They say war is hell. Infinity Ward's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare takes you to the very depths of Hades. The long-awaited COD4, IW's follow-up to the excellent Call of Duty 2, is a jarring, intense, and gripping take on war in the new millennia. The enemies are smarter, the weapons are deadlier, and the grenades all too plentiful. COD4 will shake loose your fillings and have you begging for more.
Infinity Ward was born out of the success of retelling some of the greatest battles in World War II. The company has become synonymous with the virtual beach at Normandy. So it was quite a gamble to break from the comfort zone of Nazi-occupied Europe and leap into present day. The gamble paid off. Ghost Recon, Rainbow Six, and every other military-based shooter has been put on notice. There is a new standard to judge this sub-genre and it is Call of Duty 4.
The meticulous care IW took to faithfully recreate WWII-era weaponry was also given to bringing modern armaments to life. Many of the incredible tools of war used today come into play in COD4. You'll man the weapons of the AC-130 Gunship, which flies above the battlefield and fires 105mm rounds that decimate the enemy; make big explosions with Javelin missiles, which drop straight down to hit the thinner top armor of tanks; and cycle through a small arsenal of both light and heavy guns featuring a variety of scopes and augmentations. With an astonishing number of enemies in the field (half of whom seem to carry rocket launchers), you are going to need every last bit of modern tech to survive.
Unlike Infinity Ward's previous iterations of Call of Duty, Modern Warfare tells one contiguous story. Though you will hop between perspectives of the British S.A.S. and the U.S. Marines, each leap continues the progression of a single storyline. It's an effective tool. While the story itself--which revolves around stolen Russian nukes and Mid-Eastern terrorists bent on destroying the Great Satan (that's you and your grandma)--isn't exactly cutting edge, it's enjoyable. And more importantly, IW finds ways to make you care for every last one of your teammates. Of course, no good guys die in war, right? There aren't so much "twists" as there are shocking moments in the storyline. You may find yourself in disbelief not only at some of the events that take place, but in the direct manner in which the most startling moments are often told. There are a few too many shell-shocked slow-mo moments that seem to drag to the point of almost being frustrating, but credit Infinity Ward for not backing down from wartime melodrama.
If you played the original Call of Duty or its sequel, then you will have little trouble hopping into COD4. This is not a revolution of game controls. Infinity Ward maintains its smart system of rewarding players for aiming down the sight before firing; you can run from cover to cover (an absolute necessity to survive the utter insanity in some of the levels); you have a one-click melee attack; there are a few highlighted spots that require a button press to interact with (how else would one plant C4 on an AA gun?); and yes you can once again pick up live grenades and throw them back at the enemy.
The real change comes in the combat. This is one intense shooter, mainly because there are just so many enemies. And they are smarter thanks to some refined AI. Granted, there are going to be moments when enemies get stuck in dumb routines or stand in the open waiting to be mowed down, but overall the bad guys prove themselves to be resourceful and without mercy. Though a linear shooter that essentially funnels you through corridors, there are a considerable number of side paths. These almost always lead to flanking positions. If you do not flank the enemy, rest assured they will flank you. Enemies usually know to stay in cover. And they also know that you, being a well-trained soldier, aren't going to fight in the open. That's why they fire RPGs and toss so many damned grenades. They are trying to flush you out. And since most cars explode and will kill you if you are standing beside them, quite often you'll be forced to move.
Also, the enemy has access to perhaps the greatest weapon in modern war: dogs. Yes, there are dogs in COD4 and they can be real bitches (get it?). Dogs are a major pain in the ass. They don't have fear; they don't worry about flanking you or dying by your bullets. They want one thing: to rip out your throat. Often they will. Dogs move fast and attack sometimes before you turn to see what all that barking's about. If a dog attacks, you will hit the ground and enter one of the shortest mini-games of all time. You have perhaps two seconds from the moment you hit the ground to perform a melee attack and break the dog's neck. Otherwise, the dog will rip out your throat. That means you die.
Fortunately, you have some things going for you. First and foremost are your squadmates. Call of Duty 4 does not have a single squad command. You won't tell your buddies to frag and clear a room or move from cover to cover towards the enemy's position. You don't have to tell the AI what to do in Modern Warfare, because your allys' AI is outstanding. These folks look, move, act, and react like their true military counterparts. In fact, were you to have the ability to issue commands, you'd likely end up doing more harm than good. The AI takes care of itself (and you).
