Now finally we’ll have time to play something else on our Xbox 360s. That’s right, the time-limited Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare multiplayer Beta that was played night and day by many a gamer for the past months has ended. First, let me say a big thank you to Infinity Ward who let gamers all around the world into the Beta. For those of you who missed out, don’t be mad - be happy for those who got in on the fun and can now tell you all about it.

Now, I have been a bit of a Call of Duty fan ever since the first one hit PCs and have tried to give them all a good go. A big letdown for me was Call of Duty 3 which for several reasons wasn’t enjoyable to me, maybe just that the WWII shooter genre has been done and done again so often. That is why it is so refreshing to have Call of Duty 4 step away from this era and into a more modern period. This allows Infinity Ward to play with a number of different units such as choppers and jets, although unlike in the Battlefield series you weren’t able to drive these directly. However, they do play a key role.

After taking the Beta online and initially having to take some embarrassing defeats, I began to get the handle on the controls and the feel of the game. The multiplayer is fast paced and you have to be constantly on your toes. There are enough options in the multiplayer games to keep you busy for a long time. You have objective based rounds where you are tasked with arming or disarming a bomb, simple team based rounds where the aim is to rack up the highest number of kills as a team, rounds with and without respawns, as well as free for all. You were also given the option of joining a game either with a group, or games without groups which meant you wouldn’t have your proverbial handed to you by a well oiled unit.

The controls were very well mapped with multiple grenades set up for the shoulder buttons and the triggers allowing you to shoot and use your iron sights / scopes. Melee was also mapped nicely to the right stick, making it very easy to reach, but also meaning you needed catlike reactions to prevent yourself being knifed to death (one hit = kill). However, this does add to the somewhat fast paced game style which had the effect of keeping you on the edge of your seat throughout. Also a great feature is the ability to throw grenades back if you so happen to stumble across one before it blows up in your face. This can be surprisingly difficult in the heat of battle, and seems very well balanced so as not to be too easy.

The game is so well balanced that the learning curve is not too huge and is playable for all skills levels without being frustrating. A nice touch to add to the pick up and play nature is the virtually instant respawn that you can have depending on the game type, as well as the killcam by which you see how you were offed, which will soon put a stop to most pesky snipers unless they keep moving.

Call of Duty 4 is not only easy to control, but also a fantastic looking shooter. Possibly some of the most realistic graphics we have seen in a multiplayer shooter so far. We can also report from seeing the single-player mode at Activate Asia that things look superb in that mode, too. In both modes, incredible lighting and smoke effects will have you gaping, or blinded as you emerge from a dark house into the blazing sunlight. The character models look very real and you can select camouflage that suits the level you are on which will make it easier to blend in. And with the impressive graphics on offer, camouflage looks and works better in Call of Duty 4 than any game we have seen.

Over 70 authentic and new weapons from mines, sniper rifles to machine guns and assault rifles help you feel immersed in the game as though it were a real battlefield, and you will soon find a favourite weapon amongst the many. This leads us onto the customisation options which are numerous to say the least. As your experience increased by winning rounds and killing enemies, as well as completing certain ‘objectives’, e.g., jumping off a tower above a certain height and surviving the fall, you gain access to new weapons. As you use these weapons and again complete ‘objectives’, i.e., a certain number of head shots with a certain weapon, you will unlock further customisations including different coloured camouflage and laser dot sights for your weapons. This will result in you specialising certain weapons for different rounds.

The weapon unlocks are not the end of it: enter Infinity Wards new ‘Perk’ system. Perks are unlocked for your soldier at certain levels as you rank up. These include things such as steady aim, deep penetration (shoot through walls), last stand (pull your pistols out after being downed for a last ditch attempt) amongst many others. In the Beta the level cap prevented the players from gaining access to all the perks, however it is clearly a compelling reason to level up and you will want to maximise your three perk slots to suit your playing style.

Unfortunately we only had access to three of Call of Duty’s levels, however these never failed to be fun. A large range will be in the final game allowing for close-quarters combat, as well as wide open battlefields, in varying settings and environments. The night vision goggles available to you raise the question, What other levels do Infinity Ward have up their sleeves to require such equipment? The levels are relatively easy to learn but take some time to master. It will pay to know your way around as when players go on a kill streak (3, 5 and 7), they will gain access to radar (UAV), a chopper and an air-strike. These can seal your fate, especially if caught in the open and make for a much more diverse game than what you might be used to from Counterstrike.

Generally, come November Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare will be seriously contending for the top spot in many Xbox 360 consoles. With the multiplayer alone being a game in-itself the single-player will just be the icing on the cake. I wouldn’t be surprised if a few gamers put Halo 3 away for a while and turned their attention to Call of Duty 4 and with the experience and perks system it doesn’t look like it will get old fast.