Reviews

Call of Duty 4

Arun Subramanian

Call of Duty 4 is a game that warrants its "Mature" rating for far more complex reasons than simply the degree of violence present.


Publisher: Activision
Genres: First-person shooter
Subtitle: Modern Warfare
Price: $59.99
Multimedia: Call of Duty 4
Platforms: Xbox 360 (Reviewed), PlayStation 3, PC, Nintendo DS
Number of players: 1-18
ESRB rating: Mature
Developer: Infinity Ward
US release date: 2007-11-05
Amazon UK affiliate
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Developer website

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare might well be one of the most intense first person shooters ever created. Given the pedigree of the franchise, that shouldn't be surprising. The series has long been considered one of the finest in the realistic military shooter sub-genre. However, the World War II setting of the previous installments (as well as of several other games) has certainly been overused. As such, developer Infinity Ward's decision to bring the franchise to modern times is welcome.

In presentation, Call of Duty 4 is akin to the Tom Clancy franchises, particularly Ghost Recon. But the first-person perspective, ubiquitous as it may be, legitimately makes Call of Duty 4 more immersive and intense than it could have been from a third-person angle. There are, in fact, some key sequences in the game where all but the most minor control is removed from you, as you play through the eyes of someone with the same limited ability to do anything. These segments are powerful, and such mechanics would simply not work outside of the first-person.

The plot of Call of Duty 4 falls somewhere between "ripped-from-the-headlines" and "action movie", but that probably serves it well. Already a somewhat uncomfortably tense affair, too much realism might have made it hard to appreciate as a game. A realistic representation of war in any medium isn't really intended to be purely entertaining. On the other hand, games like Gears of War or Halo 3, enjoyable though they may be, are akin to popcorn movies, through and through. Call of Duty as a franchise has never been that, and this installment is no exception.

What's extremely interesting, though, is that even with the advancement of the franchise by decades, the similarities in the experience are readily apparent. The technology available to you in this installment is certainly far advanced over previous Call of Duty games, and yet the conflict setpieces are still loud and hazy. It's still sometimes difficult to see who you're shooting at, to discern friend from foe. The whole experience is still disorienting. These games are presented from the point of view of the grunts, as opposed to the supersoliders of Halo or the surgical strikers of Rainbow Six.

The damage modeling in the game is incredible.

It seems likely that Infinity Ward simply chose to use a more modern backdrop for Call of Duty 4 in an effort to prevent the franchise from stagnating, as opposed to some social commentary about the similarities of various wars. Regardless, that similarity is one of the notions easily drawn from the game, and one of the reasons that it fits in so well with the franchise. Other game journalists have noted that as high quality as it is, Call of Duty 4 is the same Call of Duty gameplay wrapped in a different package. But it could just as easily be argued that part of the similarity of the feel of the game to its predecessors has something to do with the nature of war as a game premise to begin with.

Call of Duty games have always had a degree of ambiguity as far as a sense of triumph in victory is concerned. Given that the setting of Call of Duty 4 does not benefit from the historical distance of many years, such ambiguity is even more pronounced. This is particularly true in the sections that are set in the Middle East. There's something disquieting, though visceral, about the whole endeavor. The chatter of your fellow soldiers is sometimes uncomfortably insensitive to the acts of violence taking place.

A driving rainstorm won't stop the action.

These issues serve to make Call of Duty 4 more than a simple game. If you distance yourself from the premise of it, a feat more easily accomplished in the robust and competitive multiplayer modes, it fits the bill as an extremely engaging first person shooter, with intuitive mechanics. But if you really think about the scenarios at hand, particularly with respect to the fact that it's ostensibly about entertainment, it becomes much more powerful.

Call of Duty 4 is an outstanding game on many fronts. It is a game that warrants its "Mature" rating for far more complex reasons than simply the degree of violence present. While it can be approached as a simple but polished shooter, its storyline, characters, and presentation all carry a good deal of gravity. The experience of playing it is certainly enjoyable and intense, which is why it succeeds. Additionally, however, it is also an example of the power of the interactivity that is unique to this medium. It is Infinity Ward's adeptness at painting a narrative from multiple angles, allowing you to inhabit the shoes of more than one character through the course of the game, that separates Call of Duty 4 from more forgettable game experiences.

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