I’ll be the first to admit World War II shooters are getting insanely old. Yeah, yeah, “greatest generation” and all that…I don’t disagree. But to re-live the same basic battles with the same basic weapons against the same basic enemies is now tedious beyond belief, so Infinity Ward’s decision to create a modern shooter for its next Call of Duty game was refreshing. Honestly, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare could’ve ended up being a mediocre game and I still would’ve rewarded Activision for buying off on the concept. But it just so happens that Call of Duty 4 is the best shooter of 2007.
Taking the Call of Duty series from the French and German countrysides to a modern-day setting provides both a nice change of scenery and a new level of plot freshness. World War II shooters re-create an incredible story, but it’s one we’re all familiar with. Call of Duty 4, however, takes place in a fictionalized world that, although it flirts with social commentary in its ties between Russian and Middle-Eastern militants, lets Infinity Ward flex its creative-writing muscles. You’ve heard the saying “it’s a small world”? Well the original plot in Call of Duty 4 illustrates that clause perfectly, with a politically charged narrative that explores the ties between rogue cells in two disparate regions of the globe and tasks players with eliminating the terrorist targets before they can unleash a nuclear warhead or dirty bomb.
Regardless of the players’ success or failure in that mission (we won’t spoil the plot for you), the now-modern COD soldiers face equally modern mercenaries who are equipped with laser sights, night-vision scopes, rocket-propelled grenades and tanks. Good thing our heroic soldiers are, too. If COD4 sounds like Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter, that’s because it feels an awful lot like that game, minus the squad tactics. In fact, COD4’s modern setting and equipment (hello, Javelin!) ultimately make the game look, feel and play like a cross between GRAW and the Rainbow Six series, with the biggest differences being a complete lack of squad tactics/commands and the inability to open doors (read: it’s even more linear than those games).
In spite of that linearity, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare still manages to keep players’ blood pumping through its impressive enemy AI, its immersive battle chatter and audio, its astounding graphics (probably the best this year) and the sheer amount of activity Infinity Ward packs on screen, from flak cannons and explosions to laser sights and intense NPC-only battles going on in the distance. Quite simply, with everything going on in the game’s modern setting, players don’t have time to think about the linearity, the carefully disguised hallways or the fact that enemies spawn indefinitely until players reach a certain checkpoint. Are those cheap tricks? Yes. But is the gameplay and overall experience intense enough to make you still enjoy the ride? You bet.
We really only have three complaints about Call of Duty 4, and none of them is a deal breaker. First, although Call of Duty has always been designed to make one player feel like a hero, the action in Call of Duty 4 can be so intense that the game just begs for online co-operative play. Not necessarily because of the difficulty, mind you, but because of the desire to share these experiences with a friend. Soldiers live and die by one another’s side; why shouldn’t that same credo carry over to the Call of Duty series?
Second, the online multiplayer options are deep with unlockable game modes, equipment and special abilities (carry more weapons, get a radar, call in more air strikes, etc.), but the fact that certain elements need to be unlocked at all is frustrating for more-casual gamers. Although the best items can generally be unlocked in a single evening, older gamers don’t necessarily have that entire evening to devote to unlocking those items, when you account for family and other non-gaming responsibilities. New uniforms and bonuses of that nature seem like logical rewards for playing longer, because everyone is still able to battle on a level playing field. But the minute somebody has a strategic or weapon advantage, a lot of the fun gets sucked out of the game.
Our third complaint has stuck around for the past three Call of Duty games, so we’d be remiss if we didn’t bring it up here: infinitely spawning enemies. The best war games require strategy and out-thinking the enemy. That’s impossible to do if the enemy is limitless until you reach a checkpoint. Sure, you can think you’re playing strategically by taking your time, tossing grenades and sniping bad guys to clear a path, but if those efforts go unrewarded by enemies that just keep a-coming, what’s the point? All the strategy and realism Infinity Ward is going for is effectively shoved out the door when enemies have no limits. If it were possible to clear out a room from a distance and move in safely, strategic players would feel more rewarded. Instead, Call of Duty 4 essentially forces players to play a run-and-gun style to keep from running out of ammunition. Is it a fun run-and-gun? Absolutely. But that’s not always the way players want to tackle a situation, and that “my way or the highway” attitude somewhat limits the single-player replay value.
It doesn’t limit the fun, however, and that’s really what a good game boils down to. Is Call of Duty 4 fun? Without question. Does it provide a good multiplayer experience in spite of the need to unlock modes and weapons that should be there in the first place? Yes. Is it pretty? One of the prettiest games of the year. Is it immersive? Definitely, particularly though its use of 5.1 surround-sound audio. So are we recommending Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare? Let’s put it this way: if you buy just one first-person-shooter this year, it had better be Call of Duty 4.
- Score: 9
- Intense, gorgeous and with a well-plotted original story, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare should be atop everyone’s list of first-person shooters this year.
— Jonas Allen