Xbox 360 Review: Modern Warfare 2

Modern Warfare 2 is action-packed, beautifully executed, truly ambitious, and excellent.

– By Geoffrey Calver

Modern Warfare 2, the most anticipated title of the year, is here.

“Sam Bravo we’re reading 70 bogeys in your sector, please verify.”

“Negative, nothing here.”

“We may have a minor ACS fault here, do you have anything on your scope.”

Suddenly, a burst of noise, a frantic voice from air control, “They’re everywhere! I’m lookin’ at fighter jets over I-95, how the hell did they get through?”

The camera fades and I find myself on a suburban street in a humvee. Hondas, Nissans and Fords sit in driveways. TVs flicker through windows. But nothing is right here. Above, in the sky, hundreds of transport planes fly overhead. The ground shakes and fighter jets scream overhead. AA fire traces through the sky and explosions pop in the distance. Paratroopers are falling from the clouds. As one hits a nearby home and lands on the roof, the soldier next to me opens fire. Suddenly, we are immersed in a heavy firefight with Russian soldiers in the suburbs of northern Virginia, just across the Potomac from Washington, DC. The invasion has begun.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is as immersive a game as I have come across. Scenes like the one described above are shocking, huge in their scale and vision. The United States has come under attack by Russia and warfare is taking place on streets I recognized as being like my own. The fight moves from house to house. I have to flank enemy troops by moving through America homes, firing round after round, knocking books of walls, shooting out televisions, setting off car alarms. It all feels surreal, and I feel as though I am caught in the midst of a massive fight for my country’s existence. It is scenes like this that make Modern Warfare 2 an immediate classic. It is full of pulse-pounding excitement, high-definition destruction, and has a plethora of multiplayer content that, when the single-player campaign is completed, will keep players returning for months and years. Like its predecessor, Modern Warfare 2 is an exercise in how fun and beautiful a game can be. It is nearly perfect.


Modern Warfare 2 continues some time after Modern Warfare ended. Makarov, a Russian terrorist, is executing bold attacks against civilians, from bombings to raids. He has a large militia on his side and the U.S. wants to take him down.

You begin the game as a Private in the U.S. Army, stationed in Afghanistan. You teach Afghan soldiers to fire their weapons and then run through a training course as General Shepherd, the U.S. General in charge of the anti-terror operations, watches you. He wants to find a suitable candidate for his next task. But, as you come out from the training course, a humvee pulls up with bullets hole pocked throughout and wounded soldiers falling out. You tear off into an Afghan city where a vicious firefight takes place.

Afterwards, Shepherd informs you that he’s handpicked you for a dangerous assignment, one that will bring you to question yourself and what is right and wrong. He wants to send you deep undercover as a member of Taskforce 141, the most elite unit of the U.S. Army. He wants you to infiltrate Makarov’s organization, and to do so, you must join him on a terrorist attack. The terrorist attack at Moscow’s international airport appears, for reasons I won’t divulge here, to be an act taken out by the U.S., and Russia wants blood, prompting a massive invasion of the eastern U.S.

The fight goes to our streets, and, in typical Call of Duty fashion, also follows several related stories at the same time. As a war rages in the U.S., you also fight against an arms dealer and his militia in Rio de Janeiro, the Taliban in Afghanistan, and eventually take the fight to Russia in order to shut down SAM missile sites and to free a prisoner that the Army is certain will incite Makarov’s interest in the hopes that the prisoner can draw him into a fight where they hope to capture and expose him as the catalyst for the war between Russia and the U.S. The game takes place across a vast number of locations – Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Russia, Brazil, Virginia, Georgia (the country), and Washington, DC. It is a world-encompassing fight that is fast-paced, difficult, and nearly impossible to stop playing.


America is under attack in Modern Warfare 2, and that makes for familiar places becoming battlefields.

The gameplay in Modern Warfare 2 is excellent across nearly all spectrums. The settings and situations are remarkable and truly memorable, and the amount of whisking around the world that I did kept me on the edge of my seat for hours at a time.

In addition to the locations and scenes that kept me gripped deeply into the game, there are a wide variety of different play styles as well. There are missions where I had to just shoot as much as I could. There were stealth missions. Vehicle chases (which are done very well) and of course, there is the already infamous terrorist scene, which is horrifying, sickening, and frightening, and conveyed the atrocity of a terror act and why Markorov must be taken down.

