Lets get this out of the way before we go any further. Modern Warfare 2 is not a realistic game, despite what Infinity ward would have you believe. It's not even vaguely realistic. This is a Michael Bay movie. It is manly men with machine guns and improbable jaw lines. It is explosions. It is jumping giant chasms. It is dashing for the helicopter because THE LZ IS HOT - TEN SECONDS SOLDIER. It is pointlessly offensive. It is a giant chaingun firing explosive bullets. It is awesome.
But it's not realistic. It's nonsense.
It does a good job of pretending though, with weapons appropriately scary, killing quickly, forcing you to scatter for cover even on the regular difficulty, making you feel just vulnerable enough for things to be exciting, and while other hardware may not always work in an accurate way, its just close enough to real to give that big war illusion, helped by the fact that everything looks absolutely fantastic and sounds brilliant (a big improvement over Modern warfare 1s weedy gunfire, but still not nearly as good as bad company, which sets the standard for brutal audio.)
But then you realise you just killed 100 men almost single handedly, that the lethal weapon damage is mitigated by regenerating health, that you defeated an entire army from a chopper mounted gun, or blasted 6 men in 3 seconds during one of the games numerous slow motion scenes. My advice? Don't think about it too much. Be the baddest ass soldier who ever lived.
So yes, it's ridiculous through and through. But it really is bloody good fun. Of course, all of that fun in single player is scripted. If something cool happens then chances are it's because Infinity Ward decided that it would look awesome. The chopper will always crash right in front of you, the soldier will always dive through the window and the building will always collapse in front of you. This probably won't even occur to you as you play through, so much fun you'll be having on this rollercoaster ride, but it's certainly a factor on repeatedly plays. Every run through is going to be exactly the same as the last.
The heavily scripted nature of the game also serves to highlight what is, in my opinion, the games biggest flaw.
It's all over the place.
Certain scenes, in their own right, work extremely well. Everyone involved can act, which is nice, even if they ham it up a lot of the time, presentation is brilliant, and the story has some absolutely brilliant dramatic moments, and every single scene is brilliantly paced and directed .Problem is that put them all together and they don't gel particularly well. The plot hops all over the globe with the most cursory of explanations, obviously just an excuse to get the player to a cool action scene in an interesting location, with characters flimsy reasoning leading to them doing things that stretch believability, even more than usual for this series.
Which is a bit of a shame. Modern Warfare 1 had a plot that sat together just well enough that its dramatic moments actually managed to carry some emotional weight. Modern Warfare 2 doesn't manage this nearly so well, particularly noticeable since it tries so much harder to get an emotional response from the player. The big hitting scene is the by now infamous airport massacre, where the player murders civilians to infiltrate a terrorist organisation. It's obviously an attempt to make the player feel uncomfortable, and it certainly works. It's eerie, violent, horrible and disturbing, and it should be a storytelling highlight. The problem is that immediately beforehand I had just ramped off a giant cliff during a huge snowmobile chase. Immediately afterwards I'm killing hundreds of gangers in a South American favela. Looking back, I'm not sure it really works in the context of the game, and instead feels like it's in the game to generate a little controversy.
But, in the end, it's hardly a deal breaker. It's still one hell of a ride, full of fantastic moments and with a surprising amount of variety, with stealth missions, driving sections, rail shooter bits, and a wide variety of situations even for the straight up shooting sections. It's hard to imagine anyone getting bored during the game, perhaps because its so short, barely clocking 5 hours on a timer that even counts up during time spent in the menu before you start the game. Very short indeed.
But you still have Spec Ops. Spec Ops are a series of short co-op challenges with an extremely broad selection of objectives. Some missions task players with simply reaching the end of the level or killing a set amount of enemies, while more interesting levels see players racing snowmobiles, or providing each other supporting fire from orbiting gunships. With 25 levels and a fairly punishing difficulty towards the end, there's probably as much gameplay in Spec Ops as in the main campaign, and there's even a few new enemies and locations, either cut content from the single player or a few little nods back to the first game.
Multiplayer is the final component, and probably the biggest draw for a lot of people, and for good reason. It's superb. Big maps, small maps, over a dozen game types, vast character customisation, air strikes, controllable chopper guns and even nukes. Yes Nukes!
It follows the same model of the original, but roided up in every way. Players pick a game type, and a quick and convenient server browser gets you into the action quickly. During the action you are earning experience, unlocking new weapons and classes and even game types (a little odd to lock these off, but it serves to get newcomers into the action without being overwhelmed by various game types, and the rest will be unlocked within an hour anyway). Play is fast, furious and exciting, and the huge selection of unlockable rewards, variety of game types, and sheer fun are likely to keep you entertained for a long time.
Infinity Ward seem to have tried to balance the game by making every single thing enormously overpowered, and for the most part it works. Rifles kill in a few hits with lethal accuracy, submachine guns and shotguns splatter everything that comes even remotely close, particularly if dual wielded. Pretty much every build has its uses, from stealthy knife specialists with one hit throwing knifes, akimbo gunslingers or explosives experts all fun and capable.
Multiplayer problems? Its fairly spam friendly, despite misjudged adverts to the contrary. Players can take builds with an almost indefinite supply of grenade launchers, thanks to an ammo restocking perk, if they don't mind the angry cries of protest from other players, and the air support rewards for a successful kill streak have been significantly enhanced, making it very common on the busier maps to be evaporated by a missile with little warning, or forced to cower in a building until the nasty helicopter goes away. These kill streaks function as a reward for skilled play, but it's pretty easy to work from the weaker low level kill streaks to the brutal high level kill streaks simply by hiding in a building while jets and choppers do the work for you. But honestly? I think its fun. Sure, its can seem a little unfair, and it's messy and chaotic, but It's fun. It's fun to scramble away from the angry chopper, and its fun to guide a remote controlled missile onto the heads of the unwary.
That's Modern Warfare 2 in a nutshell though. It's a big fun mess, and a deliberate mess at that. The chaotic nature of the gameplay in single and multiplayer feels just like a game about playing war should, and only some poor storytelling decisions hold the game back. This is a fantastic game and worthy of a place in any shooter fans catalogue.