Hitman Absolution review

A passable stealth game, but one that betrays almost everything that, until now, has made Hitman great.

To give you an idea, on a 2.8 GHz quad core with a Radeon HD 4800, it now runs at about 30-40 FPS on medium settings. It used to be 15 even on minimum.

The previously awful performance contributed to it feeling like a shonky PC port to me, and I took it into account in the score. Now that it runs decently, the game feels approximately 4% less shonky, and I’ve adjusted the score accordingly. This is about as scientific as the initial scoring process.

If you’re ever sad about how many games these days are sequels, go back and play Hitman: Blood Money again. The assassin-sim series struggled for three games to understand its own strengths, and Blood Money found them all.

Almost every mission was an absurdly rich playground of deadly possibilities. You were usually free to roam them undisguised, watching patrol routes, tracking targets, studying the environment, and planning the perfect murder. The plot was sidelined in order to avoid interfering with the business of killing, the levels were large, and your tools were versatile and intricately customisable. The fans adored it, and it’s one of my favourite games of all time.

Hitman: Absolution goes… in a different direction.

‘Disaster’ is a strong word, which is good because we need one. Absolution is a disaster. It’s almost the polar opposite of Blood Money: instead of sidelining the story to focus on big, open-ended assassination missions, it sidelines assassination to focus on telling a long, linear, and embarrassingly bad story. In game terms, that means most of its levels task you with reaching and opening a particular door. If it was called Doorman: Absolution, it would be much less disappointing.

That’s not even its biggest problem. Its biggest problem is that it doesn’t have a save function, so every screw-up or glitch of game logic costs you a galling amount of pointless repetition. Very rarely there are mid-mission checkpoints, but even if you can find them, they don’t save vital aspects of your progress. Guards that you’ve killed respawn. Bodies vanish. Disguises and items you’ve left disappear. It’s suspiciously as if the developers just never figured out how to store all the relevant information.

The reason this hurts the game so deeply is that two of Hitman’s core appeals are experimentation and perfectionism. It’s still a game with a lot of items and systems to play around with, but doing so is madness when 15 minutes of perfectly stealthy progress are at stake. And when your ghost-like performance is blown at the last minute by the unpredictable rules of the guard’s detection logic, it’s hard to muster the will to repeat the whole level in the hope that it won’t happen again. Particularly when the stealthy approach involves waiting for achingly long conversations to finish before guards go their separate ways.

When I first started playing, three different tutorial tips advised me to press the left mouse button ‘gently’ to aim more accurately, or chided me for ‘squeezing’ it too hard. Those have been corrected in a patch, but aiming is still a needlessly clumsy emulation of a console controller’s analogue input: you have to hold two different aim buttons to be accurate.

It also appears to have been rendered through a Vaseline lens, causing anything as bright as a flesh tone to burn with the bloom of a thousand suns. When it catches the light, your bald head glints so dazzlingly that beams of pink lens flare erupt from it in four directions.

It’s a shame, because beneath that some of the locations are beautiful. They’re just a bit small. Each mission is split into a series of short levels, connected by a single door that you can’t go back through. And you can’t open these doors if any guards on the level are alert. When the objective of some levels is to escape captivity or attackers, being locked in until your opponents stop looking for you starts to feel a little perverse.

Three-quarters of these levels are purely about traversal: you’re just trying to get from A to B to move the story forwards, and if you’re given anyone to kill at all, it happens in a cutscene or scripted slow-mo event. The other quarter do give you a target to kill, and a choice of how to do so, but that segmentation means you’re operating in a space that isn’t as rich or complex as a typical Hitman: Blood Money mission.

The other thing that really hurts Absolution’s few actual assassinations is the new equipment system. There isn’t one. You give away all of your trademark kit at the start of the game, and start most missions with one bad, loud pistol. You never get to buy or choose your weapons in the campaign, so you’re stuck with whatever you find lying around. The ones you pick up will carry over to the next segment of the mission, but are lost again when you complete it.

