Game Review: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 - war made fun

Modern Warfare 2 launched with the biggest one-day revenues in media history – nearly 5 million copies sold in just 24 hours sending well over $300 million flowing through the cash registers of Game Stops and Best Buys across the land. This game's already a hit. I know I was there on release day, waiting impatiently for the doors to open, and there were a few dozen people with me. The inevitable question that comes with such fervor: is it worth it. Yes it is, definitely. This is a great game, expertly executed and packed with hours of shooting, explosions, and fun. But it's not without its issues and I do have some complaints.

Modern Warfare 2 takes place in the near-now, with soldiers fighting with mostly real world weapons in places from Afghanistan to Russia to Rio the American suburbs. Although there is a campaign mode (which I'll get to in a minute) the core reason to buy and play Modern Warfare 2 is so you can compete with and alongside other players on-line. The variety of team-based game types and the experience system that lets you unlock new weapons and special abilities the more you play combine with the gold standard of first person shooter controls and game play to make a game worth playing for hundreds of hours (or more).

Be warned though, it will be tough going at first, especially if you're new to the Call of Duty and Modern Warfare franchises. This new game improves in every way on the previous one: more variety of perks, more customization, cool bonuses for killing multiple foes without dying (from predator strikes to attack helicopters to a tactical nuke), and even death streak bonuses to give you a boost if you keep getting killed over and over. The core game play however remains the same, which means that all those people who spent 1000 hours getting great at the previous game are still great at this one. It will take some time and effort to get so you can compete, but because the game is team based, if you stick close to your allies and focus on the objectives, it's easy for players of any level to feel like they're contributing and to have some serious shooting fun.

Then there's Special Ops mode, a co-op game option that allows you and a friend (either on-line or on split screen) to attempt quick missions together. These range from simple battles to kill a certain number of enemies to snow-mobile races to awesome sequences where one player rides in a helicopter or plane and gives cover to the other player who's on the the ground, trying to make it across the battlefield. Special Ops adds a whole new level of re-playability to Modern Warfare 2, and is my favorite new addition to an already great game. Plus, for you new players out there, Special Ops is a great way to hone your skills for the on-line play.

You can also hone your skills by playing the game's single-player campaign, which you should. There's lots and lots of fun to be had in the six or so hours it will take you to fight through. It's time well spent, as some of the set piece battles offer vicarious war-thrills previously unseen in video gaming. A running battle through a strip of fast food restaurants had me smiling from ear to ear even as I gritted my teeth in tension over surviving the excitement. I don't want to give away too much, because half the fun is in the surprises this game throws at you.

That brings me to the story, which is awful and muddled. Having gotten such praise for the few big surprises in the first game, Modern Warfare 2 seeks to shock and awe its players as often as it can. The result is a laughable plot composed of lunatic, nonsensical twists and turns. But since that story is entirely delivered in 30 second intro movies and voice-over that you can't always hear above the gun fire, it's easy to ignore. Concentrate instead on the digital wonders laid out before you, and try not to shoot the guys on your own team.

A final note about the game's much discusses “controversial” scene. When you start the campaign, the game offers you a chance to skip a sequence that some might find distasteful or even disturbing. Without knowing what it is, I don't know anyone who would choose to skip it, and my recommendation is that you do play it. I did found it a little disturbing, but in a good, that's why I see dramatic things, kind of way. It's also crucial to the paper-thin plot of the game, so I imagine not playing it would seem quite confusing. My only advice is this: if you're squeamish, no one's making you pull the trigger here. You'll see what I mean.

Modern Warfare 2 is available now on PC, Playstation 3, and X-Box 360.