Call of Duty 4 Review

On the DS, Call of Duty 4 is an intense first-person-shooter that's knocked down a few pegs by the lack of online play.

The Nintendo DS rendition of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare delivers every ounce of action and suspense as the console versions, save for the awesome online play. In this portable first-person shooter, you play the role of a special forces operative who has to stop terrorists from detonating a nuclear weapon. Your travels take you to various locations in Russia and the Middle East, where you'll unleash a wide variety of realistic weapons against the bad guys who constantly appear as you make your way through each 3D environment. The controls, environment layouts, and CPU behavior in the DS game aren't as nicely put together as they are in the console versions, but those rough spots really don't take away all that much from the couple of days' worth of Jack Bauer-style escapades that the single-player campaign provides. However, the DS version doesn't offer any of the online modes that its console counterparts do, which means that your interest in the game will probably wane significantly after you complete that initial play-through.

You can melee enemies up close, but they might grab your gun and force you into a stylus-scribbling struggle.
You can melee enemies up close, but they might grab your gun and force you into a stylus-scribbling struggle.

From the moment you dive into the campaign, you'll be struck by how slick everything looks and sounds. The large, twisty 3D environments actually do resemble such places as the ghetto alleys of Mogadishu or a paramilitary base hidden deep in the Russian wilderness. One mission takes place on a tanker out at sea where you skirmish with terrorists and a helicopter before venturing into the hold below. There are plenty of decorative details, such as trees and vehicles. You'll sometimes get to watch in real time as the rockets from your air support create makeshift entryways into buildings for you. The character models also look nice. They move gracefully, while their crouching and shooting behavior is authentic. The level of detail is good enough that you can easily make out whether someone is wearing a friendly uniform or terrorist garb. Backing up the gorgeous visuals are a richly orchestrated musical score, a healthy selection of realistic gun effects, and loads of recorded dialogue. This dialogue includes mission briefings and real-time battle chatter as well.

The gameplay itself involves the typical sort of first-person-shooter gunplay mingled with some of the trappings usually associated with a Call of Duty game. When the bad guys appear, you want to place your targeting reticle over them and press the shoot button. Head shots are more effective than shots to the body, of course, and enemies will sometimes try to crouch or duck behind cover to defend themselves. For your part, you can crouch and hide behind cover too. As in the console versions of Call of Duty 4, you and the enemy can throw grenades. You can even pick up and toss back live grenades. The red flashing damage indicator is in here too. You don't have a health meter in the traditional sense; instead, every hit you take adds some more reddish tint to the screen. To heal, all you need to do is take cover and wait for that tint to dissipate. Getting through each mission generally involves moving from checkpoint to checkpoint and killing any terrorists that appear. However, you'll also find yourself stopping at various points to man gun turrets or solve minigames that let you disarm bombs and jimmy door locks. Some missions shake things up by putting you in a support role, which lets you control the gun turret on a moving armored vehicle or pilot a high-altitude bomber aircraft.

Some aspects of the controls are sketchy, but for the most part, the stylus-heavy control scheme gets the job done. You move with the D pad, shoot by pressing either of the shoulder buttons, and adjust your aim or look orientation by dragging the stylus across the touch screen. Double-tapping the touch screen toggles the aiming mode between the standard targeting cursor and a more precise "down the sight" view. Icons on the touch screen also let you easily switch weapons, throw grenades, reload clips, and pick up objects with a simple, single tap. If an enemy tosses a grenade your way, the hand icon will appear, indicating that you can pick up and hurl the exploding potato back at your foe. Occasionally, a binoculars icon will appear, giving you the chance to summon an air strike on enemy vehicles. The one major problem with the controls is that the game has trouble recognizing the aiming toggle, run, and crouch commands--commands that require double-tapping the stylus or D pad. Sometimes, you'll double-tap and nothing will happen. Other times, you'll be creeping in a crouch with the scope active then suddenly revert back to the normal view and an all-out run. These unexpected changes can be frustrating in the heat of battle. Thankfully, you can take a lot of hits, so fiddling with the controls rarely gets you killed.

Other minor annoyances may also bug you from time to time. It makes sense that weapons are more accurate when fired in short bursts, but even at point-blank range, an enemy can absorb 20 shots to the chest with an M-16 before keeling over. Having to reload every time you turn a corner gets tedious after a while. The majority of level layouts depict locations that are visually engaging, but there are a couple of missions that make you wander nondescript hallways and office cubicles for upward of 20 minutes. You're also liable to take issue with the enemy's spawning habits and behavioral quirks, which are rather peculiar. Enemies tend to spawn when you cross invisible trigger points, and they'll often do so directly in front of or behind you in an area you just cleared. Watching terrorists materialize in your face with AK-47s blazing is scary. As for their behavior, they're clever enough to throw grenades back at you and to try to wrestle your gun away up close, but they rarely take cover when you're shooting at them. Instead of moving behind a corner or crate, they'll usually just stand or crouch there in the open while you blast away.

There are few things more enjoyable than mowing down bad guys while manning a helicopter gun turret.
There are few things more enjoyable than mowing down bad guys while manning a helicopter gun turret.

While they're worth mentioning, you have to consider those issues in the context of a highly cinematic first-person-shooter that delivers much of the same variety and frenetic gunplay as its console counterparts. It's hard to dwell on the little annoyances when you're listening to your squadmates bark out information and watching terrorists fly backward from your machine gun bullets as the entire screen periodically shakes in response to nearby mortar fire. And the times when you get to call in air strikes, man a gun turret, or pilot a bomber are just as badass as you might think.

The bigger issue is the lack of any sort of online play. It'll take you roughly eight hours to finish the campaign, which you'll probably spread out over two or three play sessions just to give your eyes and hands ample rest. Beyond that, the multiplayer mode is restricted to four players who happen to be in the same room as you. There's a decent selection of environments while the layouts are well suited to the different deathmatch and capture-the-flag options, but realistically speaking, how likely are you to convince four of your friends to buy one DS game then arrange for everyone to get together to take advantage of its multiplayer mode? Not very likely. As such, the game's longevity stems mainly from its single-player campaign. That's Call of Duty 4 on the DS in a nutshell: intensely satisfying, but over in a day or two.

The Good

  • The impressive 3D engine and cinematic audio deliver the true Call of Duty experience
  • Touch-screen controls make it easy to move, aim, and shoot
  • Plenty of different guns to pick up and use
  • In addition to shooting, you'll disarm bombs, control gun turrets, and pilot bomber craft

The Bad

  • The single-player campaign is relatively brief
  • Multiplayer is limited to four players and isn't online
  • Some minor control and design quirks may annoy you

About the Author