Featured image credit: Infinity Ward
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Developer: Infinity Ward
Platforms: PC, PS3, X360, macOS
PC Release Date: November 10, 2009
Genre: First-person shooter
Reviewed on: AMD RX 580, Intel i7-4770, 16 GB RAM, Windows 10 x64, Build 1903
AMD Drivers: 19.12.2
Although it might seem strange to write a review about an eleven years old game, with the release of 2019’s Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, it has never been a better time to talk again about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. Considered to be one of the best first-person shooters ever made, Modern Warfare 2 still represents a pinnacle of Call of Duty franchise, and as such its influence is still palpable in titles published more than a decade later after its release. In this review, we’ll talk about Modern Warfare 2’s significance, its story, mechanics, graphics and its capability to still pose itself as a relevant title in years as far away as 2020.
Playing Modern Warfare 2 in 2020 feels incredible once you realize that this game was published in November 2009 and that its development started in early 2008. According to Activison,by October 2019, Modern Warfare 2 managed to sell more than 25 million copies worldwide. Even though this number is lower than the number of sales performed by Modern Warfare 3, or Black Ops, it is still, nonetheless, an impressive figure. That number start to shine even brighter when you consider how unpopular PC gaming was in 2009 and how video game distribution services, such as Steam, were still relatively unknown. Video game piracy was also very widespread, and worldwide gaming community was still accustoming itself to online multiplayer games.
Many hardcore fans still argue whether Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is to be considered the best Call of Duty game ever, while Modern Warfare 2 is just its refined sequel. There is no doubt that Call of Duty 4 revolutionized the franchise and made the biggest step up from historically accurate series, however, Modern Warfare 2 upgraded that formula even further, and eventually set the benchmark for all upcoming first-person shooters that came after it. Unlike Call of Duty 4, which gave birth to the modern online multiplayer gaming, Modern Warfare 2 set the standards to the three pillars of video gaming experience: the single-player, the cooperative play and the multiplayer.
Let’s first start off with the single-player. Like its predecessors, Modern Warfare 2 offers an immersive, action-packed, and cinematic first-person shooter, which by its aesthetics resembles very much to the action movies of 1980’s. Although its campaign is quite short, Modern Warfare 2’s narrative combines two parallel stories which with time eventually intertwine. The first story revolves around Task Force 141, a special forces unit led by Captain Soap MacTavish, which hunts Vladimir Makarov, a leader of Russian Ultranationalist Party. The second story follows actions of United States Army Rangers, who are defending the country from a Russian invasion. During the campaign, players have the ability to control five different characters from the first-person perspective. This approach gives the narrative a certain multifocal perspective, however, since the narration is minimal, effects of such storytelling are minimal. Although campaign features a list of significant characters, the main ones are most certainly Captain Soap MacTavish and Private James Ramizer. Campaign also features characters from Call of Duty 4, such as Captain John Price, voice-acted by Billy Murray, and characters whose importance will grow bigger throughout game, such as Lieutenant Simon “Ghost” Riley.
Modern Warfare 2 story mainly revolves around Post-Cold War scenarios in which terrorist organizations overthrow modern governments and start to enforce tyranny on the rest of the world’s societies. In particular, Modern Warfare 2 tells a story in which ultranationalists seize control of the Russian Federation and start to commit acts of terrorism on European and International soils over the course of five years. Although Modern Warfare 2 looks and feels like a Hollywood action movie, its story is surprisingly complicated. Reflecting upon contemporary international issues such as global terrorism and wars in Middle-East, the story of Modern Warfare 2 isn’t so black and white, and it involves different actors among whom some of them are hostile, yet just. Game first begins with the adventures of Task Force 141. Private Joseph Allen is recruited to the Task Force after its accomplishments in Afghanistan, while Captain MacTavish and Sergeant Sanderson infiltrate Russian airbase in Tian Shan mountains to retrieve experimental tech module from downed American satellite. After that, Allen joins CIA and is sent as an undercover agent to assist Vladimir Makarov in mass shooting at an airport in Moscow. Secretly aware of his identity, Makarov kills Allen and leaves his body which sparks a war between Russia and the United States. This part of the story sounds a bit naïve, and as such underscores its quality; however, given its Hollywood-style narrative, such plot holes are expected.
