Modern Warfare 2 review (played on a HP Pavilion dm3)

Brief intro

As a ‘gadget guy’ and enthusiast PC gamer, I was really excited when Modern Warfare 2 was first announced earlier this year. I was a big fan of 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (and having a bunch of equally-interested gaming buddies who had frequent LAN parties didn’t help much either ;). Towards July/August or so, Infinity Ward (Modern Warfare 2’s developer) started to announced some worrying “features”, most notably the decision to axe dedicated servers, LAN support and other multiplayer features that made Modern Warfare 1 great… replacing all that with a over-simplified, matchmaking system like those on gaming consoles, leaving players with very little control left over the multiplayer matches (along with slow connections to the “official” Modern Warfare 2 server). However, since Modern Warfare 2 came out almost a month ago (November), majority of the media – publications, magazines and even a few small time bloggers – have been singing praises about the game (even the PC version, so they essentially turned a blind eye to the crippled multiplayer mode), and the game itself has won numerous awards.

But heck, what do those “happy with Modern Warfare 2” editors and bloggers know about gaming? For most of them, it’s their job to sit at their desk and write stuff about current issues and the latest products. How about an opinion from a true PC gamer? I’ve been an enthusiast PC gamer since I was a kid, since Pentium II was the “latest” Intel processor and have been trying out all sorts of game titles over the past decade! Here are my thoughts about the game.

System requirements

modern warfare 2 pic1

First off, before I begin, I just happened to come across a “review” article by a large, local media publication yesterday which “reviewed” the HP Pavilion dm3. “Reviewed” in inverted commas because I think the write-up was complete bullocks, written by someone who is clearly technical incompetent, has never shopped for a laptop before, didn’t even use the Pavilion dm3 and/or all of the above. The “review” goes on to mention that the HP Pavilion dm3 is totally unsuited for gaming, with the “reviewer” talking specifically about Modern Warfare 2 being unplayable on the dm3.

There was a tiny footnote stating the review unit ran on AMD’s single-core Athlon Neo 1.6 GHz processor and integrated graphics… so the dude knew that, yet he STILL expected the notebook to run games, and worse, new titles like Modern Warfare 2?! Then he goes on saying the Pavilion dm3 is a bad choice for gaming?! Give me a break. Based on MY experience with the notebook, I can verify that the HP Pavilion dm3 is a good choice for anyone wanting a thin and light notebook with a great keyboard and decent gaming capabilities – Provided you DON’T go with the integrated graphics option (Pick ATI or Nvidia graphics instead). The dm3’s Athlon Neo single-core option sounds fairly weak, but it can play games like Left4Dead at an acceptable 24-35 FPS on 1280×800/Low when paired up with DEDICATED graphics (as proven by the HP Pavilion dv2). For improved performance, you should probably roll with the Intel Core2Duo 2.26 GHz processor.

So back to the main Modern Warfare 2 story. A friend of mine recently got 2009’s hottest FPS game (alongside Left4Dead2 which I acquired at about the same time), Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for Thanksgiving and he’s been saying that the graphics are awesome and all. He finally finished Single Player and Spec Ops (Solo) last week, so he brought over his HP Pavilion dm3 with Modern Warfare 2 yesterday for me to tinkle with! Sorry to deviate a little, but he had brought over not one (Modern Warfare 2), but TWO things to play with (his HP dm3), so I’m quite excited here. His dm3 was the fully-loaded, top end config (C2D 2.26 GHz, Nvidia G105M graphics, 500 gig HDD, 4 GB RAM) which, at under $1,000 seriously gives the 13 inch Apple MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and HP’s own Envy 13 a run for their money. In fact, I thought of getting one (a fully-loaded Pavilion dm3) myself but I can afford to wait for another 6-8 months to replace my dated 1st-gen Pavilion dv4 (especially with the economy nowadays).

HPFansite’s system recommendations: (for laptops and desktops)

Low/minimal – Over here, you’ll be playing just for the game, in and of itself (on 1280 x 720 or lower, all settings set to low, no anti-aliasing). That means no big detailed explosions or huge 1080p ‘movie-like’ experience for you. For this, you’ll probably want to run Modern Warfare 2 using at least a 1.6+ GHz dual core processor or 2.4+ GHz single core one, with at least 2 GB of RAM and 256 MB of graphics. Frame rates may or may not be usable, depending on what resolution you use, along with your exact system configuration.

