Review by CrimsonSeven
They were called in from the hillside; they were called in from the glen...
Infinity Ward has been handed back the reins of the Call of Duty series after Treyarch took over Call of Duty 3. I'm not saying that Call of Duty 3 was bad, necessarily; in fact quite the opposite, but it just didn't have that Infinity Ward feel to it. Now with IW back in the driver's seat, they're catapulting the Call of Duty series to new and daring heights with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
Now, as the title might have made you guess, this is not another World War II Call of Duty. COD4 is set largely in two locations: Russia and some of the fragments of the USSR, and a small, unnamed Middle Eastern country that appears to lie on the west side of Saudi Arabia. There is also a brief detour to Chernobyl. IW's decision to ditch the WWII theme was a wise one indeed; not only have I personally felt that the WWII scene in games has been getting quite old and stale, but this game doesn't feel like your traditional Call of Duty game. Some of you might not want to hear that, but please - allow me to assuage your fears and mollify your doubts. MOST of it is the fact that there's a whole new coat of paint on the game. It doesn't quite click that it's Call of Duty when you're blazing away with an M16. But aside from that, it's still the same core gameplay that makes Call of Duty synonymous with top-notch war shooters.
The single player campaign, short though it is, is absolutely packed with action. You routinely alternate between "Soap" MacTavish of the British SAS operating in Russia and Sgt. Paul Jackson of the United States Marine Corps operating in the Middle East. The plot is actually quite gripping, which is odd for a first-person shooter. There are also major plot twists to keep you on your toes, never quite knowing when an ugly surprise is going to hit you right between the eyes. This game also contains one of the greatest missions that I've ever known in terms of gaming. When you reach a level called "All Ghillied Up", sit back, take it all in, and HAVE FUN, because it's an absolute blast. There are many memorable characters that you find on your way - Captain Price is the no-bull, on-your-feet-now-lads leader of the SAS; Gaz acts as the lubricant that keeps your little team running smoothly; and Lt. Vasquez is your stoic Marine commander. The voice acting and the cutscenes are put together in such an excellent way that you can identify with each of the main characters that fight alongside you, and when you blend the superb characterization, cutscenes, and the gameplay, you get an incredibly cinematic experience. While some of you might be groaning at the thought of a linear, on-rails experience, I assure you - I've only ever felt it to be a plus. The dramatics integrate with the gameplay in such a way that it can make you stop and go "Holy crap, that was awesome!" without the game grabbing your face and pointing it towards important places, screaming "LOOK HERE. BIG EXPLOSION. LOOK HERE. BUILDING FALL DOWN." Also, the SAS portions of the game give the single player campaign a very SOCOM-y feel, so if you liked those games, you owe it to yourself to give this one a try. Even if you didn't like the SOCOM games that much, give it a try, because I don't think I could honestly say "Don't buy this game. You won't like it." to anyone. Once again, I feel I must emphasize that the single player is quite short, so give it a rent if you're not interested in online.
Which conveniently brings me to my next point. The online mode of COD4 is really something. It's got a level-based reward system - level up, get better gun. Level up, get better gun. Level up, get better perk. Once more, before everyone gets their boxers in a bunch because of this level-reward system, I distinctly recall being thrown into a heated brawl on my first time out with nothing but my 3-round burst M16, and I held my own against some very high levels. In any event, the most popular gun is unlocked at about level 12, and the majority of the community uses that same gun most of the time, so unbalancing ceases to be an issue after about two banked hours of play time. Voice chat is healthy; the open mic system makes for extremely quick order/information barking and friendly conversation. You can add friends who are on your XMB to your party, so you'll travel as a group into and out of games. It's also just a blast to play. However, it's not without it's faults. At this time, there is no mute option, so if someone decides they want to run their mouth a little too much, there's not much you can do except huck the headset out your window. Also, the lobby system isn't the greatest I've ever seen - you select a game type, and then you're pitched into a random room. You can host private matches if you want, but you need to invite people who are already on your XMB, which can be annoying. It doesn't make it unplayable, but it could have been done better. I personally have gotten used to it, but there are others who don't really like this format at all. But then again, I suppose that's why God invented patches.
The online portion is chock full of little additions that make up for the shortcomings that are admittedly few and far between. One of them is the inclusion of "perks". Perks come in many shapes and sizes. They're basically character buffs. For example, if I have the "Juggernaut" perk equipped, I have a little more health than everyone else. If I have the "Stopping Power" perk equipped, my bullets do a little more damage. If I have the "Extreme Conditioning" perk equipped, I can sprint for longer distances than others. There are also a few perks that make for some very fun gameplay opportunities. The "Last Stand" perk allows you to pull out your pistol as you lie on the ground bleeding to death so you're afforded the chance to take your murderer to hell with you. The "Martyrdom" perk drops a live grenade at your feet as soon as you die, making an interesting scenario for the poor soul who just decided to knife you. Also, alongside the plethora of different weapons you can arm yourself to the teeth with, there are attachments that can be unlocked for your guns, like laser scopes, high powered scopes, grenade launchers, and silencers. The sheer amount of meat that IW has packed into the online is incredible, and needs to be checked out by any PS3 owner if they like shooters.
One last thing before I go - this game is beautiful in both the audio and visual department. I found the scores to be a little bit too generic for my tastes, but the sound effects and voice acting MORE than made up for that. The guns sound very realistic (the pistols pale in comparison to some of the heavier weaponry, but I guess that's to be expected), and the explosions don't come off as tinny. IW did a perfect job of trying to squeeze every last bit of detail out of the sounds of the game, and they did an excellent job. The graphics are also easily some of the best I've seen on the PS3 so far if you overlook the occasionally blocky shadows (and I do mean blocky).
Call of Duty 4 is without question one of the best purchases I have made this year. If you can find room for it on your holiday wish lists, you won't regret it. It does have some flaws; I'll admit that, but they aren't game-breaking and they can be easily overlooked if you don't keep an eye out for them.
If I can summarize my position briefly:
Call of Duty 4 needs to be in your library. No exceptions. Period. End of discussion.
Rating: 4.5 - Outstanding
Product Release: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (US, 11/05/07)
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