Modern Warfare 2: A Cynical View

The following article comprised of dangerously opinionated views will contain SPOILERS covering the whole of Modern Warfare 2’s story and should be read at your own risk. This is your only warning.

What follows is not a review of Modern Warfare 2, at least not in the conventional sense. A review is an opinion, but a good review balances up an opinion against the masses. A good review may point out flaws, but at the same time suggest the type of person who wouldn’t mind them or offer balance with what was good. The following article will not be so balanced and will only focus on flaws, at least for the most part.

This article will also not mention the competitive multi-player available. Why? It isn’t my thing, so I can’t really comment on whether it’s good or not. It doesn’t interest me and from an outside view seems no different to the first Modern Warfare’s multi-player (which I also never played). A great single player or co-operative experience is what I’m looking for. If my disinterest in the incredibly popular multi-player has already made you dislike me, then you might as well stick with it and read on.

To spare me some hate mail, death threats and angry glares as I play ‘lesser’ games for more enjoyment than this provided me, I should point out that I thoroughly enjoyed the first Modern Warfare. To an extent I also enjoyed the sequel, in so far as the graphics were astonishingly good, the voice work was above par and the gameplay was fairly smooth. But that is where it ends for me.

Modern Warfare 2 is a game of extremes to be sure and, at the time of writing, it is already confirmed that at least five million copies have been sold. A sizeable chunk of those sales will be in America, but we British will also have paid out to play this game. We British also had the joy of paying a greed based publisher’s premium to get our hands on this game (assuming you didn’t make the most of the supermarket price war).

Due to circumstances I won’t bore you with, I had to wait an extra two days after release until I got my copy of Modern Warfare 2. This didn’t bother me since I had successfully avoided all hype surrounding it (partly because I didn’t want to risk spoilers, but also just because I had no intention of buying it). I sat down earlier today with it though, ready for my extreme experience. I fired my PS3 up and four hours, twenty-six minutes and fifty-two seconds later I was done.

Is this what passes for a single player experience in the most anticipated game of 2009? The game that scared so many other developers enough to push back their release dates to next year? Not even five hours of my time? Don’t yell at me about higher difficulty levels, Spec-Ops and multi-player – those are added extras. Yes, for many people it may in fact all be about the multi-player, but that isn’t why I play games. I want to be immersed in a decent story for a decent length of time and enjoy every second of it.

How happy I was when the first Modern Warfare came into the present and near-future. The Call of Duty obsession with World War 2 was just getting morbid. Concessions were made as a result and what we, as the player, got to experience was a loosely strung together tiff with terrorists in ‘made-up-istan’ setting off a nuke and a mad Russian with one arm plotting against America that was in no way original. It was a great experience though, I think partly because it was a new direction for the Call of Duty series but also because they had made it look so good. The graphics made you forget that you were working your way through a generic action movie plot. Well, the graphics and Captain Price’s mutton chops.

How disappointing then that the first Modern Warfare also featured one of the worst endings of recent times. Having survived everything with your squad and going through hell and back you sit there and watch as each is killed for no good reason, then you get to kill the nasty Russian and that’s it. Not that the story had much focus anyway, but to wrap things up like that was lazy, uninspired and did the rest of the game that preceded it no justice. Modern Warfare 2 manages to pay homage to the first game by featuring an ending almost as bad, albeit for slightly different reasons. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

My understanding of Modern Warfare 2’s story may not be entirely accurate. This is because lack of information made the last quarter of it very hard to follow. Let me run this by you to see if I’ve got it clear (and if I don’t, do point it out).

An American soldier formally stationed in Afghanistan is hand picked to become a spy in a Russian terrorist cell. To get close to the leader of this terrorist cell involves taking part in an airport massacre (more about that in a second). However, it seems the leader of this cell knew that the American was undercover and kills him in order that his body is found, America is pinned for the massacre, and Russia can go to war with America in a justifiable way that would mean no one would come to their aid. That about right so far?

