Since When Did Warfare Become Fun?
About a year ago, I played Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare for the first time and didn't think it was anything special. Don't get me wrong, I felt that the game mechanics were solid and recognized that Infinity Ward meticulously designed Modern Warfare's world, but I just never felt like playing it again after I was done. Sure, I tried the multiplayer for a bit, but when I was getting killed almost immediately after spawning, I didn't feel encouraged to come back.
Despite not appreciating all that Modern Warfare game had to offer, I decided to give it another chance as Bitmob's Managing Editor, Jason Wilson is doing with Chrono Trigger. I probably didn't find this popular FPS appealing the first time because of its modern setting and my general distaste for warfare So this time, I decided to suck it up, and do my best to block out my prejudices.
What I discovered during my second play-through is what millions of people are already aware of -- that Modern Warfare is easily one of the top three first-person shooters of this console generation. There are several reasons for this lofty claim, but the main three are Modern Warfare's incredible level variety, solid core gameplay mechanics, and the absurd amount of detail in its game world.
The first thing I noticed when replaying Modern Warfare was its superb level design. Most first-person shooters of this console generation have had fairly bland, unoriginal levels, so I was quite surprised by the amazing level variety found in Modern Warfare. The first mission that has you boarding an enemy sea vessel and securing important documents must have done something right, because it felt as invigorating as I imagine it would be flying a fighter plane.
During that spectacular mission, you begin by taking out soldiers stationed in a patrol room, then you put guards laying in their bunks to sleep (literally), and finally, you recover an important set of documents and escape the flooding ship recently penetrated by enemy bombs before it sinks. And that's only the beginning.
Other missions have you assaulting an enemy city with rockets from a helicopter, assisting civilians and allied ground units from a high altitude by picking off enemy forces, and taking out an important enemy leader mid-conversation via a high-powered sniper rifle. Besides these unique missions, you'll also rescue downed allies, sneak through grass in camouflaged suits that's being patrolled by dozens of soldiers and enemy tanks, and you'll infiltrate dark buildings with the aid of night vision goggles. This impressive mission variety really brought home how dangerous and exciting modern warfare can be, but more importantly, it provided for a great time.
One of the reasons why Modern Warfare's unique missions are so fun is because of the satisfying gameplay that lurks beneath its pretty exterior. As in most other first-person shooters, you can run, sprint, duck, wield two weapons, hurl grenades, and perform a melee attack, but that's where the similarities end. What's special about Modern Warfare is the minor details.
Minor gameplay enhancements such as being able to toss back a grenade, slit an attack dog's throat who is about to maul you with a simple timed button press, and being able to easily discover your destination through the unobtrusive compass are the kinds of details that make Modern Warfare something special. You're also able to take out guards silently, plant explosives, crawl through the grass, and aim an impressive assortment of weapons.
You'll find a variety of automatics, shotguns, and anti-vehicle weapons, but what's amazing is that each one of them feels different. Their unique features such as laser scopes and varying reload times make these weapons something special. Even if you're someone like me who is more interested in sci-fi weapons such as beam swords, you'll appreciate how different each of Modern Warfare's weapons feel. It may take awhile to adapt to Modern Warfare's less forgiving aiming if you're coming from a game like Halo, but the amount of accuracy you're afforded without sacrificing too much realism is incredible.
Weaponry and gadgets are important to any first-person shooter, but they're not the only essential ingredients of Modern Warfare. One of the reasons Modern Warfare is a class above many of its contemporaries is because of the way in which its story is told, and the impressive visuals and sound that back up that experience.
After viewing your first mission briefing, it's immediately evident that Modern Warfare's storytelling is top-of-the-line (at least for an FPS). Instead of featuring bland text briefings as in Perfect Dark Zero, Modern Warfare has all sorts of high tech maps, animated visuals, and creative pre-mission intros such as viewing the game world from the eyes of a hostage before he's about to get assassinated.
This creative storytelling doesn't just extend to the mission briefings, however. Even during actual gameplay itself, there is interesting radio chatter and character dialogue, and there are also exciting (albeit, cleverly scripted) mission alterations. These techniques keep what could be a standard story about a nuclear crisis interesting throughout the entire six to eight hour experience.
Of course the impressive visuals and sound also play an important role in making you feel a part of Modern Warfare's many battlefields. You'll notice impressive lighting and shadows while crawling through the fields of Chernobyl, you'll feel overwhelmed by enemy fire while fighting in cramped city streets, and you'll even wish you could own one of the game's impressive looking ghillie suits (a type of camouflage suit meant for grassy terrain). In addition, you'll witness/cause realistic death animations and building deformation.
Modern Warfare's campaign is certainly one of the best FPS mission sets I've experienced in years, but is it free of flaws? Not quite. I felt that certain moves such as lobbing grenades back at opponents and slitting dogs' throats could have been a bit more responsive. Sometimes, it was difficult to tell when to press the button that suddenly appeared on screen, so this led to more than a few accidental deaths.
I also felt that certain conflicts could've used more check points. During cramped city street encounters, it's easy to get picked off by an unseen assailant (even after you've taken out most of your opponents), so it'd be nice if there were more frequent checkpoints or better gameplay balancing.
The only other issue I had with Modern Warfare was its depiction of combat. Certainly, its combat was intense, and even dramatic at times, but the game still didn't quite feel like a real war. The tragedy and fear in war really weren't there, but to tell the truth, I'm conflicted on whether or not those emotions should have been included. Their inclusion would have made for a more realistic depiction of warfare, but from a gameplay standpoint, I don't think people would want to see how horrifying war really is. If people saw how brutal combat really is, it might not make for a fun game, so maybe it was wise for Infinity Ward to ignore these aspects of warfare after all.
For brevity's sake, I won't do a detailed analysis of Modern Warfare's multiplayer modes, but that isn't really necessary anyway, since it's still one of Xbox Live's most popular games. I'll just say that the maps are some of the best I've seen in an FPS since Halo 2, and the matchmaking system is quite creative. It doesn't always do a good job of matching up players of equal skill levels, but being able to rank up and gain bonuses gives players a reason to keep playing for months. Unfortunately, this can also give veterans some advantages such as better weapons, so Modern Warfare's ranking system isn't entirely a blessing.
After playing through Modern Warfare a second time, I have to say that I walked away completely surprised. I was expecting to leave with the impression that this popular war game was overrated, but instead, I ended up leaving quite satisfied. Even for someone like me who prefers first-person shooters with a fictional setting, Modern Warfare is stunning example of what a first-person shooter should aim for. I'm not suggesting that other titles should copy its setting and gameplay mechanics, but I am saying that developers should embrace creative storytelling, aim to create levels with more variety, and focus on making a believable game world. When I begin playing Modern Warfare 2, hopefully I'll discover that Infinity Ward has maintained this design philosophy. If not, I'll be waiting for another FPS messiah.
· Unparalleled level variety
· Solid core gameplay mechanics
· Employs unique storytelling techniques
· Each weapon feels quite different without losing a realistic feel
· Features stunning battlegrounds and equally impressive firefights
· The fear and tragedy in war aren't accurately conveyed
· Timed button presses such as lobbing back grenades feels clumsy
· A few more checkpoints would have been nice. The multiplayer ranking system gives veteran players an advantage