A quick disclaimer. Modern Warfare 2 is, in all probability, going to be one of the best-executed and most substantial shooters you play this year. I was very impressed by the game when I previewed it last month, and the fact that my name won’t be gracing our review when it goes live tonight is the cause of many a flung teacup at Kikizo Towers (the honour falls instead to FPS Gamer’s veteran duelist Kristan Reed, with whom I’m currently not on speaking terms).
Not every aspect of the game or its titanic marketing putsch is above question, however, and as the first pre-orders blast through letterboxes and all-night-queues sprout from the doors of HMV, we should take time to reflect on the controversies Activision and Infinity Ward have ignited in the run-up to release.
The furore over pricing needs no introduction, nor is it chief among my concerns. A £55 RRP (or $60 across the Atlantic) is pretty steep given the reported shortish campaign length (Kristan’s run-time is 7-8 hours), Activision’s refusal to supply dedicated servers and the absence of crucial new gameplay functionality (not to mention a host of minor compromises), but retailers haven’t turned a deaf ear to consumer complaints – you can now pick the game up for two-thirds to as little as half the RRP in most major UK supermarkets. Over on GamesIndustry.biz, Rob Fahey has commented with characteristic eloquence on the risk that Activision’s brash pricing strategies will find over-eager imitators, but in the near future at least there seems to be nothing to worry about.
The infamous playable airport massacre sequence leaked online a few weeks ago deserves less forgiving attention. Right-wing tabloid rants concerning the effects of such (100% skippable) material on the hearts and minds of young people are as predictable as they are groundless, but why, we might ask, did Infinity Ward feel obliged to provoke such reaction at all? Considered (admittedly) out of context, the decision to let players slaughter civilians in callously unhurried style seems little more than a shock tactic, a morbid attempt to one-up the previous game’s hostage execution intro, rather than a sensitively judged trot into the realms of ultra-realism.