16
Nov
07

Review: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare – Single Player Campaign

Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls; I’ll begin by making a bold statement:

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is unequivocally the best game I have played this year. Better than BioShock, far better than Halo 3, better than Assassin’s Creed. This game will remind you why gaming is your hobby of choice.

I realize the year isn’t over yet. I also haven’t played Super Mario Galaxy, which is supposed to be a life-changing experience, and the beautiful jungles of Crysis await my arrival. Perhaps saving the universe from annihilation next week in Mass Effect will make the conflict in CoD4:MW seem insignificant.

As is, every other game I play this year will be measured against the herculean awesomeness of this game.

Awesome

CoD4:MW is a homecoming for the series. Developer Infinity Ward created the first two Call of Duty games. But Treyarch developed Call of Duty 3, released last year. That game was essentially a carbon-copy of Call of Duty 2 with added timed button presses. While Treyarch’s effort was certainly loyal to the franchise, the formula was getting stale. Call of Duty set a high bar for the “WWII-shooter,” but we’ve been killing Nazis since Wolfenstein 3D. It’s time to move on – a sentiment that’s been echoed elsewhere.

Infinity Ward took that sentiment to heart by moving CoD into the modern era, and into the Middle East, no less. There’s far less certainty in a this modern war than in America’s finest hour. In WWII, victory meant the defeat and surrender of Nazi Germany. Unless it’s an alternate reality game, the player knows the Nazis lose WWII, evil is defeated, and victory is achieved.

In the war that you’ll fight in CoD4:MW, much like our current situation in the Middle East, the definition of victory changes day to day. Infinity Ward fully realize the fear inherent in a situation where violent zealots wield nuclear weapons that can kill millions of people in an instant, and they use that to create palatable tension. Through it, they tell the story of the men whose job it is to protect not just the United States, but the entire world.

You read that correctly. They tell a story in this game, and a substantive one at that. In fact, I was more moved by the events of CoD4:MW than BioShock. Seriously. Maybe it’s because I guessed an important part of the plot twist in BioShock about an hour in, but there is a unexpectedly gut-wrenching scene in this game that had far more emotional impact than anything in 2KBoston’s tour de force.

The primary goal of the game is to restore peace to the Middle East by killing the extremist revolutionary Kahled Al-Asad, who has destabilized the region by killing the president of an important unnamed country.

In fact, as the opening credits roll, you’ll play as deposed President Al-Fulani as you’re helplessly transported to your execution at the hands of Al-Asad. The level ends as Al-Asad puts a gun in your face, on national television, and pulls the trigger.

You’ll play as four characters as you hunt Al-Asad and the men who aid him. Each character has different mission-types. As Sergeant John “Soap” MacTavish of the Special Air Service, you’ll play a number of covert-ops missions. You’ll also spend one gloriously difficult flashback in a ghillie suit as Soap’s superior officer Captain Price when he was a Lieutenant. These levels contrast nicely with the chaotic, high-intensity front-line missions of Sergeant Paul Jackson of the United States Marine Corps. You’ll also rain down death from an AC-130. This mission, while fun, becomes strangely eerie after a while. You’ll get an idea of how easy it must seem to kill a man when you can’t really see or hear him die.

The game play has remained essentially the same, not that it’s a bad thing. If you’ve played a CoD game in the past, you’ll immediately feel comfortable in this sequel. You’ll have your pick of two different main guns, flash bangs and frag grenades, and you can swing a knife for close-quarters combat. You can also use a grenade launcher, though its usefulness is somewhat less than you’d expect. The renewable health mechanism returns, as well, for better or worse. The physics are pretty much spot on, and the ability to shoot enemies through thin cover is a nice addition. A cover system, a la Gears of War, could have enhanced the experience. Regardless, finding cover still isn’t difficult. Environments aren’t as destructible or as interactive as I’d like, but most of the structures you’ll be moving through wouldn’t be destroyed by small arms fire.

Your teammates and the enemies’ AI is also well done. Flanking, lobbing grenades, and taking cover are done intelligently for both groups. One complaint is that the enemy AI can shoot you accurately from a hundred yards away, while it sometimes seems like your brothers in arms couldn’t hit the proverbial broad side of a barn. Speaking of grenades, they’ll kill you a lot. This is common in the Call of Duty franchise, but it seemed to happen even more frequently in this game than in previous titles.

It doesn’t hurt that the game looks incredible, too. The models and environments are all detailed, and there wasn’t a single moment in the game where I thought, “man, that just looks bad.”

All-in-all, the game feels seamless. The way you “woosh” down from the tactical satellite view, which takes the place of a standard loading screen, and into the action is a stroke of genius. It’s far less jarring than suddenly materializing into the into the level.

Some have complained about the duration of the campaign. It took me about 10 hours to complete on “Hardened” difficulty level (the second-most difficult setting), but it was some of the most intense play I have ever experienced. The difficulty was evenly scaled over the course of the campaign, and only became frustrating once or twice. It only made it more satisfying when I finally got it right.

When the credits started rolling, I felt physically drained. I sat back in my chair, suddenly realizing how rigidly I’d been sitting in my chair. At the end of BioShock I felt disappointed, so anticlimactic was the final act. This game had kept me on the edge the whole time. I watched the credits, listening to the humorously bad rap song that accompanies them. Then, I realized there was a surprise. I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, but if you haven’t sat through to the end of the credits, do so. You’re missing out on something special.

I think the most gratifying part of finishing the campaign is that there’s still so much more to the game. I haven’t even touched the multiplayer yet, which I hear is outstanding. There’s the Arcade Mode to play as well, which gives you two additional game-play modes.

I can’t think of anything truly negative to say about the game that wouldn’t be nitpicking. There are a lot of titles out there demanding your time and money this holiday season. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare should definitely make the cut.

[rating:5/5]

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