Can you snipe this target from afar? Depends if the level designer left a sniper rifle somewhere. If they did, they probably put it in the ideal sniping spot to save you the mental effort of choosing one for yourself. Can you set explosives and detonate them when your target walks by? Depends if the level designer left any inexplicably strewn around, and if you find their illogical location. Even then, you can no longer throw them, put them inside containers, or stick them to surfaces.

 

So much that used to be universal, versatile systems is now left to the level designer’s whim. Hitman’s greatest pleasure was coming up with your own solutions, but even at its best, Absolution makes it feel like you’re choosing between the ones the designers provided for you.

Its most promising addition is a new way of handling disguises. As in real life, you can dress up in the clothes of almost anyone you kill or subdue. And as in previous Hitman games, wearing the right clothes makes it easier to walk into restricted areas undetected. The twist this time is that people wearing the same clothes you’ve dressed up in will find you suspicious, whereas everyone else will leave you alone.

It makes sense – cops might be suspicious of a cop they don’t recognise, but not a janitor. And it could be the basis for an extra layer of strategy: dress as a janitor to get past the police, then take out a cop and put on his uniform to get in everywhere else. But it’s undermined by two things.

The first is, yet again, the level design. You spend the vast, vast majority of every mission trying to get past the same type of guard, and they almost never permit a disguise other than their own. Gangsters shooting up an orphanage full of nuns – an actual thing that happens in this videogame – will open fire on anyone but their gangmates. Cops at a crime scene are similarly strict. So you spend almost all of your time dressed as the people you’re avoiding.

 

That leads you into the other problem: suspicion is viciously over-reactive, and to all the wrong things. Guards rumble you in a split second if you stray close to them, and in pretty short order even at extremely l

ong range. That changes it from a disguise game to a stealth game: your only challenge is to break line of sight, so you stick to sneak mode, hug cover, and do commando rolls between anything that blocks their vision. This – unlike walking normally – they have absolutely no problem with.

On lower difficulties, you can hold down a key to allay their suspicions by putting your hand over your face. I can’t think of a way to mock this that would make it sound any more absurd than that, so I won’t try. It’s a crutch to mitigate the stifling effect of a bad mechanic. And the fact that it’s useful is actually a bad thing: it uses a resource called Instinct, which you can recharge by killing guards. So there’s now a material reward for the gratuitous murder the series has always tried to gently discourage.

Both suspicion and regular stealth glitch out regularly: I’ve been spotted through two solid walls on several occasions, and at other times supposedly silent actions brought guards running. Irritating in any game, disastrous in one with no save function.

With or without Instinct, the new disguise system removes the single best thing Blood Money brought to the series: the ability to walk freely around almost every level, planning your approach without having to conceal your presence. It reduces Absolution to a more ordinary stealth game – and for me, Hitman was always better than that.

I keep coming back to the failings of the level design, and most of them stem from its determination to tell a story. It’s a tedious farce of pantomime villains, voiced by Hollywood actors utterly wasted on this adolescent, exploitative trash. And I’m fine with that. Every Hitman game has had a terrible story, but until now it has rarely mattered.

The problem with Absolution is that they actually decided to focus on it this time. In an attempt to paint you as some kind of misunderstood hero, Absolution has you quitting your job to protect a teenage girl. This story frequently requires you to get from A to B, but rarely involves a legitimate reason for you to kill. And when it does, you don’t always get to do it.

Several of the actual kills happen in cutscenes, and sometimes all your hard stealth work in getting to the target is rewarded with a cinematic of your character screwing it up. It’s kind of mindboggling to imagine how anyone could stray so far from the point of a series whose entire concept is right there in the title.

 

I guess the new Contracts mode is meant to be the antidote to this, and it is a nice idea. You can load up any level from the main game, choose your weapons (at last!) and mark up to three people as targets. The way you choose to kill them, and how stealthily you do so, become the objectives of a contract. Other players can then take on your contract and try to kill the same people, with the same weapons, just as stealthily. They get a score for all those things, and a bonus if they do it faster than you.