Being enraged by an apparent American-sponsored attack, Russia retaliates launching a blitzkrieg invasion on the East Coast of the United States. Task Force 141 goes to Rio de Janeiro to capture Makarov’s arms dealer, Aleajandro Rojas. After that they assault Russian gulag in which Captain Price is being kept. Price agrees to join the Task Force and during the raid on one Russian port, he launches ballistic missile towards Washington D.C. and detonates it in the upper atmosphere. The resulting EMP blast disables all electronic devices across eastern part of the United States, giving Americans an advantage to regroup. In the meantime soldiers fighting in Washington D.C. successfully defend the capital city.
Task Force 141 narrows down Makarov’s hiding place to two locations – one in Afghanistan and one on the Georgian-Russian border. One part of the Task Force successfully raids a safehouse on the Georgian-Russian border, but is betrayed by Shepherd who kills them. Price and Soap learn that Shepherd is a traitor and escape clash between his and Makarov’s forces at the airplane boneyard in Afghanistan. After learning of Shepherd’s mountain base in Afghanistan from Makarov, Soap and Price go in for a hunt after him. In a dramatic suicide mission, Shepherd stabs Soap in his chest, while Prices engages Shepherd in a fist fight. Soap eventually takes out the knife from his chest and throws it at Shepherd, killing him. After that, Russian informant Nikolai arrives and helps Price to evacuate Soap for medical attention.
Overall, it can be said that Modern Warfare 2 offers a fairly solid and exciting story that tackles various contemporary themes and issues. It is, nonetheless, a Hollywood-style, gigantic and over-the-top story in which events fly by, and real plot is told through loading screens, rather than the actual narration. However, characters are quite likeable and some missions remain very memorable for players, even a decade after the game’s release. It is also worth to point out that there are no significant female characters in the game, and that game’s discourse is primarily produced by strong masculine figures that swear a lot and are trying to “get the job done”. In that sense, it is necessary to keep in mind that Modern Warfare 2 belongs to a cultural era (in the West) in which global mainstream topics weren’t SJW agendas, such as feminism, civil rights and multiculturalism, but existential threats like global terrorism, and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. This is in no sense pejorative, nor affirmative statement, but rather an analytical observation. Also, Modern Warfare 2 seems to be packing up a lot of political propaganda that it doesn’t bother to hide. Russians are generally depicted as the bad ones, Americans and its allies are the good ones, and losing your life to save your own country is the ultimate sacrifice. There are also a lot of clichés and pathetic phrases, while the world’s entire burden eventually falls upon shoulders of one little-known, yet brave and determined hero. In that sense, there is no doubt Modern Warfare 2 propagates a certain individualistic ideology, be it for better or for worse.
At the end of this part it is also worth to mention controversies surround the game’s plot. First of all, mission in which Allen assists Makarov in killing civilians caused a lot of controversies to the Modern Warfare 2. Being extremely brutal and unethical, players had the option to skip this mission, however, this feature didn’t stop the audience from experiencing it. Multiple game reviewers, international magazines and public figures condemned Infinity Ward and Activison for incorporating first-person experience of conducting terrorist attack, instead of making a simple story-friendly cutscene. Some real-life terrorists, like Norwegian Anders Behring Breivik, claimed that they used the game as an inspiration to perpetrate terrorist attacks. Following the bad outcome of the “No Russian” missions, Activision eventually removed and censored the mission in international versions of the game.
Gameplay & multiplayer
Moving from the analysis of the single-player, now it is time to analyze Modern Warfare 2’s gameplay characteristics. First of all, let’s start with the weapons. Like many first-person shooters, Modern Warfare 2 relies heavily on combat and shooting targets with weapons. Unlike Call of Duty 4, weapons in Modern Warfare 2 are visually very appealing, and provide great satisfaction by using them. Whether it is UMP-45, M16A4 or ACR, all weapons in this game have their own characteristics and specific use in various situations. There is a variety of customizations. You can unlock additional attachments, scopes, skins, and also other equipment such as explosives or claymores. Overall, combat feels very fluent and dynamic. Controls seem very responsive and precise, and sprinting long distances provides a solid pace of traversing space, which is neither too fast, nor too slow. Jumping over obstacles is also very smooth and straightforward, and is not slowed down by unnecessary animations.
