Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Exclusive Single-Player Hands-On

Infinity Ward's first post-World War II shooter is set to blow up in the fourth quarter, and we got to play two of its impressively explosive campaign missions.

Developer Infinity Ward has literally built its good name on World War II. The studio's core team first crafted the superb Medal of Honor: Allied Assault at Tulsa-based development house 2015 before going on to found Infinity Ward and create Call of Duty, arguably the most popular WWII shooter franchise running. But after the group undertook a marathon development cycle to produce Call of Duty 2 in time for the Xbox 360's late 2005 launch, Infinity Ward was ready for something newer: something present-day, to be specific. The company immediately went into production on Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the most ambitious and narrative-driven shooter from Infinity Ward to date. We were lucky enough to hit the ground running with two of the game's campaign missions to find out how the team is expanding Call of Duty's scope with this latest game's new design and technology.

As producer Mark Rubin mentions, the events of World War II have been set in stone for decades now; there's only so much room for game creators to maneuver fictitiously within that established timeline. But Modern Warfare has gone modern-day, naturally, and Infinity Ward has thus been able to create a cohesive, original narrative that will see you traveling to far-flung locations around the globe, and bearing witness to military conflict and political intrigue that's just a little bit larger than life. Call of Duty 4 is sticking to its heritage in some key areas that returning players will find familiar, though. As in previous games, you'll take up multiple roles as members of multiple international special forces. In Modern Warfare, you'll play a character in the US Marine Corps' elite Force Recon unit, and on the British side, you'll be in the Special Air Service, or SAS, with whom Call of Duty fans should already be quite familiar.

Modern Warfare's campaign mode will take you to turbulent hot spots in Russia and the Middle East.

Don't think of these two groups as representing two distinctive campaigns. The American and British special forces may operate in different geographical regions in the game, but they'll be embroiled in and fighting against the same high-pressure plot against world security. Understandably, Infinity Ward is playing the game's story close to the vest, but so far we know you'll be fighting against a nefarious group led by a couple of shady characters called Al-Asad and Zakhaev, who are stirring up international unrest to further their own aims. We know that Al-Asad is masterminding a political coup somewhere in the Middle East--but that coup is primarily a diversion from Zakhaev's real plan to topple the Russian government, possibly through nuclear means. The Americans will operate primarily in the Middle East, while the SAS will take up arms mostly in Russia. As we saw during our time with the game, you'll switch between the two factions from mission to mission as the story dictates.

To present all this international intrigue, Infinity Ward is employing a number of narrative devices not seen in past Call of Duty games. The game will use a number of semi-interactive cutscenes to convey some key story points, wherein you'll be able to look around and observe events but not necessarily interact with them. We saw one cutscene in which a government official was violently thrown into the backseat of a car--after receiving a rifle's butt to the face--and then whisked through the streets, where bands of insurgents were firing their weapons into the air and executing prisoners at various points along the route. Did we mention you're in the shoes of this unfortunate official and seeing these events (and taking these blows) from his perspective? Yeah, that made things a little more brutal and immediate. This scene culminated in our character being tied to a post as Zakhaev and Al-Asad deliberated over a pistol. That pistol was eventually pointed directly at our perspective, and the scene ended with the distinctive crack of a gunshot.

In addition to switching between the Marines and SAS as the plot necessitates, the campaign will sometimes divert from present-day events to tell more of Modern Warfare's backstory. One mission will actually occur in flashback, taking place in the quarantined Chernobyl zone some 15 years before the game begins. We're told that upon completing this mission, players will gain greater insight into Zakhaev's far-reaching plans, his quest to obtain nuclear materials, and why he only has one arm in the present day. For those interested, a segment of this level can be seen deep within our video from Microsoft's E3 press conference, though we didn't get to see an updated version ourselves.

You need to see the game in motion, firsthand to really appreciate its visuals.

Enough about the big-picture stuff; we did actually play two of Modern Warfare's missions from start to finish. The first was called "The Bog," which we got to take a look at during our E3 stage demo of the game back in July. This mission tasked us, as Force Recon, with fighting our way through a Middle Eastern town in order to secure an embattled tank trapped in a bog (where else?). That involved a lot of house-to-house fighting, popping up from below windowsills, and easing around corners. The gameplay here felt like pure Call of Duty, except we got to replace the old M1911s and M1 Garands with M4A1s equipped with under-mounted grenade launchers, as well as big, mean SAW machine guns. We were frankly stunned at the speed and smoothness of the gameplay, given the game's overwhelming visuals, but we'll elaborate on that later.

Though we'd seen this level before, our hands-on opportunity gave studio head Vince Zampella a chance to illuminate some of the more subtle gameplay features as we played. Enemy forces fired at us unseen as we fought our way through the streets, and we were nevertheless able to suppress them by simply firing at the windows they were attacking from. In fact, this will work against all enemies in the game; we had a real Rambo moment where we leapt into the open and sprayed down a bunch of enemies with a SAW, just so we could get across to find new cover. Occasionally an enemy flare would go up into the sky, bathing our surroundings in a harsh red glow. Zampella said this will actually allow nearby enemies to see us better, which in turn will make it easier for them to take aim on our position.