Balanced – 720p setting (1280 x 720) with graphics set to Medium, 2X or 0X anti-aliasing. I’d recommend a 2.0 GHz or higher dual core processor here, 3 GB of RAM and a 512 MB graphics card (even a basic or “low end” card will do). Expect frame rates to float around the 20-30 FPS range, not that high but still playable.

Mixed – Using a mix of medium and high settings like my friend did with his Pavilion dm3. At least a 2.2 GHz processor here (again, dual core), preferably 4 GB of RAM (but 3 GB should still be alright) and a 512 MB graphics card (you’ll want a mid-range card!). I estimate frame rates will still run at around 30 FPS or so using a mix of high/medium settings, 2X AA and 720p resolution. I think using 1080p would be pushing it a little. The thing you’re aiming for here is detail, not resolution.

High – All settings on high, 4X full AA and 1080p (1920 x 1080 or 1920 x 1200) resolution. Everything maxed out. I recommend: 2.6 GHz dual core, or just quad core, 3-4 GB of RAM is still sufficient and preferably a 1 GB or more high-end graphics card. The game will play on at least 30-40 FPS on my listed “minimum” hardware, and frame rates can shoot up to a constant 60+ FPS if your system is even better.

NO SLI or CrossFire support! Word has gotten out that Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 does NOT take advantage of Nvidia SLI or ATI Cross Fire configurations. That means if you have your fancy dual or tri-graphic card setup in your big, bad gaming computer, the game still uses just ONE of your many graphics cards.

Game performance/graphics

On the performance side, Modern Warfare 2 had no problem running at a mix of High/Medium settings with 2X AA on 1366 x 768 resolution on the HP Pavilion dm3. Visually, the game has good graphics which are on-par the original COD4: Modern Warfare 1 game.

Update: For benchmarking purposes, my friend temporarily moved his hard disk over to a higher end machine. Modern Warfare 2 runs smoothly (around 40 FPS) on a 2.93 ghz HP Elitebook 8530w and is buttery smooth (constant 60+ FPS) on a HP Envy 15; both had resolution turned up to full HD 1080p, 4X AA and all settings set to High. Frame rate benchmaking was performed using FRAPS.

As with Left4Dead 1 vs Left4Dead 2, Modern Warfare 2 decided to ‘recycle’ a few elements and graphic items from its predecessor (even claymores look the same!). Changes include: more guns, with new add-ons/attachments (including the fancy heartbeat sensor), more things you can blow up and break now (fire hydrants burst out with water, glass and windows crack before shattering into a million bits, photocopiers and televisions short circuit and go bust when shot at, almost all vehicles can explode) and there are now snowstorms, sandstorms and water-based maps available (or at least maps containing water/rain). Valve, maker of the Counterstrike, Team Fortress and Left4Dead series, could really take a lesson or two from Modern Warfare 2 on how to make WATER! Modern Warfare 2’s water elements are just fantastic, and crazy real – from heavy rain pouring down onto Washington to the water raft chase in the map of singleplayer, the best thing about Modern Warfare 2 is probably water graphics – realistic and smooth.

That said, I wouldn’t say Modern Warfare 2’s graphics are ground-breaking or game-changing. In fact, they’re mostly “just good”, with nothing particularly jaw-dropping. Like I said before, there are many elements recycled from the previous Call of Duty, and a lot of ‘new’ graphics are merely rehashes or variants based on original graphics. Comparing the previous generation Modern Warfare 1 with the Modern Warfare 2 title today, I’d say their levels of graphics are roughly the same, with perhaps a slight edge towards Modern Warfare 2.

Infinity Ward says they have a new “texture streaming” feature which allows the accommodation of larger ‘worlds’ and more details. I think that’s just marketing hype, from what I can see as there are still graphically superior game titles out there, or perhaps Modern Warfare 2’s developers were just too held up in dedicating the game to ‘consoles’, that perhaps XBox 360 or Playstation 3 players may spot some improvements. Personally, as a gamer who enjoys cranking graphics settings as high up as possible, and who happens to have access to (and know friends who own) high end gaming machines, I didn’t notice anything particularly edge-bleeding or mind-blowing in Modern Warfare 2’s graphics versus other modern game titles.

modern warfare 2 pic2

As a person who likes cars, I was happy (!!!) to see a variety of new cars and vans in Modern Warfare 2 instead of the same, generic circa-1980 Toyota Corolla (I think) cars painted with different colors in Modern Warfare 1. Though you can’t drive them, you still can shoot and blow up vehicles like the Honda Fit, an MPV model, Toyota Corolla/Yaris (can’t remember clearly with all the action around me, need to go back to get another look) and even BMW 7-series (the old model from previous generation). There are new gizmos and gadgets such as the new heartbeat sensors on guns, semtex grenades, laptop-controlled predator missiles and sentry guns.

