Developer: Infinity Ward
Release Date: November 6, 2007
Allow me to tell you about the brilliant scene in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare that sets the tone for the whole game. It's an abduction that takes place in the Middle East, and you see it through the eyes of the victim. You're dragged to a car, tossed into the back seat and smacked with a rifle butt for good measure. The driver starts his journey, and the only thing you can do is look around. Nothing else. You see a man riding shotgun and talking on his cell phone. People are getting shot in the streets. The drive ends in front of cheering rebels firing their guns into the air. All this happens while you can hear the speech of the rebel leader, Khaled Al-Asad, blasting over the airwaves.
When the car stops, you eventually get yanked out of it and kicked in the face. Your vision clears in time for you to realize you're being dragged to a small courtyard, where a single wooden post stands to greet you. Its only distinguishing marking is a bloody spot that marks where your head is supposed to go. A guy in a leather jacket stares you in the eyes. You get bound to the post. You can wiggle the thumbsticks all you like, but all you can do is look. No one comes to save you. The only out-of-the-ordinary thing that happens is how time slows down, right before Al-Asad himself points a silver Desert Eagle at your head and fires.
That's when you know: CoD4 is a little more than your typical, pretty first-person shooter. While it's loaded with detail and realism, it also has the kind of spirit and flash you'd find in some of the best military action movies — think Tom Clancy mixed in with some "Black Hawk Down." And to top it all off, it is relentless — a hurricane of gunfire, gameplay and a little drama that can leave an indelible impression on the player.
In terms of story, the game takes a two-pronged approach. You play both Sgt. "Soap" MacTavish of Britain's elite SAS, as well as Sgt. Paul Jackson of the United States Marine Corps. Both have their own sets of missions, and both are classic "observer" characters with no voice, face or real personality. Instead, the game lets the other characters do the talking, while letting the player simply experience being part of the team.
The main objective is ultimately saving the world from an anti-terrorist attack, and CoD4 does an outstanding job of weaving and alternating between the British and Marines' ways of handling business. The SAS generally functions as the small but mighty intel unit, raiding everything from cargo ships in the rain to missile-launching facilities. The USMC missions are pure battlefield stuff, where you'll have to escort a tank, infiltrate an enemy-infested TV station in an urban combat zone or provide support fire from a chopper. There's even an entire "flashback" mission, which adds a lot of backstory behind Captain Price and the lead villain.
You'll start out as the "new guy" in the SAS, where you get put through your paces before a mission by Price, the squad leader (he was also in Call of Duty 2). You learn the controls of the game via a small, timed obstacle course. If you get through it quickly, you might even get a compliment. The controls are roughly standard FPS stuff, with some notable exceptions: Clicking down on the right thumbstick triggers a knife strike, which is a guaranteed one-hit kill. Clicking down on the left stick sends you into a temporary sprint, which can be useful given the kind of firepower you face in the missions.
Visually, CoD4 is stunning. The very first mission has you taking a chopper and landing on a ship in the rain. You can see Price smoking a pre-mission cigar, the glow illuminating the lines on his battle-hardened face. The "prettiest" of the USMC missions had mostly to do with fighting at night, where you could see tracer ammo and other projectiles lighting up the sky. The textures on the weapons — not to mention the detail — looked spot-on from where I was sitting, which helped add to the overall atmosphere of the gameplay. You'll also notice subtle gems of detail, such as the clarity of the grass when you're climbing on the ground, or little pieces of paper flapping across your field of vision. One cool thing I noticed was how the glass on the scope on my rifle reflected bits of the background behind me.
But perhaps more intriguing than the actual visuals are some of the cinematic tricks CoD4 uses to provide that "action-hero" atmosphere. The game, perhaps better than a lot of its contemporaries, does an outstanding job of maximizing its first-person perspective. You get a taste with the SAS, when the ship you raid starts sinking, and the field of vision tilts to one side. That would be enough to throw you off, but then you have to take into account the rushing water and pipes blowing steam in your face.
The game also makes good use of slow-motion and blur effects. There are a couple of big explosions in the game, where the player has to experience the haze and disorientation that comes with almost getting blown up. Night vision was also pretty cool to use, with the laser sights of you and your team members cutting across the room.
Another thing I really enjoyed was how CoD4 tried to change up the experience without lessening its intensity. Mission-wise, you'll not only be fighting on foot, but also providing covering fire from a helicopter or the back of a moving vehicle. One mission puts you at the weapons controls of an AC-130 gunship, where you have to use its array of cannons to provide backup for the SAS team below. There's not much to look at here — the camera for the AC-130 consists of black and white shapes — but the flavor of the game is still maintained by the constant, back-and-forth radio chatter of the gunship crew. There's even a moment of awkwardness when the crew tries to figure out the location of a landmark. "It's over by the curved road." "Uhh, the curved road?" (Trust me. It's cool.)
There are other ways in which the title manages to avoid monotony. One of them is through weapons, where you'll be asked to do some heavy sniping and vehicle-killing in addition to standard combat. At one point, you'll take control of a .50-caliber sniper rifle. (Remember Mark Wahlberg's mega-rifle in "Shooter"? You get to use that.) You'll also be able to raze the ground with airstrike bombs or call in a chopper to blanket the area with lead.
One small concern I have with the single-player is that some might see the campaign as too short. I peeled through it in about six hours. However, those six hours were so good that I'm actually going through it again, sometimes on harder difficulty settings. I also think some form of online co-cop would have been fantastic — but again, I really didn't have a problem being on my own.
Another small issue dealt with the AI. It's very good for the most part, but sometimes, squadmates would randomly wander into my line of fire. If you kill one of your own guys, the mission is over, so I botched some missions with an ill-timed shotgun blast.
As far as multiplayer goes, CoD4 provides a much faster pace and much higher consequences for playing stupidly. A couple of rounds will put anyone down most of the time, so finding cover and constantly moving are extremely important. The more you play, the more you increase in rank — and the more goodies you can unlock. Many of the high ranks get you access to cooler weapons and attachments, like a zoom scope for your rifle or a new pistol. You can also outfit yourself with perks, or special weapons/abilities you can use in battle. Stopping Power gives your bullets more punch, while Deep Impact enables you to shoot through thinner walls.
One of the most popular perks is the Last Stand. This means if you get shot and do down, you can pull out your pistol and start shooting people before you expire. You feel like a hero when you get someone and a complete dunce when it happens to you. There's also Martyrdom, where you can basically blow yourself up after you get shot. In addition to all that, killing streaks grant you the ability to use radar, call in airstrikes or summon a chopper.
I enjoyed the multiplayer map and game type selection. The maps featured a nice mix of open areas for sniper battles, as well as plenty of building for some good old-fashioned urban thuggery. For game modes, you've got free-for-all, capture the flag and domination, among others.
Overall, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare provided me with more pure intensity than either Halo 3 or Bioshock. While it lacks the storytelling or some of the features of those games, it's the only FPS where I felt physically spent after I was done with it. Make this a part of your collection.
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