Posted – 12.15.2007
Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty 4 breaks away from the series’ WW2 roots, saying goodbye to the Werhmacht by replacing the blitzkrieg with black bag ops and straight up combat alongside an M1 Abrams tank. Granted, I’m a sucker for WW2 FPS titles, but COD’s change of scenery has turned out to be just as exciting as when the first title had challenged EA’s Medal of Honor for the battlefield crown.
Taking place in the near now, CoD4 wears black facepaint as a part of the British SAS and fills the boots of a marine in the Us armed forces. You’ll play both roles, taking you from a freighter tossed on the freezing waves of the Bering Straits to the hot winds of the Middle East to stop a madman as two sides suddenly find themselves working towards the same goal. As the Middle East trembles under the drumbeat of war, it’s only one part of a plot to turn back the clock on the Cold War and return Russia to the heady days of Soviet strength.
The story plays out through missions built with bullets and explosives much like an action film leaving little else in the way of fleshing out the fine details and letting the adrenaline filled locales speak for themselves. The Tom Clancy-ish plot sounds exciting, but don’t expect much in the way of explanation for the somewhat thin link between Middle Eastern strongmen and Russian ultranationalist rebels. There’s little to explain the motivations of each of the villains outside of their most obvious roles aside from the details found on the official website, so don’t expect much else outside of what you’ll be doing in the game to stop him. The single player campaign can be over in about five to seven hours depending on your skill, but you can expect every minute to be packed with incredible action as it ends with a brutally satisfying bang.
CoD4’s missions each play out like a self contained slice of chaos as bullets shear through walls and thumping explosions send smoke into the sky easily demonstrating just how far the 360’s graphics have really come. Infinity Ward has built a gorgeous gallery of war for whether you choose to wage it on your own or online, and the scripted events and staged acts in the solo campaign maintain a white knuckled pace from start to finish. With in-game cuts and the kind of high-tech screens showing off everything from technical specs to a satellite view of the battlefield, it often feels as if you were somewhere deep beneath the Pentagon directing both sides of this private war. The soundtrack is just as sharp as the visuals, and the voice acting for everyone in the title maintains the feeling that you’re not alone out there. The gunfire will fill your speakers, intercom talk crackles over the air, and explosions will burn the wax out of your ears.
Each level is fleshed out to give you a reasonably open area through which you can approach any of your objectives and many of them put you in creative situations whether it is on a freighter heaving in a storm or somewhere below in a Cold War bunker. One of the most exciting missions gives you a monitor screen, the kind that you’ve seen from a missile’s point of view on CNN, through which you aim the cannons of an AC-130 circling the battlefield below as you cover the escape of a team of SAS. Much like how Harrison Ford’s character watched a black ops team sweep in from the desert and take out a terrorist camp at night in muted silence in Patriot Games, this is pretty much the same thing only with you taking an active part.
There’s also a lot more to watch out for in COD4. Vehicles will explode if they become filled with too much lead which might help you clear out a nest of thugs behind it and obstacles won’t necessarily provide you cover. Bad guy behind that drywall? Shoot through it. Bullets will penetrate their way through a lot of stuff in the game, such as doors and thin, plaster walls, leaving everyone with a lot less to hide behind. Enemies will also take better advantage of cover, fly through the air when you hit them with a rocket, or crumple from your gunfire as their helmet spins off from a headshot. They’ll yell at each other in their own native tongue, whether it’s Arabic or Russian, and the animation work behind their deadly skills as well as that of your teammates adds to the eye candy already there. Although the basic action formula for the series hasn’t changed that much and some areas saturate themselves with enemy soldiers until you move ahead, Infinity Ward has dressed it up in a way that makes the experience feel fresh again.
The polished controls ensure that you’re always aiming in the right direction and veterans of the series will find that they haven’t really changed all that much. The customary training level that has started off every major chapter in the Call of Duty franchise comes with its own set of achievements for those looking to pad their profile. Everything is in easy reach and even newcomers to the series will be getting in a little wetwork with only a little practice. COD4 uses the regenerating health system to try and keep you in the fight without seeing the reload screen too often, a minimap keeps you from getting too lost, and knowing how much ammo you have is just a glance away.
Once you’ve finished the main campaign, you can always go through it again at a higher difficulty, play any of the missions over again, or try out the unlocked arcade mode and actually rack up a score as long as you don’t run out of lives. And then there’s the multiplayer which has been revamped. If the single player hasn’t given you much to look forward to, COD4 online easily makes up for its shortness. The usual gametypes are included such as deathmatch, team deathmatch, old standbys such as headquarters and domination, along with a few others such as hardcore mode where bullets are far more deadly and where aiming is handled via iron sights. There’s also a “Ground War” mode that mixes together different maps and game types in “big” matches of up to eighteen players. The action is spread out across sixteen tightly designed maps that come right out of the box.
If you miss the kind of lobby that actually gives you a list to pick through, you won’t get it here. Instead, you’ll get an automatic matchmaking system that seems to be the standard for most FPS titles on the 360 and here, it works out reasonably well. But the biggest changes are in its class system. If you remember playing a medic, you’re out of luck as you’ll choose your loadout from one of five default classes, all of which are centered around pure combat such as the Assault class which is equipped for heavy damage or Demolitions which uses C4 to lay down a few traps. Each class also has three “perks”, special benefits that make them unique and can give you an advantage in battle whether it’s to add more damage to your bullets or the ability to penetrate surfaces. If you don’t like any of the defaults, you can always roll your own.
But not every perk, class, or weapon type is available at the start and the ability to create your own deadly class is available only after you earn some experience online. In an almost RPG-like fashion, the more you play and score online, the more experience…win or lose…you can earn for a promotion unlocking new goodies, much like how Ubisoft’s Rainbow Six: Vegas’ multiplayer or EA’s Battlefield 2 had done. There are also special challenges, such as how many online foes you manage to take out with an AK-47, that can also reward you with extra experience or a new scope. New gametypes are also unlocked fairly early on, such as an old school mode reminiscent of the first COD where every weapon has to be found on the battlefield, including new perks.
And if you begin racking up the kills online, you’ll be rewarded with the ability to call in support options such as radar to reveal your foes on the map, an airstrike, or a friendly chopper that can fight your enemies as long as they don’t shoot it down creating a deadly festival of bullets and bombs as the other side can do same. With as much as there is to do online and the number of customizations that you can camouflage your weapon with or add to your personal class, it’s the game that keeps on giving.
Infinity Ward’s newest Call of Duty reboots the series by doing more than leaving its WW2 roots for modern combat. The single player, as short as it is, plays out like a cinematic thriller filled with gameplay twists and COD4’s online options easily make it one of the better Live! experiences available for scratching that itchy trigger finger. Few other titles out there right now approach the kind of experience that COD4: Modern Combat delivers to the front with style making it an exciting addition to the 360’s arsenal.
– World 1-1