Singleplayer/core gameplay

In terms of gameplay, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 is your typical FPS – the basics of the game remain: take control of your gun and various accessories from a first-person perspective, take down enemies and opposing forces (either as a US Marine or part-SAS, part-Special Forces team member) and beat the game/other side. In singleplayer mode, you follow a storyline that continues where the old Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare 1 left off, playing as Private Allen initially (who gets killed early in the game), and then alternating between Private Ramirez (US Rangers, he survives till the end) and Sergeant “Roach” (SAS/TF141, who also gets killed eventually), and finally, Captain “Soap” (the original playable character from Modern Warfare 1). The story goes like this… Modern Warfare 2 takes place 5 years after the events of the original Modern Warfare 1. American Private Joseph Allen is a soldier who proved to have sufficient skill and abilities to enter “Task Force 141” to infiltrate terrorist named Makarov (who happens to look like an unshaved, greasy version of Maroon 5’s Adam Levine, in my opinion). Somehow Makarov gets to know about Pvt. Allen’s true identity and kills him during one of his attacks on a fictional Zakhaev Airport in Russia – this event then sparks a chain of events, leading to Pvt Ramirez having to fight off enemies in his homeland and Sergeant Roach and Captain Soap MacTavish having to track down Makarov, and eventually discover General Shepard is a traitor with his own motives in mind.

The storyline was well thought out in order to have as many action scenes as possible (which typically generate plenty of ‘oohs and aahs’ from today’s eye-candy loving society) but I had to disagree with some plot elements and events, and happenings that led up to other events, etc. They just didn’t make sense at all, and would be implausible/impossible in reality (ie one scene in Modern Warfare 2 got me wondering how an explosion in the Earth’s outer atmosphere destroy a satellite in outer space, miles away). Okay, this isn’t a story-telling competition, I’m here to voice my thoughts about the game, let’s move on. In Modern Warfare 2, there were the same few “fight the enemies till they’re gone”, “stealthily move to a checkpoint” and “defend this position” elements as Modern Warfare 1. There’s also a new “breach and clear” element in Modern Warfare 2, where you break down a door and clear out enemies from a room before they harm anyone… in slow motion. Can anyone say “Hollywood”? Not that it’s a bad thing, but I couldn’t help but feel Modern Warfare 2 is more arcade-styled (and less serious/solemn game) than its predecessor.

Spec Ops mode consists of a set of 23 brief missions which Infinity Ward couldn’t incorporate into Modern Warfare 2’s single player storyline. A single Spec Ops mission typically takes 3 to 5 minutes on normal mode, and up to 15 minutes in Veteran mode (depends on your playing style) and can be played Solo or with a friend on another computer (online of course, no LAN support here). Before you get all excited, most of the missions are repetition of similar single player maps, with the same four elements as before – either head-on confrontation, stealth, running to a checkpoint or slow-mo breaching and clearing.

Multiplayer gameplay

Modern Warfare 2 WANTS to be your favorite, most-addictive PC game ever… but it isn’t (Left4Dead 2 or some other title will be, at least until the next-gen of Battlefield for PC comes out in 2010). The game is supposed to keep you coming back for more with its large selection of guns, attachments, perks and unlocks. In that respect, Infinity Ward did a good job and I’ll give them credit for offering a large selection of customization/personalization for players and playing style. There were a good number of maps as well.

Where Modern Warfare 2 didn’t manage to fare well was also its biggest ‘weak spot’ and is reason #1 I refuse to buy this game, and will continue to stay away until the problem is rectified (if ever). You guessed it right! It’s the super-duper, uber, dumbed-down, “console-ified” CRIPPLED multiplayer system of Modern Warfare 2. Modern Warfare 2 lacks LAN support which is crucial for the privately organized multiplayer parties my friends and I have almost every week (except if there’s any work to do, usually assignment ‘leftovers’ from the weekdays) – our primary LAN games of choice are now Left4Dead 1 and Left4Dead 2. I knew the importance of this thing called “LAN” for multiplayer since I was a 7 year old kid playing Age of Empires 1! And let me tell you this, LAN is still important now as it was then. How do you think people carry out gaming tournaments and competitions, or even matches at each other’s homes?!