Enemy AI in single-player is much improved compared to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and is surprisingly still on par with other contemporary games such as Borderlands 3 or Battlefield V. Team-mate AI is also pretty solid and it offers a very good level of immersiveness, since your squad mates alert you where are other enemy combatants. Being a pioneer in this genre, Infinity Ward decided to continue the tradition of Modern Warfare 2’s predecessors in terms of health regeneration system. Unlike Call of Duty 4, in which would screen start to shade red when you got hit, Moden Warfare 2 introduces blood splatter across your screen, which slowly fades away as you heal. Also, there are no unlimited enemy spawns in the single-player areas, and you always have a waypoint showing you the main objective. Finally, it is worth to mention that weapon sounds sound really great and that overall sound quality is excellent. In terms of game’s soundtrack, composers Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe did great job producing game’s scores, among some of them are still unsurpassed in the game’s series.
One specific thing about Modern Warfare 2 is that it is the first game in the Call of Duty franchise that introduced SpecOps mode – a highly addictive and entertaining game mode that builds upon its Arcade Mode predecessor from Call of Duty 4. SpecOps mode is much longer than the campaign and offers great deal of fun, whether solo or with friends. SpecOps mode gives the players ability to replay 23 missions on various difficulties and with various parameters. Whether it is surviving waves of enemies, or achieving a certain objective, SpecOps mode represents a great addition to the game that was in later series’ sequels discontinued. Console players even had the ability to play a local split-screen mode, but sadly, this feature was never introduced to the PC version of the game. Nonetheless, SpecOps mode still extended game’s single-player content on PC, and proved to be a great addition to the already memorable campaign.
Besides campaign and SpecOps mode, Modern Warfare 2’s main deal and selling point was its multiplayer. Considered to be one of the best multiplayer modes ever made, Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer even in 2020 still stood the test of time. In short, it is amazing. Unlike Call of Duty 4’s multiplayer, this one didn’t receive graphical downgrade in order to compensate for netcode performance. Providing near-endless amount of content, multiplayer in this game after so many years still feels so addictive and easy to jump into. Like in single-player, in multiplayer you can unlock various different weapons, skins, attachments, gadgets and explosives that will aide you to become team’s most valuable player. You can also unlock perks which grant you certain special abilities, and killstreaks which enable you to call in airstrikes, deploy sentry guns, ride attack helicopters or even deploy tactical nukes which grant an instant win for your team. With such an immense amount of power, balancing the game was of crucial issue, however, Infinity Ward pulled it off and made one of the best balanced multiplayer experiences ever made. One of the greatest improvements of Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer is decreased number of starting grenades which greatly reduced grenade spamming that plagued Call of Duty 4. Also, with so many equipment, perks, and customizations, Modern Warfare 2 introduced a great deal of strategy that required its players to think more and not just run around the map shooting whatever they spot. With games like Fortnite and other battle-royale games, this practice sadly seems to be becoming a standard, and it just shows how Modern Warfare 2 provided a more sophisticated FPS experience more than a decade ago. Overall whether, you are a rookie, or a Prestige 10 veteran, each player in this game is equally lethal, or helpful, and as such can enjoy the game without any problems.
Even though there are a dozen of multiplayer modes to be played, Team Deathmatch has always been the most popular one in the whole of Call of Duty series and Modern Warfare 2 is in that aspect no exception. Offering a variety of maps, Modern Warfare 2 introduced new settings in the multiplayer zone. There is a great deal of smoke and other effects to be seen in the multiplayer, and there are even destructible cars and objects that show just how advanced was this game for its time. Of course, this level of destructibility fades compared to titles from the Battlefield series, however, even in 2020 they look impressive compared to some other contemporary shooters like Anthem.
Speaking of multiplayer maps themselves, they are just brilliant. Drawing inspiration from classic arena shooters such as Quake or Unreal Tournament, Modern Warfare 2 features compact, and yet slightly asymmetrical maps with great level of verticality and traversability that hasn’t been surpassed even today. Players that enjoy sniping and long range shooting will adore maps such as Afghan, Wasteland or Derail, while the most of the players that prefer submachine guns, assault rifles and CQB warfare will enjoy maps such as Highrise, Rust, Invasion, Karachi, Skidrow, Favela and Terminal. In our opinion, Terminal, Skidrow and Favela are to be considered the best maps of Modern Warfare 2, while Quarry, Invasion and Estate are their close contenders. Modern Warfare 2 DLC packs also added new maps from which the most stand out Bailout and Carnival, while from the old Call of Duty 4 maps stand out classics such as Strike, Fuel and Vacant. Amazing thing about the design of Modern Warfare 2’s maps is that they don’t revolve around bottleneck points (which was the case with some Battlefield 3 maps like Operation Metro), and offer great deal passages that enable players to flank their enemies.
