First-Person Shooter Players:
M (Mature)Release Date:
November 5, 2007Screenshots: Link Amazon: Buy Now!Written BY:
With the release of the original Call of Duty on PCs back in 2003, Infinity Ward officially stole the mantle of premiere World War II FPS from the reigning Medal of Honor series. In 2005, Infinity Ward brought their acclaimed franchise into the next generation with Call of Duty 2 for PCs and the Xbox 360. 2006 saw the franchise handed to Treyarch for the critically disappointing Call of Duty 3, along with numerous spin-offs. Now Infinity Ward is back in the driverís seat with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. After two games in the series and a new modern setting, has Infinity Ward managed to breathe new life into the ailing franchise?
One element that made previous Call of Duty games stand out from other WWII shooters of the time was the change of perspectives as the player jumped between dif-ferent soldiers of different nationalities, fighting in different parts of the world. Call of Duty 4 continues this trend, telling the story through the perspectives of a British Special Air Service operative in Russia and an american United States Marine Corps Force Recon operative in an unnamed Middle Eastern nation. A Russian ultranationalist by the name of Zakhaev seizes a nuclear weapons stockpile in his efforts to incite a national revolt and reinstate Russia as the Soviet Union. In order to bide time, Zakhaev creates a distraction for the U.S. by funding a military coup-de-tat in an unnamed Middle Eastern nation, led by his friend, a military general by the name of Khaled Al-Asad. The game begins as the SAS, who have been monitoring Zakhaevís activities for some time, discover his plot while conducting a raid on one of his cargo ships. Together, the U.S. and the U.K. work to suppress the plot in both regions.
The story is interesting, but very straightforward. It serves as a fine premise for the game, and experiencing it as it unfolds is certainly enjoyable. At the end of the day, however, it really does come down to the good guys vs. the bad guys. Zakhaev and Al-Asad are a dirty pair of ruthless, amoral, power-hungry despots, and you never feel the slightest bit bad about eliminating legion after legion of their cronies. That definitely is not a problem, but consequently, nor is it a compelling boast for the game. Take the story for what it is, and there is little room for disappointment.
Normally, I hate to use the term Ďcinematic gaming.í Itís a frustrating, ambiguous, and often misused term thatís passed around all-too-often to describe games that have a needlessly large number of needlessly long cutscenes. However, it would be an injustice to call Call of Duty 4 anything else. From the exhilarating, adrenaline-pumping prologue, as it leads to the tragic and engrossing title screen sequence, and then flows into the main game, CoD4 feels like playing a cinematic experience in a way that is often promised, but rarely delivered.
One place where Infinity Ward excelled in past Call of Duty games is in the presentation, and Call of Duty 4 is no exception. The graphics are stunning and are used to create an equally gorgeous aesthetic. The textures, lighting, realistic animations and almost overpowering weather-effects create an atmosphere that sets a new standard for military shooters. Good graphics, however, are fairly standard these days. What really sets CoD4 apart -- and the CoD series in general -- is sound design, and CoD4 has some spectacular sound design. Guns are visceral and loud, but not deafeningly so; the battlefield is drowned with the sounds of gunfire, explosions, and the shouts and cries of allied and enemy soldiers; air-support, vehicles, and distant fighting can be heard in the background. The sound really separates CoD4 from other shooters by creating an atmosphere that sounds and feels as close to the real thing as many of us will ever (want to) get.
Call of Duty 4 is a game polished to perfection with the veneer of an audio/visual presentation that is nothing short of stunning. Unfortunately, itís in the meat of the game, the gameplay, where the seams really show through. The game design itself is fairly basic: move with your squad and shoot the bad guys as they appear. While this basic design is by no means a fault, the problems come through when it becomes apparent that the basic gameplay has not changed since the original Call of Duty. CoD4 still makes use of re-spawning enemies and trigger points. This creates what is often referred to as the ďclown car effect,Ē in which legions of enemies continue to emerge from the same small building. That is, until the player moves up to a certain trigger point that stops the continuous re-spawning. Having re-spawning enemies in a game is one thing--that isnít the problem. When the player's only impetus for moving forward is the possibility of a trigger point that will stop the spawning, the immersion is more-or-less shattered. Itís a fairly easy fix, in theory: just create some other kind of motivation for the player to move forward. Itís equally possible and simple to just do away with the re-spawning foes altogether; thereís nothing wrong with just delivering one intense, straight-forward encounter after another. As it stands now, that basic function is archaic game design that is out of place here, to say the least.
One nagging issue is the checkpoint/autosave system. It isnít uncommon for a checkpoint to leave you in a less-than-comfortable position. More than once I would die, only for the autosave to load up and find myself facing a grenade in mid-flight. This is especially bothersome on the PC, where a quicksave feature could have been implemented, but wasnít. There isnít even any form of manual save to speak of; the entire save system is reliant upon the autosave function. Itís a small issue in practice, but capable of causing much frustration.
Of course, thatís only one element of the gameplay. One of the great design as-pects of Call of Duty 4 is that very few levels are exactly alike. The game is continually trying something new. The straight-forward run-and-gun levels quickly give way to the more subtle, quick, hyper-efficient commando-style raids of the SAS missions. In turn, those missions are nothing like the sterile, casual, eerily-clinical tone of the on-rails AC-130 gunship level, or the cautious, deliberate pacing of the sniper level, and the list goes on. Granted, some of the missions are hit-or-miss. The sniper mission, for in-stance, is particularly contentious, and eventually devolves into a ridiculous game of tower defense, as an enormous Russian force literally engages in what can only be described as a zerg-swarm to kill just two snipers in a big field. At the end of the day, however, Iíve never really done many of the things that Iím doing here in another FPS before. Call of Duty 4 is consistently delivering new, fresh experiences, one after another, that keep the action from ever feeling boring or monotonous.
The multiplayer works according to a class-based system and games are broken up into a plethora of modes. Pre-made classes can be selected or a custom class can be created with unlockable weapons and abilities. During play you gain experience for kills, assists, and wins and as you gain levels, more weapons and abilities are unlocked. This can cause problems; any new player will be steamrolled by the stronger players. Fortunately, gaining experience, even as a noob, isnít difficult. It doesnít take long to gain enough ranks to be able to hold your own and unlocking new stuff is rewarding.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is a fine, fine game. The graphics are gritty and real, while also vibrant and stunning, and the sound design is arguably without peer. The archaic design is disappointing, but the variety of it is rewarding and fun. Itís worth noting that the game is very linear, and heavily reliant on scripted events; but thereís nothing wrong with an amazing experience thatís only amazing the first time. Moment-to-moment, CoD4 is able to deliver consistently incredible experiences, and itís never a bad thing when a game is still amazing in spite of its biggest flaws. I hope that in the future, the archaic nature of some of the design will be improved upon, but CoD4 is an evolution of the franchise, and the genre, in every other respect.9/
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