservative US players.

Above: Breaching - the coolest way to enter the room and shoot the damn place up

Less original, but done here with finesse, is the new ‘breaching’ dynamic encountered during a stealth raid. The directive is to rescue a group of hostages being used by the Russians to protect a series of oil rigs from being blown up. There's a change of pace as you blow open doors and pick off the captors in slow-motion vision while avoiding the hostages. It might just be bullet-time, but the game designers have been confident enough to only use this trick sporadically rather than rely on it as a persistent game mechanic. See Stranglehold for further details on how to do this badly.

The 'less is more' approach also comes into play with the addition of vehicular control. Early video had alarm bells ringing that MW2 would mess itself with a bunch of half-assed 'driving sections'. You know, like in the Bond games? This isn't the case.

In fact there are just two set-pieces that require you to drive - the first a short and bracing ride on a snowmobile, the second on a boat. The key is they are both methods of escape - rather than just a contrived way of getting you from A to B and they feel like a natural solution to not getting your ass shot off.

Check out part of the snowmobile escape below.

Which is a nice link to the 'getting your ass shot off' bit of the review. It happens a lot. Especially on Hardened, and presumably more so on Veteran. In case you're new to the series, Modern Warfare defines itself by taking a fairly hard-line view on bullets. If you get hit more than once you're going down, balanced by regular and fairly-placed checkpoints.

This requires you to take a considered approach to moving and taking cover, especially when the enemy are so freakishly intelligent and seem to be able to shoot from round corners. That reminds us. That caveat on control we mentioned earlier - why, oh why, can't we have a ‘shoot round corner’ control?

I was saying this with added expletives while playing the otherwise brilliant Favela level set in a South American shanty town. This is close-quarter guerrilla warfare at its most feral. You don't know the area, the militia do. They've got the high ground. You're painfully exposed. Oh, and you're flying solo and on the clock with your boss screaming in your ear. I'll say it like it is, "F*** ME it's hard". Partly because when I want to carefully edge round a corner and survey the street ahead like intuition tells me to do, I can't. My whole big body comes with me and offers a juicy target to the militia.

Above: Escaping the Favela - a high-point of the story

While we're at it, we did note down some other grievances. They mostly relate to our co-players stating the obvious in the heat of a situation; like when a character asks you - as you're plummeting towards a waterfall - to 'back the boat up'. Back it up? Of course. REVERSE a dinghy upstream of some serious rapids as it teeters perilously over a 100 foot drop.

Conversely, sometimes your instructions aren't obvious enough and I found myself doing things too literally and wading into trouble unawares. "Go and get a ladder" the Captain would say. What he doesn't say is, "there will be 20 Russians to shoot between here and the ladder".

And then there's that embarrassingly intimate shuffling on the spot in the heat of battle when you realise you're basically standing inside one of your team mates as he's chosen to hide from death in precisely the same place as you. Hang on, it's the only place. I'll just have to die and let the game end then, won't I. Now who's laughing.

Above: A teammate. Hogging the safe spot - as per usual

Joking aside, considering we played through single player in one, unbroken, 7 hr 49 minute stint we hit few points of irritation or frustration, bar a level which unfolds around the Washington Monument that seemed to fly too closely to WWII trench warfare for our liking.

To put a cap on this bit of the review (I could go on) I finished it feeling flushed with excitement - it's a proper thrill ride. War is a drug, you might say... before cringeing inwardly. Yes, it's far-fetched and at times blatantly exploitative but overall Inifinity Ward has done more than I'd hoped and completely upped the stakes - MW2 is constantly surprising, ferociously intense and ultimately rewarding. You're going to love it.

Proceed to page three for our verdict on Spec Ops

Spoilers below

The No Russian level

By now, if you haven't heard about MW2's No Russian level, you probably haven't been watching the news. It's a controversial (you might say daring) section to the single player story that puts you in the shoes of a CIA operative who is working in deep cover for a Russian terrorist called Makarov.

It pulls no punches. As in, you are complicit in an act of extreme terrorism. We're not going to attempt to either condemn or justify this here, but will simply say a) that this game has been granted a 18 by the BBFC, the moral guardians in the UK and a M rating in the US by the ESRB which means the censors were comfortable with the content and b) the game goes some way to warn you of the level at the start of the game, allowing you to opt out of playing it.