Finally, when we talk about the state of the Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer in 2020, it is necessary to say that the game is still not dead, and that there is a devoted playerbase that still keeps the game alive. Unfortunately, Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer in 2020 is not beginner friendly, as most of the regular players are hardcore gamers that make a hard time for beginners to start playing the game. There is also a great deal of cheaters, despite Steam’s VAC system, and camping tactics are near obligatory, since most of the players know camping spots very good and exploit game’s issues that were never fixed. Like all other Call of Duty games, Modern Warfare 2 suffers from overuse of claymores and grenade launchers, which overall kill the fun in general. In that sense, Modern Warfare 2 left a great legacy for its successors, but it also created problems of the genre that were never fixed. For average player, Modern Warfare 2 is today a relic of past, but a relic that offers a look into the origins of Call of Duty series.
Finally, it is necessary to say a few things about game’s graphics and visual appearance. At the time of its release, Modern Warfare 2 was one of the best looking shooters on the market, but also one of the best looking games around. Originally called Call of Duty 6, game was developed by series’ creator Infinity Ward, and was built upon an in-house IW 4.0 game engine which is a heavily modified version of id Tech engine. At the time, new engine introduced accommodation of larger worlds, enhanced graphic detail, and more efficient rendering. Modern Warfare 2 also put stronger emphasis on complex terrain in the environments, dynamic weather effects, and introduction of destructible objects. Albeit being moderately demanding on maximum settings, game was extremely well optimized from its launch, and as such was accessible to a wider audience.
In 2020, Modern Warfare 2 impresses with its graphical fidelity. Game still looks good and is a pleasure to observe its visuals. In maps such as Terminal or Favela, colors look very vibrant, but in some maps, such as Wasteland, or Sub Base, that is not the case. Game does show its age in terms of texture quality, however, lack of detail is negligible to an average eye. There is also clear lack of tessellation and high-polygonal objects, which is why game might look “rough” around its edges. Weapon meshes still look very nice and detailed, and lighting reflections of its surfaces give them a certain impression of volumeness. Weather effects look rather poor as they are simply textures of certain sky phenomena attached to a distant plane. Vegetation also looks poor and as such lowers the aesthetical impression of the game. Water textures are also underwhelming, however, glass meshes still look impressive, especially when you break the window glass and have the opportunity to look at the debris. Maps lit with sun seem to be looking better than the darker ones, and there is also a decent, yet subtle, amount of blur which makes game visually more appealing. Overall, graphics do look pleasing, especially if you crank up all settings to maximum and enable at least 2x antialiasing.
In terms of system performance, game runs super smoothly on variety of contemporary PC components. If you have a mid-range graphics card such as Nvidia GTX 1060 or 1660, or AMD RX 580 or RX 5500, you will easily achieve maximum FPS which 90 and is locked by default. Unlocking the FPS will result with the VAC ban so don’t attempt to do that if you plan to play the game online. If you plan to play the game on 1440P resolution with the above mentioned cards, effect will be similar, but with greater image fidelity. Playing this on 4K will require a few tweaks, however, there is a high probability you will achieve 60+ without much problem. Good thing is game support 75 Hz monitors out of the box, so if you have a FreeSync monitor you can expect tear-free experience. However, if you own a 144 Hz monitor, game might not live up to your expectation, since its frame rate is limited by default. Overall, game still looks good, runs super smoother, and is greatly optimized, so you don’t have to worry about plethora of bugs that plague modern games.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 represents a great achievement in video gaming industry since it set standards for many modern-day shooters and video games. Its explosive and action-packed campaign, great cooperative content, and stellar multiplayer still pose as a benchmark for newer titles. Just how influential Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 was, shows the fact that quotes from the single-player campaign became essential parts of mainstream gaming jargon, especially the ones from Captain Prices or Lieutenant “Ghost”Riley. Also, its multiplayer still represents the most beloved experience of the whole Call of Duty series, and for many veterans is considered to be an unsurpassed achievement. Finally, in terms of graphics, this eleven years old game still looks awesome and runs better than ever on many PC machines. Although its playerbase has never been smaller, and its end-of-life point is probably coming sooner than ever, hopefully this game will still be of an interest to the future game developers, as it represents one of the best first-person shooter titles ever made.