Modern Warfare 2 also implements cover that can be penetrated. For instance, an enemy hiding behind a wooden door can be shot through the door, and will fall out of the doorway. Likewise, you aren’t ever really safe from enemy fire, even when crouched behind a wall. Windows shatter, wood splinters, and bullets can find you even in a closet. This gameplay element adds to the strategy of taking on large numbers of people. It makes cover even more necessary than in previous Call of Duty titles, as not all cover is safe to recover from your wounds, but it makes it possible to get some truly unique takedowns as well.

The only downside to the aspect of finding cover in Modern Warfare 2 is that you still cannot peer around corners. The game feels antiquated only in these moments. When you are crouching behind a wall, and in order to shoot an enemy you have to expose your entire body. I would love it if, in Modern Warfare 3 (which undoubtedly is coming given the 7 million sales of Modern Warfare 2 in the first day, and its cliffhanger ending) they implemented a cover element as in Gears of War.

The gunfight in the Favela is brutal because of the close quarters and an inability to peer around corners.

The gunfight in the Favela is brutal because of the close quarters and an inability to peer around corners.

Beyond that, Modern Warfare 2 also offers the excellent ability to breach walls and doors. This involves placing a charge on a door and standing to its side. As the door or wall blasted open, I was able to enter a room in slow motion, finding enemies who have been surprised by this sudden, explosive entrance. It’s extremely well implemented, particularly in several instances on an oil platform where workers are being used as human shields to prevent American attacks.

Modern Warfare 2 essentially provides the same gaming formula we’ve always loved. It is action packed, the set-pieces feel like they are out of Hollywood blockbusters (and in some instances they are – there are overt references to The Rock throughout) and quite honestly the settings change so often and are so overwhelmingly well orchestrated, stunning, and jaw-dropping, that it’s impossible to put down the campaign game. In fact, when I finished playing on hardened difficulty, I immediately went back with the intention of playing on Veteran difficulty to gain more achievements and to follow the story more closely, with a better viewpoint of the circumstances. I heartily recommend Modern Warfare 2 based solely upon the single player campaign and certainly think, as a standalone product, it would still be worth $60.


The fighting in Modern Warfare 2 is non-stop.

The only complaint about Modern Warfare 2’s single player game, beyond the lack of a true cover fire element that would have allowed me to only expose my head or arm while leaning around or over obstacles, is the length of the campaign. It clocks in between 6 and 8 hours, but it feels much shorter, mostly because the action is so fast-paced and the game is so engrossing that I finished it in two several hour long sessions. I just couldn’t put the game down, and before I knew it, I was finished. And it was so excellent the only disappointment I felt was that I need to wait another two to three years to find out what happens next. Does the U.S. invade Russia? Do we fight in other parts of the U.S.? And will I ever catch and kill Makarov?

In short, the gameplay is amazing. The story is unequalled in its scope, it’s ambition, and quite frankly, in it’s patriotism. This is one heck of a patriotic game. And it’s one hell of a fun ride.


Fast-paced, hectic action. Killstreaks that reward you with air drops of supplies, including an AC-130 air strike. Six different modes to whet your appetite, from Destruction to Capture the Flag to Team Deathmatch. And, a new, co-op play mode, Spec Ops, all adding up to an amazing package guaranteed to keep the servers on Xbox live busy at all hours, for months and years to come.

Honestly, the multiplayer is what truly defined the first Modern Warfare. The single player campaign was fantastic. It introduced priceless characters such as Captain Price, and featured one of the most emotional storylines I’ve ever come across (who can forget fighting in the U.S. armed forces for so long only to watch as your character died when a nuclear explosion blew his helicopter into the ground, crawling out of the helicopter to see a massive mushroom cloud, his heartbeat slowly stopping). But, at the end of the day, multiplayer kept Modern Warfare alive for ages.

Modern Warfare 2 pulls no punches. The multiplayer maps are big, varied, and fun. The action really is frenetic and the sheer number of weapons ensures a different experience every time you find a host. And luckily, Infinity Ward didn’t just create the same multiplayer experience with new maps. They kept all the great elements of the first game’s multiplayer, and added bunches on top of it.


The multiplayer is amazing, deep, and fun. You'll be playing it for ages.

Multiplayer offers six different modes. Team Deathmatch, Demolition, Capture the Flag, Free-For-All, Search & Destroy, and Domination. It is an element of the game that will keep players around for ages.

In addition to the multiplayer, Infinity Ward went to another stratosphere in their aim to provide you with the best game experience possible when they added the Spec Ops co-op mode to Modern Warfare 2. Spec-Ops offers a unique set of challenges for you and a buddy to complete. You can either complete the challenges with a buddy at your house on a splitscreen or you can work together with your friend over the Internet to earn stars and unlock new Spec-Op missions. It is a brilliant compilation of challenges that will add even more longevity to this version of Modern Warfare.