I have a few problems with that airport level. The first is that it was clearly only put in to create media uproar and get a ton of free advertising as a result. If they really just wanted to evoke hatred in the terrorist leader Makarov (because, you know, the fact he’s a terrorist isn’t quite good enough it seems) they should have placed the player in control of a civilian trying to escape. The second is that it is the first of many plot holes. The undercover American you have control of isn’t the only terrorist that dies at the airport. Two of the Russian terrorists die as well, so why is America blamed? Why is America blamed at all even if the American was the only one to die? Countries don’t go to war just like that and they certainly don’t suddenly clone American satellite network controls and launch a sneak attack invasion of Washington DC.

Yes, I know analysing a story that is essentially brainless like this is probably pointless. Modern Warfare 2 tries no harder to have a moral lesson or important point buried in it than an average episode of 24, but I was just disappointed how shoddily it all hung together.

While the Americans wage war on home soil against invading Russians, you then have the special ops team made up of former British SAS from the first game and others. They somehow piece together that the Russian terrorist waging war on America wants a prisoner in a Russian prison. The reason for this is beyond human comprehension. The prisoner also in fact turns out to be Captain Price. Hurrah, mutton-chops wasn’t dead after all! Why was he in a Russian prison when last he was seen getting CPR from an American soldier?

Anyway, with the war going on in America, Price decides to set a nuke off (that clearly had no radiation in it) just above Washington, so it looks like they are now the victims and America will get aid from the world. But oh no, it turns out that Shepard – the man leading the American army and not the Spectre from Mass Effect (this distinction is especially hard to make since Captain Anderson voices Sergeant Foley) – is in fact the real bad guy and sets about cleaning up all records of…something.

Dont follow MacTavishs example. Run through the game and youll be done in three hours.

Don't follow MacTavish's example. Run through the game and you'll be done in three hours.

I honestly tried to pay attention. Besides graphics, story is the most important thing for me but I just felt my brain melting out my ear trying to let all this in. I have no idea why Shepard was the villain. Something about five years ago and people not caring about the war? His soldiers dying in that nuclear blast from the first game possibly? Did he hire the Russian to do everything? Was he killing thousands just to make people pay attention and sign up to the army? The last couple stages focus purely on killing him because that achieves…? And yes, after a very stylish knife kill Shepard is indeed killed and revenge is obtained. Now what? What about that Russian and American war still going on? What about Makarov? What about Price and MacTavish being the most wanted men in the world?

To think they can just end it there is deplorable. It isn’t a cliffhanger and it isn’t closure either. It’s laziness, or desperation after giving themselves no where else to go with a broken plot. At least I hope it is, because it better not be an artificial end just so we can see the ‘real ending’ via future DLC or another sequel.

The phrase “It’s just a game!” gets flung around a lot and I can almost hear it hurtling my way right now to deafen me into submission, but hold on a moment. Yes, Modern Warfare 2 is just a game. It’s just a game that sold a few million copies in a single day. It’s just a game that got mass media attention for putting you in the role of a terrorist, albeit briefly. It’s just a game that will be judged by thousands of people to be as near to a perfect game as is humanly possible when it deserves no such credit. Modern Warfare 2 is alright. It’s not great, but it’s not bad either. It’s a horrendously short experience that will dazzle your eyes and bore your brain. It’s a 7/10 at best.

You know, despite trying to form all these really good arguments about why the story was awful and why this game was just about average, I do have one pathetically nit-picky thing to complain about. The instruction manual is one of the laziest I have ever seen. It’s barely seven pages long. It has one hint for how to play and do you know what that is? It’s how to eject the disk (seriously – check page two).

I’ve given Spec-Ops mode a whirl and it’s alright. It’s two player and I love co-op but it does beg the question (given that each Spec-Op mission is simply a scenario or section from the single player game) of why the whole thing couldn’t be played together with a friend. Despite being short, just that simple addition would have made me like it a lot more. Ah well, perhaps I will need to look to that dreaded and overly popular competitive multi-player. So will you, if you want to get any kind of value out of the over priced purchase that you just made.

