Genre: First-Person Shooter
Release Date: November 5, 2007
In the days before Infinity Ward's creation of the Call of Duty series, they, as part of Electronic Arts, were instrumental in turning Medal of Honor into a triple-A franchise. One of the biggest complaints levied against Medal of Honor involved its reliance on the player as seemingly the only Allied soldier on the battlefield: You were an army of one taking on an army of infinitely respawning Nazis. Thus, when Infinity Ward developed Call of Duty, one of their main objectives was to give the game a more war-like feel. The result? The player was surrounded by squad members at nearly all times, and even though they tended to get cut down faster than overgrown hedges, the effect was positive. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare on the Nintendo DS is, in effect, one of those "nameless" soldiers (they do have names in the game, but you get the idea). It lives in the shadow of its far more successful console cousins, and it even tells the stories of minor characters and operations in the Call of Duty 4 storyline, but in spite of all that, CoD4 DS is a competent first-person shooter for the DS that doesn't quite live up to its potential.
CoD4 DS starts off with a bang. After a short tutorial, you're shoved onto the frontlines of battle. It's an oddly Halo-esque beginning that sets a pace for the rest of the game, and amazingly, this pace never really lets up. Numerous enemies and allies ebb and flow against each other, and in that respect, CoD4 DS mimics its Xbox 360 and PS3 brethren well. There are concessions made for DS hardware, however - either that, or it's a little known fact that combatants disappear upon death.
CoD4 DS manages to mimic something else in a proficient manner: Metroid Prime: Hunters' control scheme. Frankly, it's the best FPS control scheme currently on the DS, so why fix what already works? At the same time, CoD4 DS adds a few of its own twists to accommodate the CoD play style. Double touch-screen taps and multiple button presses in rapid succession are used liberally. In the cases of sprinting and crouching, both accomplished by pressing their respective movement buttons twice, the system is surprisingly elegant and responsive. When you desire to aim down the sights, on the other hand, you might encounter some issues. In theory, in order to utilize this technique, a simple double tap on the touch-screen should suffice. In practice, however, movement becomes a life-and-death struggle against your character's overwhelming need to gaze intimately into his gun. Simply removing your stylus from the screen while moving around will suddenly throw you into aim-down-the-sights mode; it's not game-breaking, but it does tend to grate.
As with other CoD games, levels are fairly linear, but create an illusion of limited freedom. On occasion, this linearity works against the game, as it's very reliant on "trip wires," points the player must cross to spawn the next wave of enemies or begin a new objective. It sometimes feels as though enemies are those angry spawn-campers you might encounter on Xbox Live; they sit contently in opportune areas, unmoving, and wait for you to walk into their line of fire and then mock you relentlessly as you go down in a hail of bullets. OK, they don't mock you verbally, but after dying against an enemy whose placement is a little too convenient, you'll certainly feel as though you're fighting enemies who enjoy reveling in your death just a little too much. Here again, the problem isn't overly prevalent, and the game's challenge level is just about right, but small annoyances add up.
There is no weapon balance in CoD4 DS. The pistol is the proverbial pea-shooter that provides enemies with a minor inconvenience instead of, you know, killing them. The Uzi tears through enemies like the Hulk tears through those who make him angry, both at close- and long-range, yet somehow, the M4 and the AK-47 fail to reach even a comparable level of power. It doesn't help that enemies are bullet sponges unless you fire right between their eyes. Sure, it was probably a conscious decision on the developer's part due to the DS touch-screen's PC-esque precision, but it's a little excessive. Don't expect to favor the weapons you normally would in a game like this because you'll find yourself underpowered and out-gunned.
Even in the face of all of this, CoD4 DS manages to be quite sophisticated as far as Nintendo DS games go. Levels are large and varied, and moreover, they're fun. Mission objectives constantly change, so you're forced to stay on your toes. Additionally, not every level involves simple run-and-gun; just when you're tired of gunning down insurgents on foot, you'll be tossed into a vehicle. Vehicles, of course, mean heavy weaponry, and they empower you so as to give you a nice break from feeling small and vulnerable. The variety doesn't end there, as the game also utilizes the DS hardware in a way that could best be described as mandatory these days - touch-screen-based minigames! In spite of my sarcasm, the minigames in CoD4 DS actually fulfill a purpose and are mercifully few in number. Just as people have learned to treat wounds from America's Army, you'll learn how to arm and disarm explosives from CoD4 DS. To arm an explosive, rotate circuits until they're connected properly, and then type the newly revealed numerical code into the explosive. Finally, ru-! Disarming is a simpler process: Trace wires with your stylus until the bomb shuts off.
Multiplayer in the game is a disappointing affair. There's not anything overtly terrible about it other than its lack of an online mode, but it's obvious that CoD4 DS could've been so much more. As expected, standard modes like deathmatch and team deathmatch find themselves included in the game, and levels are fairly decent reworkings of single-player content, but in this age of online gameplay, the game could very well have built itself on a "lite" version of the online multiplayer found in the console and PC versions. Leveling up and earning new weapons and perks could've made this game a killer app; as it is, though, it merely coasts through, unconcerned with being the best it could be.
CoD4 DS is one of the few DS games to really justify 3D graphics. Some levels are mind-blowingly large (on the DS, anyway), yet manage to maintain high-fidelity visuals throughout. Levels aren't plain, either; desks have items strewn about them, war-torn buildings are filled with old furniture and rubble, and ships contain a suspiciously large number of "break glass in case of emergency" axes. Non-implemented melee weapon, anyone? We can't get everything we want. The frame rate is sort of choppy, but it's not even noticeable until you've entered a confined space and witnessed the frame rate at its finest.
Continuing the trend, the sound is well suited to its visual counterpart. Once again, the sound is very impressive when compared to other DS games, and the score is impressive even in comparison with most any other title. Sometimes, it feels as though a tiny orchestra is following your soldiers around, playing pulse-pumping music as you battle. The game includes a large quantity of voice-acted lines in conjunction with the score, and taken together, it makes you wonder how the developers fit so much on a tiny DS cartridge. The voice acting isn't exactly Oscar quality - an enemy's tenacity manifests itself in savage, overacted roars that alternate rapidly with his perfect command of the English language - but the effort is appreciated.
But what about the meaty details of the story? Well, there aren't any. None. Unlike the console versions, CoD4 DS has no emotionally charged, twist-packed plot. Instead, as stated earlier, it's content to tell the tales of minor characters in the CoD4 universe. Before each level, a quick slideshow of 2D images explains how your mission ties into Al-Asad's nefarious plans and the foiling thereof, and that's all. It's a dirty job, but someone's got to do it.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfareon the NDS is a title that will forever stand in the shadow of its current-gen siblings, but it manages to be an enjoyable experience in its own right. Shamefully, it bursts at the seams with unfulfilled potential, but maybe future sequels will rectify that. All things considered, though, if you're looking for a fast, visceral good time on your favorite dual-screened portable, then CoD4 DS should at least be on your rental list.
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