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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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  • Review (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Haelyn ( 321711 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @04:32PM (#21354171)
    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.

    I think that sums it up. Zero innovation, prettier eyecandy.
  • Re:Review (Score:4, Interesting)

    by clubby ( 1144121 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @04:41PM (#21354317)
    And thank goodness for that. The last thing I want in a CoD sequel is innovation. Give me more of the same, but prettier and with new stuff. Innovation is for non-sequels, IMHO.
  • Re:Review (Score:3, Interesting)

    by ad0gg ( 594412 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @05:04PM (#21354645)
    COD4 is more like a movie than a video game. Haven't passed the game yet but gameplay and story are quite enjoyable though I wish the AC130 gunship level was a little longer. On a side note, games can be too innovated. Forexample, mario galaxy. Great game only issue is that its gameplay is so innovated that my brain has not adapted to it yet. I get motion sickness after an hour of play. I wanted to continue playing but couldn't. Maybe i'll buy some dramine for tonight's gaming session.
  • I can't think of a better single player game I've tried in ten years.

    It was simply amazing.
  • Re:FPS evolution (Score:3, Interesting)

    by popeye44 ( 929152 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @05:15PM (#21354805)
    I think you summed it up. Not terribly new gameplay. but an excellent environment. It tops my list of military games and i've played the whole series. The Ac-130 level was real enough that I got a bit squeamish playing it! As they say if a game feels too short it's usually because you had a lot of fun playing it.
  • by Pojut ( 1027544 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @05:41PM (#21355135) Homepage
    As others have stated, I don't really understand what the problem is if a game has good graphics, good gameplay, but doesn't do anything new. Much like Gears of War, the graphics are a major part of what make COD4 so immersive and so good...the action in the game is downright intense, the sound is fantastic (definately one to put the stereo up to 11 for) and the story is engrossing. The game is a bit short for my tastes (10-15 hours is the sweet spot for shooters, IMO) but what is there is still great.

    Liek others have said, a game doesn't have to be original or super innovative to be a great game...with COD4, it's clear to me that the team focused on multiplayer moreso than single player (hence the "lacking" single player campaign). While I personally would choose gameplay over graphics, in some cases the graphics directly impact the gameplay.

    Or would you prefer Ace Combat 6 to have the same graphics as the old 5 1/4" floppy game MiG-29?
  • Intense (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Malenfant ( 607119 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @05:53PM (#21355269)
    I've played a lot of FPS games, and this is the first ever to give me nightmares.

    The realistic graphics, and human enemies take things to a whole new level.

    Video games now have the power to move people emotionally even more than film can.
  • Re:Review (Score:1, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @07:37PM (#21356667)

    Played Crysis, next to this it's just "pretty, but meh".

    Oh c'mon, Crysis is hardly *just* "pretty".

    It has fantastic freeform sandbox levels, and innovative nanosuit gameplay (how many other FPS games let you crush someone by throwing a boulder at them, then powerjump on top of a building and cloak, Predator style?).

    That, combined with the absolutely stunning graphics, put Crysis head and shoulders above just about everything else out there, including CoD. I'll make exceptions for Bioshock and Portal. ;)

    Two things suck about Crysis, the generic story and steep hardware requirements. But gameplay is king, and Crysis is outstanding here. Not to knock CoD's gameplay, which is great... guess I just prefer non-linear to rail-shooters.
  • Re:Review (Score:3, Interesting)

    by NMerriam ( 15122 ) <> on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @08:52PM (#21357385) Homepage
    I never loaded the demo, so I don't know if it was poorly optimized (which seems to happen quite a bit).

    I honestly expected CoD4 wouldn't run well enough to play on my system, which is an "ancient" Athlon64 @1800Mhz with 3GB of old DDR memory. My 7600GT is a decent card that seems to perform a hell of a lot better than it seems anyone gives credit for. I can play just about every game released at 1280x1024 with all the settings turned to max except AA/AF, which I usually leave at 2x.

    CoD4 is not only playable, I turned every visual setting to max and even was able to leave the filtering at 4x, I still get 20-30fps depending on the scene. I suspect Crysis will kill my system, but CoD4 seems to be a ridiculously efficient engine -- even smoother than HL2 but with better effects at the same frame rate.
  • Re:Multiplayer? (Score:2, Interesting)

    by devolutionist ( 1156715 ) on Wednesday November 14, 2007 @09:10PM (#21357579) Homepage
    Here's my take on multiplayer... I was expecting a lot and got very little. I thought the multiplayer was absolutely horrible as far as gameplay went. Visually it's great... but it's Counterstrike. If you were to blindfold me and sit me in front of a PC running it, my first impression would've been that this was a CS:S mod. The points system is totally bolted on - points are stored locally, not on a server. So if I play from my laptop or from my desktop with the same account, my points will be different. Now all that alone isn't the end of the world. The worst thing about it was that there is no way to form distinguishable squads. The action is so chaotic - which sometimes is a good thing but it's like that on ALL maps - that if you're trying to play with friends on teamspeak, it's virtually impossible to keep track of them, where they are, what they're doing, etc. If I could just make them a different color in the minimap, I'd be happy. My final gripe is the balance of the game. The weapon unlocks give the guys that play seven hours a day SO much more of an advantage that it's ridiculous. If you're on a map with an M16 - or even the M4 or MP5, and the rest of the guys on the map have P90's, you might as well leave the server because your killeath ratio is going to end up being around 1:10. I hate to be a stick in the mud since it seems slashdot is having a big ol' CoD4 love-in here, but I feel like I wasted my $50 on a single player game that lasts 6 hours, and a multiplayer game that's unoriginal and unbalanced. If you're looking for a new multiplayer fps, don't throw your money away on CoD4. But hey... it IS pretty, you can't argue with that.
  • Re:Review (Score:3, Interesting)

    by packeteer ( 566398 ) <packeteer@subdim ... m ['on.' in gap]> on Thursday November 15, 2007 @03:10AM (#21360629)
    Man you just can't make gamers happy. If they change the game play and keep the graphics nearly the same people complain its not what they know and like. Look at Starcraft and Counter Strike, 2 of the most popular games ever. The gameplay is so solid nobody wants it to change. Notice how CS:Source didn't really take off other than the fact it has to be played in the big tourneys. Solid gameplay is important and once you get the perfect gameplay dont change it too much. People will happily play add ons with new features but are generally the same game.

    Look at games like chess, the same game play has lasted hundreds of years. The chess boards have gotten ornate and computer chess can show some cool pieces but its the same solid game play people want and EXPECT.

    Though the game suffers somewhat from overly-familiar game play in the single-player component, you'll probably be too busy gawking at the scenery to care

    This is a review from someone who wants everything new. They don't really care about the game they just want it to be new and shiny. Something to distract them. I know a lot of people play video games for the same reason they watch TV, to distract themselves for a while. If you really want new game play look outside the FPS genre. There are some subcategories of FPS games that you might want to try but stop complaining that they didn't throw the baby out with the bathwater and redesign what works.

If I had only known, I would have been a locksmith. -- Albert Einstein