Lastly, we have to point out our favorite part of this level, which you can see in the video demo. You'll get the chance to use a Javelin antitank weapon to zoom in and lock onto enemy armor, and then launch a rocket directly upward a couple hundred feet into the air. The satisfaction of seeing the projectile plummet straight down and obliterate the tank that's threatening you a few yards away must be enjoyed firsthand.

We then got to jump into "Hunted," the next sequential mission in the campaign, and one in which you'll play as the SAS. Though the between-mission cinematic wasn't in the game yet, we gathered that our team had been conducting a nighttime VIP escort via helicopter in Russia--before our chopper was shot down, that is. So we carefully picked up next to the wreckage and set off quietly with our compatriots across the Russian countryside, ducking and crawling our way through fields of crops and around farmhouses to avoid the sentries patrolling the area. Upon reaching the perimeter of the small village nearby, we saw a couple of paramilitary dudes harassing a local resident, and we had a chance to attack them by surprise and save the guy's life. Zampella mentioned not-so-cryptically that achievements in the Xbox 360 version may be tied to optional heroic moments like this.

We pushed through the village in the dead of night, but we pretty much had to abandon any pretense of stealth after we'd engaged our first round of bad guys; there were plenty more where that came from, naturally. Some of our most dramatic firefights happened within a couple of greenhouses, which Zampella pointed out aren't the best place to take cover. Glass exploded all around us as we tried to fight to the center of town without getting mowed down by the helicopter circling overhead. The mission culminated when we reached a barn where the baddies had stashed some Stinger missiles. We had a jolly time launching those heat-seekers at the chopper, but of course it wasn't ready to go down without a fight. It dropped some chaff to confuse a couple of our missiles before we finally brought it down.

Don't let the free world down, soldier.

Clearly, Call of Duty 4 is the sort of game for which mere words do an injustice. You need to play it on a big screen with roaring surround sound to get the full impact, but we can say this is easily one of the most intense military-themed shooters we've had the pleasure of getting our hands on. Absolutely integral to that experience, from our perspective, is the game's performance level, which Infinity Ward has committed to keeping at 60 frames per second throughout both single- and multiplayer modes. So few developers have prioritized a high frame rate this generation that we'd almost forgotten how much it can impact gameplay. The incredibly smooth performance in our demo really gave the controls a precision and the action an intensity that we couldn't help getting excited about.

What arcane rites Infinity Ward has performed to get this game running so smoothly and looking so good are anybody's guess. Zampella attributes the game's high visual bar less to technical improvements and more to experienced artists and programmers simply making better use of the tools they have at their disposal. However, he did concede that developers are having to fake fewer effects than they did on previous hardware; games are using more generalized lighting models, characters are self-shadowing properly, and so on. These cumulative elements have all added up to an extremely impressive-looking game that even those jaded with modern-day military shooters will want to keep an eye out for when it ships toward the end of the year. We'll do our best to bring you more on Call of Duty 4 before that time.

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Discussion

288 comments
TheRealUser101
TheRealUser101

With MW3, Infinity Ward announced that they will fix bugs and glitches faster! The weaponry and perks in Call of Duty: MW3 will also be more balanced and the Xbox 360 version of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 will have a working party chat system. Infinity Ward has also revealed that it has revamped the entire killstreak reward system!

linkyshinks
linkyshinks

Shame the single player is so very short, still a fun game though.

optik121
optik121

call of duty games are always so intense and fun WOOT for modern warfare

EddyG0RD0
EddyG0RD0

"just4pool93 I don't think it should be on the PC or DS, the PC controls are crap compared to a nice wireless controller." PC controls are the BEST for FPS games , what are you talking about?

EddyG0RD0
EddyG0RD0

too bad it doesnt have a TP view

freshgman
freshgman

well lets hope this isnt another predictable shooter

chuflito
chuflito

Does anybody know if this game will have split screen co-op?

xraystar
xraystar

to those stating this game is similar to the MGS games on PS2 -- i think NOT. just how in the heck do you come up with that?

JB2B
JB2B

I'm looking forward to this one. Thank god they left the WW2 setting which I always found boring. Modern warfare is much cooler.

klasco
klasco

sounds cool, i want this even more now

ocdog45
ocdog45

i really just wanna play the story mode to this.

jaredrichards3
jaredrichards3

The graphics look awesome, lets hope this game lives up to the hype

alladat
alladat

just4pool93, i understand your Point of View on the PC, that is why i use a thumb track ball with three mouse buttons and a wheel. i adjust the keyboard over to use the arrows (on the right side), and i have a lot more accurate aiming and views. i have a 360, a PS2 and a PC and am better on the computer due to accuracy. COD will rock all on any system, especially Quake's newest embarrassment!!!!

BringTheBlood
BringTheBlood

its about time they got off the WWII wagon. They were getting boring and repetitive. And Mike_42, im gonna have to agree.

