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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Game Review - Call of Duty 4:Modern Warfare

Should you heed the call?

The DS line-up this year has been nothing short of surprises, from the arrival of Resident Evil-esque Dementium: The Ward, to WWE’s debut on the handheld, to the return of classics like Contra 4 and Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3. Perhaps none is more shocking than Activison’s Call of Duty 4. In Call of Duty, Activison has crafted a game that possesses one of the most engaging gameplay and one of ineffable aural immersion. If you have been harboring any doubts about Call of Duty 4 for the DS, rest assured you are the not the only one because I had my doubts as well. But to say that Call of Duty 4 is not going to function on the DS is erroneous, for Activison has shown that the game is indeed accomplishable on the handheld, but to what extent?

For DS owners who have never played any of the prior Call of Duty games before, here’s your chance. What you are getting in Call of Duty 4 for DS is essentially a shrinked-down version of its console counterpart, but to merely dismiss the idea of shrinked-down as dumped-down is an understatement because the game still offers most of what the console Call of Duty 4 is getting. The musical splendor will probably be the first one to get noticed for it is easily one the best aspects of the game. There is nothing quite like manning the machine gun turret of a helicopter, and just as you are about to start punishing your enemies with it, the inspiring military tunes kick in. Soaking in the atmosphere, an adrenaline shot is what you will get. The experience is truly immersive, demonstrating how important the music is to the overall game. And if the music isn’t going to set you on fire, surely the voice-overs would. As in Brothers in Arms DS, there is a ton of voice-overs in the game and they are just fantastic. What’s a military shooter without immaculate voice-overs, anyways?

Being a military shooter, there is no doubt you’re going to be seeing lots of explosions and smoke in the game – and logically, there would be rows upon rows of decrepit buildings and some massive amounts of rubble. Call of Duty 4 for DS makes use of fully-modeled 3D environments to tell the vast environments with anomalous results. Now, here comes the difficult part. Depending on your circumstances, you may either think that the visuals in Call of Duty 4 are stunning or that the graphics average on the line of mediocrity. For one, if you have been playing mostly casual games on the handheld, the graphics in the game may come upon as ones of unprecedented beauty. On the other hand, if you are a veteran of DS games like I am, you’re going to be downright disappointed. If Call of Duty 4 for DS was released 2 years ago, I would have no qualms praising its visuals, but when you have got developers producing PSP-like visuals on the DS these past 2 years, the graphics in Call of Duty 4 is passable at best as compared to others that came before it. In terms of realistic graphics, Nintendo’s own Metroid Prime: Hunters is simply gorgeous. Movie tie-in TMNT, which came out in the first half of this year, made me forget that I was playing on my DS, and not the PSP. Race Driver, too, pushed the DS to its limit and so did Dementium: The Ward. For closer comparison, I booted up the old copy of Brother in Arms DS, another military shooter like Call of Duty 4, and clearly, the visuals in Call of Duty 4 pales in comparison to those of Brothers in Arms DS. Character models are good, buildings and skies are alright, but explosions and smoke are utterly unconvincing, especially the latter. For sure, they could use some improvements for the DS is capable of more. The frame rate holds up well, though.

On a sidenote, the game seems very ‘dark’. In other words, if you are going to be playing this game outdoors during daytime, you may not be able to see the screen at all, and of course, you won’t know what’s even going on in the game. It’s okay when you’re indoors, say in a bus, train or building, but you really need a DS Lite to adjust the brightness of the screen if you are thinking of playing the game outdoors; the old original DS just won’t cut it.

