lev's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Xbox 360) review

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Solid gameplay coupled with excellent graphics

When it was first announced that Call of Duty 4 would be departing from its classical roots in the WWII era, I must admit that I was a bit disappointed and worried, to say the least. Not just because I happen to be a WWII "fan" either, but because of how well Call of Duty has managed to capture the feeling of what most of us can only assume it must have been like. Since the birth of Call of Duty, realism has been redefined in first person shooters, while still retaining the essence of gaming and keeping things enjoyable. I am pleased to say that Infinity Ward's latest offering has assuaged all of my worries and rejuvenated my faith in this series.

Modern Warfare isn't just good - it's excellent. While retaining the solid game play mechanics, new elements are also introduced which only strengthen the already solid mechanics. New to Modern Warfare is the ability to shoot through wood and many other surfaces including many walls. Plus, air strikes are no longer restricted to the sharp-shooters in multi-player matches, as there are now several parts throughout the campaign in which you can call in for air support. Obviously, since Call of Duty meets the modern area, weapons and gadgets have also improved. You now come equipped with night-vision goggles to help you through all those scary lights-out areas. In addition to the traditional smoke grenades there are now flash-bangs, which temporarily blind your opponents (or yourself, depending on how bad your aim is). Though, I personally find smoke grenades to be far more helpful and affective than flash-bangs, which seems odd considering that the flash-bang concept is a newer technology. I guess it may just be a matter of opinion in the end, though.

Even if you put all of the improvements and additions aside, you are still left with an incredibly rock-solid and challenging game that rewards perseverance and punishes arrogance. After all, that is what many of us like so much about Call of Duty. Unlike virtually every other shooter where you can just run towards your enemies shooting them relentlessly, Call of Duty has always focused on a more strategic approach. Fortunately, Modern Warfare is no different. If you think you can just rush into this without looking war with guns blazing, you're not going to accomplish much more than providing the enemy with an easy kill. Modern Warfare is challenging - in many ways more challenging than the recent Call of Duty releases. Not only are there now environmental hazards, such as flammable barrels and vehicles which can explode, but you need to take into consideration what you are using for cover, because if it isn't sufficient your enemies fire will greet you as if to say "not good enough". Of course, the addition of penetrable material also works to your advantage by providing you with the opportunity to take out the trash when you have a good idea where someone is hiding.

Unfortunately, I was a bit disappointed to learn that you still do not have the ability to shoot around cover, as you can in Gears of War, for example. Sadly, this seems to have been left out probably out of laziness, since the developers have given the AI the ability to do just this in Modern Warfare. If the transition between Call of Duty 2 to 3 is any indication, then hopefully we will be able to do just that in Call of Duty 5, since Call of Duty 2 allowed AI to pick up and throw back grenades and later you had the ability to do just that in Call of Duty 3. Sadly, shooting from behind cover, aside from shooting through it, is not possible yet.

Graphically speaking Modern Warfare is a monument and will set a standard for games to come. The near photo-realistic character models and high resolution textures are only a fraction of the visual beauty in this latest installment. Modern Warfare also features some of the nicest looking particle effects, from smoke trails to explosions and even floating bits of debris. The lighting effects are also amazing, with some of the best uses and applications for creating atmosphere, and they are never misused for the purpose of making things look cool. If an area is really dark or is casting amazing looking shadows, it is out of either incredibly brilliant planning or pure coincidence.

Modern Warfare also boasts some of the most creative uses of first person perspectives I have ever seen. I don't want to say too much since I would risk the possibility of spoiling something, but it must be said that the methods used to put the player into the eyes one witnessing many of the events of the game are completely unparalleled. There is one scene where you are driving around in the backseat of a car through an urban war zone, and the feeling created by the events surrounding you is amazingly realistic. The way the art direction has managed to use the “camera” to portray what one is seeing is absolutely superb.

Textures are also much crisper and clearer looking, and there is an even more impressive amount of detail all around you. The polygon count seems to have risen dramatically, but somehow the game performs surprisingly well. Unlike Call of Duty 3, which did suffer from rare dips in frame rates, Modern Warfare runs virtually flawless. I cannot recall a single time throughout the entire game that the game displayed any noticeable lag, which is amazing considering just how good the graphics are.

If you’re anything like me, the best graphics don’t mean a damn thing if the execution of the models are animated poorly. Thankfully, the motion capturing of Modern Warfare ranks up there with the best of the best. Every gesture, from the reloading of weapons and signaling between AI, is very realistic with much more fluid movement between animations without as much of a noticeable transition between animations as with the previous games. Other smaller touches to the environment around you have also been thought through, as pipes will now spray steam if shot, and picture frames can fall off of walls if you blast a grenade in their vicinity.