Also to your advantage when taking on zealots eager to end all life in the Western World are smarter bullet physics. When you shoot at a wall, your bullets don't necessarily stop dead in their tracks. The caliber of the bullet, distance and substance of the wall all determine how much the bullet is slowed. Wood and drywall won't usually stop a bullet. So you can shoot through walls to hit enemies taking cover. This isn't just a fun little gimmick; this is a fairly significant element woven throughout the single-player campaign.
The bulk of the campaign has you making your way through a series of fairly short, linear levels. There are a handful of defend missions where you are given a small sandbox in which to devise your own strategy for staving off an enemy attack. But the majority of your time is going along with standard operating procedure for a Call of Duty game. There are, however, a few shake-ups to the standard IW shooter formula that keep things from getting repetitive. Along with a full level inside the AC-130 Gunship, during the campaign you take control of the gunner position on a chopper ride through a Middle-Eastern town and get "All Ghillied Up" for a stealth mission. My personal favorite is a brief moment where you are situated in front of a mounted sniper rifle. Your target is a considerable distance away. To pull off the shot, you need to adjust for wind and the Coriolis Effect (caused by the rotation of the Earth). When you fire the shot, you'll see it curve. It's an awesome moment in a game that has several memorable ones.
COD4's single-player is made great because it is such a white-knuckle experience. That would not be possible if the sound and visuals weren't impeccable. This is a gorgeous game from top to bottom. It runs almost perfectly, with only a few rare framerate hiccups, and offers rich details, great texture work, excellent animations for your allies, awesome particle effects, and some stellar lighting. The sound is equally impressive. Combat is loud. The shouts of your allies, the curses of your enemies, the ominous clink of a grenade falling at your feet, all go to creating an immersive experience. You may well lose yourself in combat, drawn in by the visuals and the sound. This is a technically excellent effort that won't disappoint.
The single-player isn't perfect. For starters, it's single-player. Co-op gameplay in shooters is quickly becoming the standard. Considering you spend almost the entire campaign with the same squadmates, the hope (and even expectation) for online co-op is not unwarranted.
If COD4 featured co-op play, then perhaps friendly fire wouldn't be an issue. Friendly fire is an unfortunate part of war, but it doesn't need to be a part of a videogame. Enemies in some levels have the same color scheme as your own mates. Frankly, in the fray, it gets tough to tell friend from foe -- particularly as you are just getting into COD4. When you are looking down the sight, there is no indicator informing you that your target is an enemy. In the nighttime levels this can sometimes cause a brief pause as you assess a target. "Is this dude about to shoot me?" Sometimes taking even two seconds to ask the question is enough to get you killed. And firing on a friendly, even by accident, can instantly end a mission. Real is real, but there is a point where you have to say this is a game and you should more easily know good guys from bad guys. This is less of an issue as you progress through the game, but some will find it frustrating.
Rounding out COD4's very short list of complaints is the campaign length. On Regular difficulty, you can probably beat COD4 in 5-6 hours. As you move up towards Veteran (which really separates the men from the Marines), the completion time can get closer to 8-9 hours. Still, it's a very brief experience. At least it's a great one. Once you beat COD4, you unlock Arcade Mode. This allows you to replay the entire campaign or individual levels with arcade-style rules. You'll have a set number of lives and earn points for different types of kills. And, of course, there is always the multiplayer.
Class-based multiplayer is nothing new, but it seems to quickly be turning into a staple of first-person shooters. Call of Duty 4: Modern Combat is yet another in the growing cast of shooters to use a class-based system. However, COD4 does things a touch differently. Using a persistent experience-based system, players aren't locked into any specific "role" that limits in any way their ability to hunt and kill their opponents. There is no engineer or medic or heavy gunner. The classes are much more dynamic than you may expect. Classes determine your starting weapon, sidearm, and special grenade. It also indicates your three special skills, called perks. But none of these force you into a particular role or stifle in any way your ability to enjoy the sixteen maps in Modern Warfare.
Beginning with a handful of pre-made classes, COD4 quickly opens up once you reach level 4. At this point, you can create your own class. As you gain levels, you'll earn access to new weapons, scopes, and perks. On top of this, you'll find dozens of challenges for each weapon, which open up further augmentation options. There are also more generic challenges, such as killing two people while in the air and scoring a certain number of headshots. All of this creates a robust challenge system that encourages gamers to keep COD4 in their system so they can continue to plug away online. It's like Pokemon with bloodsplatter -- gotta earn 'em all.
Perks are a nifty element that can make or break some players. Some perks give you new explosive options, such as an undermounted grenade launcher (AKA The N00b Tube), C4, or claymores. Most, though, enhance your skills. Deep Penetration allows your bullets to maintain more velocity through objects, making it easier to kill enemies through walls; UAV Jammer makes you invisible on radar when an enemy launches a satellite; Martyrdom lets you drop a grenade when you die so you can (hopefully) take your enemy with you. The various perks add interesting wrinkles to multiplayer and give gamers a sense of ownership of their character. Rather than just being a virtual meatsack, your created class has your own personal touch to it.