So okay, you wouldn’t expect the game to be on par with its console counterpart in the graphics department, would you? But while the graphics suffer, the missions don’t. It is nothing but the truth that Call of Duty 4 for DS is of almost console level production and the mission structure proves that. I admit that I have yet to play the console version of Call of Duty 4 (I’m getting the Xbox 360 version after completing this review!), but credits must be due in the diversity present in the missions in the game. During the course of the campaign, you will get to man machine gun turrets of trucks and helicopters, as well as those in the nests, provide air support in a night operation, stomp into an enemy building using night vision and sneak around a building while avoiding a sniper. Weapon variety is clearly in the game as well – shotguns, rifles, pistols, grenades, machine guns, sub-machine guns, you name it. The game even attempts to mimic a mini-game from Call of Duty 3 where an enemy soldier will suddenly appear out of nowhere to engage you in melee combat and you are made to perform specific button and analog stick presses and turns. In the case of this game, you will have to swipe your stylus diagonally across the touch-screen as quickly as possible. Similarly, detonating and disarming a bomb or nuke isn’t just a matter of one button press or anything, but a matter of quick response and skill. Test yourself with the mini-games that will be initiated when you detonate or disarm bombs and nukes. And if an effort was made to scrimp on memory space in the DS game card, it isn’t evident from the length of the campaign. The game is long, to say the least, with each mission providing an hour or so of content.

For a handheld that’s so well-suited for a FPS, you would think that controls for Call of Duty 4 are going to be perfect, right? Well, surprise, wrong! Okay, before you decide to just stop reading here and ignore Call of Duty 4 altogether, I must say that the level of precision offered by the touch-screen-based aiming is superb. However, to enter iron sights, you need to double-tap on the touch-screen and that causes trouble. You see, to look and aim, you move your stylus around the touch-screen and often, the game misinterprets this action as one to get into iron sights, especially when you accidentally nudge your hand on a same spot more than once. I find this problem seriously annoying and it is certain that correction is needed. A solution would be to assign iron sights to a simple button tap on any one of the many buttons on the DS. Reversing utilizes the down button on the d-pad, but crouching requires a double-tap (again) on the same button. Boy, there were just so many instances when I was unavailing in my attempt to crouch! The developers sure have an obsession with double-tap controls.

Call of Duty 4 has a few more issues, though. During my time with the game, I noticed that several enemies spawned in illogically. Picture this scenario: I went into a room. Dead end, right? As I was about to mosey along, an enemy suddenly ran out from a dead end and started shooting at me behind some crates. This clearly contradicts the level of immersion that the game has been assaying to create all along. Also, there seems to be a lack of balance between firepower in the game. In one situation, I killed an enemy within a few shots to his body. A few minutes later, the same type of enemy appeared and even after I unloaded a full clip of bullets through his body using the same weapon, he still stood undead. The same thing applies to headshots. While I could silence an enemy with 2 to 3 shots in an instance, I had to put 12 bullets through the head of the same kind of enemy in another instance before he fell dead. Perhaps the developers could explain these almost game-breaking flaws?

Final Comments
An unexpected game on an unexpected platform, but do consider that Call of Duty 4 has passed the debut test. The pocket-sized Call of Duty 4 is great, providing the same level of aural immersion as you get on the console. The military tunes are well-picked and voice-overs done with finesse. The visuals could use some improvements, though, as it looks only passable at best when compared to other recent DS titles. Relief comes in the form of mission diversity, weapon variety, fun mini-games and the length of the game. Controls are a little wonky, though there is precision in the aiming. Illogical enemy spawns and lack of balance between firepower hurt the level of immersion that the game has been setting out to achieve throughout.

Multiplayer is present in the game, but I was horrified by the absence of online play. Fortunately, single-card play is available. A decent number of maps and modes add more replayability to the game.


The Good:
- Immersive aural experience
- Fantastic voice-overs
- Missions are diverse
- Variety present in weapons
- Fun mini-games
- Lengthy game by DS standards

The Bad:
- Graphics are passable at best
- Game is a little ‘dark’, deeming outdoor play impossible unless you have a DS Lite
- Controls are a little wonky, though aiming precision is fine
- Enemies spawn illogically
- Lack in balance in firepower
- Wha?! No Online!


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