Regardless of what is going on in the war, you constantly have the feeling that you are drawn into the actual events that are occurring, thanks to how well orchestrated the special effects are, with the sights and sounds. Many of the battles of Modern Warfare are on a completely different intensity scale than all the previous Call of Duty games combined. After an amazing start, you find yourself escaping a sinking ship, with some of the best uses of camera shaking and tilting seen in a game. Water is pouring in from all around you, while gravity is pulling you in different directions. Intense is an understatement here because you can’t help but begin to feel pressured to actually make it out alive. Later on in the game, you find yourself in a ghillie suit, which is one of the most suspenseful and masterfully composed levels in a shooter ever. Amazingly, it’s possible to clear the entire level without even being spotted – a feat that if you manage to pull off will earn you an achievement to boot.

Not only are graphics high caliber, but so are the sounds. Call of Duty has always aurally shined by boasting some of the most realistic sound effects in gaming, and Modern Warfare is no different. Every gun has its own unique pitch, every type of material makes its own special sound as bullets penetrate it, and every cry and cue by your comrades serves a purpose. No sounds are just thrown into the mix to create atmosphere – if someone is crying out, someone has been hit, if your buddies are shouting orders or information, you best heed their advice since it is only being said to assist you. The shattering of glass is crystal clear and can easily be mistaken for real glass shattering off screen. Everything you hear is an indicator of what is going on around you, so keeping an ear open at all times is a must to survive, especially on the more challenging difficulties. The music of Modern Warfare is generally along the lines the previous releases, although the rap song at the end of the game, during the credits, seems oddly out of place. Throughout the campaign, it should be noted that music does not seem to play as often as previously, though when it does it serves its job perfectly by setting the pace of the action.

While perhaps close to perfection, Modern Warfare is not without its quirks and problems. There aren’t many, but there are at least a few which need to be mentioned. First of all – what happened to the radar / map? It didn’t actually completely disappear; you just have to pause the game to see it. This is a bit of an inconvenience, since the map does indicate the position of known enemies, but if you want that information you need to pause every time you want to see it. All you have to keep you orientated, during game play, is a compass indicator which direction you are heading. I also encountered a bit of a collision detection problem, which resulted in me instantly dying for merely brushing past the side of an opening missile silo. You don’t have to actually jump in or on it, but just brush the absolute edge and you will instantly be killed. This feels, unfortunately, rather last-gen, or at least in need of some tweaking.

Worst of all, the campaign is terribly short – not just by a little bit either; the game is over before you have time to think about what is coming next. It took me no more than 3-4 hours to complete it on my first run, and even novices and should have no problem completing the game in less than five hours. While it is understandable, that games like Call of Duty tend to put a far greater emphasis on multiplayer, there really is no excuse for being able to finish the campaign in a few mere hours on your first time through. Fortunately, since all of the achievements have been dispersed throughout the single player action, there is a major incentive to go back for a few more goes – at least for all you achievement hunters out there.

And speaking of achievements, there are a few pretty cool ones, which are based on your ability to make quick responses to a few key eyes. However, I noticed a rather annoying problem concerning one of them in particular. At a certain point in the game, you are to be rewarded an achievement if you manage to keep a farmer alive and taken down the soldiers harassing him. The first time I managed to pull this off, I didn’t get the achievement, although it was more than obvious that the farmer had lived. I gave this another try later on and did the same thing I did earlier and the event played out identically; this time I was awarded the achievement. So it seems that there may either be a bug in how one or more achievements are rewarded on the game’s end or on the end of the console itself, because I had to fulfill the requirements for the achievement two times before actually being rewarded it. It’s too bad because this is one of the only titles I have ever encountered such problems with the achievement system.

One of my biggest complaints with Call of Duty has always been its insufficient AI, both in terms of your friends and your foes. While it has often been claimed that the AI of Call of Duty is superb, I feel this is a bit of an exaggeration and oversight. The AI only appears to be intelligent because it is scripted and given specific orders to follow a linear set of commands. When it comes to actual decision making – thinking of the best way to attack, the best place to hide from an explosion, how to avoid running into friendly fire, and so forth – it still needs quite a bit of work, and doesn’t seem to have improved at all. Your own comrades will still run directly in front of your line of fire, and your buddies will still virtually run around in circles when you take their place of cover. Generally speaking, the AI is quite good, but there is still much to be desired. I was hoping for a bit of an improvement with the AI, bud sadly there does not seem to be any, as the computer is still making some really brain-dead decisions you can’t help but wonder about.

It is also frustrating that the AI is often too passive and dependant on your actions before they are capable of making a move. While it can be understood that you are the one playing the game, and there is little, if any, point to playing if the AI does all the work, but there still needs to be a bit more aggression on behalf of your comrades. Otherwise, the developers might as well change the mechanics of the game to allow you to order your buddies around, like in Rainbow Six, for example. Whenever you are in desperate need of assistance, your AI helpers seem incapable or unwilling to continue the assault and wait back several meters behind the action until you push on through. If they are so unwilling to make decisions, are they only there for affect? And, if the developers are simply trying to put an emphasis on your actions, then why not allow you to control the AI? It is my feeling that the AI needs a lot of work to give it decision making abilities and a more natural and thoughtful sense of the environment around it. Most of these problems can only be seen if you closely observe the individual behavior of each of the AIs – otherwise, you are likely to draw the conclusion that the AI is great because it seemingly appears to be acting intelligently, simply because it is following a very strict and rigid list of operations to carry out. Though, it should be emphasized, that the AI of Modern Warfare, or any of the Call of Duty titles for that matter, are below average – they simply leave a lot to be desired and improved upon.

