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Call of Duty 4 Review 183

The Call of Duty series is a benchmark for first-person shooters. The first title refreshed the already-tired World War II setting by added a gripping gameplay-based narrative, while the second was an important launch title for the Xbox 360. The newest chapter in the series, Call of Duty 4, is a new standard for the series and the genre. Set in modern times, the title breaks the mold of previous CoD titles in other ways as well. Most intriguing is its online 'character' development system, which takes some of the great ideas used in Battlefield 2 to the next level. Though the game suffers somewhat from overly-familiar gameplay in the single-player component, you'll probably be too busy gawking at the scenery to care. Read on for my impressions of this extremely attractive series update.
  • Title:Call of Duty 4: Modern Combat
  • Developer/Publisher: Infinity Ward/Activision
  • System: 360 (PC, PS3)
  • Genre: First-Person Shooter
  • Score: 3/5: This game is par for the course in many ways, but is likely to be a classic for the genre. Any gamer might enjoy renting it.
The fact that it's even worth mentioning the story in a warfare-focused First-Person Shooter sets Call of Duty 4 above most of its contemporaries. As in previous CoD titles, Infinity sets you in the midst of an epic combat. With the new modern setting, instead of facing down Nazi Germany or Imperial Japan, terrorists are the order of the day. The game avoids any uncomfortably weighty questions of nationality by placing the conflict in fictionalized nations, but the themes will be familiar to anyone who has read the newspaper lately. What makes these confrontations even more meaningful is that, like in previous Infinity titles, we get to see the conflict from multiple angles. In this case, by swapping between British and American troops as they work to quell the epic conflict boiling on the edge of the Middle East and former USSR. Though I felt the characters were better developed in CoD 2, you'll find yourself appreciating recognizable voices and names over the course of the game. The story accomplishes its goal admirably; you always feel a sense of purpose as you move through the game, and rarely are you left confused about what your current objective should be. The game also has one of the most amazing credit sequences I've ever seen in a title before. It's powerful on a visceral level, and shouldn't be missed.

How you accomplish your objective-of-the-moment is going to feel very familiar to anyone that's played a warfare FPS in the last few years. Yourself and a small group of soldiers move through a map, accomplishing minor goals in preparation for a larger set-piece battle near the end of the level. The tried-and-true core of the CoD series remains almost unchanged, and there's nothing wrong with that - because it's fun. Gameplay is tweaked in a few notable ways by the modernization of the setting. You'll occasionally do a stealth-style mission aided by nightvision (obviously absent from WWII), weapons now fire right through walls, and it's no longer a requirement to ditch the terrible American weapons for their superior German equivalents a few seconds into each level. In fact your default assault rifle is quite serviceable, and I found no real need to snag another weapon over the course of the game. Grenades felt a bit sloppier, likely due to their weighing less than WWII potatomashers. Both shooting through walls and tossing grenades back at enemies (another new move) are tactics the terrorists can make use of as well, improving their combat effectiveness. These groundpounding elements are broken up by some very enjoyable rail-shooting sequences. They are welcome diversions when they're injected into the story, with one nightvision-only sequence particularly well done.

For many players, the par-for-the-course gameplay and well-done single player story are just sidelines to this game's best offering: a full melding of RPG sensibilities with online FPS play. Much like the accolades offered in Battlefield 2's online component, Call of Duty 4 features a wealth of medals and awards to be handed out via multiplayer. The difference with CoD 4, though, is that these accolades are wrapped up inside a 'leveling' and 'class' structure, netting you the warfare FPS equivalent of superpowers. The ability for your bullets to pass through walls more easily, a larger inventory, new weapons, and a tweakable 'character class' all lead you through 55 levels of advancement. It's probably one of the most ambitious persistent elements to an FPS yet, and certainly the most advanced to come to a console. I haven't had as much time as I would have liked with this element, but it's quite a sight to behold the first time you enter that part of the game; it's sort of like opening a menu and stumbling into a MMOG hidden inside your FPS.

