More "OH SNAP!" moments than you can shake a nuclear arsenal at!
Call of Duty 4: Modern Combat, I mean, really, what else can be said? This is easily one of the best FPS games of last year, one of the best FPS games ever, and a new high water mark for the genre.
COD4 takes a detour from the other games within the franchise by forgoing the WWII setting, and placing this game in the present day. A modern day Middle Eastern conflict that has international players including U.S. Marines, British SAS, and Middle Eastern (and Russian) terrorists. Modern conflicts, modern enemies, and modern...warfare. The core gameplay mechanics may be essentially the same as other games in the franchise, but the new coat of paint is a very welcome edition, and gives the franchise the kind of freshness and recharge that a game like Resident Evil 4 did for that franchise.
The graphics truly are the stuff of "next-gen", a term I really hate, but within the last 6 months I've actually started to see games that appear to be walking the walking, and COD4 is one of those games. It doesn't really become clear until you finish the campaign and play a few rounds online, but the varying degrees of locales really impresses upon the player. You have a freighter level, suburban and city dessert levels, Russian countryside levels, and a few surprise levels along the way. Adding in little things like awesome weather effects, lighting filters, and convincing camera reactions and motions only add to the top shelf graphical presentation. The audio is also top of the line, with some really excellent surround sound work going on. There's a point where *very small spoiler* a nuclear weapon explodes, and the audio that poured out of my home stereo was enough to (from where I come from) "make your butt pucker". The voice acting gets high marks too, especially when people are reacting to the chaos of a battlefield. I don't think that actually being in some of the game situations would sound much, if at all different.
As for what I consider to be COD4's highest achievement, it has to be the overall storyline of its single player campaign. I can't really delve into it too deeply without completely ruining it (and I won't), but let's just say that if you've really been waiting for someone to make a game that reflects what you've always wanted to see in a Tom Clancy game, then COD4 is that game, but without the Tom Clancy name stamped on it. It is so expertly paced that it absolutely will surprise you at almost every turn. From an event that happens early on in the game, to the final few levels, this game's story kept me engrossed and actually involved with its characters from the beginning until its surprise ending. The single player campaign is also (by standards) a pretty short affair and something that I finished in about six hours. This is by no means a bad thing though because I think that if it were much longer, or filled with fluff, a lot of the tension in the storyline would have started to lose its strength. After finishing the game all I could think was, "man I wished Infinity Ward had made the 24 video game". It feels just like playing a season of 24...a good season of 24, that is...Season 5. :)
COD4 also has an online portion that is no slouch either. To join in a random game, now, would probably be the video game equivalent to sticking your hand in a meat grinder, but if you have a solid group of online friends, and they all have a copy of COD4, then this game could truly become the only game you need in your library. It has the basic game types like Death Match and Team Death Match, but COD4 throws in a very RPG-like leveling systems which allows the player to upgrade their load outs. It seems like a small detail, but leveling up does one very important thing, it makes you never want to stop playing. Always wondering what the next "level up" might reward you with is a great incentive to keep running and gunning. As long as you have that solid set of online buddies, then COD4 should without a doubt be your weapon of choice.
At the end of the day, when I try and think about specific things I want to point out as pluses for Call of Duty 4, I simply want to say "everything". The graphics, mechanics, sound, storyline, and online features are all near perfect. When all is said and done the game ultimately doesn't seem to stand out as anything truly original, but it is a game that has been distilled and filtered into the perfect essence of the genre. It's a real touchstone for the industry, and is something EVERY fan of FPSes should absolutely check out.
+Top shelf audio/video production values
+Fantastic single player campaign
+Robust online features
+Addictive RPG-like perks system