Mike_42
Mike_42

Could this be similar to MGS games on ps2 except with a smaller emphasis on stealth??? I think so!

CMcCon342
CMcCon342

I played the Halo 3 beta and it as good, but it was still Halo. This is a whole other beast and I think it is a faster, better, prettier beast. I really think this might steal a lot of Halo 3's thunder.

CMcCon342
CMcCon342

This game is amazing. Absolutely amazing. I've been playing the Beta not stop and it really is the best thing since sliced bread. The controls are spot on, the graphics are nuts, and the action is intense. All the little things like being about to give radar support to your whole team if you get 3 kills in a row, or call in an airstrike at 5 kills really add to the game. The stats, leveling up, and upgrading make this game the digital version of crack. It is extremely fun, completely crazy, and utterly addictive. Does anyone know if the campaign mode has co-op?

sonic0491
sonic0491

i wish they stayed to ww2 shooter, i love those, i like mainly world wars, westerns or futuristic, but mainly the latter, i hate modernish stuff like most of the old tom clancy, when i play a game, i want to get away from my time LOL

just4pool93
just4pool93

I don't think it should be on the PC or DS, the PC controls are crap compared to a nice wireless controller.

kcfireguy
kcfireguy

Aarontan1, Have you played any other COD games? They are first person shooters, just like this one will be. If you read through everything it says it more than once I believe, still great FPS though

Aarontan1
Aarontan1

Wow! nice game. However, again its misleading. Is it first person shooter or third person shooter?

firo999
firo999

GO COD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

x_o_z_0x
x_o_z_0x

Thank god theres snipers, and the SAS dont forget them.. Is there drivable vehicles? if so i want an ATV :) graphs look awesomeneesss, Reminds me alot of BF2, CANT WAIT FOR RELEASE! and demo..

statmaster19
statmaster19

Mark my words, CoD 4 is going to challenge Halo 3 for Game of the Year. One thing's for sure though, this game is gonna be awesome. Two months to wait is long enough!

valttu
valttu

JackHoff, I agree... Well, anyway, this game is gonna rock! :P

stevo_360
stevo_360

Looks like it might be the best CoD yet.

JackHoff850
JackHoff850

i cant wait!!! i still wish you could stay just one military unit (like marines or SAS) through-out the whole campaign then choose another faction and start all over, but im not complaining.

pizzahehut7
pizzahehut7

wow! this game looks good a lot better then COD3

-wardrobe-
-wardrobe-

mmpf so the demo they played had smooth performance, they are aiming for 60FPS, its a shame they didnt tell us the spec of the system they were using or Res or DX9 or 10!!!!!! the Game looks Awesome though :)

mattcake
mattcake

Good to see the focus on 60fps again - as a PC gamer for the past 20 yrs I really do feel bogged down at anything less, lets hope it becomes the new standard :) The way a game feels and plays is more important than how it looks imo.

packernation31
packernation31

This is a sweet game ima be broke by the end of the year!

jknight5422
jknight5422

If I have to wear a gas mask in the game, I expect there to be atomic, biological, & chemical weapons in the battle arena. Otherwise, what is the use? Surely tossing a grenade full of nerve gas on the foe & then putting holes in their clothes or ripping off gas masks will be part of the fun? I want to see froth & people turning into puddles. :-)

shiny5
shiny5

Please tell me there are drivable vehicles in this game.

Shadow_Fire41
Shadow_Fire41

:) i was getting sick of these 'WWII' shooters, modern day sounds fun, especially if you can use uzis.

JackBurton
JackBurton

No need for me to wait for reviews or a rental on this one. I'll take the PC port, please. COD rocks!!

snfonseka
snfonseka

Perfect game for sure. But I wonder about the hardware requements.

skipperkiwi
skipperkiwi

It would be nice to get a specific PC review out of Gamespot for once. This is clearly just a clone of the 360 review, and it's pretty obvious from its mention of a stable 60 FPS, that the developers are committed to.

Anotherspy
Anotherspy

OMG! this game is so freaking awesome! the graphics are real next gen. MY NEW PC will super-drive this game are there allready specs for computer? (crysis is also awesome

thestrateger
thestrateger

awesome game i love the graphic it's like real :D , and the sounds are great to, and the guns are cool :P

choasfreak
choasfreak

This game looks great i would not worry to much about PC screens shots if these are 360 ones.

MrBlargh
MrBlargh

The reason they rather post information about the X360 than PC, is because getting a full running gaming computer can cost up to 2000 dollars, when the 360 it a quarter of that price (you know, the edition that comes with the wireless and the hard drive)

SA80_Assault
SA80_Assault

This game is a necessity for all systems, 360 or PC.

Ali_G1986
Ali_G1986

So true...what happened 2 the spetznets...elite nuts wtf?

Jose619
Jose619

all this fps stuff, is it for pc or will it have same graphics as 360. cause all this buttons for shooting is all 360. wtf is wrong with mircosoft? I wanna real time pc footage to see what it looks like.

primefan2
primefan2

i am a big fan of the call of duty franchise it will rock!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!