This week, we’re having a look at Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (or CoD4) for the Xbox 360.
Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty series has always managed to produce a brilliant first person shooter, despite its tired and stressed old setting of World War II. Finally, the developers have taken a step outside, noticed that people are getting bored of the Normandy Beach landings, and so replied with a new setting.
Set, as the name suggests, in modern times, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare upholds the tradition of all the previous games, but with some serious improvements.
First of all, stripping itself of the World War II restraints has allowed Infinity Ward to actually tell a story that no one’s heard before, and no one is quite sure how the game will end. As anyone who’s ever attended one high school history lesson will know, WWII always ends with Allied victory. No offense, but this is boring. There’s nothing more cliché than slowly watching the underdogs come back up to overthrow the evil bastards.
This is where CoD4 gets a little more interesting. While on the surface, it seems as though it’s just two superpowers bearing down on the Middle East, as you delve further into the game it becomes clear that no one seems to have control of the situation (although the enemy seems to be much closer to said control). There’s a feeling of desperation about the story that no previous CoD or Medal of Honor game has been able to pull off, only enhanced by tight and fierce combat.
While the game takes a mission or two to really get going, once you strike the real gunfights, Call of Duty’s most brilliant aspect shines through. Combat really is what makes or breaks a game - and Modern Warfare most definitely isn’t broken. Essentially, not a lot has changed, and this is a good thing.
The grenade indicator remains from previous titles and this adds another strength and weakness to your arsenal – able to see which direction a grenade landed in, but unable to see how far away. The grenades themselves still play a rather small role… flashbangs still only seem to really work well on the player, and fragmentation grenades seem to go off too late, no matter what. However, this keeps the focus on the guns, which are outstanding.
As always, you can carry two weapons, and they can be whatever. This allows you to keep a good mix of weaponry, assuming you swap out your pistol for a sniper rifle or AK-47. In multiplayer, weapons can have certain parts swapped out for alternatives with a different focus.
Overall, combat is well balanced, and when supported by your non-playable character (NPC) squad, there is rarely a frustratingly difficult fight.
Both ally and enemy AI proves to be very solid – you never see them doing stupid things (that might have to do with being busy keeping an eye on the bullets). In a firefight, everyone ducks into cover. While your allies can take a firefight by themselves, they don’t seem to like moving if there are enemies nearby, and they take their time attacking. This leaves you doing a fair bit of shooting, but not enough to make it feel like Halo, where you’re the only semi-competent human about.
In total, I only ever had two squabbles with the AI in Modern Warfare. Firstly, the NPCs can get in the way, which is frustrating in the closed-in environments. Secondly, during my favourite mission you end up under a Ferris wheel not too far from Chernobyl, and are swamped by enemies. It felt as though the entire Red Army was bearing down on me. It was almost enough to turn down the difficulty level… which would’ve ruined the whole experience.
Playing through the entire game on the second highest difficulty setting, there weren’t really any sections that felt as though they demanded a reduction (apart from aforementioned Ferris wheel). Truth be told, the only real difficulty complaint comes from online multiplayer.
The biggest problem with online multiplayer is that the entire system is kill based… and while this sounds stupid, let me elaborate a bit.
Anyone who’s played Halo 3 (shhh… it’s the only game that I can really draw a comparison too currently) knows about ranking. If you do well against people better than you, your rank goes up, and doing badly against people worse than your brings you down. CoD 4 runs on a kill-only basis. Get 20 kills total (as an example) and you go up a rank. People who sit around all day playing, getting one kill for every twenty deaths will still unlock all the powerful weapons. Of course, said people will never be good enough to utilise said weapons, but it doesn’t seem fair to the more skilled players.
On the other hand, local (on one console) multiplayer is an absolute blast with friends. The ranking system is removed – this is all about addictive, fast-paced, run and gun gameplay. Best of all, the system doesn’t struggle, even with four players lobbing explosives at each other; the visuals remain sharp and smooth.
Everyone knows that Infinity Ward goes to a lot of trouble to make its FPS games look absolutely stunning. As an Xbox 360 gamer, it seems like they’ve finally been able to bring out the true power of the console (By the time you read this, there’ll be another game out that’ll look better), with all that shiny and flashy stuff that everyone loves; enough bloom to look real, but thankfully not enough to rival Halo 3’s retina scarring powers.
Looking around the single player levels, you never have a problem spotting the enemies. The terrorists seem to pick awful colour schemes… who the hell wears nothing but black and dark brown in the middle of a tan and beige city?
The real problem with the graphics starts to become more apparent in multiplayer, but this is to be expected - humans are very good at breaking things. Everyone is wearing camouflage, and while they do stick out inside buildings, when in the outdoor environments, which are very ‘real’ (all dark colours) it can be nigh on impossible to spot an enemy until they’re soaking your corpse in lead.
On a lighter note, sound is very well tuned and sharp. Unlike Mass Effect, all the voices are well balanced, with all but one or two characters being fully believable. Guns crack, grenades crash and thud, flashbangs emit that ever-so-lovely white noise, and the ambient noise really adds to the mood… if you can notice it.
Overall, I came out the end of the game feeling incredibly satisfied, and well rewarded for the AU$100 that it cost.
Visually, the game is stunning, really shining out amongst many mediocre titles on the market, and only falls down a few times total.
Your ears will love you for this… assuming they have a war fetish. Yes, your ears will love you for CoD4.
Highly addictive gameplay; shooting people has never been so much fun.
To put it very, very simply: this game is great fun. Buy it.