Say goodbye to sleep: Modern Warfare 2 arrives

Modern Warfare 2 promises even more of the same thrilling storyline and captivating online multiplayer experience as its predecessor.

Jeff Bakalar Editor at Large
Jeff is CNET Editor at Large and a host for CNET video. He's regularly featured on CBS and CBSN. He founded the site's longest-running podcast, The 404 Show, which ran for 10 years. He's currently featured on Giant Bomb's Giant Beastcast podcast and has an unhealthy obsession with ice hockey and pinball.
Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Jeff Bakalar
Dan Ackerman
4 min read
Watch this: Game trailer: Modern Warfare 2

Arguably the most anticipated game of the year, Modern Warfare 2 finally lands today. Following a week of content controversy and broken street dates, Modern Warfare 2 promises to elevate the action and intensity beyond even the classic original game.

Among a sea of November releases, Modern Warfare 2 manages to stay afloat with its thrilling storyline and addictive online multiplayer. Here's what we think:

First-person-shooter games are one of the most common genres in the industry, so with a seemingly infinite amount of competition how does the Modern Warfare franchise continue to dominate? It's able to do so by providing a highly engaging and streamlined online multiplayer experience.

The XP (experience points), perks, challenges and killstreak bonus elements that made Call of Duty 4 so memorable are back and more rewarding than ever. In fact, there is so much going on screen at once, you're sure to unlock multiple rewards each round you play at least for the first few hours or so. The smooth 60 frames per second gameplay returns, and believe it or not, we think it feels even faster than before.

Like its predecessor, Modern Warfare 2 showcases a highly in-depth and customizable online offering. Players can choose from dozens of online modes, each with their own set of rules. New to MW2 are hundreds of custom titles, emblems, and the ability to assign and unlock killstreak perks. You still have the ability to construct a custom class and choose which standard perks you'd like to take advantage of.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2--photos

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The multiplayer maps in Modern Warfare 2 feature a variety of locations, from airport terminals to desert caves. Each map has its own personality and charm, though you will need to learn their geography quickly in order to begin moving up in the ranks.

While it can be overwhelming at times, the online multiplayer experience in Modern Warfare 2 is simply in a class by itself. The $60 price tag would be well spent on this mode alone, but there also happens to be a thrilling triple-A single player campaign packed in as well.

After the onslaught of big budget, high-profile titles such as The Beatles: Rock Band, Dragon Age, and Uncharted 2, no one would be blamed for feeling a little game fatigue this fall. But saving the best (at at least the biggest) for last, Modern Warfare 2 is expected to be the 800-pound gorilla of games this holiday season.

Like a big blockbuster action movie (of the Schwarzenegger or Michael Bay variety), Modern Warfare 2 is loud, incoherent, and incredibly violent, packing more action into five minutes than your average service member sees in an entire tour of duty. As a sequel, it doesn't bring a lot new to the table -- but as fan service, it's an instant classic, giving us more of the tasty pop culture junk food offered by the original game (itself a spinoff of the WWII-set Call of Duty series).

Beneath the surprisingly neocon-ish Tom Clancy conspiracy theories, Modern Warfare 2 also has to be credited with kickstarting the latest round of debate among commentators, bloggers, and talk show hosts about how interactive entertainment fits into the cultural puzzle alongside film, novels, and television.

Controversy has sprung to life regarding a level of the single-player game set in Russia. There, as an undercover member of the U.S. Military, you infiltrate an organization of radical Russian militants as they carry out an airport attack. Some have accused the game of letting players step into the shoes of a terrorist -- and while that's an oversimplification, the sequence is still disturbing to watch, much less play through.

While countless films and television programs have depicted hapless undercover cops or FBI agents in deep cover, forced to commit crimes in the name of a greater good, actually controlling the character in question adds some interesting layers. Without giving away too much of the plot (minor spoiler warning), there are several different ways one can play through the airport attack level.

We chose to at the very least do no harm -- by either not shooting at all, or firing up in the air. We're sure plenty of gamers will take this opportunity to gun down helpless civilians -- what this says about them is a matter of interpretation. Interestingly, any attempt to turn the tables on the terrorists ends up with the player's undercover character very quickly dead.

In the end, it doesn't much matter which path one chooses -- the chapter seems to wrap up the same way regardless -- but it's a thought provoking sidebar for a game mostly concerned with hoorah flag waving and a fetishistic obsession with military hardware.

Of course, it's just as easy to ignore the subtext of putting yourself in the shoes of a terrorist (or at least an undercover protagonist masquerading as one) and just enjoy the ride. Thanks to Hollywood-level production values, breakneck pacing, and great controls that just "feel" right, even in the very crowded first-person shooter genre, Modern Warfare 2 stands out as a best-of-breed.