When it was released two years ago, Call of Duty 4 was hailed as one of the greatest first-person shooters to come along. At the time, the gaming experience was limited to the PS3, Xbox 360 and PC, but then Activision's secondary Call of Duty developer, Treyarch, figured out a way to port the Call of Duty 4 engine to the Wii. Two years later, and after a proper sequel to CoD 4 had already been released to the other consoles and PC (Call of Duty: World at War), Treyarch has ported Call of Duty 4 to the Wii. Although it's still a fun game to play, you should only play the Wii version if you have no other way to play CoD 4. Every other version of the game is superior in just about every aspect, so while the core CoD 4 product may be on the Wii, the incredible experience from two years ago didn't make its way to Call of Duty 4: Reflex Edition.
For those who have somehow never even heard of Call of Duty, here's the quick breakdown. Call of Duty is a first-person shooter that started off almost 10 years ago on the PC, and it made quite a splash when it was initially released. Sure, it was another World War II shooter in an endless stream of World War II shooters, but it was done so well that it was an instant hit. Years wear on and the formula holds up reasonably well, but the big jump for the series came two years ago when it got out of World War II and made the jump to modern times, allowing for a purely fictional experience so the developers could really flex their creative muscle. Accompanying it was a wonderful multiplayer game that rewarded players with perks, new weapons and other goodies as they continued to play. This was a game that could even topple the almighty Halo for the most popular title on Xbox Live. I have friends who failed out of college because of this game. It was that big, that popular and that addictive.
Unfortunately, Reflex Edition on the Wii is simply too little, too late. Treyarch has done what they could to bring the same experience to the Wii, and it simply doesn't translate, which really is a shame for Wii owners who have no other means to play the game.
The full game is intact on the Wii, so initially, it's really impressive to see the woefully underpowered system (when compared to its competition) run this title. However, it quickly becomes apparent that corners were cut almost everywhere to get a reasonably intact port of the core experience.
CoD 4 puts you into the role of a U.S. Army Ranger during an invasion of a Middle Eastern country in the middle of a power struggle, and you also play as a British SAS operative who's trying to capture the ones who sparked the war. It's a tale of military politics, crazy terrorists trying to nuke the world, and lots of explosions, and it was a pretty good thrill ride two years ago. The problem is that it's two years later, and there are tons of games that have come out since that clone the formula presented in CoD 4. What's present in Reflex Edition isn't fresh or an interesting take on the genre anymore; now it's just another FPS in an endless sea of FPSes.
There are quite a few graphical problems with Reflex Edition. Somewhere in the porting process, the graphics were significantly sacrificed to get the game running on the Wii. This is not a good-looking game, even for the Wii console. Every texture is blurry, low-resolution and tends to have some nasty pop-in. The draw distance is awful, especially when it comes to missions where you have to play the role of a sniper; many items in the distance look simply like sheets with a single color texture slapped on it. To top things off, even though the game's visuals have been downgraded too much to be acceptable, the game can't even hold a steady frame rate. While the previous version of the game held a silky smooth 60 frames per second, the Wii iteration struggles to maintain 30 frames per second. It's difficult to get immersed in the experience when the frame rate drops if there's any on-screen action.
Now, a player who's new to CoD 4 and has never even seen the original title in action might be able to overlook this, but there's something to be said for atmosphere. The graphics in the original version dramatically added to the game's atmosphere. Without spoiling anything, several of the most dramatic moments are completely ruined by the graphical shortcomings. What were originally powerful and moving moments have been reduced to blurry-looking scenes that fail to stir up any emotion. Even the light destruction in the environments has been removed, which makes the firefights feel significantly less intense than in its two-year-old counterparts. In the original title, it's an incredible experience to tear a TV station to shreds as you fight your way through it, but in Reflex Edition, the station looks clean as a whistle after an intense firefight.
Even the audio manages to be a bit wonky. Speech and music cut out frequently in a game that sounded incredible two years ago. It still sounds good, but it's more as if you were listening to an amazing record that keeps skipping. It ends up being annoying rather than pleasant to listen to.
Amazingly, the controls work surprisingly well for a game that wasn't originally designed for the Wii console. The biggest benefit is that you aren't limited to the center of the screen at all times. With a simple press of a button, you can simply lock down your view to one direction and freely aim anywhere on-screen. It's a brilliant scheme that makes aiming significantly easier and can save you in moments when you feel that precise aiming is more than a little difficult. Of course, it would seem that the AI in the game has been dumbed-down a little bit from the previous releases to help with the less-precise aiming.
All of these problems with the port don't mean that the game isn't any fun, though. The single-player portion is still a reasonably enjoyable experience, but the real fun is in the multiplayer. Treyarch has done a very good job of bringing the full multiplayer experience to the Wii. All of the playlists, maps and fantastic, addictive gameplay from the original title's multiplayer is here for Wii players to enjoy. Latency could stand to be a lot better, but it's still perfectly playable and fun. Other unfortunate, but minor, gripes about the multiplayer is lower player limits on all the playlists and the usual friend code stuff that all Wii players have to deal with.
Call of Duty 4: Reflex Edition could have been an amazing game. With a proper port, this could have been a perfect complement to the previous iteration of the title. However, the port job feels like it was cheaply thrown together, and an unfortunately large amount gets lost in translation. The atmosphere is almost entirely gone in the Wii version, and the buggy nature of the port leaves much to be desired. There's still fun to be had, but this is by far the worst version. If you have a chance to play Call of Duty 4 on any of the other consoles or PC, you should take it. Although the entire experience is available in the Wii version, it's bundled up in an amazingly underwhelming package that will fail to satisfy anyone who has played Call of Duty on any other platform in the past.
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