25 November 2009
According to the statistics, if you are an organic lifeform you already own around 2.7 copies of Modern Warfare 2. This game has been selling like hotcakes lodged in copies of an unreleased Harry Potter book set during Hermione's bicurious phase because the much-touted controversial mission has managed to find that magical sweet spot where it's not offensive enough to get banned but enough to get lots of free publicity on national television. So in case you don't already know (and statistically that means you live on one of the moons of Jupiter), an early mission in the game has you join a small group of Russian terrorists gunning down unarmed civilians in Moscow airport, but it's okay because A) you're really an undercover CIA agent and B) you don't actually have to kill anyone; you can hang back and pretend your arthritis is flaring up, and C) they're Russian civilians and who gives a shit about them? As controversy goes, it's pretty fucking weaksauce. GTA IV practically lets you rub innocent civilians' intestines on your face and show photographs of it to their grandchildren. Make all the victims apple-cheeked Cub Scouts doing bobble-jobs to earn money for their grandmama's dialysis machine and then we'll talk about controversy, Modern Warfare 2.
"Unimpressed by our controversy are you?" says Infinity Ward. "Well, suck on this: Russia invades America. BAM!" Remember how in my H.A.W.X review I said that in today's enlightened times modern day war games never tie the baddies directly to a foreign power when there are loads of perfectly good terrorist groups and PMCs that no one cares about offending? Well, MW2 skull-fucks all that with an American flag wrapped around a baseball bat, and the whole thing plays like the violent delusions of a Cold War fantasist with his head stuck in a lathe. But if there's one thing the game hates more than Russians, it's player characters. It seems after the excellent and memorable sequence in Modern Warfare 1 in which one of the protagonist gets cooked to perfection in a nuclear blast, the developers thought with typical producer logic that the best way to top that would be to do it again about three times. It's a rather dim attempt to capture the same shock and awe. And that's the thing about shock: once you're doing it about every five minutes it just stops being special. Mind you, the plot is pretty special, in the same sense as in the phrase, "I'm sorry my son ate your shoes, he's a little bit special." At the point when I was ramping a snowmobile over a sixty-foot abyss I realized that all pretense of realism had been savagely dropped and they adopted to write some demented and confusing James Bond story where James Bond gets murdered half an hour in to be replaced by a bloke called Bames Jond.
The single player campaign is as short as fuck, and let me tell you, when I'm around fucks are legendarily short. It's barely six hours in all, but cutting out all my deaths, the plot points that didn't make the slightest bit of sense, and all the time spent hiding under walls waiting for blood to fall off my face, then it comes down to about fifteen minutes. The combat tends to go for a sort of a noisy frantic warfare thing with bullets and explosions going off all around you while some general is yelling into your headset to pick up some toffees on your way back. And while it's nice to create a thrilling mood in case burglars invade the player's home to capitalise on their inalertness, you often have to be watching every direction like a cat with his tail caught in a fucking ceiling fan or else get shot so hard by various unseen attackers that your eyeballs burst several times. This was particularly upsetting in one mission where I died about seventy million times trying to push through a squad of evil Ruskies, only to finally succeed and then get killed as part of the end mission cutscene! So what was all that effort in aid of? Would it honestly have ended the story right there if I had died about fifteen feet further back like the last seventy million times? What, was I tied to a bungee cord this whole time and at the point of death I was being catapulted to the sky?
So after completing the single player campaign in about the space of time it takes to make a cup of tea, I did something a little drastic and decided to check out the multiplayer. Not the online multiplayer, fuck no! Experience has taught me to never play any multiplayer game in which I am unable to reach over and slap the other players across the face. Fortunately, there are some short snacky one-op missions that I could play co-op with my male friend. You complete them to gain stars to buy more of them. So, it's basically the Guitar Hero of state-sponsored genocide, but we actually had a lot of fun with them. I even caught myself using phrases like "take point" and "watch my six" without any trace of irony or mock Jack Bauer voice. We especially enjoyed the stealth missions in which we laid together in the long grass, watching each others backs (not gay). All in all, it makes me wonder why they couldn't have been used to pad the story mode out a bit, so it was a little bit more than a short, squeaky fart in an elevator full of conspiracy theorists. I mean you always have an AI partner or two. There's no reason you couldn't have a co-op mode throughout except that the surprise protagonist murders would have to be even more contrived.
From a purely mechanical standpoint, Modern Warfare 2 is absolutely perfect. Bullets fly at anything you point at and those things can generally be trusted to die. And the graphics depict a succession of dusty, war-torn hellholes with enormous detail and polish, so if that alone sells it to you then feel free to hand over your money, but remember to leave a little aside to buy some lovely 3-in-1 oil for your squeaky joints, you fucking robot! If you asked that efficient controls and decent graphics be threaded onto some kind of a coherent narrative or appropriate context--as opposed to a length of patchy dental floss which has been recently employed by a homeless copraphage--then save your pennies for food and shelter and air and everything else you require as one of us emotional, squishy organic lifeforms. Modern Warfare 2's story really does come across as the product of a development team who couldn't quite believe how well the original did, so half of them wanted to see how much they could get away with while the other half were trying to drag them away from the writing table. So just to summarize, fellas, the soldier nuking was good, but civilian shooting? Bit of a flop. By all means, experiment. In Modern Warfare 3, how about having us stomp on a little girl's puppy then scoop up the remains on a bit of paper with a Holocaust denial written on it?
Immune to bullets: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
I wonder what kind of gun fires with a noise that most closely approximates the word "BANG"
Say what you like about the Russians but those are some sweet hats