Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was an enormous success in 2007-08. Not only did the game set a new high-water mark for the COD franchise, it claimed a spot as a Top 10 best-seller and became one of the most critically acclaimed first-person shooters of all time.
It tells an involved counterterrorism tale that’s highly effective at capturing players’ heroic imaginations while sending them hunting for bad guys all over the world. And its blood pressure-raising missions are full of cutting-edge military weaponry, realistic gun battles, stealthy scenarios and exotic locales. On top of that, trigger-happy fans were instantly wowed by online play that rolled all of COD’s strengths into a fiercely addictive, competitive team brawl.
Jumping in With Both Boots
So you could have bet your last digital bullet that A) there was going to be a sequel, and B) it wasn’t going to change that winning formula a whit. And, indeed, the gamemakers at Infinity Ward went out of their way to let players know they’d be getting plenty more of the same—an effort that translated into a whopping $550 million in sales during this new game’s first five days of release.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is divided into three distinct parts: A single-player campaign mode tells the darkly serpentine main story. A Special Ops mode offers a collection of 23 increasingly difficult non-story-driven missions designed for two players. And a raved-about online multiplayer mode sets up to 18 gamers at each other’s virtual throats.
The action picks up five years after the last game left off when a new ultranationalist Russian terrorist steps up to fill the world’s bad guy void. And once again you slip into the boots and camo of several different soldiers who fight back against the rising tide of evil. By jumping around among the defenders, Modern Warfare 2 transports you all over the world—from the blinding snows of Siberia to rebel-packed urban combat in the streets of Rio de Janeiro to a war-torn Washington, D.C.
The Great Big Bad War
There’s more here, though, than meets the average hero’s thermal imaging gun scope. Because this highly anticipated sequel doesn’t just repeat the previous experience. In the gaming world there always has to be more—and more usually means stretching and pushing into ever-darker places.
There’s a pumped up flow of blood in Modern Warfare 2, for instance. Hundreds if not thousands of enemies fall and writhe in pools of their own gore. And some of the cutscenes give an even closer cinematic view of the congealed guts and brain matter that soak the surroundings. The language seems fouler than I remember from the previous game as well. An f-bomb explodes on contact, and the rat-a-tat-tat of the s-word, “d‑‑n,” “a‑‑,” “b‑‑ch” and “h‑‑‑” echoes across the landscape.
But more disturbing than that are the corrupting corridors the storyline takes gamers down.
Modern Warfare 2’s soundtrack composer Hans Zimmer expressed his surprise at some of the game’s content in a USA Today article: The game “has an emotional darkness to it,” he said, “where sometimes you go, ’I can’t believe they are going to do this now,’ and then they do it. It’s full of those sort of moments where it just takes things further than anyone would expect.”
Lethal Lies and the Soldiers Who Sell Them
One of the more controversial moments you might not expect involves a scene in which you assume the role of a soldier who infiltrates a terrorist group. Once undercover, you’re to take part in the bloody slaughter of civilians. Even if you refuse to shoot, you still watch as the men around you use large-caliber weapons to massacre hundreds of defenseless innocents at an airport.
You can skip this bit of badness, but the sinister turns and surprising betrayals don’t end there. And so the game ends up feeling oddly—and sometimes grotesquely—twisted. The good guys often aren’t. The moral landscape that surrounds them is murky at best. And even a war hero will find it tough to feel heroic.
Somewhere deep in the gameplay, a narrating general says, “All you need to change the world is one good lie … and a river of blood.” In spite of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s vast arsenal of great gaming mechanics, it’s that one straightforward declaration that seems to sum things up: dark lies and buckets of blood.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.