A short but incredibly thrill-packed ride
I am not a huge fan of games where you pay $50 for a 6-8 hour experience, but if there is one game that gets this formula right, it might be Call of Duty 4. It is one short-lived but incredibly thrill-packed ride. This game is relentlessly and perfectly paced, and it packs more adrenaline-pumping action into its short campaign than a lot of games can conjure up in twice the time. The level design is superb, and it has the best and most mind-blowing scripted events of any game in years. Even if you are not into the multiplayer aspect of the game, the single player is as good as it gets.
The previous Call of Duty games have taken place during World War 2. The fourth version of the series departs from that overused setting and brings the battle to the modern day (more like a near future actually). It may sound cosmetic, but the change in setting makes a huge difference. The game just feels different. Fighting modern-day extremists is a refreshing change from fighting Nazis for the 1000th time. The new collection of weapons is another nice change. The mixture of shotguns, submachineguns, and automatic rifles is more powerful and more fun to use than the old collection of M-1's and Tommy Guns from the previous games.
In the meantime, Call of Duty 4 keeps everything that was great in Call of Duty 2, and then takes it to new levels. Battles are epic and intense. Enemies populate maps by the dozens, rushing at you in waves. They empty clip after clip of ammunition at you and shower you with grenades. To survive battles, you have to do the same, all while you find good cover points. After you have mowed down a bunch of enemies, you advance and shoot some more. The familiar mechanics of aiming down the sights, quickly regenerating health, and the grenade danger indicator all return. Checkpoints are spaced nearly perfect, so that the difficulty is never too harsh or two easy. The pacing is wonderful. There is not a tedious moment or a bad level in the game. The mechanics aren't very complex, but the excellent level design and constant challenge make sure that they always work.
Occasionally, the game breaks up the pace with a rail shooter sequence. They are brief and very well done. This is especially true of the level where you get to man the guns on a C-130. The entire level takes place from thousands of feet up on in infrared camera, like the videos that became famous during the 1991 Gulf War. Blowing up enemy vehicles and mowing down little dots on the screen with a high caliber machine gun makes it one of the most fun rail shooter sequences ever made.
Call of Duty 4 takes brilliance in sound design to new levels. Every level is a symphony of chaos. All around you are explosions, gunshots, chatter, bullets whizzing past your head, and battle cries from your enemies and teammates. At the end of each mission, when you have cleared out all the enemies, the battlefield is an eerie quiet. Everything in the audio seems almost perfectly engineered. Nothing is out of place. The weapons, in particular, sound fantastic, and each one distinctive. The feedback that you get from firing a weapon is intensely satisfying. It is a major reason why Infinity Ward's games, especially this one, are so immersive.
The presentation in Call of Duty 4 is top-notch all around. A static screenshot of the game looks pretty good, but it looks even better in motion. Explosions constantly rock the landscape and the visuals sport excellent particle effects, like the smoke trails from rockets. If there is an active smoke grenade nearby, you might not see an enemy who is five feet away from you. By the end of a big battle, the area is almost always covered in smoke. This game has the best smoke that you have ever seen in a first person shooter. The character models and animations are all top-notch too.
The best part of the game's presentation is the addition of crazy, over-the-top scripted events that rival what anyone else has done in a first person shooter. Huge crashes, massive explosions, close brushes with death – they are all there. You might be manning the machine gun of a chopper one minute, and then getting shot down and crawling from the wreckage the next. Call of Duty 4 adds a simple story in this manner, and it fits the game very well. I won't spoil any of the big events for you, but suffice it to say, a lot of them will knock you out of your chair.
Call of Duty 4 is immensely fun. Its only significant flaw is that the single player is too short. Way too short. Depending upon the difficult level and your play style, it is possible to finish this game in a couple of afternoons. It is some of the most fun that you will have playing a shooter, but it is still disappointing that Infinity Ward couldn't make it longer. The game's linearity makes the replay value low. If value is important to you and you are only interested in the single player, then you might want to wait until there is a price drop to buy the game. It is a lot like paying $30 for a delicious hamburger in a fancy restaurant – it might be the best burger that you have ever eaten, but the fact that you paid $30 still kind of hurts. Even taking into account the short single player length though, There is no denying that Call of Duty 4 is a great game.