Review - Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Developer: Infinity Ward
Publisher: Activision
Platform(s): PC, Xbox 360, PS3, Mac OSX

This is my first entry, so let's get this little question out of the way: will I be reviewing games often? Yes. I'm a video gamer at heart and now that I have a 360 I have access to a wide range of titles - many of them shit, but some true diamonds in the rough shine through.

Of course, another very much related question arises: will I be staying on top of the latest games?

Well, yes and no.

I hope to review games like Resident Evil 5 or Silent Hill: Homecoming the day after they come out. I truly hope to beat these games in a day in order to critique the full experience. Can I guarantee this? Not entirely. When I'm not a full-time student, I'm working forty hours a week. Not to mention, I have to pay for school, so I can't be shelling out cash left and right for the hottest new releases.

I'm not hesitant to review previously-released titles, either. I've played some great Goddamn games in the last couple months and I'll be damned if I don't post my views sometime soon. Which, conveniently enough, leads us to the topic at hand: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.

Call of Duty 4 (hereby known as CoD4) has been on the market since last November and has taken the gaming world by storm. In fact, the copy I have in my room right now is labeled "Game of the Year." Is this release worth the title? Well, if you plan on getting a quick answer and going on with your life, then I'll enthusiastically respond, "Yes, and then some!" However, you flash-in-the-pan readers will miss out on the meat and bones - the true grit - of why CoD4 is so deserving of this mantle.

CoD4 is - you guessed it - the fourth major title in the Call of Duty series. Before CoD4, I have only played the original game, CoD2 and a little bit of Finest Hour, but I can say right off the bat that Activision and Infinity Ward have created the best World War II shooter franchise in recent gaming history. The first game alone goes leaps and bounds beyond any combination of titles in Electronic Arts' Medal of Honor series (in which WWII was won by a single man occasionally aided by slow-witted allies), featuring an adrenaline-pumping recreation of the fight for Pegasus Bridge on D-Day and a truly epic taking of Stalingrad's Red Square. It was also the first mainstream WWII shooter to feature the Soviet Red Army as a playable faction, which pleased me to no end. CoD2 merely upped the ante, including truly vicious street fighting and desert warfare. I never got around to playing CoD3 but from what I hear it was a lackluster console-only release with little technical improvement from CoD2.

Modern Warfare breaks away from the theme established by earlier entries in the series and takes the combat out of WWII and forward a good sixty years in order to portray - wait for it - modern warfare. The war in question is fictional in nature - hopefully - and features the US Marines and British SAS as playable factions. Turns out, a Russian Ultranationalist party has joined forces with an unspecified Middle Eastern military coup in order to take on the West. You fight on both fronts, allowing us to experience both full-out street fighting and stealth reconnaissance.

In terms of general gameplay, CoD4 is mostly unchanged from previous CoD games. Squad commands are absent, instead supplanted by mostly scripted experiences and AI that - even though not perfect by any means - manages to outdo Medal of Honor's output by at least 150%. While it would have been nice for Infinity Ward to have included team-based action a la Brothers in Arms, we still receive what is undoubtedly the most cinematic experience in recent first-person shooter history. The graphics are simply beautiful, utilizing a wider colour palate than the gunmetal grey/dusk brown standard set by Gears of War. CoD4 makes the absolute best of full-range lighting and shadows, effectively enabling a sniper's ghillie suit to appear indistinguishable from Ukrainian long-grass.

Going off on a little bit of tangent here, I find myself endlessly impressed by the amount of effort put into the game's plot, characters and writing overall. While the primary playable characters - American Paul Jackson and Englishman "Soap" MacTavish - are the epitome of the phrase "silent but deadly," your teammates Captain Price, Gaz and SSgt. Griggs are memorable in more than a cheesy, we're-brothers-in-arms kinda' way. They're virtual creations, for sure, but oddly human as well - which only goes to show how decent motion-capture and voice acting can go a long way. The primary antagonist, Imran Zakhaev, has to be one of the most intimidating motherfuckers in gaming history as well.

As I said just recently, CoD4 is unparalleled in its cinematic presentation. While the single-player campaign is relatively short, it features a rapidly-sinking cargo freighter, an atomic explosion a truly tense sniping mission that requires the player to - quite literally - crawl between the legs of a Russian army platoon. Aside from the main playable characters, we are briefly placed in the shoes of a AC-130 gunner in a level best described as "coldly distant" (and how!) and a disposed Middle Eastern president being driven to his public execution. I showed two of my friends the latter level, both of them slowly realizing - in amazement - what fate my character was being led towards. And at the risk of immature, the slow-motion climactic moment is nothing short of mind-blowing.

Does CoD4 have its flaws? Oh, undoubtedly. Aside from the aforementioned lack of squad commands, we have a couple instances of faulty AI and enemies that rush toward you, heedless of their short virtual lives. However, CoD4 is a truly excellent game in the sense that these problems seem petty in comparison to the veritable cornucopia of gaming pleasure that Infinity Ward has brought to the table.

Before I break off, however, I should not forget to mention CoD4's multiplayer portion, which is truly deserving of a nice, thick paragraph of its own. My experience with the CoD series' previous multiplayer offerings have been less than satisfactory. Despite the series' emphasis on team-oriented combat, the multiplayer packaged with CoD and CoD2 was less than stellar, being more of a run-and-gun scenario than anything. That said, Modern Warfare's online component is nothing short of pure fun, incorporating a slightly RPG-esque experience point system that allows for rank promotions and unlockable weapons and customization. As of this post, I currently stand at Rank 20 - Master Sergeant I - and have an M4A1 with red-dot sight as my primary weapon. The maps are varied, ranging from derelict warehouses to bombed-out villages to Middle Eastern streets. On a whole, the multiplayer experience is ideal, featuring some of the more team-oriented elements of Rainbow Six: Vegas but with the ease of a Halo slayer match. By far, it's some of the best fun I've had online in years.

So, the verdict? Not my game of the year, but an excellent title nonetheless. I really don't need to recap the reasons why (this is a video game review, not a formal essay, for Christ's sake) but let it be said that the cinematic single-player campaign and the addicting multiplayer aspect ultimately sealed the deal for me. Chances are, I'll still be waging war on this virtual battlefield a couple months from now. Look for me under the tag [sWAy]Jason Rees. I'm not going to assign any useless numbers (why? I'll tell you later), instead simply tell you that it's worth buying or at the very least a rental. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is one to be remembered.


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