Review: Heed the call for another insanely good time.
I am among millions of die-hard Call of Duty fans around the world and would like to make a request on their behalf. No, make that a demand. From now on, please leave all future sequels for this great franchise in the hands of Infinity Ward. After all, they created the series and have proven once again that they know how to make a damn fine shooter.
Think about it: Spark Unlimited's CoD: Finest Hour was average at best (and ended up with a lawsuit or two but the less said about that, the better). Treyarch seriously tarnished the franchise with the horridly abysmal CoD: Big Red One, but despite that mess, you stuck with them. Fortunately, they redeemed themselves with CoD 3, but still ended up with a ?been there, done that? copy of the real thing. Stop hurting the franchise by passing it off to a bunch of pretenders!
With CoD4: Modern Warfare, the folks at Infinity Ward have solidified their knack for creating insanely fun, balls-to-the-wall non-stop action that gamers love. To be fair, Spark and Treyarch are good developers filled with top-notch talent, but they just can't do CoD like the big IW can.
So remember: just like Doom and Quake are synonymous with id Software, so too should CoD be with Infinity Ward. We, your customers, wouldn't want it any other way.
A crazed CoD Fan
Back to the front lines
Okay, silliness aside, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is a truly outstanding game and a worthy successor to the intense action of CoD 2. As the title suggests, Infinity Ward is not taking us back to WWII; they smartly realized that genre was getting a bit stale and so took the bold step of moving the franchise into the modern age, giving them a lot more creative freedom since they weren't restricted to maintaining historical accuracy. The end result is a fantastic action shooter set in a fictional but compelling story that feels ripped from the headlines. You can tell they really embraced their newfound creative freedom because the story is very good with a shocking twist that really drives home the tragedy of war and the sacrifices we ask of our soldiers.
You still alternate between characters as in previous editions, this time switching between a US Marine and a British SAS officer. The single player campaign spans 18 brief levels taking place in the Middle East, Russia and even a huge cargo ship caught in a raging storm. The campaign can be completed in under eight hours but like CoD 2, the action is so intense and furious you won't mind how short it is. The gameplay follows the same keep-advancing-or-the-enemy-will-respawn-forever formula that guarantees you'll never have a dull moment, but at the same time it feels a little dated. It's still fun but hopefully Infinity Ward will be able to refresh the system and give us something new and innovative in the next sequel.
On the Regular difficulty setting, the game is very enjoyable. The Halo-like regenerative health system returns, which you will quickly learn to appreciate as you advance through the campaign and the difficulty ramps up. You are armed with modern weapons like the M4 and G36C but since your load-out is predetermined for each level, you can't choose what you want. However, you can pick up and use any weapon dropped by dead squadmates or enemies, including the AK-47, G3, MP5, P90, M249 and several others that will have gun nuts drooling. As you might expect, the weapons are highly detailed and it really feels as if you're firing those suckers thanks in large part to the big ear-blasting sound effects the series is famous for.
You can also carry frag grenades, flashbang and smoke grenades, plant Claymore mines, fire an under-barrel grenade launcher, or even call in a helicopter gunship to strafe a building. As with your starting weapons, these items are predetermined for each level and can't be changed.
Levels are quite big, especially one map in the Middle East where you fly over a town in a helicopter gunship blasting anti-aircraft emplacements and RPG soldiers on rooftops, land to complete an objective on the ground, and then take off again for another objective. The map is fully rendered in impressive detail with huge draw distances, so it feels as if you're actually zipping over a real town.
In fact, the entire game looks absolutely fantastic. From tiny details like the rough pits in a plaster wall to incredibly realistic facial features, CoD4 is definitely one of the best looking games you'll find anywhere. The cinematic smoke, particle and explosion effects look better than ever, as do the dynamic lighting and shadow effects, but what's really impressive are the character animations. Every person moves with eerie realism, so much so that you'll sometimes think you're looking at an actual person. From running to shooting, from tossing grenades to dying, this is the best animation you'll see yet. Heck, even Britney and Ashley could learn a thing or two from the spot-on lip synching.
As we have come to expect from the CoD series, the audio effects really add to the immersive experience. The frantic shouts from friendlies and enemies alike, the non-stop gunfire, huge explosions ? it's a total assault on your eardrums but sucks you into the action like never before. Add in the powerful cinematic score by Stephen Barton and you'll swear you're right in the middle of a blockbuster movie.
Gameplay is still linear but it's not as narrow and restrictive as before. The maps allow you to approach objectives from a variety of different ways, meaning you aren't forced to run down a single narrow street if you don't want to; instead, you can flank by taking the next street, scoot down an alley or run through some buildings. There are still plenty of moments when you're stuck in a deadly bottleneck but these occur much less frequently than in previous editions.
You also have to be careful where you take cover because bullets will go through relatively ?soft? materials like wood, drywall and metal sheeting. Ouch. Of course, this also means you will be able to kill enemies foolish enough to hide behind such materials too.
