Modern Warfare 2 is one of those games that's bigger than itself. Smashing sales records, gamers lining outside in the streets, and packages coming with mother effin' NIGHT VISION GOGGLES add up to people losing their minds. Call of Duty 4 was a fantastic game, and from what I've played (about 7 hours of multiplayer, and 80% of campaign), Modern Warfare 2 has upped the ante, improving on damn near everything that made CoD4 memorable.
However, I do need to touch on something that concerned me. Everyone's heard about 'that level', the one that has Fox News, CNN, and the local news stations up-in-arms. Now, I'm all for 'progressive storytelling' in my vidjagams, but the first half of the level, in which you murder innocent civilians in an Airport, is done so hamfistedly and sloppy, it's about as 'shocking' as a kick to the balls. Sure, it takes you by surprise, and makes you uncomfortable, but it does more harm than good. The thing I find so appalling isn't the fact that you shoot up civilians: It's the fact that Infinity Ward gives you the option to 'opt out' of the level, at no charge to the player. Really, IW? You disrespect your audience enough to believe that some people don't want to see the entirety of your story? If you spent the money on resources, scripting, voiceacting, and story development, by God, show me that shit! It's part of your overall Michael Bay-esque experience, yes? DONT MAKE IT OPTIONAL!
I have two other complaints with the level. First, giving the player the gun, and ordering them to shoot unarmed civvies is the lazy way out. If you truly want to make me uncomfortable, have me WATCH these things unfold, leaving me helpless to do anything about it. You get the same point across, and your storytelling doesn't reek of 'Look how provocative and controversial we are, guys!'. You want us to hate Makarov: There's better, more creative ways to do it.
Secondly, while the first part of the level isn't my cup of tea, the second part is 'Holy shit, this is balls-out-awesome' worthy. SWAT teams, FBI operatives, police, security, and the kitchen sink are thrown at you, in a sequence that's so close to a Michael Mann film, I was humming tunes from HEAT. It was exhilirating, as it was easily the most impressive scripting and action I've seen in a FPS campaign this side of Half Life.
It's kind of amazing, how one level sums up Infinity Ward's design philosophy so well: One-half ridiculous nonsense, the other half, edge-of-your-seat gameplay. This being said, though, while I'm a solid 80% through campaign, Multiplayer is taking up ALL of my free time.
I wasn't the best at Call of Duty 4, and I don't know what it is about Modern Warfare 2, but I'm holding my own fairly well. It could be a change of system (going from 360 to PS3), it could be that I'm starting with the crowd (with Call of Duty 4, I bought it a solid year after launch), or that I'm getting better at these here vidjagames, but I'm having a blast.
The perks are still addictive, the progression of Rank feels like Diablo sprinkled with cocaine, and the overall feel of the weaponry is second to none. If you've played months and months of Call of Duty 4, this may feel like a bit of an expansion pack moreso than a sequel, but even so: don't fix what isn't broken.
Even with a few WTF-worthy moments, goofy writing (did Infinity Ward's research and development consist of 'Watch Generation Kill and The Rock'?), and a few unsettling storytelling decisions, Modern Warfare 2's the real mccoy, and is a top contender for Game of the Year. Hell, any game that's keeping me from playing Dragon Age has to have SOMETHING going for it, right?