Modern Warfare 2: Stimulus Package
If Modern Warfare 2's in-game player monitor is any indicator, Infinity Ward has already succeeded with the Stimulus Package: hundreds of thousands of people are currently playing, above and beyond the kind of numbers most developers would be happy to drown a sack of adorable puppies to achieve. Even after a quarter of a year, the world's most successful videogame is still staggeringly popular.
Infinity Ward have an uncanny knack at perfectly gauging their audience, it seems, as the pack has not only proved an immediate commercial success but an entertaining addition for a majority of their fans. The controversial addition of Crash and Overgrown seems to have been an immediate hit, with many players remembering why it is they loved Call of Duty 4 so much to begin with. In my first night of play I managed to stumble upon plenty of games where the new levels - Storm, Salvage and Bailout - were being vetoed to make way for another game on either of the two classic maps.
Mixing the old with the new also makes for an easy, effective way for players to stick with the unknown. When I found myself frustrated at being beaten down over and over again it wasn't long before I was happily running riot on familiar stomping grounds, forgetting that I was contemplating exiting to dashboard after taking yet another tube shot to the face just minutes before.
Remember: there will always be someone trying to hide in the hull of the plane on Crash.
It takes about an evening of play for the basics of the three maps to sink in. They offer up a good mix of shapes and sizes, from the potential knife arenas to obvious sniper playgrounds. Modern developers have turned multiplayer cartography into a fine art, and this is no exception.
Salvage, a scrap yard with its bits and bobs strewn around with unnatural precision, is the most architecturally striking. You get to run across mashed up car wreckage, through a series of pipes and in and out more houses than anyone could ever possibly check. There's even a couple of long, thin corridors that would prove excellent for sniping if only their viewpoint wasn't so limited, though they're still an easy enough way to rack up a few kills at the moment.
It's quite compact, though, so you'll find yourself locked in plenty of close quarters skirmishes. Its quirky spawn points mean you'll often find yourself getting shot to death before you've got a chance to blink or immediately getting the drop on someone, it's whole forte seems to be built around keeping you on the move. For that reason you'll find people either loving or hating it. Expect to see waves of knives, 1887 lovers and the odd SMG.
Or, more commonly, people just trying to find a viable place to snipe from. Modern Warfare 2 players love sniping.
Storm opts for something a little larger, but it's still much better at throwing players into close quarters conflicts than it is long-range battles. Setting the level at night also reminds me that Modern Warfare 2 was completely lacking in dark maps, which this neatly rectifies. People are a bit harder to see, as you'd expect, so there's finally a good opportunity to have fun with the Cold-Blooded Pro perk. There are actually less places to camp on Storm than in Salvage, so it's once again all about getting up close and personal.
Bailout seems the most interesting from a tactical perspective. It's bigger, wider and there's hundreds more places to successfully hide. And by hide I mean camp. Partially due to unfamiliarity, this one seems to be encouraging defensive play. Snipers will love it to bits, but thankfully there's a long corridor stretching across the entire map that'll let speedy players get the drop on the other team. The outside areas are devoid of life; it's like walking around an English residential area when the X-Factor is on, though with more chance of getting immediately hit with an Intervention. Expect to see half the players sniping and everyone else picking a SCAR and playing it safe. I also haven't seen such a great map for spawn camping since Crash.
Which, coincidentally, brings me to Crash, which is still great for it. That little blue room is as invaluable as ever. Overgrown, too, is exactly the same as you remember it. Because it is.
The burning question is of course whether it's overpriced. Whichever way you divide it, you're either paying 240 points a map or, for the more cynical amongst us, 400 points for each of the new maps and getting the old two thrown in as a bonus. That's premium content and then some, largely brought about by the simple fact the people setting the price know they can get away with it.
If you're finding that a bit of a hard pill to swallow, it's worth remembering that the people who enjoy Modern Warfare 2 are going to get countless hours of gameplay from this additional influx of content. It's good content, too, and I'll probably find myself spending more time watching Killcams on Bailout alone than I will on new games I'll happily slap down full retail price for.
Stacking multiplayer DLC against an entire singleplayer game (which will cost multiple times more to produce) is always going to be a bit of a crude and inelegant comparison, though I find myself drawn to making in a bid to somehow emphasise the plentiful hours of content within. But no amount of replayability can mask the fact these are simply expensive maps, the worth of which can only be ascertained by an individual asking himself how much they like playing Modern Warfare 2 online.
Me? I'm happy with them. I think they're a good little set and I found myself surprisingly delighted to be running around Crash and Overgrown again. They'll help enhance the life of the competitive multiplayer modes by, at the very least, another forty hours.
It feels like more of the same rather than anything new, so if you didn't much go for fields of snipers, the way the entire game collapses at the host migration screen or seeing entire enemy teams running around with nothing but akimbo shotguns then this is only going to exacerbate your frustrations.
This is Infinity Ward preaching to the converted, and they just so happen to have a lot of dedicated followers. But a developer of their pedigree could (and should) be able to do so much better than more of the same: where are the new modes, titles, emblems or even spec-ops levels, for instance? It accomplishes what it sets out to do, but the Stimulus Package feels closer to a shot of caffeine than it does adrenaline.