Developer: Infinity Ward
Release Date: November 6, 2007
What a season it's been for first-person shooters; titles that fans have been anticipating for the past several years seemed to be released within days of each other. For those of us on tight budgets, deciding where to spend those video game dollars has never been more difficult. Bioshock? Quake Wars? Crysis? Team Fortress 2? With the entry of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the decision becomes even more daunting. Those who can afford to load up their hard drives with all of these titles ought to count their blessings.
CoD4 is an intense and cinematic first-person shooter in which players are armed with an arsenal of advanced and powerful modern-day firepower, including more than 70 new and authentic weapons and gear, including assault rifles with laser sites, Claymore mines, .50 caliber sniper rifles, M-249 SAW machine guns and more.
While the single-player campaign is short by most standards (six to eight hours at the normal difficulty setting), the quality is superb. Among other things, what sets it apart from the aforementioned FPS titles is its emphasis on realism in combat. Nice touches abound, like having the ability to shoot through walls, peek around corners and call in UAV support, helicopter attacks and airstrikes.
CoD4 builds upon the strengths of past shooters without being derivative. Like Counter-Strike? You can customize your load-out and play only the multiplayer game types that don't allow respawning. Enjoy Rainbow Six? The single-player campaign includes several levels that allow you to "breach and clear," then enter a room filled with computer equipment and destroy everything in sight. There are flag-capping hints of Battlefield as well, but with an increased dose of authenticity more reminiscent of Ghost Recon Advanced Warfighter.
The single-player campaign never becomes monotonous because the gameplay is varied and puts you in a number of different roles. In case marching around with your AK-47 becomes repetitive, the developers let you wreak havoc in a number of new and different ways. In a sniper training mission, you're teamed up with a veteran sniper who gives you tips as you progress. The mission calls for heavy use of camouflage, crawling through the grass within earshot of the enemy, and using teamwork to take out pairs of enemies before they can call for help. You can also bring death from above by using the massive weaponry of an AC-130 gunship. Another mission calls for you to sit in the gunner's seat of a helicopter and blast enemies off of rooftops.
The automatic save function works wonderfully. Quick-saving is completely unnecessary, as the game's checkpoints seem to be spaced a couple of minutes apart. You never need to replay a difficult 10-minute stretch if you get killed without saving; when you die, the game consistently seems to know exactly where you'd like to respawn, usually just a few seconds before you died.
As for performance, CoD4 runs like a champ. Moderately powerful systems will be able to play at maximum, or near-maximum, settings without a hitch, especially in multiplayer mode. I suppose my long love affair with the oft-crashing Battlefield series has conditioned me to expect a certain degree of fragility, but CoD4 works as it should, and even before the first patch was applied, I was able to play the game for hours without encountering any stability issues.
The smooth performance is all the more impressive when one considers how fantastic the game looks. While much less hyped than Crysis, CoD4 holds its own in the visuals department. The jungles and foliage on display in Crysis can't be beat, but CoD4's depiction of modern urban settings is the most realistic I've seen in a game. Player animations are smooth, fluid and convincingly realistic. The game has a distinct cinematic quality to it, with cut scenes that would feel right at home in any action movie. Good dialogue, a stirring soundtrack, and well-thought-out camera angles and movements heighten the sense of drama while you go about shooting bad guys.
CoD4 sounds as good as it looks. Each weapon has a distinctive sound, and the utter chaos of battle is perfectly captured in the sound department. Gunfire, footsteps, or verbal enemy communication may alert you to the presence and location of your target. You may hear a rustling above you and realize an enemy sniper is perched on the next floor, waiting to be knifed in the back. Of course, all of this works much better while wearing headphones or using a 7.1 surround-sound system, with the lights off and the volume turned up to 11.
