Over the years WW2 titles have been two-a-penny, with every developer offering their own adaptation of one of the most gruesome wars on earth. Infinity Ward seemed to have seen what a stale market it is now after their release of Call of Duty 2. It was time to pass over the rifle and bayonet to developers Treyarch, who continued with the franchise and achieved a passable job, but it was obvious that WW2 titles should have had the door closed on them a while ago. Since CoD2 released, Infinity Ward have been busy with their next title, a title that would see you battle in modern warfare surroundings, weapons and equipment, and bring a whole new lease on life to the military combat FPS genre. Infinity Ward and Activision are now back this year with a new spin on their fourth title for the Call of Duty franchise – Call of Duty 4: Modern Combat.
As with modern life today, terrorists are the name of the game here. The plot of the game is to take down Al-Asad – a terrorist planning on taking over the Middle East by arranging a military coup, diverting the attention of the UK and US military while his Russian partner in crime – Zakhaev attempts to bring his country back to a communist state. Throughout the game you play though the perspective of a variety of UK and US soldiers in many locations around the globe, though your main destinations will reside in war-torn Eastern Europe and sand-blown Arab countries. Each mission involves a SAS or Marine’s story on the overall goal of bringing down both terrorist leaders Al-Asad and Zakhaev along with their middle men and army.
Along with war there are countless casualties, so not all the stories told in this war of terrorism finish on a happy ending. Being thrown around so many stories gives you a feeling that you are only scraping the surface of the overall picture, but with that said Infinity Ward have done a good job none-the-less in keeping the game fast paced with very little idle time in between missions or lengthy cut scenes.
Even though you are now playing in a modern combat scenario, from the get-go you can tell you are playing a Call of Duty title; and one from Infinity Ward at that. If you replaced the models and textures you could easily take yourself back to CoD2 and war-torn Europe. The control and feel of your character along with progression and level design created by Infinity Ward have been second to none and it shows here more than ever with CoD4. Like in previous titles, in CoD4 you are mostly lead through each level alongside a group of team-mates or team-mate. You are very rarely left on your own but you do have a sense that although you are amongst a team you are fighting for yourself rather than being just an onlooker to a battle taking place in front of you. Like in previous CoD titles you are unable to order or control your characters as you play. You will find yourself reaching hidden zones where your team-mates will leave their firing spots and continue forward after you have advanced to each zone or have disposed of any dug-in enemies stopping your team’s advances. Each battle is intense as the next – the level design is just wide enough to be able to flank your enemies while still limited to a forced path of progression. This is ideal for novice gamers as it keeps the pace flowing well enough to keep you glued to the screen, looking for cover and planning your advances through the level.
Difficulty is measured through your first mission – if you can call it a mission. After getting to know your weapon’s controls you then face a mini assault course. It is on completing this assault course in a given time that will gage the skill level available to you for the rest of the game. This is a fun and unique way of not only setting your skill but also making full use in familiarising you with your equipment and advanced weapon skills. On Regular skill level I found the game to be comfortable to easy while only being killed just a handful of times, mainly due to silly mistakes of my own. Just like its predecessors, there are no health packs or medics at your back here, but by simply taking of cover during battle can take you from being close to death to being back and ready for action. Sure this doesn’t mirror the real world, unless you’re a character from the hit TV series Heroes or a Terminator, but it keeps the game flowing nicely without cursing at the screen or throwing your controller in its general direction. Taking on CoD4 in Veteran skill level on the other hand is a different matter and taking cover and being less heroic is a necessity if you wish to proceed in the game.
The single player campaign is split up into three Acts, each containing around five to eight missions. You will find in Regular you will be completing these missions in less than thirty minutes or so, and you can easily complete the whole campaign in six to eight hours. So this is a short game and it mirrors previous Call of Duty live spans, but it will be one of the greatest six to eight hours you’ve had in a game. Each mission is a constructed master piece of great level design, great enemy AI and well balanced gameplay. Throughout the campaign’s 18 missions you are mostly on foot and only a handful of these missions will you find yourself in a vehicle manning a machine gun mounted jeep or AC-130 cannon, which I must add is one of the best levels I found in the game. With the single player campaign completed, an Arcade section is unlocked in the main menu. In Arcade you can tackle all the previous played single player missions individually but in a time and score based structure where you can string along combos to gain your own high score that you can later compare against your online buddies.
Infinity Ward are legends when it comes to creating multiplayer experience in its games, and you will not be disappointed with their efforts in CoD4 either. It will be interesting to see in the months to come how much this title will pull people away from the current multiplayer crown holder for the Xbox 360 – Halo 3. There are sixteen available maps, six game types and plenty of ranked features here to keep yourself and your online buddies over Xbox LIVE fully occupied for some time. The most interesting feature is perks, which are special abilities that you can assign to your character. Three perk slots are available to you and you can assign any unlocked perk from each category into each slot. Assigned perks can be anything from jamming enemy radar, increasing bullet damage, firing off two RPG rockets at once to dropping a grenade on your death, something that will put a smile on your face if you manage to get the last laugh. As you progress through multiplayer you rank up your character unlocking not only perks but weapons, weapon add-ons and skins. With tons of features to unlock and an adequate amount of game types available to you, CoD4 will keep you hooked to its multiplayer for a lengthy period of time and will give Halo 3 a solid running for the best multiplayer FPS on the Xbox 360 this year.
Graphically, Infinity Ward has been able to gasp as much power as they can out of the Xbox 360 in CoD4. Although still looking much like their previous titles, the detailed models and environments, particle effects, smoke, atmospheric lighting and lengthy draw distance makes this title look simply stunning, and all this while running at a baby smooth 60fps. Throughout my game time I had yet to notice any glitches, tearing or slowdown which is surprising with the amount of action going on at once in some missions. The character models are highly detailed and boast the finest motion I have seen in a game, looking very life-like and very believable when combined with such an atmospheric environment, be it in the sandy towns of the Middle East or the nuclear fallout city of Chernobyl.
The sound in the game mirrors the prowess that Infinity Ward has achieved in its graphics. Full use of 6.1 surround is in effect here with some astounding surrounding doppler shift effects when moving in and outside buildings. If you have a good system setup you will be happy to know CoD4 will make full use of it here, and combined with the presentation of its graphics you will be fully immersed in the battle, dodging bullets and ducking for cover behind your couch.
If you are not into your multiplayer over LIVE you will be pleased to know that all of the achievements are only found in the single player campaign and across regular and veteran skill levels. It was odd to not see at least a few achievements make it to the multiplayer to help boost its online userbase, but to be honest the game’s multiplayer speaks for itself and doesn’t really need any help in that department, while the perks and the unlocking of weapons and skins via the player ranking system feels like achievements in its own right.
So with a short but pleasurable single player experience, and a feature packed multiplayer, CoD4 is a title well worth considering if you’re an avid FPS fan who is looking for that alternative to Halo 3 on and offline. Infinity Ward and Activision have done themselves proud in not only picking up the pieces left from CoD3 but also taking a risk on exiting the WW2 campaign and bringing us into the Modern era. If more of the same is expected in the future – bring on CoD5!