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Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare


I have to admit something that may tick off Call of Duty fans: I'm tired of playing World War II shooters.

Every time I found myself faced with playing another Call of Duty (COD), Medal of Honor, or Brothers in Arms I got a little pit in my stomach. It didnít have anything to do with the philosophical debate regarding whether or not it was appropriate to portray WWII as a video game. No, that feeling of discomfort stemmed from the fact that the genre has been way overplayed. How many digital Nazis have I put down in my day? I mean, it's fun and all but in all honesty you can only take so much of the same thing no matter what coat of paint or title has been slapped on it.

When I heard that another COD title was in the works I have to admit that I rolled my eyes. The third installment was a lot of fun but not entirely impressive or innovative by anyone's standards. Needless to say my enthusiasm for a fourth incarnation was relatively low. Thankfully Modern Warfare shattered my expectations in more ways than one!

Activision and Infinity Ward have turned their franchise on its head. COD4 takes place outside the realm of World War II and sees itself in, well, modern times. With a plot that involves terrorists doing what they do best, Modern Warfare quickly separates itself from the rest of the series. The story is very refined with a single plotline and though there aren't a lot of surprises it's very compelling the entire way through. Once again you'll be witnessing events from the perspective of a few individuals but the real kicker here is the sense of immersion and gameplay quality which easily outclasses just about every other shooter on the market. And no, I haven't forgotten about Halo 3.

Gameplay


Right from the very beginning COD4 manages to pull you in and knock your socks off. Shortly after firing up the disc you're presented with a straightforward training stage that gives you the basics. You simply run through a series of plywood and pop your gun at some targets to orient yourself with the controls. It's simplistic, familiar, and in many ways a great example of how great the core gameplay is.

Cutting right to the chase I will say that since COD4 is a first-person shooter you can pretty much ascertain some of the things to expect from your experience. You'll control your soldier with the analog sticks, throw grenades and shoot with the shoulder buttons, reload and swap weapons with the face buttons, and melee by clicking the right analog. It's very familiar within the confines of the genre especially if you have played a COD game before. The kicker here is that the control is so refined that you'll wish every title played so well. Seriously, I tried to find a fault with the set up and I couldn't; it's intuitive and functional the entire way through.

After you've run through some of the basics the game begins with its glorious presentation. Without giving too much of the story away you're going to be in the shoes of several people throughout the campaign. The first person you'll portray is the president of a Middle Eastern country who has just been kidnapped by the lead terrorist and all around bad guy Khaled Al-Asad. After being escorted through a war-torn city where its citizens are being executed you'll eventually be taken to a place where you're put on the world stage. From the point of the president you watch as Al-Asad puts the gun between your eyes and pulls the trigger. There was just something about this approach that really drew me in more than the other inclusions in the COD franchise and it gives everything a primal feeling.

After being shot in the head you're going to find yourself eased onto the battlefield. Between playing as a Marine and a member of the British S.A.S. you'll be taken from one aspect of the battle against Al-Asad and his forces to the next. The experience you're going to have varies slightly depending on the stage but overall the action is intense and over the top.

An early stage sees you busting through an urban environment and raiding a TV station to take Al-Asad off the air. As you work your way through the maze-like interior of the building you'll come across pockets of terrorists who are less than pleased to see you and your buddies. These firefights are fast-paced and require quite a lot of tactics. Taking into consideration the fact that bullets travel through walls and doors means that ducking behind a desk like you would in a typical FPS gunfight just isn't going to cut it.

In each stage the game gives you something new to play with whether its gear or a gameplay mechanic. The aforementioned cover shooting means that no conventional spot is safe for as long as you'd expect. The neat bit here is that even though enemies can take you out while you're hiding; you can do the same. Anticipating enemy movements behind a structure yields amazing results though don't be surprised if bullets blindly come your way while you're shooting. The AI will take you to task and you'll feel as though you're on the edge in any fight. The outcome of most battles hinges on how you approach them and even though you can replay sections you'll never catch the CPU doing the same thing twice. Keep this in mind when you lob a grenade into their midst. You may just want to cook it off a bit before tossing it otherwise it may come back to haunt you.

There are so many highlights in COD4's singe player that it's very difficult to spotlight them all. Every stage has something to offer whether you're manning the artillery of an aircraft, laying down sniper fire, running into a combat zone to save a fellow soldier, or engaging terrorists in the dark of night. You're never going to be bored while playing this game despite the fact that you'll have the feeling that you're being led from place to place. Even the game's short length isn't an issue thanks to the AI and stellar design all around. Additional difficulty selections and modes that become available after beating the game are also a definite plus.