"Quite a sight" was actually one of the first things I thought when I began playing the game. There's an early level that places you at the far end of a broken and battered highway, raised up above street level. Your vantage point when you first enter the mission has you looking out over the battle-scarred ruins of a city. The terrorists are everywhere, and as a result smoke and anti-aircraft tracers light the sky. There are fires off in the distance, the sound of combat, and the occasional blast of a rocket explosion. It's an amazing image, a centerpiece for the title's visual imagery in the same way the title sequence is a centerpiece for the game's story. The sound in the game is likewise impactful, with 'Saving Private Ryan'-esque head ducks and dodges required by the zip of bullets and whiz of shrapnel. Probably the game's strongest suit, Call of Duty 4's presentation is a masterwork of modern gaming. It's easily one of the most beautiful games I've seen on the 360.

Overall, though I quite like Call of Duty 4, its core gameplay tries very hard to be humble despite the amazing presentation and strongly told tale. The basic, moment-to-moment activities you'll be performing in the game are so rote at this point that it's hard to get overly excited about the experience. When compared with titles like Rainbox Six Vegas, it's also hard to understand why I can't more effectively duck behind cover. In a game ostensibly touting modern military tactics, it's altogether unclear why 'duck' and 'crouch' are my only two real options when avoiding withering enemy fire. Even still, this game is a watershed for the CoD series. It's a breakthrough in technology and story for Infinity Ward, and sets the bar incredibly high for future modern warfare FPS titles. Via the online shooter component the game also has quite a bit of 'replay' value, and is a quality showing in the midst of a very busy holiday gaming season. Call of Duty 4 is worth a look from any fan of the genre, if only for an example of how to tell a story in the midst of a terrible (and timely) war.
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Call of Duty 4 Review

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  • Re:Review (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @04:40PM (#21354315)
    I don't get this whole anti-graphics attitude on slashdot. Are you trying to argue that having better visuals *isn't* a good thing? A game doesn't have to be revolutionary to be good. If it has no flaw in it, doesn't that make it a great game? If the existing gameplay is already good, why should it be completely overhauled?
  • Not quite (Score:5, Insightful)

    by TheMeuge ( 645043 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @04:44PM (#21354375)
    Repetition is not ALWAYS a bad thing.

    All of the Call Of Duty games feature a familiar type of gameplay... but the fact is that the creators of the games have gotten this down to a science... and have repeatedly(!) created a very immersive gameplay experience. Because every level and game are slightly different, and have their own perks, COD has not devolved into a mindless rehash, but has rather brought an opportunity to purchase a title that has a good chance of being as enjoyable as the last, with a non-existent learning curve.

    Are they being original with every iteration? Certainly not. But they've provided enough of a variety of environments, stories, and settings, that COD is still enjoyable, years after the first one revolutionized the WWII FPS arena.
  • Re:Review (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheGoodSteven ( 1178459 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @05:10PM (#21354739)
    Its not that visuals aren't a good thing, but if game developers are going to put more time into a game, I rather it be developing gameplay than making it look nicer. Doom 3 was a very pretty game, but it got boring very quickly. Prey wasn't revolutionary in anyway when it came to graphics, but boy was that a fun game. But I guess thats the name of the game; if video games came out that had excellent gameplay, then people might keep playing those same games for years, without putting their money into the next really pretty game. Counterstrike is a perfect example of this, not pretty by any means, but it still has one of the largest, if not the largest, fanbase out of any games. This is why I've shied away from buying games anymore unless they are really the talk of the town. Gimme an emulator and General Chaos over Call of Duty X. Now get off my lawn!
  • Re:Not quite (Score:3, Insightful)

    by mike2R ( 721965 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @06:13PM (#21355545)

    Repetition is not ALWAYS a bad thing.