Creating these contracts is a little aimless: civilians and guards are pretty much interchangeable, so I don’t have any burning desire to pick out three particular targets who need to die. But playing other people’s contracts is fun: some are very straightforward, but already people are adding entertaining twists. The last one I played insisted that I run into a town dressed in full samurai armour and kill a particular cop with a sledgehammer. Players will probably come up with sillier contract concepts once the game is out.

It’s no substitute for the kind of freedom Hitman used to give you, though. When creating a contract, you have too much – it doesn’t matter who you kill, so who cares? And when playing one, you have too little: the contract specifies what to wear and which weapon to use, so you’re basically just following orders.

And guess what? DRM! Despite the fact that the contracts themselves must be tiny amounts of data, you can’t play any of them – even your own – offline. You have to be connected and logged in, and if their servers are down, you’re shut out. They’ve really done an impressive job of racking up all the different ways you can irritate PC gamers.

These are all the reasons I found Absolution crushingly disappointing. These are the reasons it’s a terrible Hitman game, and it’s worth saying that in the strongest possible terms, because Hitman is an important and brilliant series of games. But despite all of that, it isn’t a terrible game, and it doesn’t deserve a terrible score.

 

Called something else (I’m still rooting for Doorman: Absolution), it’d be a decent sneak-em-up with some welcome Hitman influences. Creeping past people is inherently fun, even if you’re gaming some weird suspicion mechanic while you do it. So is knife-throwing. I will never be able to forgive the shitty checkpointing, but it’s certainly less of a problem once you get good. And on the rare occasion that you find a disguise that lets you roam freely, some of the levels have lots of different routes to try.

There’s one mission, right near the end, that’s genuinely very good. There’s one target, a decent sized area, a particular disguise that lets you roam anywhere, and three different ways to make the death look accidental. It’s still smaller and less interesting than any of Blood Money’s main missions, but it’s one I actually wanted to replay. Any game that can capture part of that thrill is worth playing.

Currently, though, Absolution is not worth buying. If they can somehow patch in a save function, and if players do interesting things with Contracts, it will be. Until then, I’d wait for a preposterous Steam sale.

That’s something I never thought I’d have to say about a Hitman game. I desperately hope the reaction to it is strong enough to convince the developers to change direction, because I couldn’t stand to watch the series die like this.

Call of Duty MW3 review

Think back. You’re ten years old and in an arcade, playing Time Crisis while a friend watches. You press the pedal to pop out from behind cover, take down some bad guys – soldiers, terrorists, it doesn’t matter – and then duck back down. You think the story has something to do with a Vice President, but you don’t really pay attention during the story parts. « Wouldn’t it be cool if you could walk around, instead of just shooting? » says your friend, idly. That would be cool, you think, but then you die in the next area and, out of money, go home.
What you didn’t know is that, back at the arcade, Dr. Peter Callofduty overheard your conversation, and he’s just had an idea.
While fighting through the streets of New York, Paris, London, Prague, Berlin and more in Modern Warfare 3, I keep coming back to this. If you compare the Call of Duty series to, say, Skyrim, or even Half-Life 2, then it’s a regressive, controlling, anti-gaming experience. Don’t compare it to those games, then. Modern Warfare 3 is an arcade rail shooter, except you can control your legs a bit.
It feels this way because, for the first time, Infinity Ward have got the scripting right. Modern Warfare 1 and 2’s bombastic scenarios frequently left you in the dark, unsure whether progress meant killing all the henchmen or tripping an invisible barrier to stop them infinitely respawning. In Black Ops, wild over-scripting left you feeling unnecessary; whole levels seemed to pass without you needing to fire a shot.
Here, you always know what you’re doing, and the answer is almost always the same: reach the marker while killing everyone in your path. Or, for a change of pace, follow this other person while killing everyone in your path.
That’s unfair. Sometimes it’s: mount this gun on a side of a helicopter or car and kill everyone in your path. As long as you keep moving forward, the fantasy never breaks.

