Owen Sound Sun Times (On)
Thursday, March 27, 2008
The original Call of Duty was a first person shooter masterpiece. Infinity Ward took a tiring genre (World War II Shooter) and turned it on its head.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Combat does the same for the tiring “modern desert conflict shooter” genre.
I realize that Call of Duty 4 isn’t the newest of games – it came out last November – but I hadn’t played it until a few weeks ago and it’s so good that I think it merits a re-examining if you know it or a first look if you’re unfamiliar.
I played the original Call of Duty, released in 2003, a lot. Both single player and multiplayer were incredibly well executed.
The multiplayer was not a huge revolution, but was very good. It was the game of choice at LAN parties for my friends and me for about a year. One very interesting feature of the game was, when killed by an opponent, you then could see the last few seconds of your character’s life as they’d seen it. It was very cool and helped keep people from camping in one spot and picking people off for the whole round.
In technical terms the single player trod dangerously close to what brings down many shooters; it relied heavily on scripted events and the accessible part of levels were often small and quite linear. These characteristics can often lead a game to feel artificially constrained and not interactive, as though you’re being pushed down a given path and forced to watch what the game wants you to watch.
Call of Duty turned this all around and used it to its advantage. Many of the ways it forced you linearly through the game felt very natural and the scripted events progressed through the levels very well. But the pace of the game was really what made it work so well. Either you were rushing frantically forward or were pinned completely down, trying to clear out enemies in order to progress. You literally didn’t have time to think about how the game pushed you forward.
This formula worked very well in 2003 and surprisingly Call of Duty 4 used it again in 2007 and it worked just was well, if not better.
Call of Duty 4 changes the WWII setting to a contemporary military setting, allowing you to play as both an American Marine and a British SAS soldier. The frantic pace of the original is in full force for Call of Duty 4, but the combination of scripted events and linear progression is even better than in the original. This is largely thanks to the game’s engine.
The graphics are gorgeous, allowing for incredible set pieces. There are some levels where you spend minutes at a time doing nothing more than looking around during a scripted event, but it works because the scale of the game is so huge. You’ll sit in a Blackhawk helicopter approaching a desert city, while dozens of other choppers approach with you and the city below teems with life.
This carries over to when you’re actually playing. The levels seem huge and there are often a few ways to traverse them, but they’re really quite linear. You will mostly move from point to point clearing out enemies, but it’s always fun. You actually have to sit back and contemplate the gameplay to realize its linearity, it never feels linear. This is a testament to Infinity Ward’s game development.
The story also bears consideration. It centres on a couple of international terrorists, nuclear weapons and an unnamed Middle Eastern country. The way the material is treated is interesting. The good vs. evil line is quite blurry. It’s your character’s job to fight in the conflict, but there is no sense of righteousness overt to the game. The game ends and you, the player, are left to decide if things are better in the game’s world than they were before.
Multiplayer in Call of Duty 4 is incredible. It is the most fun I’ve had, bar none, in an online shooter. You start by picking a character class – sniper, demolitions, etc. – but each game, each kill, each significant action in the game awards you experience points.
As you play you gain the ability to create your own classes and unlock new weapons and enhancements for existing weapons. You feel like you’re progressing. It’s fun.
More interesting than the unlocked weapons are “perks.” Perks are special abilities you can mix and match for your classes. Each class can have three, ranging from increased health, or damage, to dropping a live grenade when your character is killed.
Call of Duty 4 is successful in every way, both single player and multiplayer. I give it my highest recommendation. Any shooter fan should check it out.
NOTE: Call of Duty 4 is mature rated and not suitable for gamers under 17.
Calen Henry is a fourth-year student of Japanese studies and multimedia at McMaster University. He grew up in Owen Sound, has been a gamer since childhood and is also interested in music and film.
© 2008 Osprey Media Group Inc. All rights reserved.