After another trip to World War II last year for the annual Call of Duty series, Infinity Ward has finally released the sequel to its monster hit Modern Warfare, and it has already gone beyond anyone's expectations. In the first 24 hours the game was available, more than 4.7 million copies were sold, generating $310 million in revenue, Activision reported. That made Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 the biggest entertainment launch in history, with higher day-one receipts than The Dark Knight movie or the final Harry Potter book. The buzz around Modern Warfare 2 is outrageous, but it's well deserved.
The story picks up five years after the events of Modern Warfare. The death of the Ultranationalist leader Irman Zakhaev has turned him into a martyr, and his party has taken control of Russia. Vladimir Makarov, his former lieutenant, continues to target Europe and the United States with terrorist attacks. Specialized, multinational units of soldiers form the military group Task Force 141 and focus their efforts on finding Makarov and bringing him to justice.
The same thrill-ride style of storytelling returns and is amplified with even more pulse-pounding moments, ranging from jumping a ravine with a snowmobile to nuclear missiles being launched. The first-person perspective plunges you into the action with touches such as your vision being blurred or obscured from flash-bang grenades or blood while the controller mimics a racing pulse. The effect is done so well that I found myself breathing heavily with a mixture of tension and panic. Jumping for a chopper and realizing at the last second that you aren't meant to make the leap leaves you running for life, unarmed, against dozens of militants, with a genuine sense of urgency.
It's a perfect way to tell the story, and unlike other games that offer third-person-perspective cut scenes, you only get what your soldier sees and hears. Unfortunately, the story only runs six to eight hours depending on the difficulty setting.
Gameplay is almost identical to previous Call of Duty titles, with the smooth movement and shooting style that no other game has been able to replicate. The majority of your time is spent shooting it out with enemies. Holding the left trigger gives you an accurate aim down the barrel of your gun as opposed to firing from the hip, and provides a quick-lock function that allows you to snap onto your enemies with a click. It's probably the most unrealistic part of the game, but with enemy numbers so large, it's the only way you'll be able to handle them without being superhuman.
Spec Ops is a new cooperative mode with specialized missions that can be played alone or with a friend. The missions, each with three difficulty options, range from running through an obstacle course to going through an enemy compound with a friend covering you from an AC-130 gunship.
Online play is the biggest selling point for many players. The first Modern Warfare introduced a pair of features that set the bar for online multiplayer for the past two years: an experience system in which players build up points to access better weapons, and a rewards system in which players who meet certain accomplishments (multiple kills, ending someone else's kill streak) will be given bonuses. Modern Warfare was the first online shooter to utilize these features, with similar games jumping on this bandwagon afterward. These Call of Duty systems have been improved with new gameplay styles and rewards.
On top of these are several new modes for team-based play with traditional games such as Capture the Flag and King of the Hill, and new games in which one team tries to set bombs while the other team tries to defuse them. It's a solid improvement from the previous multiplayer, and considering that every other online shooter struggled to keep up with Modern Warfare, the sequel has made the hill an even steeper climb.
Modern Warfare 2 has all the ingredients to make a game beyond successful when it comes to both sales and play. It packs in an epic story that truly immerses players. It plays smart and intuitively, with little experience needed to pick up and play well. Online and cooperative play deliver revamped experiences to keep fans coming back for months, maybe even years, to come. If there is any game worth playing this holiday season, it's Modern Warfare 2.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is now available for $59.95 on Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, and PC. For this review, the author completed the campaign on "veteran" difficulty, played several Spec Ops scenarios, and played multiple matches online.
Luke Hamilton is a buyer, creative designer, and online coordinator for Video Games Etc. He can be reached at email@example.com.