Spec-Ops includes missions straight out of the game as well as catered missions made specifically for the co-op mode. You are challenged to do things such as sneaking past patrols in the snow-covered woods to crossing a bridge in New York that is swarming with enemies. The tasks often require a partner, and you have the ability to revive your playing partner if he is shot down. Spec-Ops includes motivation to continue playing in the form of unlocking new levels and trying to beat the “expected time” it should take to finish a level. I think it will take many tries for most players to beat the expected times and to reach the maximum-possible 3 stars for each mission.

All in all, the multiplayer element of Modern Warfare 2 is worthy of a full game in and of itself. It is excellent in all forms, and is truly a blast to play and offers so much variety that Modern Warfare 2 will be spinning in most people’s Xbox 360s for a very, very long time.


The graphics in Modern Warfare 2 are spectacular. The explosions look amazing, the settings truly feel alive, each mission has the feeling of a $200 million Hollywood blockbuster because of the detail put in, and the sheer number of things to look at on each mission is expansive. I often found myself looking through the scope of my gun at details such as the statue of Christ on the top of Breadloaf Mountain in Brazil in the distance above the Favelas where I was fighting tooth and nail and I marveled at the sight of a suburban U.S. neighborhood flooded with enemy paratroopers and crashing planes. Fighter jets flying overhead look and feel real, and there is even a stunning moment where, hanging over a cliff, you rappel down only to stop inches above an enemy soldier. You have to knife him from above, and you literally look into his eyes as his life slips away. The details are astounding. Character models look amazing, the lighting is fantastic, and is especially noticeable in Washington, DC and Afghanistan’s desert storms, and the details serve to move the story forward and bring emotional realism to the fight for America’s continuing freedom and to bring down a ruthless terrorist.

The highest compliment I can give Modern Warfare 2 is that I often nearly forgot I was playing a game. It is so immersive, so stunningly detailed, that I found myself thinking I was watching an action movie with a gigantic budget. The sheer imagination of the developers is astounding, and the graphics serve to convey the story that is told in dramatic detail.


Fighter jets roar overhead. Gunfire pops. Civilians scream and run for cover as a gun dealer fires shots at you while running away. Military radios crackle with authenticity. The screen shakes as a plane crashes nearby. Soldiers scream at each other to take cover. Car alarms fill the air as they get pockmarked with bullets.

The sound in Modern Warfare 2 isn’t a background experience at all. It is in the foreground because it brings the game vibrantly into your living room. The sound is excellent. Guns pop with authority, fighter jets screaming low overhead shake the room, and the voice acting is fantastic. The noises come from all directions and serve to indicate where danger is and also highlight the enormity of the invasion of the U.S. and the horror of close quarter combat.

Beyond that, the musical score is excellent. On a military base in Afghanistan, the sounds of Fifty Cent fill the air as troops play basketball under the hot sun. The musical score fuels the adrenaline and conveys patriotism, pride, and horror. Hans Zimmer, the composer for Modern Warfare 2, isn’t just a name. He is a legend. His musical scores have graced Hollywood films for ages, and most importantly to me, graced Gladiator, in my opinion the greatest score ever made for a film. I cry at the end of Gladiator – every time – and his music is so stirring, so vivid, that listening to the score causes me to recall the scene from the movie and brings me close to tears. That is how great Hans Zimmer is, and he put a lot of work into making Modern Warfare 2 an emotional experience. The sound is, quite simply, as high quality as the graphics and gameplay.

The Final Word

As of this writing, Modern Warfare 2 apparently sold an astounding 7 million copies on its first day of release, and deservedly so. The first game took the Call of Duty formula and shook it hard. It brought the series from World War II to the contemporary war on terror. It exchanged M1 Garand’s for M16s and crafted a lovingly executed story and multiplayer experience. Modern Warfare 2 took the high bar set by Modern Warfare and jumped straight over it. Modern Warfare 2 is a superior experience to Modern Warfare in every way. It is undoubtedly the most fun I’ve had playing a game all year. It is brilliantly executed, moving, and beautiful. It is an emotional experience, a physical experience, and it is a game that truly rivals a Hollywood blockbuster in terms of scope and ambition. It is undoubtedly an amazing game.

The Scorecard


+ Deep, engrossing story that shocks and surprises at every turn

+ Environments oozing detail, gorgeous visuals and effects

+ The sound is fantastic

+ Multiplayer is addictive, fun, and offers lots of twists

– The single player campaign had to end

– No ability to peer around corners yet

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