Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is a one night stand of flying bullets, explosions and cool moments. It pushes you forward with guns blazing, hoping to God you don’t stop to realize how confusing it all is.
Because for all of Modern Warfare 2’s awesome action — and it is indeed deserving of whatever superlatives you can throw at it — the game also suffers from a disorienting absence of sense in its storytelling. You do things, but you don’t know why. All you know is that it all looks badass in HD.
If it were surely a matter of making you experience one huge moment after another, then Infinity Ward (the game’s designer) accomplished its mission. If you’re not snowmobiling in Kazakhstan, you’re blasting your way through a Russian gulag or turning away waves of raiding Russians outside of the White House.
All of these missions assault your eyes with as much visual splendor as both the PS3 and 360 can muster, and the game does a splendid job of alternating between heavy action, stealth tension and genuine battle drama.
However, no mission epitomizes the impact-per-minute philosophy and its flaws than the infamous airport mission, where you — as an undercover CIA agent — are part of a team of armed terrorists whose sole purpose is to mow down everyone in a packed Moscow terminal. The game gives you the option to skip the mission.
But it almost doesn’t matter. If there’s a mission that begs the question “why,” that was it, and it’s a question the game fails to answer in many respects at almost every step of the less than six-hour single-player journey.
Instead, you either get more action thrown at you or perhaps a few preachy lines of dialogue with the hope that those will be the springs you need to make the necessary leaps in logic. I’m not really afraid of spoiling anything, because I don’t think I’m 100 percent sure of what happened.
If you believe the game, then you believe the airport massacre led to Russia launching a surprise attack against the United States. Russian forces park across U.S. freeways, and NORAD had no way of tracking them down until it was too late.
If Doc Brown can explain time travel to Marty McFly on a chalkboard, than Infinity Ward can take a little more time to explain how a single American bullet casing from a terrorist attack suddenly leads to Russian gunships strafing burger joints in Virginia. Was there another operation to blind NORAD? What about the communication breakdown between the two global superpowers that would cause one to sucker punch the other? If you’re a CIA agent, where’s the communication with the intel communities of both countries to ensure the attack doesn’t happen? So many questions, but no answers. Just shoot.
Another gem of confusion involves an ACS module stolen from the Kazakh airbase. I don’t know what an ACS module does, but according to the game, it’s the “key to everything,” and I’m left to simply accept that. I can almost hear Colonel Hoffman from Gears of War yelling at me to get the resonator.
Thankfully, there’s less confusion when it comes the game’s other facets, like Spec Ops, which remains the game’s lone co-op feature — you can’t team up with a friend in the story mode. And of course, there’s also the game’s diverse multiplayer.
However, multiplayer isn’t immune to the bigger-is-badder mentality. In addition to the regular airstrikes you get from a killing streak, you also get an AC-130 gunship and — in extreme cases — a tactical nuke.
It makes for some wild experiences online, but the matchmaking needs some work. If you’re a new player, be prepared to be dropped into a hornet’s nest of vastly more experienced players. It’s trial by fire — some people might like that, but newer players might find the experience overwhelming.
The simple act of playing Modern Warfare 2 is a blast. Each individual mission is an example of visual and audio mastery with the kind of action you’d get from summer action movies. But even those movies, at their explosion-filled worst, made a better attempt to explain why stuff needed to blow up.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2
PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Activision / Infinity Ward
Rated M for Mature