For the curious, here's a spoilerific taste of what to expect. Be warned though - it's pretty graphic and definitely NOT for under 18s.

More Info

Release date: Nov 10 2009 - Xbox 360, PS3, PC (US)
Nov 10 2009 - Xbox 360, PS3, PC (UK)
Available Platforms: Xbox 360, PS3, PC
Genre: Shooter
Published by: Activision
Developed by: Infinity Ward
Franchise: Call of Duty
ESRB Rating:
Mature: Blood, Drug Reference, Intense Violence, Language
PEGI Rating:


  • kooloff - October 1, 2010 6:28 p.m.

    cod is 4 noobs, get reach
  • Jadernader - July 30, 2010 7:58 p.m.

    gaem does NOT deserve a 10... in no way has it improved on CoD4
  • Z3r0T - July 14, 2010 10:48 p.m.

    To all you die-hard Halo hating CoD fans, who seem to blindly flame the Halo series for the sole reason of "it's not CoD, therefor it sucks," get a life. For one, it's purely your opinion, nothing more, therefor whatever negative things you have to say about Halo, millions of people would say the opposite, or something in between. Just because you think it sucks, doesn't mean it's true, and in fact it isn't. The fact that millions of people around the world greatly enjoyed all the Halo games, means that it's got something, anything, that the people liked. Just because one lousy snob thinks it's got no potential, doesn't mean it's a bad game. Personally, the storyline behind Halo is my all time favorite, ever, seriously, more than anything (the books help a lot to understand it, plus, they're also amazing). However, despite the addicting gameplay (and as many times, more than I can count, that I have played through each of the campaigns), I haven't made up my mind if it's my favorite for the gameplay aspect of it. The gameplay is amazing, although there are so many more games out there (Gears of War, CoD, Borderlands, FEAR, Army of Two, etc.) that bring some solid competition to the board. I have enjoyed every single CoD game to date, and since getting XBL, have been absolutely addicted to MW2's online multiplayer, as many times as noobs online have pissed me off to the point I broke things. The difference between CoD and Halo campaigns (to me, at least) was the difference between pure adrenaline rush scenarios throughout the campaign in CoD, and shock and awe, as well as some adrenaline pumping scenes occasionally, in the Halo campaigns. So I simply cannot choose between them, as far as campaign gameplay goes. And don't forget all the things Halo brought to the gaming world: playing with the same people for more than one game, t-bagging to a perfection, etc. So to all you Halo haters, I'll say again, get a life.
  • Codakk - June 27, 2010 6:12 p.m.

    Its awesome, though I wish that you could do splitscreen online.
  • pakk99 - May 31, 2010 2:11 p.m.

    This game is far from a 10. It shows an enormous amount of potential: great weapons selection; decent firing mechanics, top-notch rendering engine. Unfortunately, it never reaches the level of greatness it should have. For one, it's too easy. Even at the Veteran setting, the single-player game can be finished in a single sitting. Second, it's too linear. In a game that could have easily supported story-branching, Infinity Ward took the path of least resistance, and created a game wherein the player has no effect whatsoever on the progression of the story. The player's actions mean absolutely nothing, which is unfortunate because some scenes (like the one in the airport) practically beg for the player's choices to effect the story. Sadly, they don't. After your first play-through, there is absolutely no reason to play MW2 again. Third, the game never lets the player decide how to approach a given level. Not only does MW2 prevent the player from effecting the story, but the game is constantly telling the player exactly what to do all of the time. And don't try to ignore the irritating voice screaming in your ear, because until you do what it is telling you to do, the game won't progress ... at all. From tactical decisions to choosing the side of the street to walk on, MW2 makes all of the decisions. The player is just along for the ride. Finally, the biggest problem with MW2 is that it offers very little that is different from MW, or for that matter, the original CoD. If you'd like a little comparison, download the original CoD on Live and play it through. The two games are virtually identical. You perform the same tasks, and follow the same orders. The game progresses at the same pace, and demands the same twitch-shooter gameplay. It just plain lacks originality, which for some folks isn't an issue. For me, I don't like the feeling that I've already played a game. I prefer the experience to be fresh. That said, MW2 is a fun game. Its just not the game-changing 10 that some reviewers make it out to be.
  • jaredmaracano - April 12, 2010 5:19 p.m.

    good *****
  • nickbak - March 30, 2010 5:34 p.m., Free microsoft points
  • BishopofHippo93 - March 30, 2010 2:37 a.m.

