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Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Game Review - Call of Duty 4:Modern Warfare

Modern perfection.

More than 2 years ago when I decided to dive right into the WW2 FPS genre, I picked Call of Duty 2. At the time of the purchase, it was one of the newest WW2 games and though I hadn’t really experienced any prior Call of Duty games, I had no problems getting into Call of Duty 2. But Call of Duty 2 was much more than just an ordinary gaming experience for me – it was a memorable experience. Its single-player was in every way cinematic, atmospheric and intense, with a solid multiplayer component backing it up. Fast forward to today, and what you have is Call of Duty 4, the official successor to Call of Duty 2. If Call of Duty 2 was excellent, then make no mistake: Call of Duty 4 is perfect – everything has been executed with unerring precision. Infinity Ward has delivered yet another flawless and immersive gaming experience in Call of Duty 4, which still manages to improve greatly on its predecessor in several ways.

Perhaps the single, biggest change from Call of Duty 2 is that Call of Duty 4 takes place in modern day instead of WW2. It revolves around a tale of terrorists and nukes, which are the closest things you can get to reality. The game drops you deep into environments which are painstakingly created to resemble those of today. There is no shortage of such environments for you to explore in Call of Duty 4. You will storm a ship containing a nuke in a night operation. The operation ends with the ship sinking and as you attempt to make your escape, water gushes in from all sides of the ship. The ship shifts to one side, your vision blurs, and for a moment, it all looks too frighteningly real. You will sit in a car as a prisoner, going through the roads and streets of a certain Middle Eastern country, from which you will notice the palpable penury among people. Decrepit house and roadside stalls line the roads and streets. With the graphics and music hard at work too, you may be forgiven for thinking that you are watching a film. Such is the power of immersion and variety of environments that no other war game has achieved except Call of Duty 4. In a game that is so filled with memorable moments, it is not hard to point to a few more such as the mid-game nuclear explosion and the game’s intense, yet emotional ending, which comes complete with some slow-mo.

A game can’t claim to be atmospheric and immersive without equally, if not more, stunning graphics and music. Admiring the aesthetics of Call of Duty 4 is just like watching non-color television for many years, and then suddenly switching to HDTV. Call of Duty 4 will pour cold water on your face. It puts all other games to shame. To put it simply, there is only one word that can be used to describe the graphics in Call of Duty – and that word is ‘photorealistic’. You would be hard-pressed to find any other game that comes close to Call of Duty 4 save Crysis. For one, no other game lets you see dust as the sun rays filter through a canopy of leaves or a crack in the roof. It isn’t just the lighting effects that amaze me, but also how realistic the water looks (yes, it is better than BioShock). Just about everything is screaming to be touched. Of course, discrediting the music would be a monumentally foolish thing to do. Militaristic tunes play out in the background as fights ensue, with the game switching to different variations of the same music to suit more specific situations. I dare say that every piece of tune in Call of Duty 4 was meticulously constructed and selected. Do yourself a favor by turning up the volume when playing the game even if it’s going to disturb your neighbor – because you just have to experience it. On a sidenote, the game has a quirky habit of warning you of an incoming grenade blast by means of a combination of a clink as the grenade drops near you and a whistle blow.

Having mastered the art of atmosphere creation, graphics and music prowess, Infinity Ward proceeded to fill Call of Duty 4 with mission diversity. While Call of Duty 4 is largely a linear game that shoves you down corridor after corridor, it can be argued that there are numerous alternative paths scattered throughout a level. Some of the levels also have environments that feel more open. Take for instance, a raid in a Russian countryside, where you tread quietly from farmhouse to farmhouse in a bid to nab a terrorist head. During the game, you will also get the opportunity to take control of the various weapons onboard an AC-130 gunship. Upon which, it is literally death from above for your enemies as pelt them with canons, machine gun rounds and the like. There are a couple of missions that require you to defend structures and these can get really intensifying, where endless streams of enemies close in on your position. My personal favorite would have to be a stealth mission where you don a ghillie. In that particular mission, you will have to crawl among the tall grass as you try to evade a posse of enemy soldiers and their tanks. That mission ended on a high note when you are situated at the summit of a high building. Your aim is to hit the distanced target (in this case, another terrorist head) with a mounted sniper rifle. The movement of the wind determines the path of your bullet and ultimately, your success in shooting the target. The defining moment comes when you see your bullet curl and hit the target, dismembering his arm in the process. Yes, there is slow-mo, and it feels every bit cinematic – classic heart-pumping action. It would be a headache to even try to recall all the events from the game.

In the midst of mayhem, you will get the opportunity to wield various weapons of the modern world. Javelin missiles, RPGs, machine guns, sub-machine guns, rifles with different scopes – you name it - Call of Duty 4 has it all. Actions such as calling in air support, air strikes, plating claymores, fitting a weapon with a silencer, changing weapon firing mode and toggling night vision have also been mapped appropriately to the d-pad so that it’s never a hassle to initiate any one of them. Besides allowing you to toy with the latest weapons (virtually), the game also employs some really realistic bullet physics. In Call of Duty 3, you could duck behind a wooden fence and not get your innards ripped with MG-42 rounds, but if you’re expecting this in Call of Duty 4, you’re going to be in for a shock. Depending on what kind of cover you’re using, you’re either going to be shot cold or be immune to the bullets. While cement does indeed halt bullets in their tracks, wood and thin wall don’t. Know this and use this to your advantage in multiplayer. But that’s not all. If a vehicle explodes when you’re standing next to it, the explosion is going to take you down too. Naturally, you’re going to have to move from cover to cover.