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Written by Ian D

Misanthropic git. Dislikes: Most things. Likes: Obscure references.


  1. Tottenhamtom /

    Hey, Great article.
    I think you are being a little harsh, but your right the plot is a nonsensical mishmash and very short. its a shame you don’t play the multi- player as that is where the value is. One thing I would question is the graphics – to me they were average but not amazing -some very poor texture work. As for the airport scene. I don’t think it works at – one minute this dude is a grunt then a russian speaking undercover agent, besides there are only 5/6 diff civilian models so any suspension of disbelief is shattered by poor execution. Good point about the other terrorist dying I noticed this as well. Good luck with all the purile comments you get back, but well done for voicing a valid opinion.

  2. I wish all reviews were this truthfull. Im so sick of reading bias and lies in what people class as a “review” when its clearly a case of they paid us shitloads so we will cough up a score of over a 9 when the game is clearly a 7/10 at best. Totally agree with the point about the ending(if you can really call that an ending) I was foolish enough to think i was going to get another level after that or somesort of piss poor closure. However it seems they thought a sudden drop to the credits were a good enough idea at the time.

    The whole game screams “Unfinished” and “Activision is fucking us hard” at me. I just hope people dont get caught up in the media frenzy about it.

  3. Nice article. I completely agree with you about the plot, at one point I thought I might have missed a level or something. How did picking up a shell casing lead them to a shanty town half way round the word? So, yes the campaign was quite short and hung together on very tenuous plot points. I’m sure though that many gamers wont object to this much as the game does flow very well, one level just glides into the next, and before you know where you are you’re on an oil rig in a rush of adrenaline.

    One thing that really annoys me about Call of Duty (especially Modern Warfare) is that there isn’t really any characterisation, one minute you’re Allen, he gets killed off, then you’re Roach, then some other grunt. Is the player meant to have any sort of affinity with these characters? And while the voice acting in MW2 is pretty good, (I especially love how actors from The Bill are in this blockbuster game), why doesn’t the player’s character have any dialog at all? It’s a far cry from Naughty Dog’s approach where the player controls a developed character who properly interacts with the NPCs and environment. Why can’t other developers see that adding dialog not only improves the story, but also fleshes out the character and adds realism?

    You should really give the multiplayer a try though, if you’ve got a group of friends it can be pretty good fun.

  4. Thanks for the kind words people. I was half expecting a mob of angry fans to leave me half dead in an alley muttering “The multiplayer…the multiplayer…” If I do mysteriously vanish at least you’ll know where to look for me now.

  5. Benjamin Lopez /

    I agree with your review.

    You’re right about the Airport Level. If they wanted gamers to understand how big, bad and nasty the terrorists are, they could have placed gamers in the shoes of a civillian trying to escape.

    I can only play Online Spec Ops by inviting someone of being invited?! WTF?!

    And for those that aren’t very interested in Multiplayer (such as me, as I totally suck in it), this game doesn’t offer much replay value.

  6. ColdFire /

    Totally true. The story is very rushed. They said they made the levels, (like cliffhanger), then ordered then, and made a story. It shows.

    You keep mentioning graphics, they are mealy average, beaten by games that are 2 years old easily. The artistic style is good, but not the graphics.

  7. Howler3366 /

    Very well done. I thought that I was the only one who had issues following the story along with its plot holes. I really enjoyed the action of the game, but felt like they relied too much on putting a lot of information (or lack thereof) into the loading screens.

    It felt more like a bunch of interesting scenarios strung together and not a complete story.

    It had a lot of much potential for a great single player campaign as well as multiplayer provided that they could explore the story more, get more indepth. It could have provided them with a considerably longer single player game that made more sense and was very gratifying.

