Call of Duty 4 is one of the most exciting single player adventures in years. If only it was a bit longer…
+ Terrific graphics and presentation
+ Awesome sound
+ Amazing variety in gameplay
+ Incredibly tight pacing and scripting
+ Great set pieces
+ Tons of attention to detail
- Really, really short singleplayer
For the last year or so, I have found myself extremely underwhelmed by just about all the games I had tried. Even the “best of breed” - games that got rave reviews from virtually everyone - weren’t doing it for me. S.T.A.L.K.E.R.: Shadow of Chernobyl, for example, got boring just 15 minutes in. Halo 3 - my first experience with the Halo series - was so absurdly unimpressive, I began to question the sanity of Xbox owners. BioShock, despite my recent interest in Ayn Rand novels, held my attention for no more than a few levels. During a particularly boring spell, I actually did play Quake 4 all the way through, but was left with a stale taste in my mouth. The game had brief glimmers of cool ideas & plot twists, but didn’t develop any of them, and ended up feeling just like the original Quake, which I beat during another dry spell years ago. The list of disappointments goes on and on.
Only two explanations came to mind: either I had outgrown video games or I had ADD. I actually wasn’t sure which would be worse. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare blew both of these excuses out of the water. The game is phenomenal and a testament to the fact that strong game design can impress even the most jaded gamer.
Let’s break it down.
If you’ve got the horsepower to run it, this is one beautiful game. Great lighting effects, awesome particle effects (smoke, sparks, explosions), terrific use of blur, good player models, and high resolution textures really make this game worth looking at. The graphics engine is very well rounded, doing a terrific job with a wide variety of environments - day, night, middle eastern streets, central Europe in winter, ocean liner, office buildings, etc. Technologically speaking, some graphics engines out there might top CoD 4 in certain areas, but there’s really nothing to complain about here.
Artistic Design: 10/10
The game is full of meticulous detail that really make it a pleasure to look at and play. It’s really the little things that make it shine: the awesome tall grass & camouflage that actually allows you to hide; the subtle blur effect when looking down the site of a gun; the ability to shoot through certain materials (wood, sheet metal, etc); the realistic death animations; the way soldiers hold their guns as they enter a room; the heat coming off the barrel of a gun after firing; the lighting fast transitions from briefing to combat. And the list goes on and on. Quite simply, it’s a pleasure to see the game in action.
The sounds in this game are a huge part of what makes it so immersive. Every time a gun fight breaks out, it really sounds like a war zone. All around you, cars are exploding, pipes are bursting, glass is shattering, and RPGs are flying. Guns sound (and are) powerful, bad guys are constantly shouting in their native languages, and bullets will be wizzing by you non stop. The music is a perfect fit and the voice acting is top notch.
The single-player game is story driven, but for the most part, it’s a very generic tale of terrorism, war and nuclear weapons.
Level Design: 10/10
While the story itself is fairly forgettable, it does provide the setting for some incredibly memorable and exciting levels. The game is filled with “oh sh*t” moments that you’ll be dying to show your friends. From the very first level (the one after the training), the game pulls you in and won’t let go. It’s very fast paced and tightly scripted, and is best described as being part of an incredible action movie.
At the core, CoD4 is a first person shooter, so most of the mechanics are familiar. However, given the game’s length (see below), there is a huge variety of missions. You’ll do close quarters battle aboard a ship, go through an incredible stealth sequence as a sniper, man the guns of an AC-130, battle through the war-torn streets of a middle-eastern town and more. There are tons of effective weapons at your disposal and the combat tends to be fairly realistic. For example, even though there isn’t an “official” duck & cover system (as in Gears of War), you’ll often find that if you don’t find cover, you’ll be shot to pieces in seconds.
The damage/health model is a bit different than most shooters: there is no health or shields explicitly visible. Instead, your character automatically heals, as long as you don’t take too much damage at any one time. For example, if a stray bullet hits you, it does some damage, but you recover fairly quickly. However, if you take a spray of AK47 fire from close range, you’re likely dead. The main advantage of this system is that you don’t have to waste time hording health packs or medkits, which allows for a more continuous game experience. The disadvantage is that there is relatively little penalty for getting shot, so long as you’re not shot too badly. Overall, I think the pros outweigh the cons, as it allows for a faster and smoother gameplay experience.
The single player campaign is short. Really really short. The first play-through for an experienced gamer would probably take no more than 4 hours. There is a little replay value in trying some levels on harder difficulty levels, or in “arcade mode”, but the length is truly disappointing. Having said that, it’s worth noting that just about every second of those 4 hours is a blast. The game never lets up, going from set piece to heart-pumping set piece, not wasting any time on repetitive gameplay.
I did not encounter a single bug or crash while playing CoD4.
The game ran beautifully with max settings at 1680x1050 on my computer:
- AMD X2 3800+
- 2GB RAM
- ATI x1900xtx
- WinXP SP2
Overall: 9.5/10 (Not an average)
This is one of the most thrilling games I’ve played in a while. Other than the length, this game does just about everything right.
I have not tried (nor reviewed) the multiplayer component of CoD4.