The “Call of Duty” series is traditionally known for its faithful recreations of World War II history, including battles, weaponry, vehicles and the like. In spite of the popularity of the franchise’s focus on the German-American conflict, the “Modern Warfare” spin-off is a foray into new territory — one in which Russia’s leaders push for a return to the days of the Soviet Union and the Cold War. But this time, the tensions are anything but “cold.”

“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2”

PC/PlayStation 3/Xbox 360
Activision Games

This highly anticipated sequel to the popular modern-day war game “Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare” picks up five years after the events delineated by its predecessor. In case you don’t remember that far back, the Soviet Union was discovered to be in cahoots with a rebel force in the Middle East. Ultranationalist Russian political figure Imran Zakhaev was funding war efforts in Middle Eastern countries in an attempt to divert attention from his own efforts to seize power in Russia.

The second installment of the “Modern Warfare” series occurs after Zakhaev’s death, when his assassination is unexpectedly construed as martyrdom by the Russian people. United under their fallen leader’s platform of nationalism, Zakhaev’s supporters rise to political power and fuel the fires of anti-Americanism to an extent that no one playing the game could possibly expect.

This installation retains the best aspects of the series, including the easy-to-learn controller scheme and heads-up display style. It also offers players the most obvious supplements to a first-person shooter sequel: Advanced guns like a Silenced ACR, an AK-47 Grenadier, remote-controlled Predator Missiles and many others are at your soldier’s disposal. You’re also placed in several intense non-FPS situations, like riding a snowmobile down a ridiculously steep slope while simultaneously shooting enemy combatants or riding passenger in a Jeep through a war-torn city. And if that’s not enough, the game also features an efficient, easily usable online interface that’s oddly reminiscent of “Halo 2.”

But one of the “Modern Warfare” series’s strongest suits is its ability to humanize its characters and draw gamers into its complex stories. When playing an ordinary FPS, players usually find that the sub par plot structure drops them right in the middle of the action, gun in hand and ammo loaded, following the same protagonist through the same series of interchangeable missions. In “Modern Warfare 2,” you view the world through the eyes of many different characters, including a CIA operative on an undercover mission, an Army ranger on the front lines and even (briefly) an astronaut at the International Space Station. And though you see portions of the story through the eyes of different people, it all ties together beautifully by the campaign’s end.

It’s hard to criticize a game that manages to effectively cover the whole gamut of wartime necessities, but if there’s one aspect of “Modern Warfare 2” that’s easy to hate, it’s the split-screen gameplay. In all fairness, split-screen gaming is never an ideal situation for multiple players who want the luxury of a large screen, but, in “Modern Warfare 2,” minute details are so essential to the experience that the split-screen play is completely impractical.

During online play, split-screeners may find themselves dead before they even see their attacker; as a consequence of the limited screen space, it’s simply too difficult to squint your eyes so you don’t miss that one camouflaged assailant way off in the distance. But fortunately this flaw also serves to highlight the game’s strengths. You’ll need the full range of vision of a large LCD screen to fully appreciate the many detailed facets of gameplay and graphics the game has to offer.

The supremacy of this game above all other real-world simulation shooters, however, lies not in its eclectic assortment of weapons, characters and locations, or even its exquisite graphics. The riveting, vital plot point that differentiates this FPS from all others alludes to the very real fears that many hold in relation to our country’s tense relationship with Russia. For the first time in mainstream gaming’s recent history, players will fight full-scale military battles within the continental United States, specifically in Washington D.C. and the suburbs of Virginia. These images will mark a precedent in the careers of many gamers in that they will fully realize — in near-perfect 3-D detail — the consequences that could have occurred as a result of the Cold War.

“Modern Warfare 2” is not entirely new. After all, it’s only one installment in a series of games that are captivating, painstaking depictions of all the violence, tumult and despair of war. How does one go about describing a game that — in addition to being a triumph of artistry and innovation — is also a profound political statement on nuclear proliferation?

In this case, it’s fitting to invoke the words of former Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s definition of obscenity: You’ll know it when you see it. “Modern Warfare 2” is obscenely good. Purchase it immediately.

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