The Call of Duty series has garnered lots of respect on Xbox 360, and with two previous games scoring highly, it has been one of the more successful World War II games on any platform. Call of Duty 2 was one of the more well received launch games on Xbox 360 and whilst it didn’t necessarily have the best graphics around at the time, it surely made up for this with its compelling single player, full of atmosphere and its highly regarded multiplayer modes.
Call of Duty 3 was more of the same, albeit with an upgrade in visuals and effects, but incorporated some elements which annoyed gamers; namely button sequences when attacked by certain German Soldiers during gameplay. Well since Call of Duty 2, Infinity Ward the developers, have been beavering away at Call of Duty 4. The game is a departure from World War II and for the most part, I think gamers have been crying out for change. It seems that the developers already knew that perhaps World War II games were getting kind of stale, and so have brought the series into the modern age.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (COD 4) thrusts players into the shoes of more than one character, which means players are able to take part in SAS (Special Air Service) missions as well as operations led by the USMC (United States Marine Corp). The two styles are very different, with the SAS side of things being more intimate and covert; whereas the USMC missions are on a more grander scale, with numerous troops battling the enemy.
The enemy in game is typical fictitious fodder that we come to expect from modern warfare games, and once the first mission is completed, we are treated to an excellent scene from the perspective of a President about to be terminated, as his country is overthrown in a military coup. This is an excellent introduction to proceedings beyond the opening missions, and sets the tone of the game from the offset. You already breed contempt and hatred for the enemy right off the bat, and I think the game really does a great job of instilling these kinds of feelings within the player.
COD 4 is typically a first person shooter, with some additional elements thrown in for good measure. The SAS missions as mentioned earlier are more covert and so, you’ll be using silenced weapons and working within a small unit. The encounters you face are pretty tame to begin with and if you take the very first mission as an example, you’ll notice that the squad can quite easily do all the work for you. This might come as a surprise, but let’s be clear, the first mission is an introduction to the intricacies of covert infiltration (a specialty of the SAS). The way the squad moves, the way the ship is breached and the way the whole mission seems to run as smooth as silk provides a great insight into real military techniques. I must say the level of immersion here is second to none, despite the fact that events seem to unfold before your very eyes regardless of your actual input. There’s a good reason for this, because as Private “Soap” you are in fact the rookie or FNG (fresh new guy – I think).
As the game progresses, the difficulty in the missions gets a lot tougher and will undoubtedly test your mettle to the max, especially on the hardest difficulty setting (there are three). You’ll be faced with various enemies armed with a number of weapons, including terrorist favourites, such as the AK-47 and RPG launcher. As with previous games, if you come under fire then an indicator on screen shows the general direction the shots are coming from, and it’s at this time you need to duck behind cover and wait for your health to recharge. This seems to be the norm now in first person shooters and seems like a reasonable substitute for the age old health packs. Some players might find that this makes things easier, but to me it seems like it’s a test of patience. Those who are impatient will no doubt carry on fighting whilst sustaining hits, and thus taking risks and possibly being killed. Those with patience can simply hide, recharge and then carry on as if nothing had happened. I’m not entirely convinced that this is a realistic substitute for medipacks, but it does keep the game flowing, despite taking away some of the urgency of having to hunt for medipacks. If you are killed in COD 4, then you simply respawn to the last check point and can carry on until your hearts content.
One thing that seems to be a counter for those players who opt to hide behind cover a little too much is the fact that the enemy will lob grenades at you, and quite frequently too. What is more, they have pin point accuracy which might be a little on the unrealistic side, but it does keep you on your toes for all the right reasons (especially on the Veteran setting).
The USMC missions offer a more conventional approach as you work with many units working towards a single goal. What is interesting and perhaps a trait of the COD series, is you aren’t necessarily nudged towards a restricted pathway. You can actually find alternate routes and join the fight with other units, which offers some sense of freedom. The level design is great in this respect, and what might seem like an obvious route to victory is usually the toughest and thus forces you to keep an eye out for alternate means to your objective marker (displayed on the on-screen compass).
In terms of actual gameplay, little has changed since COD 3 and it’s previous games. You still shoot and kill the enemy (as you do), perform melee attacks when in close range, lob grenades and generally head to objectives on fairly open environments. The weapons are as you would expect modern day weaponry to be, and the game allows you to carry a maximum of two weapons alongside various bits of equipment, such as C4, Claymore mines and grenades. Sadly there is no weapons load-out prior to missions, but you are able to pick any weapon up you see lying around; whether that be anti tank Javelin missiles as part of an objective to an AK-47 from any fallen enemy. This level of choice is rather good, but I found the starting weapons to be adequate for the tasks at hand, and I rarely used the additional equipment that was on offer bar the grenades – although I guess this is entirely subjective, as players will find what works well for them.