Some will contend that the perk system can unbalance a game. It is true that, if packed with the proper perks, a player can do some serious damage. But there are always counter-measures. When you are killed (and you will die quite often in multiplayer) you get a killcam view of where your enemy was located and how they ended your life. You also see the full list of their enabled perks. You can always copy them, or use other perks to try and counter this. If an enemy has Stopping Power, a perk that adds damage to bullets, you can pick Juggernaut for added health. It's in no way a perfect solution, but most who dominate online will do so based off their skill, not artificial means.
The only real balancing concern comes with weapon upgrades. It's going to be quite common that one person will reach level 30 using a wide range of weapons (and therefore not unlocking very many of the bonus scopes), while another will get to the same level using the same weapon in every match. That person will have an advantage, even if it is just a better scope. The only balance for this in game is that you can pick up the weapon off any enemy and use it as long as you live. That's nice, but it won't make a supped-up sniper rifle any less deadly.
Performing well in the field earns you some in-game bonuses in the form of air support. Kill three enemies without dying and you earn the ability to launch a UAV tracker that briefly displays enemy locations on your radar. Kill five and you can call in an airstrike to a specific location on the map. Kill seven and you can bring in an attack chopper that circles the maps, cutting down any enemy it sees. Deaths from the latter two air support calls add to your total, so you can get some ridiculous streaks going. Once you earn the chopper, you get no further assists until you die and the kill counter resets.
The air support adds a great twist to any of the multiplayer modes. It actually encourages teamwork. For one, if you launch a UAV, it works for your entire team. So having someone call up a second UAV is a waste. The UAV shows where the enemy is located, so you will want to coordinate with a teammate and have them use their UAV when you earn an air strike. This way you know where it will be most effective.
Call of Duty 4 offers 16 maps and thirteen multiplayer variants out of the box. PS3 and 360 support 18 players online (a number that could increase at a later date) with PC offering 32-player matches. Other than the number count, multiplayer is identical for all three systems. This is in terms of modes, map layouts, visual fidelity, and performance. Top to bottom, COD4 runs fantastically. On consoles you may see a few random moments of lag hit, but in my experience, these were so rare that I hardly noticed them.
The 16 maps that come with COD4 are all worthwhile. There are some really strong maps. Even the "small" maps are fairly large. But travel in COD4 is brisk enough that unless you are playing with less than eight players, it never feels too big. Plus, COD4 uses a smart respawn system. When you respawn you are placed in a safe location as close to another teammate as possible. You are meant to be reinforcements coming in to battle. Because of the close respawns, you will usually be right in the thick of things rather than having to trek across the map to find some action. This isn't always the case, but more often than not, you won't be tossed to the other end of the world when you die.
The game modes offer considerable variety. There are your standard deathmatch and team deathmatch, of course, but also a number of objective-based modes. Sabotage is my personal favorite. Each team has a base and there is one bomb placed in the center of the map. Your goal is to retrieve the bomb, plant it in your opponent's HQ, and guard it until it goes kaboom. With players able to respawn, this becomes a frantic battle for possession of the bomb. It can last upwards of 15 minutes before either team scores, because possession changes so quickly and so often.
Along with some solid objective modes, there are several variants that can be toggled. The two that prove most interesting and are almost like modes themselves are Old School and Hardcore. Old School uses classic FPS multiplayer rules. You start with an Uzi and must find and weapons on the map. There are no classes, but there are perks placed like power-ups on the field. Jumping ability is increased and the ragdoll is kicked up a notch from realistic to ridiculous. Hardcore is the opposite. The HUD is removed and bullets do "true" damage (so it's more or less one shot, one kill). You do get classes and perks, though. You can also toggle on both modes to get Old Core, which takes elements of each to create a fun bonus variant.
Most often you will see Hardcore and Old School in Team Deathmatch. But these variants can work for any of the objective-based games as well. This gives players considerable control for unranked matches. Ranked play features predetermined playlists from Infinity Ward. However, those who have had issue with other playlist-style ranked modes, know that COD4 appears to offer a far wider variety. It won't be like Halo 3 where every other game is Shotty Snipers. We hope.
The wide variety of maps and modes make class creation all the more essential. You'll benefit from having classes specific for corridor-heavy maps or specific objective modes. In this way you can be properly prepared, as any good soldier would be, when heading into battle.
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