Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

[ EDIT: The following was previously part of a double-review with Tombraider: Anniversary. I’ve since split this post in two for readability – 04/03/2012 ]

Two games this week – I did promise you a review of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Tombraider: Anniversary – so here goes. I’ll try to be as thorough as I can. **Possible spoilers!**

Summary

The game follows US and British modern infantry as they combat international terrorism. The main focus is on the ultranationalist Russian Imran Zakhaev who seizes a stockpile of nuclear weapons and funds a coup d’etat in a middle eastern country. The game is seen from the viewpoint of British 22nd SAS operative Sergeant “Soap” MacTavish, operating under Captain Price throughout Eastern Europe, and the viewpoint of USMC 1st Force Recon Sergeant Paul Jackson in the Middle East.

First Impressions

All I can say is wow! Within the first few hours (time goes so quickly!) i’d escaped from a sinking ship, lived through a public execution and seen a nuclear detonation first hand. An article in Edge recently said “Call of Duty 4 avoids storyline in favour of action” which I feel is unfair. In Call of Duty 4 the action tells the story, making you experience every plot twist, rather than telling you in a briefing.

Gameplay

The action is fairly standard FPS fare but with a few nice touches. If a grenade lands beside you, pressing the ‘G’ Key or the middle mouse button (tricky with a Mighty Mouse!) will make your character toss it back. You have to be quick and as I played the first few levels in tandem with my flatmate I took the role of grenadier while he was playing, exclaiming ‘Shit!’ before hammering the ‘G’ key.

When you are shot (and you will be – alot) you breathing becomes heavy and successive shots cause a red blood vessels to grow across the screen – like bloodshot eyes I think. After about three shots or one grenade its game over. What happens next is one of the things I really like about the Call of Duty series in general. Each time you die you are presented with a war-related quote.

Some are humorous: “Incoming fire always has right of way” – Anon, “Cluster bombing from a B-52 is extremely accurate, the bombs are guaranteed to hit the ground”, “It is generally inadvisable to eject over the area you just bombed” – US Air Force Marshall, while some are sobering: “Cost of a single Javelin Missile: $80,000”, “Whoever stands by a just cause cannot possibly be called a terrorist” -Yassar Arafat. While other FPS are all about action, Call of Duty is what I would call ‘the thinking man’s FPS’. There is a great sense of camraderie and loss in COD games and the subliminal anti-war messages in COD4 are a refreshing change.

The game allows only two weapons to be carried – I believe the original Halo did this – and although I didn’t like this at first, it really does force you to choose a preferred weapon. There are plenty of weapons to choose from, including my old Tombraider favourite the Desert Eagle, but these you have to source from the bodies of enemies you’ve killed. There is however no shortage of guns (especially AK-47s, a terrorists weapon of choice) around as there are huge numbers of enemies to kill. You also have fragmentation grenades and flashbangs.

Certain levels allow you to use C4 and another weapon I cant recall the name of (it reminds me of the LAW (Light Anti-Tank Weapon) from Delta Force 2) and in these levels these are added to your inventory temporarily.

The action is mostly first person but sees you clambering over obstacles a la Killzone and in places rapelling down cliffs. In one mission you take control of the thermal imaging camera of an AC-130 Gunship (Just think of those top-down police videos on tv and you’ll know what I mean). In what has to be one of the greatest sniping levels I have ever played, you accompany an elite SCOTTISH sniper through a deserted Pripyat, Ukraine (Within the Chernobyl Zone of Alienation), silently dispatching enemy troops and, in one very tense section, lying still in a field while hundreds of enemy soldiers walk past. It is in this level that you end up having to carry your mentor after he is injured and this just adds to the tension as you are pursued by extremely pissed off enemy forces. There are also some fast-paced driving sections where you ride shotgun.

I can’t help but draw parallels with my other favourite shooter, Rainbow Six: Rogue Spear. Some of the missions such as the first mission, the cargo ship, remind me of Rogue Spear and the use of “Tango Down” seals it. This is a different game though, which is not a bad thing, and I have to say, except for the kit customization in Rogue Spear, COD4 is my new favourite shooter.

