Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Danger Close

The first proper paragraph of this is going to be a look at the plot and politics of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, so if you care that much about spoilers you should skip the next paragraph.

Based on what some people have been saying, when I opened up the case for Modern Warfare 2 I expected a bald eagle to fly out and land on an M1 Abrams tank that was firing into Stalin's face. No such luck. The game does fulfill the right-wing fantasy of having another "good war", a war without any ambiguity where America is clearly the good guys and our enemies are explicitly evil. We are not the invaders overthrowing a sovereign government because it doesn't live up to our political ideals. Instead we are the invaded, fighting off an army more interested in carnage than military conquest. But that's where the right-wing politics end. The story of how we reached that point sounds like something out of the 9/11 Truth Movement. The villain is an American general who engineers the invasion of America for the purpose of putting America on a 'total war' footing and using that power to liberate the rest of the world from the shackles of not being American, all to sate his meta-historical(?) ego. If this were something from the Glenn Beck Show, that conspiracy would be a red herring to distract us from the evils of brown skinned people. But in the game the conspiracy is the truth, which is decidedly less Sean Hannity and more "Loose Change" (if you don't know what that is, Google "loose change 911"). So before we start having a kneejerk reaction to the games right-wing militarism, maybe we should look more closely at its left-wing narrative.

Gameplay wise, what you heard about Modern Warfare 2 is true. It is criminally short. Admittedly I had all the free time of Christmas Day, but after sinking my teeth into Dynasty Warriors: Gundam 2 and watching Rebuild of Evangelion, I still finished Modern Warfare 2 the same day I opened it. There's a new "Spec Ops" feature that can lengthen gameplay a bit, but it was built with co-op in mind. You can play most of the missions solo, but the ones that really interested me (shooting from an AC-130) are co-op only and I don't do multiplayer. But make sure you play Spec Ops with a friend, some of those missions are frustrating enough and griefers aren't going to help ("I swear I'm not aiming at you, you're running into my line of fire"). I'm sure Spec Ops and multiplayer add countless hours to the game, but I'm a single player kind of guy and Campaign mode was short as Hell.

The actual game mechanics are little changed from the previous game. Most of the guns are new, or at least sport new target sights. There are some new toys, like thermal sights for some rifles and a heartbeat detector on one gun. The biggest change is the action flick style chase scenes. I'll agree with the harsher critics, all pretense to realism flew out the window after the snowmobile sequence. But, if anything, I've been a critic of realism in games so that didn't bother me. It's essentially the same game with a new story, but like the Gears of War franchise, too many changes probably would have angered me more than anything.

Of course the game carries over one of my chief complaints about the first game. The enemy AI seems very aware that you are the player, and so long as it can kill your character it "wins". It doesn't matter if you're in a platoon of over a dozen other soldiers, every RPG and machine gun in a three mile radius is trained squarely on YOU. This game even created something new for me to complain about. In the first Modern Warfare, if you took too much damage the edge of the screen would turn red and you'd have to go hide somewhere until magical tissue regeneration saved you. Often, it was a good idea to take the second before you might die to kill the guy shooting you, thus giving you plenty of time to heal up. In Modern Warfare 2, every hit you take splatters raspberry jam on your eyes, and if you're near death everything turns into a blurry red smear. Good luck finding cover when you can't see a damn thing, let alone defend yourself.

And these games are tough. It's bad enough that your character seems to have a twelve foot high "KILL ME" banner stuck in the top of his head. I normally play the original Modern Warfare on normal difficulty, but occasionally I get frustrated enough with cheap deaths to play it on easy. Modern Warfare 2 is harder, combining the "everyone decided to kill you and only you" problem with the raspberry jam in the eyes and I died about two dozen times in the same exact spot on that damn oil platform. Often I'll beat a game on a difficulty I don't like, and henceforth swear to only play it on lower difficulties. In Modern Warfare 2, the difficulty I beat before swearing it off forever was normal.

If you're like me and only play single player, the game's length feels less like a sequel and more like an expansion pack. But it's certainly fun, and if you play multiplayer it's probably much longer. If you haven't yet played this game, give it a spin. If you haven't yet played the original, you might want to try that first so the story has some context. Of course the sequel has Kevin McKidd, the original doesn't. Makes all the difference in the world.

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