Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
7th Dec 2007 | 12:47
With first-person shooters, it.s hard to shake the feeling that you're being led through a series of planned encounters - like when you have to hang around and wait for an AI character to open a door, or endure a tedious cut-scene to unlock a set-piece. And while CoD4 is as guilty of this as the next FPS, it's hard to notice, or rather comprehend, as your senses wilt under it's frenetic pace, bewildering 360? explosions and jarring set-pieces. It's totally linear, but it feels like a million distractions are being fed into your brain every time you blink.
By binning the WW2 setting, Infinity Ward have freed themselves creatively - shorn of the weight of historical accuracy. As a result this is the maddest CoD yet. Forget traipsing around muddy fields and firing clumsy bolt-action rifles - Modern Warfare is a nuclear explosion of special effects and dizzying action. And this isn't simply an aesthetic change, it transforms the entire dynamic of the game, upping the pace and showing just how robust the engine is. Even during the most frenetic firefights it never wavers - from the pin-sharp facial expressions, to the billowing smoke and jaw-dropping torchlight, it's the game you bought your HDTV for. If you aim at an enemy's head - one shot, and he drops.
There's none of the sludgy movement, weedy spray paint weapons or collision problems that plague many FPS's. The game takes place over 30 days, from the perspective of two characters. Rookie
SAS soldier 'Soap' MacTavish is in Russia tracking down Russian terrorist Zakhaev, while US Marine Paul Jackson's after Al-Asad, a dictator who's just executed the president of a Middle Eastern country on live TV. After it transpires that these maniacs are in cahoots, the two campaigns collide and the Marines and the SAS end up working together to stop a volley of nukes obliterating the east coast of America. The storytelling is fast-paced and engaging, like a series of 24. And because it focuses on
two distinct groups of characters rather than a slew of faceless soldiers you really engage with the cast. When a major player dies later in the game we were actually sad. No, really.
And the difference between the characters extends beyond their dodgy accents. When you're playing as Jackson, it's all frantic street battles, frontline skirmishes and jarring close-quarters combat. The warzone, Generic Middle Eastern City 4B (it's basically Iraq, but
not), is a vicious gauntlet of exploding cars, suicidal soldiers with rocket launchers and a
seemingly endless stream of enemy reinforcements. But over in Russia the SAS boys keep themselves to themselves, only engaging the
enemy when absolutely necessary. In the first few missions your tiny four-man squad creep through fields and sleepy villages, silently taking out enemy patrols and avoiding helicopter spotlights. In one brilliant scene you cut the power to an enemy barracks, equip your night vision goggles and coldly execute the baffled
soldiers inside. The game alternates between the two characters regularly, which gives the game
texture and variety - something sorely missing from CoD3. In fact, variety is what makes CoD4 so special. The levels are linear, but most areas have several different positions to fight from, letting you flank the enemy with grenades or move to higher ground with a sniper rifle. One of our favourite tactics, especially indoors, is to lob a flashbang at a group of soldiers then run in and knife them (by pressing R3) as they stumble around rubbing their eyes.
THRILL OF THE CHASE
There are also helicopter gunship missions - one of which lets you tear a city apart with a heavy duty cannon - and a thermal imaging camera level where you chase helpless enemy soldiers through a village at night. They've even added a physics
system that lets you shoot through flimsy surfaces - plywood, plasterboard, etc - to get at entrenched enemies. But why is it so short? We played it on Normal and ploughed through it in three non-stop nights. The first chapter is
lengthy, but the last two are half its size. But here's our top tip - play it on Hardened. Here, you absolutely must stay covered otherwise you die almost instantly. The ever-present threat of dying makes it approximately 400 times more exciting. Trust us, don't bother with Normal mode if you want your money's worth. It's a moot point, since online multi-player is a game in itself, with near-limitless lifespan. Unlike the solo missions, the pace is absolutely breakneck and you'll spend a lot of your time dead when you first start out. But as you play, you earn RPG-style experience points which can be used to
upgrade your character and assign them specific skills (called Perks). You can choose three of these, the best of which include being able to sprint faster, shoot through walls and use your dying breaths to fire your pistol and score a sneaky revenge kill. In fact, a lot of these are taken from the single-player mode - it's not rare to assume a soldier is dead then see him
drag himself away, firing at you. CoD4's multi-player is worth ?40 alone - in fact, if you're not online yet, it's almost worth the extra ?70 odd to sign up. There are a few extras, though, if you plan to remain offline, like pieces of 'enemy intel' scattered around the game - 30 in total - which unlock bonus cheats. Some of these are useless, but some are priceless. Our favourite is 'Ragtime Warfare' which turns the game into a '30s silent movie.
It's so good - essential, even - that we'll be staggered if Killzone 2 matches this level of calibrated chaos. COD4s so polished, play-tested and designed, it makes almost everything on PS3 look foolish in comparison - humbling given its multi-platform status. It's as linear as a tape measure, and you'll probably only play it through twice - if that - but the invigorating, chaotic thrill of your first time will leave a such a dramatic footprint, all FPS's to follow will have to work extremely hard just to scuff its tracks.