    At first, I agreed wholeheartedly with GR's review of MW2. But looking at it in a different light, I find myself getting really angry with the game more often than not, which is not an aspect I generally view as good in a game. Now, if you like a good shooter where the playing field is either even or ridiculously unbalanced, where a newcomer will either do well or fail miserably, I say get the game. However, I have been playing Battlefield: Bad Company 2 since its release, and I find it to be a much more enjoyable gaming experience. The vehicles make the massive maps more accessible and, frankly, more fun. Granted, if you like leveling up fast, that doesn't happen. The wide range of firearms and gadgets make the game more varied and keep things interesting. While it lacks more traditional game modes like Team Deathmatch, it makes up for it with fun and unique game types, particularly Rush. It is much more centered on squad gameplay which is both a blessing and a curse, as you are incapable of speaking with the other members of your team, but teamwork is rewarded with more experience. Not to mention the moments where you say "Holy crap did you see that?!"
  • marcoallegretti - February 19, 2010 11:55 p.m.

    MAG is way better. Get a ps3...
  • Adamister10 - January 2, 2010 12:14 a.m.

    Great campaign kind of short but really good.
  • moaidhog - December 26, 2009 11:06 p.m.

    wow i bought . i loved that no russians level it was amazing and the snowmobiles , quite a thrill i must admit
  • twingun - December 21, 2009 1:44 a.m.

    Great game but there servers suck its a pain to find games and then half of them lag
  • CD73 - December 2, 2009 2:15 a.m.

    Activision is going to make a lot off of this game. This game is great and it is a sequel to beat any other. Thinks for the review.
  • noobeater - November 27, 2009 11:13 p.m.

    lol anyone who said its not worth theprice tag after playing for a week and i got limited adition, i wouldnt flinch to play 100 pounds it was so great, campaign was epic in the action and twist, multiplayer maps and weapons make it more battle like and not small and empty, eg 2 harriers and a chopper and an ac 130 at the same time, and spec ops amazing even tho it keeps me from my last acheivement
  • cigero - November 18, 2009 1:27 a.m.

    I really think this game is a bit over rated. I mean, really everyone on xbl ar a buncha 10 year old jackass', it lacks creativity and I think the multiplayer sucks (compared to the battlefield series multiplayer in which I so highly indulge) and if u pay close attention, u can tell these games copy a shitload from other games/movies (EX- saving private ryan, black hawk down) I don't care what u ppl think.... mw2 sux ass
  • XBLsponge - November 17, 2009 7:36 p.m.

    Cod modern wafare is the worst game evr, your all noobs.halo kicks it's ass. yeah im just joking im getting the game today at last and can't wait for it, left 4 dead 2 two days later is like a cherry on top off is like a sweet, sweet, heroine injected cup-cake.mmmmm... heroine cup cakes, modern warefare and L4D2 *slowly drowns in own drool
  • farewellandgoodnight - November 15, 2009 11:06 p.m.

    Online multiplayer is fantastic but the ingle player campaign is an insult to paying customers. For those without access to online play £55 for five hours play is shocking!
  • HeavyTank - November 15, 2009 11:24 a.m.

    Well, if IW deserves any credit for this game, it is because FINALLY they stopped being afraid and put some missions involving you playing as a terrorist...and let the conservative Americans whine all they want.
  • Spybreak8 - November 15, 2009 11:05 a.m.

    @theschwartzb "At times, it seems like the guys im fighting know exactly where I am, and know exactly where and when to shoot as I come out of cover, which can be a bit frustrating, but honestly, frustration is a sign of a challenging game, and its not so frustrating that I feel like putting the game away." I feel this too and the problem is every COD game I've played has been like this. I though it was just the damn nazis and their god like ability to know where to shoot at me every freakin' time! I think I'm spoiled from GRAW and taking out enemies behind cover.
  • Spybreak8 - November 15, 2009 11 a.m.

    Wow, glad I finished the story before reading this review. At first I was a little weirded out with the airport level but then I went on a killing spree in the bookstore. Take that overpriced airport products!

Showing 1-20 of 75 comments

Join the Discussion
Add a comment (HTML tags are not allowed.)
Characters remaining: 5000