War is hell and the weapons are further complemented by one of the smartest A.I. that will give you more hell. The enemy A.I. knows you and your teammates all too well – and they will fire rocket after rocket and toss grenade after grenade to flush you and your mates out. Don’t be surprised too if they attempt a fatal melee attack on you. And if they can’t nail you, they’ll send their dogs after you. If you are attacked by a dog, a short mini-game where you have to break the dog’s neck in a few seconds will be started – certainly, it is a test of both responsiveness and precision. Fortunately, the friendly A.I. (your teammates) is just as brilliant as the enemy A.I. – your fellow teammates are just as capable of taking cover accordingly and closing in on the enemies’ positions strategically.

All said and done, I am still amazed at how Infinity Ward has managed to squeeze so much into a short 8 to 9 hours single-player experience, but criticizing Call of Duty 4 for being short has all but become a facile remark today considering that the single-player of experiences of most FPSes hover around that mark. Completing the single-player campaign would unlock the arcade mode, where you can play through the whole game again except that you now have a set number of lives. Like any faithful arcade shooter, score multipliers would be awarded for quick kills and accuracy among others. The arcade mode certainly adds a much welcomed layer of replayability to the single-player campaign. But single-player can only last that long – the component that’s going to make you keep Call of Duty 4 in your Xbox 360 would be the multiplayer, which like the single-player, is just pure genius.

You’re going to be surprised the first time you venture into Call of Duty 4’s multiplayer. Unlike your typical shooter where the multiplayer component is shoved in shoddily, the multiplayer in this game has been planned gingerly and polished up to a point where there are literally no flaws. For starters, the multiplayer seems to be built around the idea of addictive item collection. Think around the periphery of Pokemon and to a certain extent, MMOs, and you’ll know what I mean. Call of Duty 4’s multiplayer works off a system of experience points. As you get more kills, you points will grow and promotion to higher ranks will eventually come. Reaching higher ranks will unlock weapon challenges and weapon enhancements. For example, if you accomplish an unlocked MP5 machine gun challenge, you will be awarded with laser sight for the MP5. A similar concept applies to all other weapons. Extra special abilities (which are known as perks) like increased stamina, health, under-mounted grenade launchers, claymores and so on and so forth will also be unlocked. Upon arriving at the 4th rank, the game will drastically open up, allowing you to create your own class of combatant, from which you can customize the starting weapons (more weapons will be unlocked as you progress to even higher ranks) and choose from a wide selection of perks for which you want your customized combatant to be equipped with. All these ‘hidden’ content truly encourages players to keep running the game. In a way, you could say Call of Duty 4’s multiplayer has more longevity than Halo 3’s.

Perhaps the deadliest thing going for you will be the in-game bonuses like the ability to call in air strikes and air support in the form of helicopters. For these abilities to be had, 5 kills and 7 kills in a row has to be performed without dying respectively. If those objectives are too much, then try killing 3 opponents in a row without dying and you will be able to call in an UAV tracker, which temporarily displays enemy locations. Opponents killed by your air strikes and air support add to your total kill count. While newbies may bemoan this, there is no doubt that the game does indeed reward the skilled.

Also unlockable are multiplayer game modes. When you first started, you will only get to experience 2 modes, namely solo Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch, but reach higher ranks and the various other game modes will appear, including your standard objective-based ones like point control and another one which requires the enemy’s HQ to be bombed. More noteworthy, however, are Old School and Hardcore. In Old School, everyone starts with the same weapons (which means there is no class). Extra weapons and perks can picked up on the map itself. The other mode, Hardcore, caters to the, well, ‘hardcore’ crowd. Basically, the HUD will be removed and weapon damaged tweaked to feel more realistic.

The Xbox 360 version of the game supports 18 players at any one time. A generous 16 maps are also included in the initial package, some of which are taken from the single-player campaign. All in all, the maps are enjoyable, with each requiring varying strategies.

Final Comments
Undeniably, Call of Duty 4 is the best game I have played in 2007. From top to bottom, Call of Duty 4 is oozing with class and quality. In Call of Duty 4, Infinity Ward has produced yet another atmospheric, cinematic and intense game. The graphics and music will wow you to no end. The mission diversity is fantastic and it is accompanied by one of the finest selections of modern weapons you can find in games, as well as one of the most intelligent A.I. around. The multiplayer, with tons of unlockables, is also one that keeps you coming back for more. Call of Duty 4 is perfect. If you’re a gamer, you need to experience this.

TOTAL SCORE: 10/10

The Good:
- Huge variety of environments
- Atmospheric, cinematic and intense
- Superior graphics
- Excellent music
- Missions are diverse
- Wide variety of modern weapons on offer
- Realistic bullet physics
- Brilliant A.I.
- Bonus arcade mode
- Multiplayer built around the idea of addictive item collection
- In-game bonuses that reward the skilled
- Modes galore!
- A generous 16 maps

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