When a game redefines and revitalizes a genre and becomes an immediate icon in the industry, any sequels thereafter have some big shoes to fill. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare established an extensive and amazing transition from the bloated market of World War II shooters into a more modern take on the idea, featuring superb graphic, multiplayer and a stellar and compelling story chasing contemporary themes of terror and tyranny. When Infinity Ward returned to give a sequel to Modern Warfare, it was a big mountain to the climb. Fortunately, whether through controversy or competency, they delivered with another stellar addition to the franchise. It was on this day in 2009 that players continued the chase for Makarov and his army of Russian Ultranationalists in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

Development of Modern Warfare 2 began in early 2008 under the tentative title of Call of Duty 6. The game was not formally announced as Modern Warfare 2 and a direct sequel to Call of Duty 4 until December of that year. The reason for this came out of consideration for how the team intended to approach a sequel. Initial concepts for the continuation of the Modern Warfare storyline included the possibility of broaching viruses or chemical warfare, but other more outlandish ideas such as storylines involving aliens and the living dead also made it into the mix. The team eventually decided to keep the game tied to reality, even using real-life conflicts as some of the inspiration for Modern Warfare 2’s story.

Activision

Modern Warfare 2 utilized a new, upgraded version of Call of Duty 4’s IW engine to approach new levels of enemy and AI management in the series. Besides allowing for better visual detail and rendering, the IW 4.0 engine removed the previous tendency for enemies to spawn continuously in favor of a new set-up in which enemy combatants could break away from their routines in order to seek out the player and drive them through a mission. These enemies often did follow the set routes of attack prescribed in previous Call of Duty games, giving playthroughs a much greater depth of randomization.

The game’s story follows the journey of the Special Forces unit led by Captain Soap MacTavish on their hunt for the leader of a terrorist group calling themselves the Russian Ultranationalist party and led by charismatic and ruthless leader Vladimir Makarov. As Makarov orchestrates events that start a war between the United States and Russia, Soap’s team pursues him and his agents throughout the world, fighting to settle the conflict and expose Makarov before the two world superpowers destroy one another.

Activsion

Infinity Ward and Activision were forced to walk on eggshells with a good portion of Modern Warfare 2 due to its close inspiration by real-life conflicts. The development of the game was halted twice during 2008 --- the first time being during the break out of the Russo-Georgian War in early August and the second because of the Mumbai terrorist attacks in India in November. Even still, Modern Warfare 2 did not avoid the flames of controversy due to a graphic scene included in the game in which players can take part in a civilian mass shooting in the Moscow Airport during an undercover mission in which the player’s character infiltrates Makarov’s ranks. This scene was so distressing that an option was added to skip it, in some countries the mission would be failed if the player fired a bullet and in other countries the scene was outright removed from the game.

Whether by innovation or outrage, Modern Warfare 2 continued to build the pedigree of Activision and Infinity Ward for having the most iconic first-person shooter franchise in the business. The game was well-received despite criticism of the aforementioned controversial scene, and it would go on to sell millions. Infinity Ward and Activision have never been shy about exploring some harsh and terrifying realities of conflict in their game and though it can be argued whether they went too far, Modern Warfare 2 also stands as a prime example of their willingness to push the envelope about as far as it will go.