Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 PC Review
The biggest game this year is most definitely Infinity Ward's FPS sequel to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the biggest game of 2007. Publisher Activision has a lot riding on this release, and when you total up the preorders, this is going to be one of the biggest game launches ever.
But you wouldn't think that if you spent more than five minutes reading hardcore gamers' opinions on the PC version. The thing is, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is arguably at its best on the PC rather than on the 360 or PS3, assuming you like mouse-based controls and have a PC that can play modern-day games. It's just that while Infinity Ward has made a brilliant, violent, and ultimately a very fun game, some missteps in dealing with PC gamers may wind up costing them a lot in public opinion - and if those gamers have their way, maybe in lost sales.
Modern Warfare 2 works as a direct sequel to CoD4. In it, you play as a soldier named Gary "Roach" Sanderson, and the original player character from 4, British SAS specialist "Soap" MacTavish, is now giving you orders and running with you in missions this time around. You'll also play as a couple of Army guys halfway around the world, as well as a couple of other characters in a global conflict that starts shortly after the game begins. Early on, you'll get to either skip or play what may prove to be the most shocking scene you've witnessed in a video game. Easily-outraged parents and family groups will likely be calling for restrictions and bans when they get wind of it, because it involves a bunch of innocent people dying with some possibly being at the player's hand (well, it's more likely than not: you don't have to press the fire button, but I'm willing to bet most people will), and in the game it's not just a bunch of terrorists doing the killing. Activision warns the player about the scene before the game even begins and gives the player the option to skip it, but the warning is very vague; anyone who's played an M-rated game probably thinks they know what they're in for, but they have no idea, really. Video of this playable scene has made it onto the internet and I'm sure you'll see it on news channels soon, but for now I'm not going to spoil it.
All of this is a set up for the game's biggest spectacle: Russia invading the United States. For part of the game you'll play as an American soldier fighting against the Russians on your own home turf, right in and around Washington D.C. Your missions across the world with Soap are in the elite Task Force 141 created to take down Makarov, the perpetrator of all of this and a secondary bad guy from the first Modern Warfare. You'll be jetsetting around the world visiting slums in Brazil, a prison out in the middle of nowhere in Russia, and, yes, the Middle East. It's like Jerry Bruckheimer made a first person shooter: from the highly improbable situations you get yourself in, to the way things always blow up perfectly right when you're looking at them, this is by far the most delightfully insane Call of Duty yet. The ending is a little goofy and ends rather abruptly without much of a payoff, setting up a Modern Warfare 3 in a rather ham-fisted way.
Beyond the six-hour-or-so solo campaign, Modern Warfare 2 includes a bunch of Special Ops missions, that you can play together with friends. These missions don't have a plot and and are often based on the campaign maps, but they're short, fun little bits that can include some major challenge on the higher difficulty levels. There's also the hugely popular online versus and teamplay modes where you can level up, unlock new perks, and customize your weapons how you like. All in all, there is a ton of content here.
Infinity Ward has taken a new path with the PC version, though, and took out the dedicated server system that was a mainstay of every other PC Call of Duty. Instead they've set up IWNet, a new service that allows the PC version of MW2 to create games hosted on the players' computers and use console-like matchmaking in up to 18-player games. Infinity Ward insists that the matchmaking will make it easier for players of different skills to find someone who's about as good at the game as them, and that the hosting of games in a closed environment will mean no more weird third party maps, wacky mods, or megalomaniacal server admins who ban you for headshotting them. Of course, they did neglect to mention the good parts of what we're losing from CoD4 - the interesting maps, slick mods, and great server admins who regularly boot out annoying players and anyone using a cheat that Punkbuster didn't detect.
And in case you haven't heard of these issues already in an online petition or a forum post, let me repeat that: Modern Warfare 2 on PC has no dedicated servers, a player limit of only 18 rather than 32 (or even 64), no developer console to tweak settings in, no support for third party maps or mods online, and a $60 price tag - even for the PC. Finally, people can also only be auto-kicked from IWNet's servers if they set off Valve Anti-Cheat, so if cheaters figure out a way to get through Valve's automated security (or if they're just acting like asses), there's no way to manually get rid of them. I think an easy case could be made that online play in the PC version of Call of Duty 4 is very popular because of the elements Infinity Ward has removed, not in spite of them.
The shame in all this is that the PC version of Modern Warfare 2 is arguably the best one. The frame rate is just as good, if not sometimes better, than the two-year-old CoD4, and yes, the detail is much better this time around as well. IWNet is modeled after Xbox Live but I found it works even better, and the improved visuals and additional mouse/keyboard controls make for a huge difference in the experience. Hell, once you start playing, it's smooth enough most of the time that you might even forget you're not playing on a dedicated server, and for the most part every gameplay element that made Modern Warfare's online play so fun is all here: hardcore mode, killstreaks, perks, weapon attachments, killcams, and more - and the new perks, killstreak bonuses, the new death streaks, and more really add something entirely new and fun to the game. But if the developers want people to play this game for years rather than weeks, then they are going to need to offer more.
Modern Warfare 2 deserves to be one of the biggest games this year, but it's still up in the air whether the PC community will let go of their grudges and enjoy this version for the great game it is anyway. The shift in focus towards recreating a more user-friendly experience comes at a cost that's too high for those used to all the multiplayer options in Call of Duty 4. Maybe Infinity Ward will even go back and change their minds by adding dedicated servers side-by-side with IWNet (like they should have done in the first place). Yes, the single player game is brilliant and if that's all you're going to do, then you won't even notice a difference, but if you are expecting every single feature you got in CoD4's multiplayer modes, you're better off waiting it out.