    Quite, I'm not a huge FPS fan and I doubt I'll play this game, but I'm always pleased when a sequel is made to a game I like.

    There seems to be a carry over from the dislike of movie sequels into games as far as I can tell. I hate sequels to great movies - almost without exception they're made simply because they're a safe bet; an attempt to recreate a previous success by doing more of the same with the expectation that name recognition will ensure a profit. They don't add anything to the original, they simply (and obviously) try to cash in on its success.

    Games aren't like that. At the end of the day it is the gameplay that is important in a game - yes the plot might advance in a sequel, but this isn't what the sequel is about. The sequel is the same game, but with several years more development and user feedback incorporated into it - it's an improved version of the same game. When I like a game this is what I want.

    I loved the original Civilisation. Civ2 was the same game but so much better. Civ3 built on the Civ2 base and refined it considerably [I know there are some who hate anything after Civ2, I've never really understood why myself]. Civ4 (now on it's second expansion pack) is a really great game that I'm playing at the moment.

    I wouldn't play the original Civ anymore - it was amazing at the time, but things move on. But the ongoing development of the Civilisation series has provided me with a string of great games for more years than I want to count.

    At the end of the day a game is about the gameplay mechanics. The same game with improved gameplay is better than the original. While I agree that new original games are a good thing, that doesn't stop me appreciating incremental improvements to existing games,

  • Re:Review (Score:4, Insightful)

    by modecx ( 130548 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @06:44PM (#21355987)
    I've only played the demo, but I will be getting the game for PC later on tonight.

    Here's my perspective: I'm an FPS hog, but have never laid my hands on a CoD game prior to starting the demo. Basically, I've been playing Battlefield 2, 2142, Day of Defeat, Counterstrike, America's Army and some other recent title for a while. I recently upgraded my gaming computer and haven't laid my hands on a lot of the shiny, newer FPS games.

    I'm all for improved graphics, if it adds to atmosphere. The thing with CoD4 is that it's got a metric assload of atmosphere. After an hour of messing around with the various difficulty levels in the demo and trying stuff out, I got a little motion sick, to be honest. I mean, I didn't have run to the bathroom to retch, but it's the closest I think I've ever come to that due to motion related stuff, and I do not get sick on planes, boats, or anything else, even if I'm watching someone empty their stomach--probably due to my love of FPSs.

    If someone strapped a high def camera to a soldier's helmet and put him in a similar situation, I imagine the result would be pretty close to what you see in the game play. My second run the next day didn't hit me that way, but it's still pretty powerful. Actually, the detail in the game isn't all that noticeable when you're running and gunning.

    Sure, if you sit there and look around, it's pretty stunning; but if you sit there, you and your squad are dead! For the most part, the game keeps you going pretty much constantly. One cool thing I noticed in the demo is how an overhead illuminating flare is used to light up the battlefield in the last encounter of the demo. I mean, it looked pretty freaking good, created shadows all over the place, etc. Likewise, the night vision segment was really good, and it just feels real unlike it does in most other games.

    I think a problem the /. crowd has with super snazzy graphics is that games with great graphics are often poorly done in other areas, simply because the game studio concentrated only on graphics and not other (more important) game mechanics, and as a result the game becomes generally un-fun and disappointing. IMHO, from what I've seen, CoD4 is not one of those games--I do think it's going to be a very fun, compelling game, and the graphics, sound and play do make it an immersing experience.
  • by Anach ( 819405 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @07:08PM (#21356321) Homepage
    One of the things that killed the replay value for me, is the NPC spawns are endless. No matter how many you kill, they will keep popping until you pass certain areas of the map. This unnatural prompt to move forward, coupled with the lack of being able to fire effectively from behind cover is what turns this into an arcade shooter more than a real world combat shooter.
  • Re:Review (Score:1, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @09:11PM (#21357589)
    "Rehashing the same plot with sexier graphics doesn't work."

    Sales numbers prove you wrong.

I've got a bad feeling about this.