VIDEO: The trailer for Call of Duty 4
The Infinity Ward developers must be high-fiving. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, the latest installment in the successful series, has earned raves from every game critic out there. The first few weeks of laggy on-line multiplayer speak for themselves — gamers everywhere have abandoned futuristic fight (like Halo 3) in favor of modern battling.
The game works in part because of its new angle. No longer are we refighting World War II. Russian terrorists have replaced the Nazis as Public Enemy Number One, in the form of a fictional Russian ultranationalist movement headed by the nefarious “Four Horsemen,” who are hoping to spark a Communist revival. The lead Horseman, Imran Zakhaev, stages a coup in the Middle East to draw American attention away from Russia.
CoD4’s level locations range from Azerbaijan to Russia. You play two characters, a British operative and an American recon agent, stationed in the Middle East. The campaign mode gets your attention with its detailed plot and the exceptional visuals. (Look out for “All Ghillied Up,” possibly the best level of all.) The voice actors go to town with the dialogue, which snaps with refreshing realism.
The game feels like a good film in several ways: well-wrought plot lines, well-developed character personalities, stunning graphics. It’s also like a film in that you can complete the campaign in an afternoon (well, maybe six hours, but still . . . ). If you’re in it just for the killing, the lifelike firearms — the accuracy of the physics, the responsiveness, the explosive sound effects — will sate your bloodlust. But CoD4’s staying power comes from the depth of the on-line multiplayer offering, which has 12 different game modes including “Sabotage,” in which you plant a bomb, sneak away, and wait for another bomb to respawn.
There are now RPG elements in on-line multiplayer. Levels determine what guns and perks you can have in your initial loadout, but you can always pick up new guns when others drop them. The lower-level weapons don’t put you at a significant disadvantage, but it is nice to move up to new toys. Completing “challenges” (e.g., a certain number of kills or head shots with a given weapon) unlocks attachments for your weapon, like better scopes or grips.
CoD4 uses a ranking system to give more-experienced players seniority over the newbies. The longer you play, the more damage you can take and inflict on others. That means you have to be alert to what perks your enemies might have — higher health points, for example, or the ability to sprint farther, or drop a grenade when they die, or draw a pistol and take a few extra shots while bleeding out on the ground.
What this game doesn’t have is the cooperative campaign mode that works so well in Gears of War. Infinity Ward has also taken a step backward from many modern shooters by not allowing you to shoot or throw a grenade from behind cover — you have to step out and expose yourself. And the realism of everything else about CoD4 raises one last big question: don’t the armed forces recruit women these days?