That pace is a change from previous Modern Warfare games that means there are fewer stand-out or game-changing missions. Instead of a quiet, prolonged stealth section, like Modern Warfare 1’s Pripyat, moments of sneaking are shorter and peppered across the game. A lot of the missions now have their own self-contained arc: a sneaking opening, a disaster in the middle, and then a daring escape.
Taken individually, that makes each mission a satisfying experience. As a whole, it makes the game feel monotone, relentless, exhausting. By its end, I had killed thousands of people, each with the same set of rattly machineguns.
There are two moments that do stand out from that, one good and one bad. The good has you tumbling through a plane as it falls from the sky. With each turbulent shake and twist, you and your enemies are hurled into the walls, or cast weightless as you try to line up a shot with your pistol. The whole sequence lasts around 90 seconds, and it’s brilliant.
The bad moment is optional. There’s a warning message at the very start of Modern Warfare 3. « Some players may find some game content in one of the missions disturbing or offensive. » You’re asked if you’d like to skip that content, with no idea what it really is, and the options are « Yes, ask me later » or « No, I will not be offended. »
I lied and chose the latter. I had already watched the scene, set in London, in which an American child is blown up. You’re the father of the family, filming the scene, and your wife turns to you and says, « Are you getting this? ». She’s waiting for you to move closer. The explosion doesn’t happen until you do.
It’s crude, leering, pathetic, terribly written, and a cynical attempt to court headlines. I walked towards my family with the camera pointed in the opposite direction, killing us all while I filmed the side of a phone box.

The rest of the singleplayer isn’t so cynical. The events of Modern Warfare 2 – particularly the dismal « No Russian » mission – have tipped the world in to all out war. You again play Captain Price, Soap McTavish, and other soldiers from America, Russia and Britain as they try to finally stop the supervillain, Makarov.
When the story interjects in between shooting, like a Time Crisis « WAIT » command, it’s complete gibberish. Example: why is that American family holidaying in London while their country is being invaded by Russia? But these moments are always brief, quickly setting up the next violent sprint. Everyone you meet has a gun glued to their hands, but it doesn’t feel as objectionably aggressive as some of its peers. The experience is so straightforward that, although sometimes dull, its seven hours of stupidity feel almost good-natured.
In all my experiences so far, the multiplayer is similarly good-natured. My time with Modern Warfare 2 was spent mostly being blown up from the sky, being stabbed in an instant from a dozen feet away, or being made fun of for sucking. Every game of Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer, by comparison, has ended with a flurry of « gg »‘s.
I’ve probably just been lucky, but the changes Infinity Ward made are all designed to make multiplayer a fairer and less frustrating experience. It has worked.
Terrible ideas like the Commando perk, which let enemies zip towards you with a knife in an unavoidable dash, are gone. Killstreaks have morphed in to Pointstreaks, giving you rewards for capturing flags and helping your team as well as for popping heads. If you don’t have the world’s best aim, you now have some hope of getting the occasional space-missile anyway.
The biggest improvement comes through the level design. The traditional Call of Duty multiplayer map used to be slaughterhouses lined by a dozen windows and doorways, with inexperienced players as the stunned cows trapped inside. Now they’re designed to keep people moving, each area flowing in to the next, without the cubbyholes for snipers to hide inside. I haven’t yet found a level I dislike, although the German shopping mall « Arkaden » is my favourite.

Whatever map you play, the progression system rewards you quickly and constantly. I reached level 5 in an hour, and level 10 ninety minutes after that. After almost every round, I’ve unlocked something new, be it a weapon, an emblem or entirely new game mode.
Of Modern Warfare 3’s new modes, Kill Confirmed is the one I’m enjoying most. It’s an old idea, but it works: every time a player dies, they drop a dog tag. For a kill to count towards your team’s score, you need to collect your fallen enemies tag. Similarly, if you collect one of your own team’s tags, you deny your enemy the kill.
While the other modes can either feel aimless or messy, Kill Confirmed gives your shooting purpose, and creates a kind of ambient teamwork. It’s also dramatic, as players make desperate dashes across open ground to recover a comrade’s tags and deprive the enemy.
These moments of drama are exactly what the rest of Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer is lacking. For the most part, whatever the mode, all you do is run around and shoot people. There is no spectacle, there are no last-minute reprieves or desperate pushes. It’s fast-paced killing with rattly machineguns, with only the upgrades to provide the compulsion to keep playing.

