“Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare” review

by on Mar.22, 2010, under PC Game Reviews

Game: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Developer: Infinity Ward

Another example of why Infinity Ward are the masters of the first-person shooter…

Any first-person shooter player worth his salt should be familiar with the Call of Duty (COD) gaming franchise and the intense game-play experiences they are invariably associated with. Unlike the rival Medal of Honor series of games, these releases eschewed the un-realistic “one man against the world” approach in favour of co-operative squad based scenarios where your actions are dynamically supported by intelligent comrades. Even without the additional complexity of a squad command system like Gearbox’s Brothers in Arms titles, COD has always managed to keep the action fast and furious and is arguably the most successful of the World War 2 shooter series to date!

Under constant pressure to continue their award winning successes of the past, developer Infinity Ward decided to leave behind the war-torn fields of 20th Century Europe in favour of a modern day scenario featuring a wide range of contemporary battlefields. If you are wondering how Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (COD4) matches up against its predecessors, rest assured that the bar for this genre of game has once again been raised a few more notches!

The storyline focuses on a single week in the very near future. Coups, rebellion and civil war plague the known world, pretty much as they do today, however events are soon to transpire that will place the world at the brink of Armageddon. Think of the action bits from The Peacemaker mixed up with a good Tom Clancy or Larry Bond techno-thriller and you’ll get a good idea of what you can expect during the game. Thankfully, Nicole Kidman does not make an appearance and won’t be telling anyone to “take the shot!” anytime soon.

For most of the game you’ll take on the personae of ‘Soap’ McTavish, a new recruit with Britain’s Special Air Service, as well as Sgt Paul Jackson, part of a US Marine Corps Recon unit. This two character focus provides for a wide diversity of missions and settings with ‘Soap’ participating in most of the clandestine “behind enemy lines” type missions while the Marines take on the gung-ho overt battles with typical aplomb.

As with all COD titles, you’ll be subjected to a plethora of different combat environments ranging from an SAS assault on a freighter in the Bering Strait to typical U.S. interventions in the Middle-East. There’s even a gunship level where you get to take control of a gun position on-board an AC-130 (a quick YouTube search using “AC-130” will give you a real-life comparison video in case you are interested.) There are also plenty of interactive items scattered throughout each level giving you the opportunity to step away from frenetic gun-play for a brief moment or two.

With each of the levels being heavily scripted, dynamic actions of the opposing forces is rather limited, with rather linear level design. To counteract this and provide for an “illusion” of choice, there are usually a number of different approaches you can take to progressing through each map. With random enemy placement and a tactically competent AI, you’ll be continually challenged by the opposition which does provide for a lot of replayability. The game is still a pure “fire and manoeuvre” affair. If you stay put and duke it out with the enemy, you’ll spend the next ½ hour trading shots as a limitless supply of opponents keep spawning onto the battlefield. You progress by pushing forward along covered routes and outflanking the enemy. Your supporting soldiers also benefit from excellent AI routines and will end up saving your bacon quite a few times as the game progresses.

Difficulty levels are well varied with your initial play through difficulty being “suggested” to you during your first training mission in the SAS training ground in England. It should be noted that the game text states clearly that “You will not survive” when playing on the highest difficulty level; we can confirm that it is incredibly difficult!! We strongly suggest that you stick to Hardened difficulty until you’ve played through the game at least once. Save checkpoints are used to save your progress on a regular basis; something we will probably have to get used to with multi-platform releases that also appear on consoles. They are reasonably well spaced apart and manage to keep the ‘replay level frustration factor’ low.

The developers spent a lot of time researching and rendering each of the weapons you’ll find in the game and their efforts show. Whilst you are still limited to toting a pair of primary weapons at any one time, your opponents are similarly equipped with a wide range of weaponry ranging from Dragunov sniper rifles to mini-Uzi’s, each with their own parameters such as accuracy and bullet stopping power. If you’re sick and tired of your M4A1 rifle around, feel free to ditch it and pick up an AK-74 that your opponent was lugging around just before he tripped your claymore mine.

The visual presentation of the game is a remarkable improvement on their previous titles. The textures are detailed and crisp, dynamic lighting and smoke effects are smooth around the edges; even the gun scopes reflections change as you move across each map. As an aside, I’m still trying to figure out what the discarded shopping carts are doing under the bridge in the middle of nowhere in the “Blackout” level; perhaps one of the level designers had the model on hand from Infinity Ward’s Wal-Mart shopping simulator that never got past the proof of concept stage! Every graphical buzzword that gets arbitrarily tossed around in reviews (like this one) is tweak-able, however the automatic hardware detection option generally suffices to accurately assess your system capabilities; I doubt that you’ll need to read up one of those tedious graphics optimization web-pages that seem to make an appearance with each AAA game nowadays. With all the settings enabled at their highest level, the game looks and plays just as well as Crytek’s Crysis shooter, but without the heavy system requirements.

When you finish the single player campaign there is still multiplayer gaming to investigate as well as an Arcade/Scoring mode that challenges you to beat your highest score on each individual mission (yet another console inspired add-on to keep your console kids twitching away.) The multiplayer aspect of COD4 is a completely separate game. While there is no co-operative game-play through the campaign, a well conceived class based system has been knocked up for those of you interested in taking on real-life opponents online. In summary, your initial class determines what initial weapons and toys you receive when you commence a new character. As you “level up” you get to unlock other weapons, perks (specific bonuses that apply to your character) and challenges such as kill streaks and headshots that are undoubtedly listed as achievements if you are playing the Xbox360 version. Toss Air support, helicopter gunships and UAV target spotting into the mix and you end up with a riotous cacophony of death and destruction that will keep you amused for hours.

There are a few minor issues with the game. The biggest one being that it’s incredibly short; you’ll easily finish this game in well under 10 hours. There is also a repeatable issue in “The Bog” level where one of your soldiers can get stuck on some of the geometry. Unfortunately you need him to get to the wire fence so that he can cut it open to continue the mission. Shooting him a couple of times did jiggle him off the wall where he was pinned, but too much “friendly fire” can cause you to lose the level immediately.

Nevertheless these issues are completely trivial compared to what the developers have accomplished this time around. Once again, Infinity Ward have shown us how diverse environments, immaculate pacing within each level, an intelligent foe and a well thought out back story can blend together to create an intense, ‘white knuckle’ shooter experience that is, quite literally, second to none! The game has been showered with ‘Game of the Year’ and genre awards since its release in late 2007, and it will be patently obvious to anyone that experiences this masterpiece that each and every one of them has been well earned. Although I am sure that it will generate some misconceptions, they can now add the first ever 5 gold llama award to their trophy case as well.

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