Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (Hardened Edition) Review

By Matt Keil - Posted Nov 10, 2009

Nobody does war like Infinity Ward. Its 'Call of Duty' titles have evolved from excellent examples of the first-person shooter genre to a redefinition of what gamers expect from a war title. With 'Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2', Infinity Ward takes the already solid foundation laid in 'Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare' and polishes it to a jaw-dropping shine.

The Pros
  • Intense single player campaign with great characters and shocking twists
  • Tons of co-op missions with high level challenge
  • Multiplayer polished and improved with more options and unlocks
The Cons
  • 3rd person multiplayer modes are novelties at best

Nobody does war like Infinity Ward. Its Call of Duty titles have evolved from excellent examples of the first-person shooter genre to a redefinition of what gamers expect from a war title. With Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2, Infinity Ward takes the already solid foundation laid in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and polishes it to a jaw-dropping shine.

There are three distinct components to Modern Warfare 2: The single player campaign continues the story that began in COD4, Spec Ops offers co-op versions of most of the action setpieces from the single player campaign plus some extras, and multiplayer is a highly refined version of what so many of us have already poured hundreds of hours into. The most impressive thing about all three modes is that Infinity Ward has not been content to rest on its laurels and simply churn out a clone of its already successful game. The stakes have been raised in almost every aspect of Modern Warfare 2.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

War…War Never Changes

Five years after the events of COD4, a cabal--loyal to the terrorists you previously dispatched--has set forth a series of machinations that lead to unthinkable consequences. America is invaded by a foreign power, and the campaign hops back and forth between the men defending U.S. soil and those attempting to bring the true culprits to justice before it’s too late. The campaign in Modern Warfare 2 is a bit easier than Call of Duty 4’s campaign and while there are places that seem to utilize the infinitely spawning enemies COD4 was infamous for, it’s hidden far better in Modern Warfare 2. Your allies are always ready and willing to move up, help check the corners, and even prompt you to keep going forward so the bottleneck moments that frustrated some no longer exist.

The variety in the single player is frankly stunning. On many occasions, Infinity Ward has stated their ambition to capture the excitement and intensity of a blockbuster action film in its games and Modern Warfare 2 is their greatest success thus far. Over the course of the story, you’ll infiltrate arctic bases, race to safety on stolen snowmobiles, sprint for your life over the slum rooftops of Rio, hold down fast food restaurants against invading armies, and liberate the White House from enemy hands. Every level in Modern Warfare 2’s campaign could be the standout moment in just about any other shooter.

Of course, there’s one other thing you do that has already become somewhat infamous. Yes, at one point you do participate in what is best described as a terrorist action against innocent civilians. In context of the story, the scene makes sense and is the catalyst for most of the events in the game. You are given the option to skip the level when you start up Modern Warfare 2 for the first time, although there is no summary or alternate cutscene that replaces it. You’re also not required to actually fire on civilians. You can simply watch until the armed reinforcements arrive, at which time you must fight or die. While it may offend some, it’s a risk that was boldly taken by Infinity Ward and the story is better for it.

The solo campaign is noticeably more balanced than COD4’s single player campaign. Modern Warfare 2 avoids the choke points that could become problems in COD4. Even on Veteran difficulty, which in previous Call of Duty games has traditionally been a brutal slog used by expert players to test their patience levels, is a much more carefully tuned experience. If you have the skills to handle the opponents thrown at you, playing Modern Warfare 2 on Veteran difficulty is fun to play, and is yet another example of the attention to detail present in the campaign.

This is an advertisement - This story continues below

You Can Be My Wingman Any Time

In response to the huge demand for co-op gameplay, Modern Warfare 2 includes Spec Ops mode, a collection of increasingly difficult missions designed for two players. Spec Ops covers most of the major action setpieces of the solo campaign, as well as giving players glimpses of what was happening elsewhere during the events of the main game. Also included in Spec Ops are a few favorite moments that evoke COD4’s highlights, such as the “AC-130 Overwatch” mission and the nerve-wracking “Hidden” mission, which sends you up against ghillie-suited enemy snipers that are extraordinarily hard to spot in the tall grass.

