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Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 review

Does the PC version stand up to the mighty consoles without dedicated servers?

In many reviews the multiplayer section is simply tacked on the end as mere afterthought. There’s a few reasons for this, rarely explained: first, often if you’re reviewing a game early the online servers aren’t switched on so you can’t play it, so it affords little comment. Secondly, when a game’s online mode simply isn’t very good, there isn’t much you can say about it.

Modern Warfare 2 bucks the trend. This is a ‘mode’ which could be sold as a standalone package (don’t get any ideas Activision, I’m talking theoretically here) when you consider the time you’ll end up playing it. If we had to sell it to you we’d just say it’s like the last one, but 10 times bigger (Prestige arrives at 70 now) and with a multitude of new tactics, new equipment, new maps and killstreaks to master.

We’re not leaving it until the end of the review for any other reason apart from the fact we’ve already covered it in depth in our multiplayer preview feature. There’s not much more to add in terms of content aside from the fact we played a series of maps and modes that were unavailable in the earlier demos.

In the spirit of GR lists here are five amazing new things about MW2 multiplayer...

Care Drops

Above: That's a care drop package in the top half of the split-screen

These might only be a low level killstreak but in the course of play they can be game changing. After a 4 kill streak you can throw a flare anywhere on the map and a supply plane will drop a crate nearby. Once it’s on the map anyone can retrieve it, and the box will contain either an ammo refill, a UAV, a Mounted Turret gun, an Airstrike, Predator missile or the AC-130. The great thing is, early on, loads of people playing multiplayer won’t know what to do with them, so strike while the enemy is ignorant.

Destruction (on Estate)

Above: Defending your Estate (Not in Destruction mode here though)

This is the ideal map for Destruction - the one where you have to either defend or destroy two objectives from the other team. The Estate map is a hunting lodge on top of a hill surrounded by forest, and in Destruction one of the objectives is placed just inside the door.

The team effort is based around thinking up cunning plans to divert your opponents inside the house, who just lie in wait for someone to stick their snout round the corner. Riot Shields might come in handy here.

The Airport map

If you’re a fan of clean, open plan maps with the potential for high levels of kills and not many places to hide, you’ll love Airport. It’s just the right size to ensure you constantly find people to aim at and has a great choke point in the cabin of a parked-up 747.

The AC-130 killstreak

Above: Taking out the enemy from above

Although far from the ultimate Killstreak (that’s reserved for the mystery Tactical Nuke for a 25 killstreak) this is the one that you’ll get pulverised by the most. Take to the skies in a gunship with three weights of heavy weapon and just hammer away at the fire button as your kill counter ticks over. Properly annoying if someone gets one of these from a flukey Care Drop steal - amazing if you were the one that stole it.

PC-specific woes

Unfortunately, while the core elements of multiplayer are the same on PC as the console versions, there are some serious PC-only problems that significantly hamper the game’s overall quality. Initially, during the short period after release, the quick-play mechanic was working fine, and it would be a matter of moments to find a good game. Now, however, the system has become shaky, with errors saying you can’t connect to the host cropping up. It’s not the catastrophe many have made it out to be, but it’s still annoying.

What’s far more egregious is the now infamous lack of dedicated servers. PS3 and 360 players get essentially a premium service for connecting to games, while PC players get hung out to dry. The problems stem from using a peer-to-peer service with more than a handful of players. Hackers have already sprouted up everywhere, and without dedicated servers, the players have no recourse to deal with them.

Latency is a real problem, with nearly half the games we joined displayingan unacceptable amount lag. Even when the majority of the players aren’t lagging, we’ve never been in a game where nobody had a bad connection. Since multiplayer is such a huge part of Call of Duty, we had to knock the PC version’s score down as a result of these issues.

Overall verdict

Much controversy surrounded the pricing of MW2 in the lead up to its release - it’s currently $59.99/£43.99 on Amazon for the standard edition. This is higher priced than the average PC game, and it’s a bit troubling that it costs the same as the superior console versions.

Anyone who already has issues with the single-player ‘style’ of IW’s games will still find fault with the scripted, linear experience, but in terms of sheer drama and show-stopping set-pieces accompanied by laser sharp FPS controls, Modern Warfare 2 is your daddy. And that’s without Spec Ops and Multiplayer. It’s just too bad that the online issues hamper the experience so much. It’s a difficult call: how necessary to one’s enjoyment are the mouse and keyboard controls? Unless you’re an absolute purist, and don’t have a big investment in multiplayer, we’d suggest getting the console version if you can.

Is it better than...

Yes and no. Content-wise it improves everything: an even more spectacular single-player, the all-new spec ops, and expanded features in multiplayer. Unfortunately, it also brings with it the PC-specific snags that MW1 didn’t have.

Duh! Wolfenstein was fun for what it aimed to be: a throwback to the mindless corridor shooting of yore, but amped up with truly awesome weapons, but its single-player doesn’t hold a candle to MW2’s set-pieces, and its multiplayer is a joke.

This depends on your taste. Both are excellent shooters. Do you want zombies instead of terrorists? Do you want a co-op focus or a more rounded variety of modes? For sheer content, MW2 delivers more, but L4D2 has arguably more replay value, depending on how much MW2’s PC problems grate on you.

Just for you, Metacritic

Modern Warfare 2 provides an astounding package of game modes, polish, and thrills. It’s just too bad PC gamers get the shaft with the lack of dedicated servers.

More Info

DescriptionLet’s keep it good and simple: Modern Warfare 2 is this year’s must-buy first-person shooter.
Franchise nameCall of Duty
UK franchise nameCall Of Duty
PlatformXbox 360, PS3, PC
US censor ratingMature
UK censor rating18+
Alternative namesCall of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
Release date10 November 2009 (US), 10 November 2009 (UK)