If you want purpose to your multiplayer, the co-operative Spec Ops mode is probably the best way to experience Modern Warfare 3’s thrills. There are two types. The first is the new Survival mode, in which you fight against escalating waves of baddies. After each wave, you get money that lets you buy new weapons, place mines and call in airstrikes. It’s simple and challenging.
The second mode sends you in to remixes of the singleplayer campaign’s key missions, as the attackers in that aforementioned plane assault or as soldiers assaulting a submarine. You likely won’t succeed your first time through, but gradually, as you try again and again, you and your partner fall in to step with each other. Even when playing with strangers online, we’ve quickly become an efficient world-saving robot. Playing this way skips the hackneyed plot of the singleplayer, beats its boredom with brevity, and provides clearer teamwork and direction than the mayhem of the multiplayer.
Call of Duty games have always followed a simple formula. Your side-of-the-case instructions in singleplayer are « shoot men to save world », and in multiplayer it’s « shoot men to unlock rewards ». But previous games have cluttered that formula with terrible game design, from frustrating scripting to unfair balancing.
With Modern Warfare 3, it feels like they said, « Hey, let’s stop putting in bullshit. » To which someone replied, « Sure. Let’s mostly stop. » Modern Warfare 3 is linear, badly written and one note. It’s still, from a certain angle, regressive. It’s also fun

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2

As one of the most critically acclaimed shooters of all time, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is a prime example of a tough act to follow. Yet, amidst a raging storm of anticipation and expectation, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 has done it. The new campaign is chock-full of intense action and dramatic moments, and though it is more muddled than its predecessor (in more ways than one), it’s still an absolute blast. The new Special Ops mode allows you to experience some campaign-inspired thrills with a friend and it’s an engaging challenge to coordinate your maneuvers and tackle the varied objectives. Last but not least, the competitive multiplayer that took the online shooter community by storm two years ago is back. Though the addictive action remains the same at its core, there are a host of new elements that make matches more accessible, more strategic, and more rewarding. Unfortunately, these improvements are marred by limited online flexibility that may leave the PC shooter community out in the cold.

The campaign takes you to some dangerous, claustrophobic places.
The campaign takes you to some dangerous, claustrophobic places.

If you compare Modern Warfare 2 on the PC to its console counterparts, the game is every bit as awesome and enjoyable. Yet when compared to other online shooters on the PC, the multiplayer component is decidedly limited. Players cannot set up dedicated servers to host their own custom-tuned matches, and the player count for each match has been capped at 18 as opposed to the possible 64-player matches of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Furthermore, there is no support for user-created content, so rather than enjoying free mods and community maps, PC users will have to pay for downloadable content. And the money issues don’t stop there: Modern Warfare 2 costs $10 more than most full-price PC games. Paying more and getting less is abhorrent to consumers, and this deterrent, along with the online restrictions, make Modern Warfare 2 much less appealing from a multiplayer perspective. Yet despite this disappointment, there is still a lot to love about the online multiplayer, and the other elements of the game remain unblemished.

The campaign picks up where its predecessor left off, and there’s a new violent ultranationalist terrorist on the scene. Once again, you play as a few different soldiers who are part of the effort to make the world a safer place. Your missions take you around the world to a number of exotic locations and engage you in a variety of different conflicts, ranging from stealthy and silenced to crowded and cacophonous. The action is smooth and exhilarating, thanks to sharp shooting and movement mechanics that allow you to be as quick and deadly as your skills permit. Environments are well designed and detailed, though many textures don’t look particularly good upon close inspection. Modern Warfare 2 isn’t a beautiful game, but it looks great in action. The diverse levels not only provide varied sights, but they are also cleverly designed to allow the action to flow at an exciting pace. Opportunities for cover and flanking present themselves naturally, allowing you to move through the battlefield in a variety of fluid ways. The aggressive enemy AI will keep you on your toes, and achieving your hard-earned success is satisfying.

