SEB Review: “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” for the PC.

It's a great game that has some terrible flaws.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2

I’m in a real love/hate relationship with this game and I’m torn on how to present the review. So I suppose I’ll start off with a quick summary: It’s awesome and horribly flawed at the same time. This latest outing manages to improve upon the original in almost every way, but at the same time it also manages to take several steps backwards that mar what would otherwise be a flawless game.

The original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare was a big surprise for me and, I think, for a lot of other gamers when we finally got our hands on the release version. Not only were the graphics as new as the setting, but it was clear that Infinity Ward had been paying attention to what the modders had been doing with the multiplayer in previous CoD games. The addition of kill-streak rewards recreated the functionality of some of the most popular CoD2 mods and then when you stacked the RPG-ish XP system that unlocked new weapons, attachments, and perks on top of that it made for a helluva fun experience and a title that is still widely played to this day.

The sequel builds on most of what made the original so damned amazing and that generally is a good thing, though in some places it’s a bit over-the-top. Take, for example, in the singe-player game’s storyline.

Single Player

I said in my review of CoD:MW that I didn’t pay that much attention to the plot in part because it had you jumping back and forth between a couple of different characters in different locations and was hard to follow when you’re busy just trying to survive the mayhem taking place around you. The plot for Modern Warfare 2 is similar in that you jump back and forth between no less than five different characters throughout the course of the game. If you thought that mechanic in the first game was a tad confusing then you’ll just love it in the second one.

The story is set some five years after the events of the first game and it apparently involves the Ultranationalists (Russians) from the first story gaining control of Russia and declaring the main Russian villain from that game as a national hero and martyr. The new villain, an Ultranationalist lieutenant, is engaging in acts of terrorism designed to ultimately bring tensions between the U.S. and Russia to a boiling point. It’s hard to go into too much detail without revealing a lot of spoilers, but suffice it to say there’s a lot of setup for an eventual Russian invasion of America without the use of nukes and then a whole shit load of plot twists that reveals yet another major villain and sets things up for the inevitable sequel.

Here’s the thing about the story in MW2: Imagine the folks at Infinity Ward weren’t happy with the quality of the story from CoD4 and decided they needed to bring someone in to punch it up for this game. Now imagine that they hired Michael Bay to write it and he somehow got a little confused and thought it was a James Bond film. That’s the sort of aftertaste that was left in my mouth by the time I was finished with the campaign mode. It was that over-the-top at times.

Here’s an example of what I’m talking about. Early on in the story you take on the role of Sergeant Gary “Roach” Sanderson who, along with a Captain “Soap” MacTavish, infiltrate an airbase in Kazakhstan to recover a lost ACS module from a downed satellite. It starts off with lots of stealth, but finishes up with a wild snowmobile race to the extraction point and a waiting helicopter. There’s lots of shooting and exploding snowmobiles and trees to avoid until the very end at which point you have to leap the snowmobile over a yawning chasm that in the game looks to be at least a quarter-mile wide. The longest snowmobile jump I’m aware of was around 263 feet by Ross Mercer which is sill a tad bit short of the 1,320 feet in a standard quarter mile. Now I don’t know how big the chasm was really supposed to be, but it definitely looked bigger than what the snowmobile could handle so when I made it across easily it just seemed a rather silly ending to the level. There’s a lot of stuff like that in the single player campaign, but you don’t really notice it being quite so silly at the time because so much of the rest of it is just very cool. When you get done and reflect upon the events, however, you realize how silly a lot of it is.

That’s only a slight disappointment, though. The real disappointment about the single player game is just how short it is. This was a problem with CoD4 as well, but it seems even more pronounced in MW2. I don’t recall how long it took me to finish the first game — it was a couple of nights — but the total time for Modern Warfare 2 was a scant 6 hours. Much like the first game, again, there are collectibles scattered throughout the levels to stretch things out through replaying the campaign mode, but it’s still short by past standards.

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Don’t expect Infinity Ward to address CoD:MW2 PC issues anytime soon.

Updated 12/17/09: I just might have to eat my words as IW looks set to prove me wrong. A couple of recent Tweets from Robert Bowling indicate that there is indeed a patch for the PC version of MW2 in the works that will fix several bugs and at least one currently undetectable cheat.

