The Call of Duty series as won many accolades and rightly so. The developers have always delivered games that are well polished and with an incredible level of detail and historic accuracy. The first three games in the series concentrated on World War II, however the release of Call of Duty 4 : Modern Warfare takes the game into the present day.
What defines a good first person shooter? First and foremost there are the graphics. Like moths to a flame, stunning graphics attract gamers. Call of Duty 4 is a raging bonfire when it comes to visuals. We have had it playing for some time and nobody can walk past it without stopping and taking in the artistry of the game. Right from the beginning you can see the attention to detail. Whether the missions are set in Russia, England or the Middle East, it seems that the developers have gone to enormous lengths to deliver to gamers a realistic as possible experience.
Just a few of the many high points for us in the game graphics are the vast array of textures, the small everyday objects strewn about the battlefield and the environmental effects. In many FPS games there is often a sense of déjà vous as you progress through the game. Textures, objects etc. are repeated from mission to mission, leaving you with a sense of nothing being new. In Call of Duty 4 there is a such a huge array of textures and objects making up the developer's palette that each map feels completely different.
The huge array of detail is also evident in the smaller objects that make up the environments. Potted plants, broken wooden pallets, can, tyres, rubble, rubbish skips, ammo boxes, shell casings - the list goes on and on. Bursting into the local TV station, you are treated to full cubical office layout, PCs, in and out trays, etc. For all you desk jockeys out there, the ability to lay waste to an office is another reason you must get this game.
The environmental effects in the game are subtle. Not a brash in your face, 'we can do weather effects' type of implementation but rather a delicate ambiance that brings the environment alive. Crawl across a field and dust motes dance across the screen; snow cascades lightly through the canyons between apartments while paper and rubbish scuttles across a seemingly deserted street.
Once you get past the visual feast gameplay defines a true gaming masterpiece. Call of Duty 4 shows that the developers have learnt many lessons from their previous games and have delivered a multi layered gameplay experience not delivered before with such finesse. The solo game is an intense tour de force through the gameplay options players can enjoy. From the initial training as an SAS covert operations agent to the full on, shoot and scoot American Marine combat missions, there are many aspects of combat delivered to the gamer. You will be sneaking through long grass, derelict buildings, and vehicle parks while making your way to the optimal sniper position. Next you will find yourself flying in a combat chopper over a middle east city taking out AA position with your automatic grenade launcher.
Without spoiling the excellent storyline, the opening mission has you assaulting a freighter in the middle of the bearing sea. As the ship pitches and rolls in a heavy sea you are tasked initially to take out crew member s by stealth. This quickly develops into close-in combat between shipping containers and tight corridors while the mission finishes with an exercise in escape and evasion.
The combat itself is brilliant. Like the most recent games in the series there is no onscreen damage meter. If you take damage it shows as a red haze around the screen, and your heavy breathing. Rest out of the line of fire and you recover. You have the usual crouch, prone and sprint stances you would expect from an FPS and these are intuitively laid out on the Xbox controller while the keyboard layout is very similar to previous games in the series.
Weapons-wise it’s hard to know where to start. There is a huge array of weapons that you will either be issued with or that you can pick up. There is a three weapon maximum, however. There is the standard knife (pwning blade), and two other slots. There is an array of sniper weapons including both Soviet and American models, differing side arms, semi-auto's and heavy machine guns. All weapons are not born equal with a lot effort being made to ensure they operate in accordance with their real world counterparts. Heavy weapons especially are great for delivering hurt through a wall (yes you can shoot through wall if the circumstances are right). There is some argument that the pistols may be over powered, however there were obviously some compromises to ensure game balance was achieved.
In addition to the arsenal of weapons there are also grenades (including a wonderfully implemented flash grenade), claymores, RPGs, silencers, night vision goggles and C4 packs. You can also call in air strikes and gunships. These fit well within the story but they really shine when it comes to online play.
A truly brilliant FPS must have good online play. COD4 is nothing less than stunning in this area. There is a great system of experience points and upskilling that lets you use different weapons, and special abilities. These carry through from game to game with your profile being promoted the more you play. The maps are very tight, which is a departure from some of the more expansive maps in previous games in the series. This makes for some pretty intensive games, particularly in city blocks where you need to look up as much as forward. The level of detail is just as evident in these maps as in the solo campaign and often offers welcome cover from the unrelenting combat. There is already a good bunch of servers up, both NZ- and Aussie-based, that have reasonable ping.
It's a real struggle to find anything wrong with this game. The campaign may be a bit short for some people (although this may be a product of the intensity of the gameplay) and in an ideal world it would have been cool to have seen more destructible objects (don’t stand next to a car too long as enough gunfire will cause it to go up in flames) but really this game is as near to perfect as it can be.
This is a brilliant game that displays the art of game design at its highest level. It has to be a candidate for game of year. If you have any interest in first person shooters go and buy it now. Get online and enjoy the COD4 blast!