A wide variety of mission types, from races to Horde mode-style defense to timed bomb disposal runs, will keep you and a friend playing long after the campaign is complete. More and more missions are unlocked as you earn stars by tackling higher difficulties with your buddy. Spec Ops can be played online or splitscreen, and either way offers a fantastic way to extend the life of the finely-crafted single player sequences. Perhaps best of all, these missions are no pushovers, and only the best COD players will earn all 69 Spec Ops stars.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

Give ‘Em Hell, Soldiers

Finally, the third component of Modern Warfare 2 is the competitive multiplayer. Call of Duty 4’s addictive and streamlined online experience has been given a healthy tweaking, in all ways for the better. The perk system has been fully rebalanced, creating interesting new class builds as well as eliminating some irritations. In particular, the removal of the bonus grenade perks has made the multiplayer mode much more of a gun-oriented game. It’s tough to spam grenades when everyone only has one to begin with, and the game is greatly improved as a result.

Kill streak rewards have been given a major overhaul as well. There are now rewards for up to 25 kills, including a tactical nuke that automatically ends the game. Players can choose their preferred kill streak rewards from emergency air drops, air support from Predator missile drones and hovering Pave Low gunships, or they can even hop into the gunner’s seat of an AC-130 or helicopter and mow down the opposition from on high. You have to earn your kill streaks with your own gun now, as the heavy hardware you summon no longer adds to your streak total. Luckily, even if your team is getting hammered, a four-kill streak nets you a care package drop that can contain anything from a simple ammo re-supply to much-needed air support. If you’re really good, you can even steal your enemies’ package drops, a tactic that can become a major game changer. As a result, the battlefield in Modern Warfare 2 is far more active.

The leveling system and various unlocks have returned, but now the level cap has been boosted to 70. Modern Warfare 2 awards points for just about anything you do now, up to and including snapping a series of scoreless deaths. Also, there are new titles and icons you can use to personalize your online appearance, much like those used in Street Fighter IV. These are unlocked similarly to achievements or trophies and are awarded for doing pedestrian things such as racking up numerous headshots, but also include more subtle accomplishments like watching a large number of killcam replays to their conclusions. All in all, you’re given some kind of goodie during or at the end of almost every match you play. The game presses that little reward button in your brain so often that even when you’re doing badly, it’s hard to become frustrated; however, it’s still easy to lose hours trying to rank up or unlock that next gun attachment.

Numerous playlists of the various gameplay types can be selected for ranked matches and social matches allow more finely customized settings. New to the mix is Demolition, a variant of the Search and Destroy game type that allows respawns and leads to incredibly heated battles over preset bomb sites. This game type is perhaps best suited to showing off the larger and more vertically-oriented maps Modern Warfare 2 has to offer. The sheer number of routes, hiding places, nooks and crannies to be discovered in the 16 multiplayer maps is truly impressive. You’ll quickly learn to look up a lot more than in any previous COD games.

Also new is third-person gameplay in specifically designated playlists. These play pretty much like the regular game, except that you can see your character onscreen. It’s a nice novelty, but it feels strange and exposes some of the animation quirks of the game, which aren’t nearly as noticeable in first-person mode. It feels like something most players will try once or twice before settling comfortably back into Team Deathmatch.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2


At this point, it’s probably fair to compare Infinity Ward’s evolution to Bungie’s trajectory. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is to COD4 what Halo 3 was to Halo 2. COD4 was a tremendous shift in ambition, setting and feature sets, but the developer’s sequel, Modern Warfare 2, is a refinement and near-perfecting of what was already pretty darn good to begin with. Modern Warfare 2 could have just been a retread of what we’ve already played, offering up another spoonful of reheated content, and it would have suffered no dip in sales. Instead, Infinity Ward has delivered a follow-up that feels pleasantly familiar, yet still surprises, delights and innovates in ways that few sequels to best-selling entertainment properties have dared to in the past.


Want to hear Matt Keil thoughts after he finished his review? Matt, a senior producer on X-Play and our resident Call of Duty pro, sits down with Adam Sessler to talk about his review and reflect on his comments, the game and more! Watch the video below!

Adam Sessler and Matt Keil Discuss the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 Review