Check out VideoGamer.com's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare video review.
Call of Duty has made a name for itself as the premier WWII shooter series, but original developer Infinity Ward wanted to do something different this time, leaving WWII in the past. Their third game, the fourth game in the CoD series, takes the combat into the modern era and features an entirely original storyline that hasn't come from the pages of history books. It's a bold move and one that ultimately has paid off. They went in deep and hard and pulled if off.
Previous games in the series have struggled to tell a story to match the intense action, and sadly the same is true of CoD4. While it's totally fictional this time around and involves numerous nuclear weapons, it's not storytelling at its best. You play as Sergeant John "Soap" MacTavish (and switch to other characters at various points), a new recruit thrown in at the deep end. Along with Captain Price and numerous other soldiers, it's up to you to stop a major international disaster of unprecedented scale. It's easy enough to piece together what's going on, but don't expect Hollywood style cinematics or Oscar-worthy writing. CoD4 is like an 80s action movie given the budget of a modern blockbuster.
While a fully cohesive plot would have been great, it's not the be all and end all of a video game, especially one that sees you wielding numerous high-powered rifles, RPGs, grenades, tank-busting missiles, air-strike signallers and more. The weaponry on offer here exceeds that seen in previous games in the series by some way, although it might take some time to adjust to if you're used to WWII-era guns.
Your opening mission sets the tone for the rest of the game. Set at night, you board a tanker with the rest of the Spec Ops team and go about silently taking down the crew members. It's incredibly slick, with your team-mates doing a lot of the work for you, but soon things go wrong and you're forced to evacuate as quickly as possible. From then on your team-mates aren't quite so helpful and you have to put your own gun-skills to the test in a six-hour thrill ride.
Hmm, six hours? Sadly that's just about the most you'll get out of the single-player campaign when played through on Normal difficulty. More skilful players will be able to attempt Hardened difficulty to get a few more hours out of the experience, and the real masochists out there can opt for the 'breathe near an enemy and die' fun that is Veteran. I won't pretend that I'm a gaming god and have finished the game on Veteran, as I haven't, but it's damn hard and gives you something to aim for once you've run through the campaign for the first time.
And what a campaign it is. It's hard to say exactly where it fits into the series, but it's certainly more enjoyable and dramatic than CoD3 (although less chaotic). Picking this or CoD2 as the series' high-point is tricky and will most likely come down to which era of fighting you prefer. CoD4 has all the terrorist activity you'd want, evil leaders, dramatic encounters and plenty of stunning scripted moments that will make your jaw hit the floor. The ability to shoot through walls also deserves a mention, as it really adds an extra level of authenticity to proceedings and makes you think carefully about your position and that of your enemies.
The Call of Duty series has always relied on intelligent scripted sequences to add danger and excitement to the games, and CoD4 is no different. It certainly isn't without its problems - enemies that will keep spawning until you cross an invisible barrier - but as long as you don't want it to be what it's not, you'll have a whale of a time. This isn't an open-ended shooter, not even to the extent that Halo 3 offers numerous large areas to tackle as you see fit. It's a linear experience that carries you along for the ride.
Enemy AI isn't the best, failing to come close to the brilliance we've seen in many other first-person shooters, often relying on high numbers of enemies rather than intellect. It works though, often creating the sense that you're pinned down, desperate for support and potentially seconds from death. These moments are certainly frustrating at points, but oh so rewarding when you complete them, if you ever do - I'm looking at you Veteran mode.
As well as the standard on-foot sections you'll board a Gunship, mowing down enemies at night in what can only be described as one of the most surreal but realistic moments I've ever played in a video game. It brought the sheer power of the arsenal the military has at its disposal into a new light and captured the look and feel of the situation perfectly. Other moments, like the stunning title sequence, high-five movie-like finale and sneaky extra mission after the credits (after a brilliant CoD song) will leave you breathless.
Sadly, it is over far too soon, but there's more on offer after the credits. The Arcade mode lets you play through the entire game or jump into specific levels and attempt to earn a new high-score. It's a little crude, turning a terrorist situation (albeit fictional) into a game of multipliers and bonuses, but it's good fun and comes complete with internet high-score tables for the more competitive amongst you.
The biggest mode of all though is undoubtedly the online multiplayer. While four-player split-screen offline is supported on consoles, it's the solo online mode that will have you clocking up the hours. Anyone who played in the online Xbox 360 Beta will know what to expect, and just how addictive it can be. Using a combination of simple levelling up and a perks system that rewards good players with better equipment, the game has an almost unhealthy amount of stickability. Much like the best MMOs, the desire to get those extra Experience points in order to gain another level is often too much, and once you're past the point of no return (which is really no more than a few ranks in) you'll want to keep plugging away.
Match types are varied and feature the usual bunch of team and solo dethmatches, plus objective-based modes. Five classes are on offer from the off, although you'll soon be able to customise your weapon loadout as you see fit. With up to 18 players running around on cosoles and 32 on PC, calling in air-strikes, placing charges and sniping you from behind (only me then?) it's frenetic stuff and is sure to become one of the most popular online games on all three systems.
What of the differences between the PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 versions? Thankfully there's little to choose between them, which is almost unheard of in this latest generation of consoles. The visual and control edge (if you're a keyboard and mouse fan) goes to the PC version, although you will need a fairly decent system to get the game running like it does on the consoles. Picking between the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions is near impossible, although with the benefit of rumble in the controller, Achievement points and a system wide online system, the 360 game is the console version to opt for.
No matter which you choose, you're in for a stunningly presented FPS experience. The amount of stuff that's going on and the level of detail in the environments put lesser shooters to shame, and the musical score is superb, matching the authenticity of the weapons and the chatter from your team-mates. Frame rate counters out there needn't worry either, as both the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions run remarkably well, only slowing down briefly during the most intense moments and never to the detriment of the gameplay.
Call of Duty fans worried by the series' move to the modern age of combat can breathe a sigh of relief. Although a new setting, Call of Duty 4 is everything we've come to love about the series and continues its tradition of stunning visuals and thrilling gameplay. The single-player is short but the Arcade game mode and brilliant online multiplayer combine to create one of the games of the year. It's more of the same, but every bit as polished as we hoped it would be.
Check out VideoGamer.com's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare video review.