Call of Duty 4: Not World War II
Who’s to say that a game without flaws isn’t perfect? I struggled to even point to an area in Call of Duty 4 where I felt it wasn’t good enough. The game is certainly difficult. And the game can be summed up in only a few sentences. But just being a first person shooter should never reflect on the quality of the product. Its basic element does not also imply that it’s basic. In a genre with rules it’s still pretty rare to see anything follow and perfect those rules. Re-tread? Depends on the context. If a re-tread is negative, as most see it, then no, Call of Duty 4 does not cover the same ground. But if re-tread is relative to those basic rules the genre is built on, then Call of Duty 4 perfects that ground.
Now that I got the video game poetic justice out of the way…the game is stunning. I’ve spent a good part of 2008 playing Call of Duty 4. And by that I mean I played it almost every day since I got it. If I considered the past ten years of shooters, none would be so cleanly designed. It breaks first person shooter habits. There was a time when you would look over a crate in past shooters, and while you could see your weapon was aimed over it, you couldn’t make the shot. It’s been a long wait for something that had geometry within the world of a game that functioned the way it should. Most players probably hadn’t even noticed. But anyone who’s played 3-D games since the beginning will undoubtedly feel the quality of the maps and the engine. It has nothing to do with the frame-rate or the graphics. But when you line up a cross-hair over the very tip of an enemy head, you’ll get that shot every time. It hasn’t been like that before. Sometimes you wouldn’t even know if you could hit the shot because of poor design. Some of my favorite shooters like Halo, or Quake, or even the ridiculous Timesplitters had issues with that. This 60 frames per second business is only the icing on the cake because the rest of the game can function at such a high level. It’s precise to a degree that I didn’t think was possible.
The production values show up everywhere. The maps are designed so well that you can never get lost. They’ve perfected these hallways with cover and corridor fighting, but without that hanging feeling of linear game play. Those open zones aren’t very open. They hide the fact that they’re guiding you. Half-Life 2 is similar in that way. You feel like you have this ability to traverse a huge area when it’s really just a funnel. The enemies seem placed well enough that they always give you a winnable challenge. Since Infinity Ward pretty much put them everywhere that must have been tricky to pull off, especially those ambushes from the rooftops of an alley, harmonizing that. Everyone knows that Veteran difficulty is broken in a few places but Hardened is an excellent balance for these kinds of missions. The notorious ferris wheel can be described as nothing less than a disaster. Veteran isn’t as hard as the smaller parts of the Veteran missions are. That’s when the balance gets thrown off and I read somewhere that Infinity Ward acknowledged as much. You can get a mission completed in a decent amount of time, but get stuck for hours on one part. It only happens a few times but when it does, I can’t even begin to tell you the frustration and defeat I felt during those portions. The battle with the helicopter, the ferris wheel, the missile launch bunker, and the airplane mission at the end of the game. Those are key moments in the game where it just doesn’t feel like it works properly. I wish I could have a comparison because it felt like I had ultimately spent as much time beating the ferris wheel as I did on all the Veteran missions before it combined.
Xbox Live works so well for Call of Duty 4 too. I don’t know if they built the multiplayer first, or the single player. But the maps are incredibly deep for both. Leveling and completing challenges feels even more rewarding then Halo. It strikes that perfect balance between skill and luck, fun and challenge. The sniping is precise, the shotguns feel strong, and the light machine guns have weight behind them. The argument can be made that some perks have balance issues like Juggernaut but you’d only mention it if you played someone who could take advantage of it. Grenade launchers on the other hand, are irritating and probably wouldn’t be missed. There’s always something to come back to and the leaderboards for stats are pretty cool.
I’ll no doubt continue playing until the next big multiplayer game comes along. Dating this review, that’s probably going to be Gears of War 2. But Call of Duty 4 lasted me far longer than I had expected. The quality of the game is reflected in the sales. Word of mouth can be a powerful thing if a game can succeed with some broad appeal. And I’m happy to see it continue to sell because that means there will be a growing community coming back and hopefully, that will motivate developers to really perfect their games rather than getting overly ambitious and accepting quantity over quality.