Version tested: Wii
With large chunks of the gaming world busy getting in a right old lather over Modern Warfare 2, the belated appearance of a Wii port of the 2007 original the other day had all the impact of a Johnstone's Paint Trophy scoreline on a wet Wednesday night.
And just like the Swindon vs. Norwich match this week, it has nil-nil written all over it, with Activision hoping for the best by fielding its Treyarch reserve team. The bold intention was to release a fully-featured conversion, complete with all the levels and multiplayer features that have turned the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360 game into a 13-million selling blockbuster over the past two years.
Sadly the result is only ever passable. While all of the basic gameplay elements that won the game such wide acclaim are retained, much of its visual appeal is reduced dramatically thanks to muddy visuals which don't even come close to reaching the standard reached by other Wii titles in the genre. This "Reflex Edition" is a wobbly Telesync compared to the cinematic presentation you'll get elsewhere.
As pointed out by Digital Foundry the other day, the compromises are savage. At first glance, Treyarch does a reasonable PS2-level job of approximating the scripted action, but even Sony's old warhorse was capable of doing a better job than this in its pomp. On a basic level, frame-rate is halved to 30FPS - and it often struggles to even maintain that consistently - but it's in the details where Modern Warfare suffers most.
While you might expect shadowing and lighting to take a hit on the Wii, it's the muddy texturing, jagged geometry and facial detail that are especially disappointing. On standard-definition TVs this might not be that much of a problem, but anyone playing this on an HD set may find certain scenes less palatable. The overall effect isn't completely ruinous, but it's important to stress this is by no means the best possible port the system could accommodate judging by the quality of games like Metroid Prime and The Conduit. The devs here face different technical challenges, perhaps, but that's not the gamer's fault.
In terms of the gameplay there are fewer complaints, at least, and the experience is still highly enjoyable once you adapt to the peculiar nuances of motion control. For your money (and at £39.99 you're paying a premium) you still get the same six-hour, three-act single-player campaign that you'd expect, and it all plays out identically throughout.
Taking place in an unspecified near future, you control one of six characters across an interwoven story which focuses on the trials of the British 22nd Super Army Soldiers Regiment and the United States Marine Corps 1st Force Recon, as they chase down Imran Zakhaev, a Russian Ultranationalist. Like any good villain of the piece, he eventually resorts to attempting nuclear war to prove his point, so it's up to you and your ability to point a gun to stop the madness.
Because this is a Wii game, pointing said gun involves choosing between various Wiimote and nunchuk configurations before proceedings get under way. As well as the now-obligatory Wii Zapper support, there are six button layouts to choose from, in addition to six control presets.
Pitched from 'Greenhorn' right up to 'Insane' level, the idea is presumably to provide varying levels of sensitivity to suit the precise control requirements of all types of players. At the novice end of the spectrum, you get presets for slow, stable camera control and control-stick aiming for scoped and turret weapons, while at the other end you get faster, tighter settings and precision aiming for all weapons - and everything in between.
If you're still not happy with that, then there's probably medication available. You can drive yourself into uncharted realms of OCD by tweaking all manner of sliders, including the camera speed, the pointer sensitivity, the dead zone, ADS tracking and whether to turn gesture control on or off, but the chances are you'll be as reliant on the frame-rate as much as anything.
As welcome as this level of control customisation ought to be, it all feels a tad unnecessary, and you're left wondering whether the preset you've plumped for is really the most suitable. Treyarch could have simply nailed a default setting that worked off the bat and left tweaking for those who feel like it, rather than foisting a ton of options on you before you've even had a chance to try the game out.
Once you adapt, though, Modern Warfare controls in much the same way you expect from a Wii FPS - albeit with a few minor variations. Pointing the Wiimote doubles up as look and aim, while the nunchuk stick controls direction. B fires your weapon, Z aims down the sight, C toggles your stance, + and - throw primary and secondary grenades, while A doubles up as a means of locking the camera while you fire and also makes you run. The d-pad houses the remainder of the controls, including weapon-switching, melee and jumping, while inventory access requires holding left on the d-pad and then confirming with a control-stick direction.
Cramming so many options onto the Wiimote and nunchuk can make things fiddly in the heat of battle, but for the most part it works fine. General movement and combat is intuitive and responsive, though the slower-than-usual turning speed makes it trickier to beat a hasty retreat when avoiding grenades. Tweaking sliders only improves the situation to a degree.
Sometimes, the doubling up of the run command with locking the camera works against you, too, so you'll curse your inability to move in a way that ought to be second nature. Indeed, things you've taken for granted for years in COD titles trip you up repeatedly on the Wii, and may leave you wondering exactly why Treyarch didn't include options for joypad control as well for those who prefer things that way. EA did exactly that with Need For Speed: Nitro, and it's a move others should adopt.
Once you've blitzed your way through the notoriously brief main campaign, the lure of the all-new Arcade mode might tempt those who have already played the game on other systems. Essentially the gameplay is exactly the same, but you rack up a score based on the accuracy of your shots, combined with the speed between kills to gain multipliers. Some sections (such as the awesome Epilogue bonus level) work better in Arcade mode than others, but the ability to choose individual levels rather than slog through the whole thing in order presents a more appealing means of replaying the game.
In terms of multiplayer, the Reflex Edition features exactly the same modes and maps as previous versions, in addition to drop-in, drop-out co-op campaign play where the second player controls a second cursor (also featured in the Wii version of World At War).
For competitive and team-based action, the whole affair is once again based on clocking up experience, levelling up and eventually unlocking new modes and variants, weapons, skins, challenges and more. Voice chat is, however, absent, and our experiments with the killing of others revealed plenty of lag issues - even when restricted to European connections. So far, the community appears to be fairly small, with the same dozen or so players cropping up in matches all evening, so it's questionable whether Modern Warfare will prove to be the all-conquering behemoth on Wii it has been on other platforms.
There's no denying that Modern Warfare remains one of the best shooters available, both in single and multiplayer, but releasing a technically crippled version two years later on Wii is a curious decision. The controls are far from the best, and no amount of menu sliders can mask the fact that the game just doesn't feel at home on Nintendo's platform.
Although still passably entertaining much of the time, stood next to other shooters on the Wii it doesn't even come close to matching the look and feel of games designed specifically for the system. The new market Activision is presumably seeking may end up wondering what all the fuss was about in the first place.
6 / 10