Artificial Intelligence

I haven’t played many of the other modern shooters but I have to say I’ve been very impressed with the AI in COD4. Enemies will seek a mix between offense and cover. Some times they will fire blind by putting their gun above their hiding place and firing erratically. They can also toss grenades back (Remember Medal of Honor folks?) and can be lethal at close quarters if your not quick enough (smashing the butt of their rifle into your face). My arch enemy in COD4 though has to be the attack dogs. They are super fast and unless you kill them from distance they will knock you down and rip out your throat, lol. Your only defense is to hammer the melee attack button ‘V’ to snap the dog’s neck, but a few times I miss-timed it and became dog food, literally.

What most impressed me was the allied artificial intelligence. COD4 is not a quiet game, there are constantly shouts and commands from you team mates and for the most part this is intelligent. Aside from the usual stock phrases, in some sections your team mates will shout “enemy beside the green car” or “behind that dumpster” which can be really helpful when your making a mad dash through enemy lines.

In some missions you can also call in air strikes if you can paint an area and there is nothing more satisfying than seeing your hard work pay off. Unlike other games this is free-form so you can paint any target. It’s hard not to smile when your helicopter gun ship wipes out the forces that a minute ago had your team pinned down.

The action in COD4 is a mix of the adrenaline rush fast-paced firefights and the more tense slow infiltration. Your team usually consists of only three or four members pitted against a deadly number of enemy forces. It is this small, team focused attitude that make the Call of Duty games so emotional.

Graphics

Again this is where I feel many people would disagree with me but I was really impressed with the graphics in COD4. Again, this is probably due to my inexperience with more high-spec games but i’m not the kind of gamer who concerns himself with graphics and upgrading my machine all the time. In COD4 the explosions, kills and water effects are all suitably beleivable for my liking. I particularly liked the cigar flame visible in the helicopter approach to the cargo ship.

Sound

As mentioned previously, COD4s theatre of war is a noisy chaotic place and, owing to the cinematic stylings of the game, has an appropriate accompanying soundtrack. The game also includes subtitles and hints about which keys to press in context-sensitive locations (rappelling, using a mounted gun, tossing back a grenade etc) are prevalent throughout the game.

Level Design

This is also an area that really impressed me. The environments, while linear, are huge so you never really feel like you’re being told where to go. There are often
many ways to accomplish the same objective and in some sections, especially in the sniping level, your commanding officer leaves the choices up to you: “Take him out or let him pass, it’s your call”.

There’s always a different route you can take and varying levels of resistance depending on the terrain. In one level, you have to fight your way from a farm at the top of a hill to your extraction helicopter at the bottom of the hill, with a whole platoon of enemy forces standing in your way. You can choose your own way down the hill and repeated attempts will teach you what to expect at different parts of the descent. In some levels the objective is simply to defend an ally such as a downed helicopter and this is where you can really use the environment to your advantage. Do you sit tight beside the helicopter and risk being hit by an RPG or do you move further out, possibly to lie in wait for the attacking force in one of the surrounding buildings?

The game uses a checkpoint system to record progress and missions are played out from beginning to end, from the first helicopter drop to the final extraction point, with the US and UK missions insterspersed to move the action around the globe.

Interface

This really sets the scene for me. While the in-game interface is typical ammo counters and weapon icons, the between level animations involve a world map with a satellite style pan and zoom and scrolling information about the next area. The zooming style reminds me of Full Spectrum Warrior with its stepped levels of detail. I this this modern military style suits the game perfectly.

Conclusion

Reading around the web, i’m sure many will disagree with my opinions. Some reviews have stated COD4 has a lot of the “same old same old” in it, and maybe it seems so refreshing to me because I’ve come from COD2: Big Red One (I completely skipped COD3). Graphics purists will no doubt find fault but from a gameplay point of view I think the game is one of the most immersive available.

I have not had a chance to sample the multiplayer so can’t talk about that here. The only downside to the game is that the single player game is a little short but I think there is replay value on different difficulty settings and in user-created levels.

The combination of a modern story, recognisable locations (at least, they look like those on Sky News a lot!) and the sense of camaraderie is an intoxicating mix and worthy of any shooter fans collection – especially if you like sniping as much as I do!!

Oh and bonus points for the nice little extra after the credits;-)

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