E3 2009: The Five: Modern Warfare 2
What you get for 60 bucks: A new solo game featuring more expansive environments, remade weapons and a host of other tweaks, in addition to the multiplayer game to which you'll potentially be addicted for the next calendar year.
1. For years, Infinity Ward has had the haziest of calling cards: smoke. The way the Call of Duty series has used smoke since the second installment has consistently trumped other titles, as the haze and glare of battle look far more impressive when seen (or not seen, as the case may be) through a dense haze. The E3 demo of Modern Warfare 2 took place on a wind- and snow-swept battlefield where soldiers and vehicles gracefully glided in and out of view as a storm raged. The various degrees of visibility imply that you'll have more freedom and flexibility when it comes to engaging or avoiding enemy troops. That makes for a better, more varied experience.
2. Since you won't always see the enemy from a distance, enter some new gear. One rifle is equipped with a heartbeat sensor, but almost anyone who plays the game will recognize it as a thinly disguised motion sensor from "Aliens." Is that a bad thing? Hell, no! And for weapons that are returning, all-new models are on deck, so sticklers for realism will be tickled by the more finely-tuned AK-47. Oh, and those ice-climbing claws you saw in the trailer? They weren't seen in melee combat during the demo, but I got a knowing smile when I pressed the question afterward. Who needs a Wolverine game?
3. If there's been an issue with previous Call of Duty levels in single-player mode, it has been size. Sometimes they could feel downright constrained and corridor-like. That aspect has been addressed, and our E3 demo showed an area that begins with the ice-climbing sequence, goes into a little snowslide, explores a large airfield complete with destructible MiGs and other items, and follows it all with a long snowmobile chase sequence. One area flows seamlessly to the next, and it is beautiful.
4. Better models for human players and non-player characters mean more impact. One of the best moments in the demo was when the returning Soap McTavish body-slammed an enemy into a wall full of lockers, downing the soldier and crushing all the (relatively) fragile locker doors. There was also a snow-claw takedown, and even the basic movement animations made characters look more encumbered by weight and affected by the environment. A lot of this stuff will be seen rather than performed (the takedowns, for example), but still add immensely to the experience.
5. Not that there was much reason to worry after the first Modern Warfare, but variety seems to be the name of this game. In just one demo level, we saw a full range of gameplay scenarios, with the smoke and new tech offering a few options for approaching objectives. This will remain a relatively heavily scripted series, but the tweaks for '09 could make it feel more alive, despite the behind-the-scenes control.
The Crispy Forecast: Sunny and gorgeous, even in inclement weather. Yeah, it's more Modern Warfare, but few games at the show had this level of polish and attention to detail.
This preview is based on a developer-driven demo of the game at E3 2009.