Modern Warfare 2’s campaign, like that of its predecessor, is quite short, and you’ll likely finish it in about five hours. Though it is disappointing that there isn’t more of it, what you do get is a relentless barrage of tight combat and thrilling set pieces. In one early level, you man the turret of a Humvee patrolling the claustrophobic streets of a Middle Eastern city. Enemies seem to be around every corner, but you are ordered not to fire until fired upon. The tension builds, and once you are engaged by the enemy, all hell breaks loose. After a hectic (and unsuccessful) flight from danger, you end up fighting door-to-door in the streets and ruined buildings. This frantic combat ratchets up when you head to the slums of Rio de Janeiro and reaches a whole new level when you find yourself engaged in similarly intense firefights on the grassy lawns and paved driveways of suburban America. The fight on the home front has some very cool moments, but it doesn’t mean you’re done adventuring abroad. A dramatic prison rescue, a marine infiltration, and a snowmobile chase are just some of the other exhilarating moments that make this campaign so enjoyable.

Downed military helicopters aren't exactly a boon for Nate's restaurant.
Downed military helicopters aren’t exactly a boon for Nate’s restaurant.

Though completing the campaign is an intensely satisfying and exciting endeavor, you may not feel very triumphant when all is said and done. Modern Warfare 2 features some dark plot turns, and your missions sometimes have drastic unintended consequences. In one mission in particular, you infiltrate a terrorist cell and are called upon to do the kind of things that terrorists do. What follows is a neutered attempt at portraying the grim reality of terrorism, and concessions are put in place to keep the plot from getting too dark. Despite these limits, the scene in question is undeniably disturbing and undermines your sense of remaining on high moral ground. The game gives you the option to skip this particular level entirely, but the shocking consequences of this grim mission ripple throughout the game, making it difficult to feel like a hero. Subsequent developments further muddle your overall objective, and it doesn’t help that many of the subtleties and connecting threads are mumbled during voice-overs between missions. The plot ends up being a bit disorienting, and you may get the feeling that, rather than being the tip of the spear, you are just along for the ride.

If you’re looking for some campaign-style action that is unburdened by any sort of plot, then Special Ops is the place to go. The timed missions are campaign excerpts from Modern Warfare 2 and Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare that you can play solo or online with a friend. The missions cover a variety of objectives, which include surviving waves of enemies, moving from point A to point B stealthily (or not), eliminating a certain number of enemies, and racing snowmobiles. You earn a rating based on your completion time or difficulty level and unlock new missions as you progress. Though the missions will adjust to allow you to play solo, Special Ops missions are made to be played cooperatively. Two guns are better than one when clearing out a crowded slum full of enemy combatants, and coordinating a simultaneous sniper attack is much more fun when you are counting down with a buddy. There are also a few missions in which one player uses an airborne vehicle-mounted gun to clear the path for the other player on the ground, and these are frantic and explosively awesome. There is no matchmaking, however, so if you don’t have any friends online and need a teammate, you’ll have to go fishing in the multiplayer lobbies. As is the nature of cooperative play, missions can fall flat if teammates don’t communicate or go off on their own. It can be tough to find a communicative teammate who is willing to let one player take point, but it is certainly worth the effort. When you have a strong team assembled, cooperative play is uniquely fun, and Special Ops provides a great variety of engaging missions.

Of course, you could completely ignore both the campaign and cooperative modes and be very happy with Modern Warfare 2, despite the aforementioned online limitations. The insanely addictive, intensely exciting multiplayer formula pioneered by Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is in full effect here. The action is even faster and deadlier than the campaign, and killing enemies, accomplishing objectives, and completing challenges earn you experience points. These points increase your level and unlock new guns, new equipment, and new skill-boosting perks. You can design different classes to highlight different skills and then switch between them to adjust for the ebb and flow of battle. The core action remains largely the same, so folks who didn’t enjoy it the first time around aren’t likely to have a change of heart. And players who thrive on the diversity of dedicated servers and the creativity of mods and community maps will feel a keen sting of disappointment. Yet despite these omissions, Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer action is so expertly balanced and riotously fun that it’s hard not to have a great time with it. And a number of new tweaks and additions make the action more engaging than its predecessor.

