The Call of Duty series is a benchmark for first-person shooters. The first title refreshed the already-tired World War II setting by added a gripping gameplay-based narrative, while the second was an important launch title for the Xbox 360. The newest chapter in the series, Call of Duty 4, is a new standard for the series and the genre. Set in modern times, the title breaks the mold of previous CoD titles in other ways as well. Most intriguing is its online 'character' development system, which takes some of the great ideas used in Battlefield 2 to the next level. Though the game suffers somewhat from overly-familiar gameplay in the single-player component, you'll probably be too busy gawking at the scenery to care. Read on for my impressions of this extremely attractive series update.
The fact that it's even worth mentioning the story in a warfare-focused First-Person Shooter sets Call of Duty 4 above most of its contemporaries. As in previous CoD titles, Infinity sets you in the midst of an epic combat. With the new modern setting, instead of facing down Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan, terrorists are the order of the day. The game avoids any uncomfortably weighty questions of nationality by placing the conflict in fictionalized nations, but the themes will be familiar to anyone who has read the newspaper lately. What makes these confrontations even more meaningful is that, like in previous Infinity titles, we get to see the conflict from multiple angles. In this case, by swapping between British and American troops as they work to quell the epic conflict boiling on the edge of the Middle East and former USSR. Though I felt the characters were better developed in CoD 2, you'll find yourself appreciating recognizable voices and names over the course of the game. The story accomplishes its goal admirably; you always feel a sense of purpose as you move through the game, and rarely are you left confused about what your current objective should be. The game also has one of the most amazing credit sequences I've ever seen in a title before. It's powerful on a visceral level, and shouldn't be missed.
- Title:Call of Duty 4: Modern Combat
- Developer/Publisher: Infinity Ward/Activision
- System: 360 (PC, PS3)
- Genre: First-Person Shooter
- Score: 3/5: This game is par for the course in many ways, but is likely to be a classic for the genre. Any gamer might enjoy renting it.
How you accomplish your objective-of-the-moment is going to feel very familiar to anyone that's played a warfare FPS in the last few years. Yourself and a small group of soldiers move through a map, accomplishing minor goals in preparation for a larger set-piece battle near the end of the level. The tried-and-true core of the CoD series remains almost unchanged, and there's nothing wrong with that - because it's fun. Gameplay is tweaked in a few notable ways by the modernization of the setting. You'll occasionally do a stealth-style mission aided by nightvision (obviously absent from WWII), weapons now fire right through walls, and it's no longer a requirement to ditch the terrible American weapons for their superior German equivalents a few seconds into each level. In fact your default assault rifle is quite serviceable, and I found no real need to snag another weapon over the course of the game. Grenades felt a bit sloppier, likely due to their weighing less than WWII potatomashers. Both shooting through walls and tossing grenades back at enemies (another new move) are tactics the terrorists can make use of as well, improving their combat effectiveness. These groundpounding elements are broken up by some very enjoyable rail-shooting sequences. They are welcome diversions when they're injected into the story, with one nightvision-only sequence particularly well done.
For many players, the par-for-the-course gameplay and well-done single player story are just sidelines to this game's best offering: a full melding of RPG sensibilities with online FPS play. Much like the accolades offered in Battlefield 2's online component, Call of Duty 4 features a wealth of medals and awards to be handed out via multiplayer. The difference with CoD 4, though, is that these accolades are wrapped up inside a 'leveling' and 'class' structure, netting you the warfare FPS equivalent of superpowers. The ability for your bullets to pass through walls more easily, a larger inventory, new weapons, and a tweakable 'character class' all lead you through 55 levels of advancement. It's probably one of the most ambitious persistent elements to an FPS yet, and certainly the most advanced to come to a console. I haven't had as much time as I would have liked with this element, but it's quite a sight to behold the first time you enter that part of the game; it's sort of like opening a menu and stumbling into a MMOG hidden inside your FPS.
"Quite a sight" was actually one of the first things I thought when I began playing the game. There's an early level that places you at the far end of a broken and battered highway, raised up above street level. Your vantage point when you first enter the mission has you looking out over the battle-scarred ruins of a city. The terrorists are everywhere, and as a result smoke and anti-aircraft tracers light the sky. There are fires off in the distance, the sound of combat, and the occasional blast of a rocket explosion. It's an amazing image, a centerpiece for the title's visual imagery in the same way the title sequence is a centerpiece for the game's story. The sound in the game is likewise impactful, with 'Saving Private Ryan'-esque head ducks and dodges required by the zip of bullets and whiz of shrapnel. Probably the game's strongest suit, Call of Duty 4's presentation is a masterwork of modern gaming. It's easily one of the most beautiful games I've seen on the 360.
Overall, though I quite like Call of Duty 4, its core gameplay tries very hard to be humble despite the amazing presentation and strongly told tale. The basic, moment-to-moment activities you'll be performing in the game are so rote at this point that it's hard to get overly excited about the experience. When compared with titles like Rainbox Six Vegas, it's also hard to understand why I can't more effectively duck behind cover. In a game ostensibly touting modern military tactics, it's altogether unclear why 'duck' and 'crouch' are my only two real options when avoiding withering enemy fire. Even still, this game is a watershed for the CoD series. It's a breakthrough in technology and story for Infinity Ward, and sets the bar incredibly high for future modern warfare FPS titles. Via the online shooter component the game also has quite a bit of 'replay' value, and is a quality showing in the midst of a very busy holiday gaming season. Call of Duty 4 is worth a look from any fan of the genre, if only for an example of how to tell a story in the midst of a terrible (and timely) war.