While it doesn’t appear to deal with the issue of people using aimbots/wallhacks to cheat — IW seems content to rely on Valve’s VAC system to identify and ban those players — it will fix a cheat involving substituting texture files that paint all players as red, remove extra foliage that obscures line of sight, and eliminates the blood splatter effect when you’re wounded. All three of those changes give a huge advantage to the player using them, are not detected by VAC, and won’t necessarily result in a ban if you use them according to Valve’s official FAQ on the topic. The patch should fix that exploit and repair any modified texture files.

I still say that the problem with aimbots/wallhacks and the lengthy delay between when someone uses them and when they are actually banned for them (Valve says it can be many weeks before you’ll be banned) is still something they need to address. It only takes a handful of cheaters in a night or two to put you off of playing the game and that’s something you’d think IW would prefer to minimize. Still, they are working on patching exploits and bugs in the PC version and I have to be fair and admit that’s more than I thought they’d do. Bowling has even hinted that IW might be, and the emphasis is on the words “might be”, considering making available some means for custom content such as user created maps.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 moved over 6 million copies for the Xbox 360 and PS3 combined smashing records along the way in November. Sales on the PC? Well, those numbers are much less impressive:

According to a new report from Gamasutra on last month’s NPD figures, the PC version of Modern Warfare 2 moved “nearly 170,000” copies at retail. That doesn’t include figures for Steam, Valve’s digital distribution system, which are likely to have been significant—today, over 100,000 Steam users were playing the game online at the same time, but we’re not sure how that breaks down to retail and online sales.

Still, at least 170,000 copies to a group of gamers that balked at the lack of dedicated servers and a higher-than normal price tag is…. pretty good?

On the one hand it’s good to see that PC gamers are generally voting with their wallets, but on the other hand the success of the game on the consoles pretty much guarantees that the folks at IW aren’t going to be too concerned with the plight of those 170,000 PC gamers that did buy the game. If anything I’d hazard a guess that they’ll probably just use it as a justification for dropping PC development altogether.

To date no one at IW has had anything to say about what they plan to do with all the hackers/cheaters running rampant through the PC version of the game. Infinity Ward front man Robert Bowling (a.k.a. @fourzerotwo on Twitter) has been addressing player concerns about issues such as the over-powered Model 1887 Akimbo shotguns, the public-private match glitch, and the unlimited ammo glitches, but both of the attempts I made to ask about IW’s plans to deal with the hacking/cheating issue on the PC went completely ignored.

Now he does get a lot of tweets and he does end up repeating a lot of the same answers, but in digging through the last 24 hours of his tweets I found only three replies to people raising concerns about the PC version. One of whom had to send out 16 tweets of his own before Robert even responded and when he did, this was all he had to say:

@Zube56 what specific issues on PC are you wanting the team to look into? You’re 16 tweets in and haven’t named anything (besides cheats)

Considering cheats are probably the biggest issue the PC version is having at the moment, you’d think that would be enough. The other two replies weren’t any more useful.

One was to report a cheater through the player’s Steam account page, which isn’t always practical. The cheater in question was named “Multicam” and if you do a search for that name on the Steam forums you find at least two people with that name. Given that only one of them has played MW2 recently you could probably figure out which one to report, but type in my gaming nick (GodLes) and you get five people. Type in “Sgt Mike” and you get 9. Type in “Sniper Killer”, and I’ve seen a lot of players who go by that name, and you get 33 possible choices. The more popular the words the more possible players you pick up. “Ninja”, another popular gaming name, gives you 9,228 possible players.

Given the low number of PC copies sold combined with the ridiculous number of Xbox 360 and PS3 copies sold, I’m not too optimistic that IW is going to lose any sleep at night over the problems the PC version is suffering from. I know I won’t be bothering to ask Robert Bowling for comment on the issue any longer as it’s clear he has nothing to say. I will continue to follow his tweets to see if IW does decide to toss us a bone somewhere down the line, but I won’t hold my breath waiting for it.

Infinity Ward has fucked over “Call of Duty” fans who play on the PC.

Yes I am upset and it’s probably a bad idea to write a blog entry when I’m as upset as I am now, but I’m going to anyway because this needs to be said. This is not a review of the game, I’ll write one of those later. This is a warning to anyone who’s thinking of buying it for the PC: Don’t fucking bother.