As is the case with any great FPS the real longevity of COD4 stems from the multiplayer aspect. While people all around the globe are strapping on their Spartan and Elite armors and shooting each other with Needlers, I found myself having a slightly better time with Modern Warfare's online component.

The fact that COD4's gameplay is so amazing certainly helps and online firefights possess the same ferocity that the single player encounters do. The thing that separates this title from others in the genre is the manner with which it approaches ranking and such. Each kill nets you a certain amount of experience points and various actions during matches will do the same. Once you rack up enough you'll unlock a new rank which is represented by a number next to your name.

As you rank up you'll be able to customize your experience the way you want to. Other gameplay modes become available along with new weaponry and things called Perks. These Perks are essentially a way of augmenting your persona by using them with custom builds. For instance when you begin you have a minimal selection of three types of Perks to use. As you become seasoned online better options will open up and soon you'll be able to equip three grenades, drop one when you're killed, and add extra damage to your bullets. The end result is a first-person shooter with RPG elements mixed in with white-knuckled gunplay. In other words it's amazing!

Even as I sit here writing this review I find myself looking fondly at my 360 and desiring nothing more than to stop typing and pick up the controller. I beat the game, I have put in several hours online, and still can't bring myself to put the title away quite yet. It may not be fair to compare the two because Halo and COD4 are like apples and oranges. Both are great in their own right though I do have to say that for the time being and foreseeable future Halo is in its case and COD4 is in my 360; take that for what it is. Activision and Infiniti Ward outdid themselves with this one and they have made Call of Duty a franchise worth caring about again. This is one of the best shooters on the market and if you own a 360 and love the FPS genre you absolutely must buy this game.

Achievements


The Achievements in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare range in difficulty to obtain. For starters they all revolve around the single player experience so you don't have to worry about playing every mode in the multiplayer a thousand times in order to unlock 20 points. I got 300 points after playing through my first time with a variety of skill achievements (such as stabbing three people in a row) and ones gained from simply beating stages. You can also go back to revisit the title on the significantly harder Veteran difficulty and trust me when I tell you that's quite the challenge.

Graphics


The 360 has some amazing looking titles. From Gears of War to Halo 3 and Mass Effect to Eternal Sonata there are so many games that feature fantastic graphics that take advantage of the system's capabilities; Call of Duty 4 looks better than all of them. Modern Warfare is quite simply one of the most beautiful titles to grace any console and that's the bottom line. The lighting, design, effects, weaponry, animation, stages, and characters are all simply top of the line. I didn't notice a single flaw while playing this game and whether it was the single player or multi there was never a drop in quality.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare supports up to 1080p and no matter what set up you're playing on this game is going to look gorgeous. Simple things like the inclusion of vision impairing grenades and explosions that kick up particles and debris really draw you into the game. Everything is crisp and clean with a presentation that is the very definition of wartime being hell. If you felt previous incarnations of the series portrayed war in an accurate manner wait until you get a load of COD4's battlefield.

Sound


As fine as the visual presentation of Call of Duty 4 is, it's the audio that really hits all of the right notes. This game utilizes your home theater brilliantly and if you're rocking a 5.1 set you're going to be on Cloud 9. I can honestly say that out of every game I have ever played this is probably the most immersive. The explosions, voices, gunfire, footsteps, and clinking of grenades on the floor will envelop you. As bullets ricochet around you and tear through your cover you'll be brought to the edge of your seat.

Not only is the sound direction phenomenal but the music is another strong point. The Call of Duty franchise has always been known for epic tunes and sweeping scores so fans will be pleased to know that Modern Warfare is no different.

Conclusion


If you can't tell already, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is the best in the series. It's one of the most ferocious shooters on the market and everything from the gameplay, graphics, and sound comes together in perfect harmony to create a visceral wartime experience that will grab you and not let go. The single player campaign is short though amazing and the multiplayer functionality is out of this world with a fantastic amount of depth that stems from the RPG elements. I can't wait to see what Infiniti Ward has in mind for downloadable content but until then this remains one of the greatest games on the market right now.

Halo 3 and Gears of War may be 360 system sellers but COD4 is not to be ignored. It's a rock-solid title that pushes the envelope and shatters expectations. In my opinion this is the shooter to beat right now and I don't see myself going back to the two other titles any time soon. Master Chief, you're a great guy, but wow, COD4 is giving you a run for your money. Videogame Talk Collector's Series