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 		Sweet riot shield action in the Gulag

Call of Duty modern warfare 2 is a game that’s all about refining. It takes the formula of a very tight heavily scripted campaign and excellent but extremely brutal and fast multiplayer and hones and polishes it until it sparkles.

The single play campaign follows two stories, the whooping cheering marines and the stealthy psychotic SAS – it’s very nice to see Brits in a game portrayed as hardcore military elite. You take it in turns going back and forth with these two stories, the Marines story feels like it’s loosely based on Black Hawk Down and the SAS feels closer to James Bond. You’ll move around the globe getting to go to some really imaginative settings, the Favelas being a highlight. There is nothing that is quite as exhilarating as battling upwards through these shanty towns whilst bullets fly all around, punching through the rickety shacks. There are other highlights; crashing through the Gulag in eastern Russia and being supported by tanks in suburban America. All of the environments in the game look amazing; the level of detail and attention that’s been lavished on them really shows. This is made all the more incredible by the fact that the levels are played through at an incredible pace and most of the art and design touches will be missed on the first play through as you just try to survive. The game keeps up this pace throughout with only a couple of levels starting at a slower more stealthy pace before turning into a crazy madhouse full of bullets and Russians. This pace is exhilarating whilst you’re playing the game but does come at a price the single player game only takes around 5 hours to complete.

The plot of the single player game is fairly mental, playing out as a conspiracy theory nuts wet dream. It’s the kind of thing that’s been hinted at in Tom Clancy games for a while but never quite going this far and it has some fairly large holes and requires you to put your brain away and suspend belief – in the nature of the best action films. It also has that now infamous No Russian mission – where you are asked to take part in a terrorist action in an airport. It seems mainly to have been included to generate column inches in tabloids as opposed to shocking the audience or to drive on the narrative. You can skip the mission if you feel that being involved in a terrorist action in a computer game is too terrible to imagine and whilst it says that you won’t be penalised for skipping you might wonder what has caused the fuss as this isn’t really explained in great detail after the fact. Also the game tells you that you can just be in the mission but not take part in any hostilities but you can’t, your AI partners aren’t good enough to get the job done without your help.

The game relies heavily on scripted moments, these are both used as a device to drive the story on and generate drama and in the levels to keep you on your toes, guys jumping out at you from a door you thought was locked and helicopters sweeping in, that kind of thing, these are great the first time you play through and the developer does a good job of not using the same trick too many times, but if you are forced to play through a section more than once you really notice that the enemies will behave in the same way time after time, and on particularly difficult sections you can get through the level because you know where they will be popping up turning it into something more like duck hunt. It is these heavily scripted section where the game starts to show it’s age, it’s an approach that other shooters have moved away from employing more sophisticated AI to provide the feeling that each play through is unique and that your actions force your opponents to respond differently.

To help bulk out the single player experience there is also Spec ops mode. It has some missions taken out of the single player game and some that are entirely new and allows you to play them through on your own or with a friend to earn stars that unlock further missions. These are great fun and a welcome addition to the Call of Duty experience. There is a nice mix of stealth, sniping and full on run and gun missions. A nice touch is when one of you is on the ground and the other gets to use a support vehicle like a helicopter. Hopefully these missions will see some DLC to bulk them out as they will really extend the life of the game.

Multiplayer is as strong as in the previous Modern Warfare game. It is fast and brutal; often you will die without realising who got the final shot. It has been tightened and rebalanced, there are more perks but some of the more damaging/annoying ones have been changed so they don’t come up as much or removed. On top of this there is the return of the excellent levelling system and the feeling that you are progressing through the ranks.  This is a generous multiplayer package and there is enough here to keep people playing online in their thousands for a very long time.

Modern Warfare is a great game; technically it’s incredibly solid, fast and responsive. The level of polish and attention to detail is immense. And apart from the slightly small single player campaign it’s a generous package the addition of spec ops gives you another more condensed way to play the game. But it doesn’t take any chances; it is for the most part last year’s game with some new paint and new missions. This is a shame you feel that this is a great developer who’ve got a fantastic license and took a risk with it to make Modern Warfare and now need to take some more risks to really push the game and the FPS genre forwards.

Best shoot out in the game