While the majority of the game involves insane shooting on the ground, the developers smartly added some very cool levels that are slower paced but are no less fun. For example, one level requires you to be quiet and stealthy as you sneak around enemies to reach a prime sniper position. My favorite is when you are in an AC130 gunship providing air support to friendlies on the ground. The whole level is played through the lens of black and white infrared gun cameras and looks like something out of a news reel. It's a pretty easy level since all you're doing is blasting tiny hapless enemies on the ground who don't even know you're there, but it looks so cool and is so deliciously fun you'll probably restart and play it again as soon as it's over.
On the higher difficulty levels, however, the infinite respawning system can feel frustratingly unfair, especially since the amount of damage you can take is drastically reduced while the enemy AI gets ridiculously aggressive and uncannily accurate. Apparently, you have a big red light on your helmet that says ?SHOOT ME!? because enemies will focus all of their attention on you and pretty much ignore your AI squadmates. In games like Halo, this makes sense since you're the biggest badass in the universe but in CoD, you're just another soldier so why would they focus solely on you? Even when you call in a helicopter gunship to blast a building filled with enemies, they'll still run out and automatically shoot at you, all the while ignoring that big metal thing in the air firing rockets up their butt. Enemies will also aggressively flank you, quietly hide around a corner so they can ambush you and have no qualms about running right up into your face.
Your AI squadmates are generally pretty good at taking cover, accurately calling out enemy locations and tossing back grenades. But they also display moments of incredible stupidity by ignoring enemies that are literally right in front of their face. For example, one time a friendly squadmate was cautiously peering around a door when suddenly an enemy rushed through the same door and mowed me down with his AK-47. As I died, I could see my squadmate still peering intently around the door searching for some nasty bad guys to shoot at. Gee, thanks for the help, moron. This wasn't just an isolated case either; it happens frequently and it gets worse as you increase the difficulty level. I don't mind a challenge ? and believe me, the hardest Veteran level is a monumental challenge that rivals Halo's Legendary mode ? but for a series who's signature line is ?No one fights alone,? you are pretty much left on your own since the friendly AI is absolutely useless.
You won't have to worry about fighting alone in the outstanding multiplayer mode, however. Supporting up to 18 players over Xbox Live, CoD4 proves you don't have to be called Halo in order to serve up a top-notch multiplayer fragfest.
With 16 maps out of the box, a nice mix of gametypes including deathmatch, team deathmatch and several objective-based games (like capturing Battlefield-like control points or planting a bomb in the enemy base), and the ability to select Old School (jumping and ragdoll physics are increased) or Hardcore (one shot and you're dead) means there's something for everyone.
There are no set classes in CoD4; instead, you can create up to five of your own custom ?classes? by selecting a primary weapon (assault rifle, SMG, light machine gun, sniper rifle or shotgun), pistol and your perks. Perks are special unlockable items or abilities like new weapons, attachments, increased health or damage, reduced weapon kickback, extra ammo or grenades, and many others. You can even unlock the ability to draw your pistol after being shot down, giving you the chance to take out your attacker in the few seconds before you bleed to death. You can also drop a grenade when you die, a nice parting gift for your opponent.
Perks are unlocked as you earn experience points through kills, completing objectives and winning matches. The experience system is a great way to keep people playing since many of the best perks require a ton of experience points. The only downside is that new players are hopelessly outgunned by the more experienced ?perked-up? players. Fortunately you can level up quite quickly but you will still need to patiently invest several hours to level up to a point where you can stand on a bit more even footing with everyone else.
Perks are also unlocked by completing dozens of individual challenges like getting a certain number of kills with a specific weapon type, getting kills when prone or crouched and so on. The perk system is surprisingly deep and people who just have to unlock everything will have many hours of their lives sucked away by this game.
You can also unlock and use in-game perks. By getting three kills in a row, you can activate a UAV that temporarily shows all enemy locations on your team's minimap. Get five in a row and you can call in an airstrike; seven in a row lets you summon a Cobra attack helicopter that will strafe enemies to shreds. Nice!
The maps are nicely designed with tons of nooks and crannies for cover, some great sniper spots and plenty of choke points for those up close and personal encounters. And since communication is key to any team victory, you can talk to all of your teammates without having to push a stupid button, unlike some other games (*cough* Halo *cough*).
Gameplay is fast and furious, and rewards smart teamwork. Sticking together and covering each other's backs is the key to victory; lone wolf run-and-gun types will have their lives measured in mere seconds thanks to the small number of hits you can take. The Killcam also returns, letting you see your own death through your killer's eyes; it also lets you know where your killer was hiding, which is a great way to exact revenge on lazy campers.
The combination of fast gameplay, perks, a nice variety of maps and gametypes, and an excellent matchmaking system means CoD4 easily offers enough outstanding fragging fun to tear gamers away from Halo 3.