E3 '07: Call of Duty 4 Updated Impressions

The latest Call of Duty is shown off at the Microsoft press conference, and we're floored by it.

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If you had any doubts that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is going to be one of the biggest games of the year, Microsoft, Activision, and developer Infinity Ward managed to wipe most of them out with a stunning live demonstration during Microsoft's E3 press conference. Not content with just showing off an incredible cinematic trailer consisting entirely of, according to Activision, actual gameplay, Infinite Ward's Grant Collier and Jason West appeared on stage to play a level of the game level, showing off the incredibly realistic graphics and a new twist on Call of Duty's intense gameplay. Rather than pound you with the constant roar of explosions and gunfire, Infinity Ward relied more on stealth and guile to build tension.

As the game suggests, this Call of Duty 4 is set in a modern-age setting. No more World War II. No more Nazis. Now there's a new Russian ultranationalist bad guy, and he's teamed up with someone in the Middle East. The trailer shows off the results of that, as combat erupts from the forests of Russia to the sands of the Middle East. You should have a good idea of what the new trailer consists of if you saw the 60-second commercial or watched the original trailer. There are glimpses of many different levels, from a shipboard assault to a fierce battle in a city. It's clear that one level in the game is Pripyat, which was the city built to house the workers who operated the infamous Chernobyl nuclear power plant that exploded in 1987. There are explosions and gunfire galore, lots of explosions, helicopters flying everywhere, night vision shots of combat, and a glorious nuclear explosion.

In fact, the level that Collier and West played through was actually set 15 years prior to the events in the rest of the game. That's right, it's a flashback level. You play as an SAS sniper, part of a two-man sniper team, operating in Soviet territory. A voice over a radio tells you to be careful about the lingering radiation, and then you're off. The level, titled "All Ghillied Up" in reference to the sniper's ghilly suits that make them look like walking plants, is all about stealth. At one point, you have to take out two guards with your silenced sniper rifle. Your spotter tells you to shoot one while the other isn't looking to minimize detection. And in a few seconds, both soldiers are down thanks to shots to the head. At another point in the level, the snipers approached a house occupied by four soldiers, with one patrolling outside. Though you can engage the soldiers, your spotter warns you not to so that you can avoid detection.

Though we're assuming at this point, it sounds like you'll have quite a bit of control over how the gameplay unfolds. It looks like you can be aggressive or you can avoid conflict and sneak around. One nice touch was that at the end of the demonstration, both snipers lay prone in the middle of a field, one that's full of an advancing company of Soviet soldiers and tanks. The spotter warns you not to move suddenly or quickly because that would be detected. Rather, you're told to move slowly and gradually. Whether that actually works is yet to be seen because the demonstration ended there.

Everything about this game looks spectacular. The graphics and animation are absolutely top-notch. Watching a camouflaged sniper suddenly rise out of the grass in front of you and start running is a scene that's just incredibly well done. Even more amazing is that it's happening in real time. Graphical effects, such as depth of field, are in full effect. The entire level had a cool atmospheric post-processing effect that gave a dull radioactive haze to the setting. As you lay in the grass, the individual blades in front of you blur. As the sniper approached one of the buildings housing enemy combatants, you really got a sense for the game's astounding lighting and shadow effects--with numerous tree branches casting their shadows over the body of your soldier. The sound is also well done, you hear the hushed whispers of the sniper, the ominous rumble of oncoming tanks, and the wonderful weapon sounds.

Considering that this was a Microsoft press conference, Infinity Ward had some good news for Xbox 360 fans. Though Call of Duty 4 will also come out on the PlayStation 3, Infinity Ward announced that the upcoming beta test that will let you play the game before release is only going to be available on the Xbox 360. Details are to come, and we'll get them to you as soon as we know. Still, Call of Duty 4 looks like it's going to be an incredible ride, and we can't wait. The game will ship for the PC, Xbox 360, and PS3 later this year.

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