9.5

One of the very few Shooters I've ever enjoyed replaying... and replaying and replaying! A true gem in many respects.

When developers set out to create a first-person shooter, they certainly don't have people like me in mind - un-twitchy and generally not seeking violence for the sake of passing time. More often, customers are expected to release pent-up anger and unspent calories on the game, just as long as it remains at the cutting-edge of graphics, and to forget about it by the time the company's next shooter is released. But once in a while a developer will make a shooter that actually holds its own, not through sheer violence or brilliant graphics, but rather through all those other bits that are usually considered by publishers to be "excess baggage", but in fact are what makes a game classic.

Call of Duty 4 manages to do what few other shooters have done in the past - it creates a very simple story and breathes life into it, making the action sequences (which make up the bulk of the game, obviously) a delivery method for the story, not the other way around. Naturally, the sheer beauty of the game and the mechanics of warfare here are extremely helpful, but without the well-balanced composition, this would have been just another shooter, which it certainly isn't.

LET'S DO IT MODERN-STYLE, BABY

The story of Call of Duty 4 revolves around the acquisition and application of nuclear power by terrorist groups. The player, taking several different roles during the campaign, will follow the events as they unfold into revolution, invasion, and even detonation of nuclear weapons. The story even jumps back a couple of decades at one point, allowing you to play an "expositionary" mission into the background of some of the principal characters. And while you do switch into perhaps 4 different characters during the game, the overarching storyline is uninterrupted - it feels as though you're watching a movie more than playing a game, even though you're actively participating at every turn. That's a very, VERY good thing, which very rarely happens in first-person-shooters at all.

Call of Duty 4 is a game about modern warfare (duh! :) ), and as such it showcases a very wide spectrum of infantry roles, weaponry, and even the different kinds of support that infantry receive on the battlefield. There are more than a few missions where some kind of vehicle will arrive to lend a hand (or needs protection!), and even missions where you yourself play as a gunner on a support vehicle - such as the classic Gunship mission where you are whisked away into the seat of the gunner control station onboard an aircraft, and need to clear a path for the character that you were playing in the previous mission. Action on the ground is also rarely boring in terms of the shooting mechanics, as you will have to become accustomed to many different kinds of infantry weapons, from small and quick SMGs, to huge anti-material sniper rifles, high-tech anti-tank launchers, and even AA missiles. The different small-arms also behave very differently from one another, making weapon choice a strong component of your combat aptitude - you'll want to take a closer look at fallen enemies to see if they dropped the right weapon for the job. As you're only capable of carrying two weapons at a time, the choice can become really engrossing, and you could die trying several times before you find the right combination for you.

Call of Duty is a squad-based game, where you will almost never find yourself alone. You are often surrounded by teammates who will lay down support fire and may help take the heat for you when you're in a jam. However, they don't serve as a very good meat shield, because the game is geared towards being able to take the initiative and advance under fire. At most points in every mission, you will need to advance aggressively, otherwise enemies will never stop coming. While your team does follow you around, and sometimes advance ahead, you will need to do much of the work yourself if you don't want to get flanked and swamped by the enemy. Therefore, your mates serve as your eyes and ears - they'll call out enemy positions, they'll help take the pressure off you, but don't count on them to play the game for you. I think Infinity Ward found a great balance here between having a large team to help you and not letting them do all the work.

A SPIT IN THE EYE OF CONSOLE-ONLY SHOOTERS?

Call of Duty is perhaps one of the first shooters I've seen which can't really be said to be either a console game or a PC game. Categorization doesn't work here because you can't really see the seams as you would in a poor console-to-PC transition (or the other way around). The controls are fairly simple, yet they still provide everything you need. The combat system is simplified so that getting shot is a temporary setback - your screen will become blurry and reddened, but if you can avoid getting shot again for a few more seconds, everything will come back to normal. If you get shot repeatedly, you'll die and go back to the last checkpoint. While this is unrealistic, it makes the game very playable considering the amount of fire poured between you and your enemies during each engagement. And the hardcore players can easily shift the difficulty level up (there are 4 levels) to improve realism. Still, given the intensity of combat in this game, even a "hide for health" system feels like good balance.

REAL SCENERY MAKES FOR REAL IMMERSION

Which only leaves graphics and audio. Normally I would say that mindblowing graphics are a good indicator that a game is vacuous, but in Call of Duty 4 the amazing graphics are just the icing on the cake, not the cake itself. And they are yummy icing - they are spectacular to behold, and some of the cutscenes (including the very first moments of the game) can induce great immersion within moments. It doesn't stop with effects either - some of the battlefields are so beautifully designed that it makes you cry (on par with the aging Ghost Recon scenarios), including but not limited to the portrayal of the deserted town of Prypiat near Chernobyl, large parts of which were copied almost precisely into the game. And surprisingly, the same can be said for audio - gunfire and explosions, for instance, can cause a distinct ringing in your ears that is very similar to the real effect of loud noises on a battlefield. This is especially surprising the first time you stand too close to a tank while it is firing - the blast can render you deaf for a few seconds, and the unique ringing noise is masterfully translated into the game. Oh, and the musical score? Totally Inspiring. You'll remember the theme music for a long while after you're done playing - something most "generic" shooters fail to do.



So the reason I've voted 9.5 for Call of Duty 4 isn't about combat mechanics or graphics or even a good storyline - it's about the combination of all of these different aspects of the game into a single package that is wonderfully seamless. Each and every mission combines all of those aspects into a fluid and fleshed-out scenario that is fun to play over and over again. As a person who greatly dislikes the overwhelming slew of utterly boring first-person-shooters, I found myself replaying CoD4 over and over again, and probably will for many years to come.

Discussion