If you’re as much of a fan of driving around in a tank and blasting everything to little pieces, you will be disappointed to learn that Modern Warfare does not contain any tank missions. This came as a real bummer to me, because of how much I enjoyed these parts in the previous Call of Duty games. Fortunately, to break the monotony, you do get to blast your way through a level from the sky, although you only get to control the cannon and don’t have any influence over where the aircraft flies, so it doesn’t quite compare to manning a tank. Even worse is you run absolutely no risk of failing the mission, aside from repeatedly killing your friendlies – the foes serve no threat to you and cannot harm you, which makes the mission boring and not the least bit challenging. At least, there is another mission in which you control the cannon in a helicopter and do run the risk of being KIA if you don’t take out the foes on the ground launching RPGs at you. Still, you have no control over where the aircraft maneuvers so it isn’t quite the same as tanking up. It’s unfortunate, but not a real big blow to an otherwise well balanced game.

Well, balanced loosely in most ways that is. I found it rather frustrating that you seem to die far more often from grenades in Modern Warfare, than bullets. It isn’t because the blast radius has been increased either – which I am not even sure if it has or not, but definitely feels that your foes throw grenades far more often, especially if you are trying the game on one of the more difficult difficulties, such as veteran. Sometimes as soon as one grenade blows up you’d have four or five tossed your way, and as they would blow even more would keep coming. While you have the ability to toss grenades back, it just isn’t good enough a lot of the time when you have countless grenades coming your way. I felt like I died four times more often from grenades than any other way, which seems a bit too much.

Though, sometimes you don’t even need to die, for it to be “game over”. For being a fictional game, the story felt a bit too linear. I have always thought that Call of Duty should base the progression of the game, and the ending, upon your actions throughout the game and how well you perform certain tasks and if you are able to pull off certain objectives. Since all the prior Call of Duty games were modeled around WWII, it wasn’t possible to create a more open story, since we all know how things play out. But with a fictional story, one would think that the story could take turns and changes depending on whether or not you can meet your objectives. Instead of simply failing a mission because you couldn’t meet an objective, but survived nonetheless, the game could still continue on a different course with a different ending. Since we now have a fictional war with fictional outcomes, I see no reason why the developers couldn’t have created a more open story with more possibilities. The linear nature of the course of events in Modern Warfare comes as an unfortunate disappointment because there was a lot of potential in writing a fictional story that seems to have been squandered.

And what would a Call of Duty game be without dead cows? I was very happy to see our bovine friends lying on the ground, since it’s always been amusing how they continue to use them throughout the series. Not wanting to disappoint weird people, like myself, Infinity Ward didn’t forget to add the grass eating victims of the latest war.

The underlying sense of persuasive conditioning is also there in all its glory. You know, the whole, “the enemy is destroying churches and killing civilians, and the west is here to save the day by keeping those churches safe and saving the innocent civilians.” The typical misbalance of peace and war quotes also exists, with the addition of several less thought provoking statements by leaders of the war on terror, such as Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice. These seemed oddly out of place since the majority of the other quotes were at least philosophical in nature and urged a sense of thought, where as these seemed more to be placed in an effort to rally support for the current war and didn’t seem to have any relevance to the topic of war in general. It’s nice to see developers taking so much passion into something they create, but one who is open-minded cannot help but think whether or not the influence such statements will have, in collaboration to the actions the gamer will take during the game, will yield a positive or negative affect on the minds of so many of the younger and persuasive gamers out there. As much as I love the Call of Duty series, I cannot help but wonder if the series is being used as a tool for something so much larger than mere gaming.

In any case, Modern Warfare is an awesome game, with an incredible amount of detail and consideration put into its development. There are a few problems and design elements one might question, but the game is solid overall with some of the best graphics and sound effects in any game currently released. While, the campaign will be over before the blink of an eye, the addition of “arcade mode” and, even more likely, the multi-player support are going to be where most gamers get the bang for their buck. With the addition of “leveling up” your stats for multiplayer, more life is added to the otherwise, short game. If you find first person shooters entertaining at least a little bit, there is no question about it: Modern Warfare is a must own.

Overall Score: 9

Gameplay: (9) Classic COD game play with updated weapons and gadgets. Shoot through walls, blow up cars and sneak your way through enemy terroritory.

Graphics: (10) Amazing visuals with better effects, more detail and running extremely consistent. Little, if anything, to be desired.

Sound: (9) Top notch sound effects with fitting music, when it is present at least.

Lasting Appeal: (8) If it were not for the arcade and multiplayer modes, you would be through with this game in a few hours tops. Fortunately, the addition of unlockables and levelling up on Xbox Live increases the replay value.

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