The mission is going badly. My partner and I are both riddled with bullets, and 10 seconds ago I took down a guy by shotgunning his legs as he dashed for cover. It was an efficient kill – but unfortunately the man in question was an innocent civilian. Still, there’s no time for me to feel guilty about this: as I round the corner of a run-down shack, I’m greeted by a fresh wave of gunfire.
My vision blurs as the rounds strike home, but through the bloody haze I can just about tell that it’s my buddy who’s trying to kill me. “FRIENDLY FIRE, FRIENDLY FIRE!” I scream, slumping to the floor in a gory mess. My apologetic co-worker lollops over to help me back on my feet, but as he does he accidentally throws a frag grenade at the floor. A few tense seconds follow as the pair of us yelp and panic, then the mission comes to an abrupt, explosive end.
That pretty much describes my first attempt at getting to grips with Modern Warfare 2’s co-operative Spec Ops mode. It was hardly my most professional performance as a games journalist, but it was certainly a hugely enjoyable ride. Previous Call of Duty games have always been chaotic, but it seems that the mad factor ramps up to 10 when there are two of you fighting side-by-side against a mass of 30 bad guys. There’s all the unpredictability of standard multiplayer CoD, but there’s also a lot of the cinematic atmosphere that the single-player game does so well.
True, there may not be a plot to the 23 missions on offer, but as you and a friend storm through a Brazilian slum - gunning down gangsters, covering each other's backs and coming to the rescue when one of you gets shot – you’ll find yourself mentally filling in the blanks. It’s like a flashback to childhood, when you ran around with your hands shaped like pistols, yelling 'pyow pyow!'. You’re still making up stories as you go, but this time it feels frighteningly real. When one of you takes too much damage, you go into a sort of Last Stand mode: you can crawl about very slowly, and you can defend yourself with a pistol, but if your mate doesn’t get to you within a minute or two, you’ll bleed to death. It’s dramatic stuff, and it’s the kind of feature that will provide you with great tales to tell your mates.
The missions in Spec Ops will be split into four groups – Alpha, Beta, Charlie and Delta. Initially only the first set will be available, but as you play through these you’ll unlock further challenges via a Rock Band-like system that awards you a number of stars based upon the difficulty you’ve selected. In addition to changing the usual factors (stamina, enemy damage), increasing the difficulty level will also change your goals. In O Cristo Redentor, the Rio-based level I played, the objective was to wipe out a set number of bad guys without killing too many innocents. On the default setting we had to kill 30 enemies, and no more than six civilians; when we were playing on Hardened, the first number went up to 40 while the second dropped to four – and for added thrills, we also had to deal with attack dogs. It’s actually possible for each player to use different difficulty levels, although I’m not clear on how this affects the objectives.
While shooting clearly plays a primary role in MW2’s action, the 23 Spec Ops missions use a wide range of formats. There are stages where the only objective is to reach the end of the map in one piece, while others take the form of vehicle races and time trials. During my latest hands on with the game I was also shown a level type that roughly follows the trend set by Gears of War 2’s Horde mode. Once again the goal here was to kill off a set number of hostiles, but this time they came at the player in waves, with a notable difference in the ways different enemies behaved.