The reason why is quite simple. Infinity Ward decided that it was too much work to do much more than simply port the game over from the Xbox 360 so that’s all they did. The broke a long-standing tradition among first person shooters on the PC and decided they were not going to release a dedicated server to the fans. Instead they announced that MW2 would make use of a new matchmaking service they would be calling IWNet. They made this announcement during an interview on BASHandSlash.com’s podcast. It was not received well:

Bowling, the Infinity Ward community manager, said IWNet makes multiplayer more accessible to the PC community on Modern Warfare 2, replacing the need for dedicated servers that are hosted and managed by players. But the hardcore PC crowd to whom he was talking, on BASHandSlash.com’s webcast, did not take the news in a completely positive light.

“The silence you hear is because we’ve got a community right now structured in such a way that it relied on having dedicated servers,” one of BASHandSlash’s moderators told Bowling.

“You’re definitely reshaping the way the community has been set up,” another said later.

“Definitely,” Bowling acknowledged.

Reshaping is certainly one word to use. I prefer to use the words fucked over. Which is definitely a much harsher assessment, but the lack of dedicated servers is not the worst of it. A bit later the folks at ArsTechnica filled us in on the other changes to come:

We thought the lack of dedicated servers was bad, but now we can add the lack of console commands, the inability to have a say in who hosts the game, a lengthy pause while the game migrates to a new host if the currently selected host quits, no leaning, no option to record matches, and no way to kick or block trouble players, hackers, or cheaters.

See that last part I made bold type above? That’s where Infinity Ward has fucked over PC fans of their game. Mere hours after the game hit store shelves there was an aimbot/wallhack released for the PC version which you may recall me writing about previously. CoD:MW2 was released on November 10th. They didn’t get around to banning the first batch of cheaters until November 30th at which point about 2500 people were banned from Steam. Not that it matters as there is a crack out there and you can make as many Steam accounts as you want, each of which gets its own SteamID. There’s even a YouTube video showing you how to do it. Plus there are new hacks being created all the time. That’s just a fact of life on the PC. Hell, some of the hacks even advertise themselves in the game.

There’s no way that Infinity Ward or Valve can keep up with the cheaters in any reasonable amount of time. If we had dedicated servers this would be less of a problem as the admins can kick and ban by IP address at the first sign of a cheater. As things stand now not only are there no admins to deal with cheaters, but there’s no means of kicking cheaters at all. At the very fucking least it would’ve been nice to have the ability to call a vote to kick someone who’s being an ass in the game, but Infinity Ward won’t even let us do that.

I can live without dedicated servers if I have to. I can live with the max size of a match being 18 people. I can live with not being able to use custom user created maps. I can even live without the ability to lean around corners. Not being able to get rid of the cheaters, however, completely ruins the multiplayer game which, when you consider how short the single player is, is the main reason to buy the game in the first place.

There’s a certain class of person out there known as a Griefer and it appears they are having a field day with MW2. And why not? It’s not like anyone can do anything about it outside of Valve and Infinity Ward and that’ll take weeks before the SteamID is banned and then they can just make another one and keep right on going. This evening I joined and quit no less than two dozen games because the cheaters were out in force with no less than at least 4 cheaters in each game and one where half the players where cheating. I spent an hour just trying to find a game that didn’t have a cheater in it. When I quit the last game I sat down and wrote this entry.

This has to be the stupidest decision Infinity Ward has ever made. I find it hard to believe there isn’t a single person on that development team who didn’t foresee this being a problem with their decision to drop dedicated servers and remove any ability to kick players from a game. It was one thing when it was one guy every few dozen games or so, but when every game you join has a whole bunch of fucking cheaters in them it kills any desire I have to play the game at all. On the console versions all you have to worry about is people taking advantage of glitches that will eventually get patched and when people get banned there they can’t easily get back in. The PC is a completely different environment and only a fool would try to treat it like a console, but that’s just what Infinity Ward has decided to do.

As a result of this fiasco I can not recommend people buy the PC version of this game no matter how amazing it is. Perhaps IW will come up with a fool-proof way of eliminating the cheaters in a more timely fashion, but until they do it’s just not worth the aggravation on the PC. As a long-time fan of the company I am deeply disappointed and my outlook isn’t helped by the almost complete lack of comment from the Infinity Ward people on the problem.