Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
War games can be a fickle subject. Games like America’s Army and Full Spectrum Warrior are gussied up recruitment tools for the American war machine, and games like Medal of Honor and Call of Duty 2 tend to make war look, well… slick. Not so with the latest entry in the Call of Duty series, however. Call of Duty 4 brings the series into ‘modern’ territory, with contemporary technology and interpretations of hot-button issues. While the last games in the series have all been based on World War II, this one creates a fictional war for the player to take part in. As well as ditching the historical aesthetic, Call of Duty 4 also leaves the glossy lens of heroism behind that permeated the previous titles. While the series has always been intense, Call of Duty 4 ushers in a darker, more melancholy tone. In fact, it’s possible that it is the exact opposite of America’s Army; this game will certainly discourage more players than recruit them.
Call of Duty 4 starts with the last-minute training of an SAS operative in England. An unidentified Russian tanker has been discovered in the Bering Strait, and the government has been tipped off that it could be carrying dangerous material into the Middle East. After a quick run through of the operation (which cleverly chooses your difficulty setting depending on your performance), you are whisked off in a helicopter to intercept the ship. This really sets the game off with a bang. When the screen fades in from black and the rolling sea becomes visible out of your helmet, it’s a cue for those goosebumps to start creeping up your back. As well as setting the bar for the level of excitement, this level also has no qualms introducing some of the darker aspects of the game to the player. Your squadmates are not flawless heroes. Suffice to say, there are a couple of questionable actions committed towards the beginning of the mission that will raise the player’s eyebrows. This trend does not let up during the course of the game, either. This is not a happy game. The bleak atmosphere is reminiscent of games like Bioshock, where the world around the player practically bleeds despair. While the story isn’t at all realistic, it’s certainly presented in an impressive manner. Without spoiling anything else, I am confident in sharing that Call of Duty 4 features some of the best storytelling in recent years. It’s too bad that it’s almost criminally short; at least it covers enough territory to be thought-provoking and powerful.
But what about the actual game? In truth, things haven’t changed much since Infinity Ward’s last outing, besides the more modern weapons and outfits. However, that’s certainly not a problem, as the game remains as intense and grueling as ever. On most of the difficulty modes, death comes swiftly. Most of this is due to the sheer chaos that each level presents. Enemies pop out of every possible nook and cranny, and the constant chatter combined with gunfire can be a little overwhelming. There are some cool new details, such as the ability to shoot through thin walls, and the new physics engine is extremely welcome. Like other titles in the series, Call of Duty 4 practically pushes players along a linear path towards an objective. While this sounds archaic on paper, the strength of the presentation and simplicity of the shooting action add up perfectly. It’s a testament to the power of good visual and aural design. Call of Duty 4 is a looker, making excellent use of special effects like depth of field to add life to all the death around the player. The environments are appropriately gritty, and the facial animations are entirely believable. It should be good news to PC owners on a budget that Call of Duty 4 scales extremely well. The game can be enjoyed on its highest settings fairly easily, something that many PC developers at the moment should take note of.
While the campaign isn’t very long, the multiplayer features in this game are superb. Mixing the breathless presentation of the singleplayer with some exclusive game mechanics, called perks, Call of Duty 4 is both twitchy and tactical when played with other people. While the game uses a class system, these are not rigid: the player can tweak their character with perks. Perks are essentially powerups, little boosts that can increase the stopping power of bullets, provide more health, or do crazy things like drop live grenades every time the player is killed. They’re fun and useful, and while the entire multiplayer experience clashes with the dark and realistic campaign, it’s still a whole load of fun. It’s especially cool with large groups of players, and the addition of collectible perks add some serious replay value. Provided you have a high-speed internet connection, Call of Duty 4 has plenty of hours that can be squeezed out of its multiplayer game modes.
With all this glowing praise, one could walk away with the idea that the game is perfect. Well, unfortunately, it isn’t. It is truly excellent, but there are a few kinks that should’ve been worked out. As I mentioned before, the singleplayer is woefully short. A simple cooperative mode would’ve increased the replayability of the story a great deal. Those modes are fairly standard in shooters these days, and it’s surprising that a game built around squad tactics has no such mode. The graphics, while great, have a couple of blemishes too. Shadows can be quite aliased up close, and some of the animation feels a little canned. It’s a little disappointing that the game has no vehicles, something that Call of Duty 3 did have. While it was made by a different developer, it’s a little odd that a sequel would strip features out, especially given the robust multiplayer modes and large maps. Still, though, Call of Duty 4 is a resounding success. By bringing a solemn, contemplative experience to PCs, it is just another example of how video games are moving forward. The intense and difficult experience should be played by anyone who enjoys a good story. Even with an anemic singleplayer offering, the full game is worth a purchase for the multiplayer experience. If you’re tired of glossed-over, one-sided, boorish war games, then the new Call of Duty is most definitely worth your time.
Nine out of ten