Modern Warfare 2 also lacks an interface to pick your own game/server. What do you get in place of that? Matchmaking – like PlayStation/Xbox style matchmaking via Infinity Ward’s IWNet. This is a good example of the term EPIC FAIL. Not does this kill the ability to host your own games, or choose which host to join, the minute I got onto IWNet, the lag/latency was intolerable. Everything around me would just ‘stop’ (stationary people in ‘walking’ motion, suddenly ‘stepping back’ after a few seconds of choppy movement) and before I knew it, I had given the host a free kill. I wasn’t alone, there were numerous people complaining about IWNet’s lag.

To add salt to that big wound, Modern Warfare 2 also opted to axe several aspects crucial multiplayer which exist on just about any PC game out there. No ability to “Call a vote” to change maps or kick an annoying player out of the room, very vague “signal bars” that indicate connection strength (the original Modern Warfare 1 showed ‘pings’ of individual players, which is much more accurate in reflecting connection to the host) and no more commands console! Modern Warfare 2 probably the saddest game in PC multiplayer history.

Conclusion

If you’d like to experience Modern Warfare 2, I recommend visiting or asking someone who has the game to lend you their computer for the weekend like I did. Its multiplayer is almost unplayable for the average Joe (unless you have a South Korea-speed internet line along with exceptional luck to be able to get a good connection to IWNet’s servers every time you play). It’s not worth buying Modern Warfare 2 for singleplayer either – the campaign lasted an unremarkable 4.5 hours before I managed to finish it (by no means am I a ‘pro’ gamer; 4.5 hours including having to restart missions at times) with a good but not great storyline. Spec Ops added roughly an hour or two to playing time. My friends and I, probably like many others out there, have opted NOT to purchase Modern Warfare 2 because of the reasons in the last 3 paragraphs. Our decisions will remain unless things change. Well, at least we all got to try out and complete the entire single player experience for free thanks to that guy bringing around his Pavilion dm3 for us to play one by one.

There’s been speculation/guesses that Modern Warfare 3 may come out in the future with no support for the PC platform if Modern Warfare 2 for PC doesn’t sell well enough. And from what I’ve read online, Modern Warfare 2 for PC isn’t selling very well (at least its sales are at a fraction of Modern Warfare 1 PC sales). But guess what? I don’t care. Neither do my friends. Neither do many PC gamers. We move along, in this world, there’s something called freedom of choice… in this case, Infinity Ward isn’t the only game developer around! There are PLENTY of other game makers who really put in effort and enthusiasm into making games or PC versions of games (if it’s multiplatform). If someone like Infinity Ward makes a game with so many crippled features (especially to take out something as crucial as playable, customizable [in server and host sense] multiplayer) and think they can get away with it, they’re sadly mistaken. Infinity Ward is just asking to be ‘kicked out’ and replaced by the next game/game maker who comes along that DOES satisfy the needs of us gamers. Well, Battlefield: Bad Company 2 by Electronic Arts is coming in 2010, promising to fill in the gap. We’ll see how that goes in the future, but until then… we still have Left4Dead 2 and other nice non-Infinity Ward/Activision games, hurrah!

Verdict: I’d give this game a 3 out of 10: one point for graphics, two for the short-lived ‘thrill’ of singleplayer and Spec Ops. Replayability is poor at best; most people would play the singleplayer campaign once (maybe two or three times if they’re hardcore gamers or want to try on a different level), same goes to the Spec Ops missions which you’d likely not revisit after unlocking all 69 stars and multiplayer is poor (see my long winded explanation above, and if that’s not enough, some guy has even setup a dedicated Modern Warfare 2 criticism site called modernwarfail2.com). Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 for PC is definitely not worth splashing your hard-earned money on, unless a miracle happens and Infinity Ward decides to restore the various multiplayer features back to CoD4’s level of glory.

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One Comment

  1. FraG~Lor[D]s April 26, 2010 Reply

    I just need to know….
    can my “intel (R) Atom (TM) CPU N450 @ 1.67Ghz inside” and..
    1 GB RAM For now but i will upgrade it to 2 GB Later….
    Works with Call of duty modern warfare 2?
    PLZ HELP….

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