    Just my take. Great job on the review, I think it was right on the mark!

  8. R_Shackelford /


    Yes, the MP is fun as hell, but the SP story is pure drivel. And even though I made my first play through on Veteran, and it took me well longer than 3-4 hours, aside from four or five frustrating checkpoints, it was damn easy if you’re patient and are measured with your movements. Half the time (or more) I could hang back and let the NPCs do most of the work.

    I fully agree. 7/10… 8/10 tops.

    • Howler3366 /

      Yeah, I had a weird respawn issue in single player as well. There is one area when fighting in the town in VA. Well, I died due to a car exploding next to me. Well, I respawned next to the same car, it exploded again. It took a good 10 to 12 times before I had any chance of getting out of the way. It was like I was inching my way just far enough so that I could run and at least have a chance to live. Very annoying that.

  9. Spoiler! Your review sucks! CoD6MW2 roxxors!!! You suck! And all people who hate CoD or dont play multiplayer suxxors! The game was awesome! How 133t didnt McTavish look with a mohawk? NOBODY expected Cpt Price to reappear! Hell, nobody even expected to see McTavish! Multiplayer is where its at! You simply refuse to accept that the best game ever was just made. Plus the pc version has better gfx (since that seems to be all you look at…), and is cheaper than the console version. You SUCK!!!

    Note: That is what I was expecting to see someone reply, but while your review was overly cynical, it was quite spot on, and since im not a multiplayer person as well, I couldnt agree more. Well said.

  10. I’ve just started playing MW2 yesterday, and I must say that I like the fact that the singleplayer gives me a bit of a bigger challenge than the first MW. More enemies, and you now have to be more careful about enemies coming from behind or flanking you.

    I was actually pretty much enjoying the story. Until half the world got blown up and the good guys were the bad guys and I never realised it because it was just too vague. I was just excited about cars falling from the sky, imagining flying saucers to attack me and for McTavish to suddenly have a huge, green mohawk. But that could just be me.

    You are completely right about the story. I didn’t even realize how off it was until I read your review. A magazine in my home country gave MW2 a 10/10, about which a lot of discussion arose amongst game journalists. Yes, I like MW2, it’s a solid shooter, looks great and is definitely an enjoyable experience. But it’s the shortest CoD ever and is definitely overhyped. I agree with mantis about this being a truthful review. Nobody’s saying MW2 is a bad game. Contrary to that, it’s a really good game, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t have any flaws. And a good reviewer also spots those, and doesn’t get carried away with the rest of the media adoring CoD. You may call it cynical, but it’s pretty much a critical look. And isn’t that what you’re all about!

  11. steven g /

    MW2 is like Disney World Ride. Its amazing, full of thrills and has no meaningful narrative. Indeed it is experiences like that which produced the Pirates of the Caribbean series of films (they were actually based on a real ride)!

    Unlike those, at least they kept MW2 short. The single player is quite simply a taster for the other aspects of the game and an engine designed to run DLC when they release it in January.
    MW1 which only ever had 1 DLC pack – expect a ton for MW2.

    Regarding the narrative: it was nonsense. It has holes in it the size of Wales. How come these British Special Forces had lost the ability to talk to THEIR central command in Blighty? And just because an American (who was shot in the head by his accomplices) was left at the scene of a terrorist attack – you launch World War 3?

    I think not.

    Still what a great ride.

  12. Kevin M /

    I really enjoyed Modern Warfare 2. However the single player is still way too short, and as has been mentioned is a load of nonsense. Multiplayer is as fun as always, although it’s very familiar. I think the re-use of some textures and in-game items fuels that notion. Also, why is there no clan support? Killzone 2 has a great way of getting clans battling with leaderboards and the ability to challenge clans. For a game that is the biggest online multiplayer game on console, this is a major omission.

  13. Payasoplas /

    At last somebody who cares about the part of the game taht requieres more of your brain and more development work, the single player campaign.

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