Whilst little has changed in COD 4 from previous games in the series, other than the modern day makeover, what really remains the mainstay of the series, is the unprecedented atmosphere. In my opinion this is simply second to none on Xbox 360, and as you play through the 15 plus missions, you are thrust into a wide variety of situations which sees you travel the globe and undertake infiltration, assault, assassination and general out and out military combat. What is a nice touch is being able to ride shotgun in a helicopter and at one point and take control of the various weapons of an attack chopper using night vision views. There’s certainly a heady mix of missions to keep the most attention deficited person entertained. There’s really never a dull moment throughout the entire game and whilst the general gameplay mechanic remains constant, it’s the situations that you are put in that really keeps you engrossed from start to finish. One thing that keeps the action almost indefinite is the fact that enemies will continually respawn until you are able to move to what seems like an invisible point on the map (which stops them respawning). This has been a part of every COD game to date and seems to work well. However during the insanity that is Veteran difficulty, this mechanic can cause severe frustrations as you are seemingly pinned down unable to advance. The Veteran mode is really meant for hardcore players who have knowledge of the levels, and to a degree, the invisible check points!
Graphically COD 4 is vibrant and full of detail that draws you further into the military world it portrays. From dusty roads, woodlands, to water logged ships, the graphics are for the most part, breath taking. The detail of the characters is, like COD 3 very high, and the effects of explosions, smoke and other neat touches such as your vision being slightly blurred when focus firing are excellent. I did not encounter any issues of slowdown at all during my play as everything runs at a silky smooth pace.
One thing that is going to catch your eye are the animations, which are most certainly spot on. You’ll notice teammates adjusting their head gear, enemies dying in the most gratifying manner and various actions that look as lifelike as you are going to get in video games. Like everything else in regards to the game’s graphics, they draw you into the game world by the scruff of the neck, toss you around and then spit you out so that you simply remain transfixed on the movement that happens before your very eyes.
One thing that I will complain about is the fact that there are still cordoned off areas that look like you should be able to go there – you know, like a fence a couple of feet high not being climbable. This restrictiveness does somewhat take away the realism that the rest of the game’s graphics portray so wonderfully, and I do hope that this is something that is addressed in future games.
The sound is also of a very high standard and in keeping with the quality the series is known for. You have the epic sounds of battle and of course those weapon sounds are pretty meaty too. The best part of the audio are the human voices, which come not only from your team mates but the enemy also. You’ll often hear the cries of death from the fallen, but also the radio chatter from your commanding officer as he gives you an overview of the situation you are in and the objectives you have to complete. The game cannot be faulted in any way, shape or form in terms of sound, and I guess those of you with the full set up will benefit even more from modern warfare from the comfort of your own homes!
There is some incidental music from time to time that might annoy some players, especially as you are not able to turn it off, or use custom soundtracks. The music is fitting in the Hollywood sense of things and for me didn’t pose any sort of distraction to the other audio cues on offer.
COD 4 offers a compelling single player experience that will take some time to beat when playing on the harder difficulties. However, on default settings competent players will be able to breeze through the game pretty quickly, perhaps too quickly. In the game’s defense, it is an action packed roller coaster ride that as I said earlier is second to none on Xbox 360 and once beaten really does encourage you to replay missions whilst upping the difficulty, or just replaying for fun factor’s sake. There are unlockable cheats which require you to search the levels a little more thoroughly and of course the multiple pathways to compete objectives can mean your experiences on multiple plays can and will be different.
Once the single player has been beaten then there is an option to play an arcade mode which gives you points based on your kills, headshots, and even gives you lives and a time limit to contend with. This certainly adds to the length of the single player game. The game’s achievements are also all tied to the single player portion of the game, and to unlock all of them (without using guides) will take a long time – especially as a number of them are tied to the Veteran difficulty.
The Call of Duty series has always had a distinct and fun multiplayer, and COD 4 is no exception. Whilst there is no co-op for the single player portion of the game, adversarial fans can get to grips with various game modes in split-screen, system link and over the Xbox Live network. Rather than comment on the details of this excellent addition to package (despite there being no bots for those without live needing to make up the numbers) I will draw your attention here. I will say that the fast paced nature of the multiplayer is of a very high standard and will hook you as much as the single player. It’s obvious that the multiplayer isn’t just a tacked on mode for the sake of having one, and is every bit as good as the single player in terms of polish.
COD 4 has been a highly anticipated title ever since the first trailer was shown many moons ago. The game really does deliver an unprecedented military experience, which although might lack the total realism of the Clancy games, does provide an all out assault on the senses. You have to play this game to truly believe it; and whilst some cynics might merely suggest the game is COD 2/3 in a modern day setting, this is in no way a bad thing. The atmosphere, the feeling of intense combat, the general camaraderie that is portrayed in COD 4 cannot be matched by any other game on Xbox 360, and yes that includes the awesome Halo 3. I cannot really find many faults with the game, bar some cheap AI in the Veteran difficulty and the ones previously mentioned. With so many games out this winter and with many gamers still reeling from Halo 3, I must say if you are looking for another game which will capture your imagination as well as your soul, and provide hours of non stop irrefutable entertainment, then look no further, as Call of Duty 4 has everything you need and more. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have more terrorists to kill!