The immersion factor is unbelievable, and there are remarkably few reminders you are playing a video game. The spectacular visuals, realistic weapon handling and convincing sound environment combine to give you a strong sense that you are actually fighting in the Middle-East and various locations in the former Soviet Union. You can respawn in most multiplayer modes, but there are no health packs, syringe-shooting medics, exaggerated bunny hopping or nano-suits. A "hardcore" multiplayer mode even allows you to play without the benefit of a head's-up display or crosshair, paired with increased bullet damage for a more realistic one shot, one kill effect.
My only quibble is with the artificial progression system in the single-player campaign. Generally, wave after wave of enemies will continue coming at you unless you move forward and hit an arbitrary checkpoint. Friendly AI may even encourage you to stay put and lay down suppressing fire, failing to mention that you could never kill them all. Once you realize that you need to keep pressing forward, you can re-suspend your disbelief and play a little more aggressively, which is good training for the multiplayer mode.
The multiplayer component comes with a number of different game types, including variants of capture the flag, plant the bomb and capture the headquarters. Most game types allow respawning, but the "search and destroy" mode will satisfy Counter-Strike fans who like the challenge of having only one life with which to plant a bomb. Those new to online, multiplayer shooters will find a bit of a learning curve, as the user manual leaves much to be desired.
CoD4 features an innovative class creation system that allows you to customize your weapons and abilities and save the profile for future use, so you aren't limited to the default "assault" or "support" class and a standard set of equipment. If you'd like to pair a sniper rifle with a stealthy sneaking ability and a pair of flash grenades instead of the standard load-out, you can do that. Unlike Counter-Strike, where you are forced to hastily select your equipment in the first few seconds of a round, CoD4 allows you to customize your player offline, at your leisure.
Among the 16 included maps, the selection is remarkably varied. The designers have obviously made a concerted effort to satisfy as many play styles as possible. Whether you like to snipe from a distance, hide in the shadows and set traps, or get up in the enemy's face, you'll find a map to suit your tastes. Most maps are asymmetrical and feature urban environments filled with half-destroyed buildings.
If there's any criticism to be made, it's that the maps tend to be on the small side. The purpose, of course, is to encourage frequent and chaotic firefights, and for that purpose, the maps function flawlessly. However, for the lone wolf who would prefer to hide on a hillside picking off enemies with a sniper rifle, the opportunities are not as plentiful. A result of the smallish map size is that even the objective-based maps sometimes feel like deathmatches. Death comes so quickly in multiplayer matches that it can be difficult to fortify and defend a checkpoint; there simply isn't enough time to get to your destination and set up before you get shot. In addition to the standard-sized, more intricate maps, the game ships with a few tiny maps that feel like mods, included to appease the contingent of hyperactive young gamers whose preferred gaming style is to run, gun, get killed and respawn.
Veterans of online shooters will feel right at home with CoD4. All of the goodies you would expect are here: flash grenades, knifing ability, an assortment of powerful guns, etc. VoIP is built in, and the server browser, while limited in terms of its filtering capabilities, is more than adequate.
CoD4 is complemented by a beefy and persistent ranking and rewards system. As you complete goals, rack up kills and progress in rank, you are periodically rewarded with special abilities that you can use to customize your class. Other special abilities are issued on a temporary basis upon the accomplishment of "kill streak" milestones. For example, seven kills in a row will enable you to call in a lethal attack chopper for support.
One of the best things going for CoD4 is its popularity, which means the multiplayer servers are consistently busy. There are a number of excellent online games out there that, for whatever reason, never caught on with the gaming populace, resulting in underpopulated servers. An online game simply can't be enjoyed if there aren't enough people playing it.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare extracts the best elements of the best multiplayer titles, improves upon them and combines them successfully in a compelling package that has something for everyone. I hesitate to call CoD4 "primarily" single-player or multiplayer because both modes are so good. It's a title you can really sink your teeth into and prepare for the long haul; you could be playing this for years. With the possible exception of Crysis, CoD4 is the best-looking online shooter ever made, and fans of online shooters will absolutely adore this release. You owe it to yourself to pick up a copy.
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