I was genuinely surprised when Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare turned out to be the game everybody was talking about. A gripping yet criminally short campaign, coupled with what was generally hailed as the second coming for online gamers worldwide. I got a little bit excited when the inevitable sequel was announced.
Having finished the campaign of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2: Warfare Reloaded in less than 5 hours this morning, I just want to be done with this quick and painless. I really shouldn't call this a review, but since I played through it in one piece I can't call this first impressions anymore, can I?
This game is clearly a joke. Or at least, it must have been one at first. Think about it this way: Infinity Ward create an uninspired sequel that can't even copy the best parts of the original without feeling estranged, bland and carelessly thrown together. The game comes out and everyone is in shock. Consumers scratch their head in utter disbelief. Then, a week later, IW unlock the real game, which was hidden on the discs all along! It's the best thing since sliced bread. This practical joke immortalizes the developer. History is written.
And here's what seems to have really happened: During production, IW are burnt out after creating half of the fake game, so they can't be arsed to produce the real one on top of it. They phone it in and hand it over to marketing, who promptly open the war chest and go to town with it. Bobby Kotick is pissed and releases his famous statement of taking the fun out of developing games. And to gloss over the fact that Activision got handed a lemon here, he raises the price so people want it more. Because that makes sense when you're Bobby Kotick.
The rest of 2009 is party time at Infinity Ward. Hans Zimmer is invited to score the game. Nearly everyone at IW goes on paid vacation to Thailand, where $5 plastic NVGs are discovered. A plan is forged. Since the economic crash in 2008, the whole team gets paid in blow, which is way more stable as a currency than the dollar. Aliens and a scene in which the player assumes the role of a glass of Marmite trying to choke Jack Thompson are cut at the last minute.
After speedballing for days, some Q&A guy responsible for the PC version screams "Fuck the PC!". A spontaneous lynch mob assembles and guts most of the computers at Infinity Ward. Dedicated Servers are lost in the basement, and frankly no one can be bothered to go down there, as it's just way too dark and come on who really cares oh look someone left crack on the table. But back to Modern Warfare 2.
Modern Warfare 2 excels at being mediocre. In its current form, the campaign is a blatant copy of the formula that made CoD 4 good. But the pacing is way off. There's no real up and down roller coaster ride anymore, it's just various degrees of mushy, frantic panic. After "No Russian", which didn't make sense to begin with, pretty much every level ended with me silently asking myself what the heck I just experienced. "No Russian" is the third level.
People are introduced and then killed left and right, and after soaking up a few thousand bullets myself, some guy always manages to hit me really mean and kill me with one of those Bullets of Mediocre Scriptwriting. Only that one time, it didn't really kill me and the bad guy had to burn me alive. Oh, yeah, spoiler warning.
By now, I guess everyone who's interested in the story has either read the synopsis on wikipedia or, well, played the game. So I'll continue talking openly.
What made CoD 4 such an outstanding piece of game was in large part thanks to the outstanding set pieces. Pripyat, generic Middle Eastern country, AC-130, the cargo ship and the hijacked airliner, there was a lot to take in. Modern Warfare 2 has nothing of that kind. Many levels give off a "been there, done that" vibe. The Oil Rig level from Splinter Cell. The White House conclusion like the ending of The Rock. Russian Gulag, from The Rock again. The finale's caves are straight out of Iron Man, followed by a Far Cry 2 boat chase / desert wandering sequence.
Even the levels on American soil feel uninspired and underwhelming. The amount of ground you cover between that Burger Shack and the other place in Virginia is ridiculous. Go over there, grab a Stinger, shoot something, come back over here, grab another Stinger, shoot something else. Go over there. Grab a gun. Man, just shoot something. Boring.
By far the best level was the Russian Gulag that housed Captain Price. Nevermind the fact that he was kinda safe with Soap and Friends at the end of CoD 4, no, wait, my head's still hurting from trying to make sense of this mess. And what was up with that VIP in Virginia?!
Modern Warfare 2 is officially brainless blockbuster material. All the cool scenes and twists have been in the trailers. Playing them makes you just painfully aware of how scripted and dull they feel. The revelation after you crash down in Washington was pretty cool though, but I guess you couldn't punch that into the trailer. When that gunship went down and I emptied the last two clips into sheer endless hordes of Russian armed forces, only to repeat that later with the added knowledge of what that white flash meant... that was a really clever.
And all the clever bits from the first game are here, too. Only they're overused to the point that they're not clever anymore. Breaches get boring fast. Coordinated sniping is funny the first few times, but then it's nothing to write home about. There's nothing in here that had me go "Frig! That was new." Well, knifing this dude after rappelling down was ace. I give you that one, Modern Warfare 2. But the fucking ending... Dude, this isn't The Dark Knight! You're not Batman.
And whoever came up with "the game is not balanced for lean", your brain is not balanced for lean.