After two solid days of play, and years of previous experience, I feel it safe to say that MW2 passed the “15-Minute Test” with flying colors. That’s not to say it’s perfect however and this post is more pointedly a rant about the sour notes in an otherwise brilliant symphony of gaming goodness.

First, the little things. I could go on and on about how great the game is. It’s solid, it’s fun and it’s well made. Those are things you can read about in great detail in any of the million plus reviews out there. It’s easily the game of the year, if not the decade. It’s in the details however, where the game really defines itself.

On the plus side, the perks and unlock system is very robust, much more so than in MW1. Perks have upgrades, adding another level of customization (sprint -> sprint+, etc). Perks even have experience point rewards for using them (500pt for killing 50 people with Perk X on). The weapons are nearly doubled and the attachments and custom options for each weapon are almost 10-fold. Instead of a M16 with 2 optional things and 5 camo colors, there’s 10 optional attachments and 10 colors. Perks themselves have been expanded from 3 levels (UAV, Airstike, Heli) to 15 plus 4 “deathstreak” bonuses. Equipment gets a needed boost as well. Now added are things like throwing knives (tried those last night, very awesome), symtex (sticky C4 grenade) and even a riot shield. If that wasn’t enough, they added character customization via “titles” and “badges” that are displayed in-game (more on that in a bit). There are 25 pages of titles and 7 or 8 pages of icons for the badges. You unlock them as you progress through the multiplayer ranks.

They also added a mode called Spec-Ops (at the expense of single-player co-op and “arcade mode”). Spec-Ops serves two purposes in that it fills the roll of co-op and split-screen play, both locally and online, and it gives an in-between option besides story and multiplayer. It’s great for a quick pickup game with friends. A friend and I played through about half of the Spec-Ops missions last night and we had a blast.

Now the nit-picky stuff. First up is the controversy over in-game voice chat. There’s two sides to the argument and I can’t help but fall on the side of the disgruntled. In case you’re not aware, Infinity Ward decided to REMOVE the option for voice chat on XBL from 12 out of the 15 multiplayer game varieties for people using party chat. Including, and this is important, team death-match. Now, there are 2 or 3 game modes where I can see the need to remove voice chat. For example, in modes like Search & Destroy and Domination, when you die you can follow other players until the round ends and you respawn. Allegedly, people who were dead and chatting with their still-alive friends were acting as a second set of eyes and calling out enemy locations to the other player. I’ll admit, that makes sense to remove that option, for those playlists, in that instance, but to remove it for nearly all game-modes is way too far. They even removed it from TDM. The most widely used, widely played, NON-Deathcam using mode, ever. What possible reason could there have been to remove it from TDM? If I want to find 3 or 4 friends and play a little TDM, we’re all going to be on the same team anyway, why on earth would you restrict party chat in that scenario? It just doesn’t make any sense. What makes it all the more aggravating is that it’s a paid for game, with an additional paid for service to play it on. We pay for XBL. Party chat is a feature of XBL. I’ve paid for Party Chat to be taken away from me.

I can totally understand if you’re in a league match or scrim and you want to restrict stuff to the game channel, or something like that, but it should have been an option to either turn it off/on within the game setup (if you’re hosting your own game), or restricted to just the “Hardcore” modes where most of the people who care about people cheating usually play, or some balance in between. Turning off Party Chat for 2+ million people playing TDM is simply retarded. I’m sorry, it just is. I don’t play S&D or Domination, if I did maybe I’d think differently, but I don’t. Dumb.

Another unnecessary and pretty distracting issue is the “badges” I mentioned. While they add a small “cool” factor to the game in terms of customization, they drastically take away from both the flow and the realism of the game. They pop-up in game whenever you kill someone or whenever they kill you. They just jump in there like a damn VH1 PopUp Video. What’s weirder still is that while some of the badges make sense (cool looking bullet for getting a kill streak), some of them are just downright weird (creepy samurai mask for getting a knife kill) or even downright stupid (fields of flowers, pictures of cars, etc). So, you have people like SuperKillerDude69 running around with a badge that says “L337 ST0N3R” with a picture of a chick on the hood of a car on it. Seriously? How is that adding to my game play experience? Now, I can see if the badges were viewable on death-cam for a couple seconds, or the top 3 were diaplayed after a match or something, but big and cartoonish, right in the middle of a match, no thank you.

Another quirk that needs to be mentioned is “recycled material”. Several times over the past couple nights I noticed obvious recycling of game assets. Not just from this game itself either. There’s entire levels in Spec-Ops mode that are pulled DIRECTLY from MW1, resources and all. I can understand wanting to add variety, or wanting to “recreate” a classic level, but copying it verbatim is just plain lazy. What’s next, D-Day on Normandy Beach with modern weapons? They had plenty of material and plenty of time to come up with original scenarios and locations. I wouldn’t have even minded more exotic locations (sniper battle on the moon, sure why not). No excuse for this one.

Next, let’s talk about level design. Now, I’m no expert but I can certainly tell the difference between a map with good flow and a map that’s just plain bad. At least 5 of the 15 maps that came with the game are simply bad. I’m not saying that everything has to be like 2Fort, but on some of the MW2 multiplayer maps, like “Derail” which is a large area snow map, set pieces looks like they got distributed by someone falling asleep on the keyboard. There’s shit everywhere, and not in any sort of designed way, just everywhere. It’s like playing in a junk yard. Worse are maps like “Rundown” where every single building is open, with an accessible roof, 10 rooms, 50 windows and a dozen balconies. The term “vertical junkyard” comes to mind. I spent so much time looking up at windows and rooftops that I nearly got vertigo.

Lastly, I just have to mention the nuke. Yes, if you heard the rumors about it’s inclusion in the game, they were true. If you’ve unlocked it, and if you get a 25 kill streak, you can literally nuke the entire game/map. The downside of which no one really thinks about. They just think it’s cool to get one. Well, the downside is that it ENDS THE MATCH. You can be 5 minutes into a 20 minute game, some douche is on a hot streak and ends the game for everyone. I’m all for cool perks (like the AC130), but having a perk end the game for everyone is just kinda lame. It’s “cool factor” wears off really quick.

So, those are most of the minor annoyances I’ve picked up on so far. 99% of the game is brilliant, I’m really enjoying it, but like anything else it’s far from perfect.