If the blood splatter bothers you, don't sweat it too much. You'll probably be dead soon.
If the blood splatter bothers you, don’t sweat it too much. You’ll probably be dead soon.

First off, weapon loadouts have been restructured. Guns you may have previously equipped as primary are now only available as secondary, so you can equip both an assault rifle and a shotgun if you so desire. This restructuring creates an intriguing array of gun combinations, and one of the new options isn’t even a gun. The bullet-resistant riot shield can be equipped in your primary slot and used to assault heavily contested positions. Having multiple-shielded teammates can change the battlefield significantly, and new equipment items deepen the strategic possibilities. The blast shield can protect you against grenade-happy opponents, while the tactical insertion flare (allows you to designate your next spawn point) can be a powerful asset in objective-based modes like Demolition and Domination.

The perk system has also received an overhaul. Perks can now be upgraded through use and will eventually grant a secondary ability. These bonus abilities are often just as potent as the primary perk, though they aren’t a linear extension of the primary ability. Upgrading the perk that grants increased melee distance, for example, will cause you to take no fall damage (allowing you to perfect your drop-and-stab maneuver). The new death streak perks may seem familiar to those acquainted with the infamous martyrdom perk from COD4, but they also provide some welcome (and cleverly implemented) aid for new players. These perks kick in after you die a few times in a row without getting a kill. Painkiller grants you increased health for a short time upon respawning and makes it easier to resist getting spawn killed. Copycat allows you to mimic the class of the last person that killed you, potentially granting you the guns, equipment, and perks of a much higher ranked opponent. Nothing mitigates the frustration of getting killed by a weapon you can’t access like getting your hands on that weapon and doing some killing of your own.

Customizable kill streak rewards are the other significant addition. In COD4, kill streaks of a certain length would earn you rewards like air strikes and attack helicopters. In Modern Warfare 2, there are a host of new rewards that you can unlock and then equip as you see fit. The rewards themselves range from tactical aids like unmanned aerial vehicles that reveal enemies on the radar (or counter UAVs that block the enemy’s radar) to powerful assaults like gunships, air strikes, and the exceedingly fun laptop-guided predator missile. Each kill streak requires a certain amount of kills to activate, and you can only equip three at a time, so there’s a risk/reward mechanic at play. The chopper gunner reward is superpowerful, but if you aren’t confident you can score the required 11 kill streak, you’ll essentially be wasting a reward slot. Even if you can’t string together 11 kills, you can still use some of the more powerful rewards courtesy of care packages. This reward drops a crate onto the battlefield that either contains an ammo resupply or a kill streak reward, such as a precision air strike. Not only do these rewards add an engaging strategic dimension, but they also do so in a way that allows all players to enjoy them.

In the slums of Rio, a scoped assault rifle is a man's best friend.
In the slums of Rio, a scoped assault rifle is a man’s best friend.

The result of all these multiplayer tweaks is a richer, more strategically nuanced experience and a busier battlefield. Fortunately, the action generally remains on the good side of hectic, and the stream of rewards is as satisfying as ever. Two new elements, title and emblem, are little graphics and titles that you earn through your match performance, ranging from serious to totally goofy. While not exactly in keeping with the serious tone of the campaign, they add an amusing way to further customize your online presence. Though it features a robust variety of playlists in which to ply your deadly trade, Modern Warfare 2’s competitive multiplayer is still limited compared to modern standards and will likely disappoint many hardcore shooter fans. The high price point sharpens the sting of these restrictions, but the core multiplayer action is still very addictive and very rewarding. The inelegant campaign plot may make you feel like you’re just along for the ride, but it is such an intense, roaringly great ride that you will be glad just to have played it. And the cooperative missions provide a uniquely fun angle on the action that rounds out the package superbly, making Modern Warfare 2 thoroughly entertaining and thoroughly rewarding.

Photos from Gamespot.com