Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Review: Bring the rain in "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare"

When I was reading a preview of "Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare" in the magazine, Gamepro, the team at Infinity Ward gave the editors a tour of their offices. Something that I found most interesting about the article was a file on one of the IW's PCs. The file name? COD3.exe

Developed by Infinity Ward, the game is, at least in Infinity Ward's eyes, the true follow-up to "Call of Duty 2," also developed by the team. The game is being published by Activision.

After the runaway success of "Call of Duty 2" on the 360, Activision knew a follow-up was essential, so they immediately put Infinity Ward on a modern version of "Call of Duty 2." Activision also hired Treyarch, Pi Studios to develop "Call of Duty 3." While "COD3" met so-so success, Infinity Ward kept working behind the scenes, all the while knowing their time to shine was coming.

Now, it's finally hit retail and worthy of being called "Call of Duty 4."

"COD4" allows gamers to play as a U.S. Marine and a British S.A.S. specialist. In multiplayer modes, you can also play as a Russian Spetnaz soldier or a terrorist. More on that later ...

The game starts with gamers training with the S.A.S. (Special Air Service) It's a fast mode that tests your quickness and agility. You fastrope down and take out as many popups as possible. As I went through the course a few times, I thought the course was rather difficult, but I didn't fret. After beating the game, I realized the course is set to veteran. If you can make it through it, and get compliments, you are *encouraged* to raise the difficulty.

After your training op, you will assist in several missions, including hostage rescue, finding bombs, assisting a disabled tank and even saving the world from a nuclear strike. The locales are hotspots all over the globe, including the Mideast, Chernobyl and the former Soviet Union.

In single player mode, like past "Call of Duty" games, you'll find yourself doing all sorts of jobs. On your first mission, you will board a ship and search for nukes. As a Marine, you'll find yourself behind a Gatlin gun or house-to-house urban warfare. It's never a dull moment with the game.

The action is pretty intense. The enemy AI is clueless at times, but very persistent. It really works hard to overwhelm you and your team. On lower difficulties, your skills, with or without your team, can power you through most levels. On harder modes, you will see how well teamwork works.

Back to the action. There are new weapons and new vehicles to use in this installment. As far as weapons, there's the Javelin, a nifty rocket launcher that looks onto tanks, even without you having visual contact. Aim it in the tank's direction, get a lock on and fire that puppy. They don't miss at all. You can even use a .50 cal Barrett Sniper rifle during a mission, and as cool as that rifle is, it's very hard to use. Another secret weapon? Your ghillie suit. There's a mission where you have to infiltrate a Russian city to take out an enemy. During the level, you have to cross a field to get to your objective. However, the field you have to cross is crawling with armored personnel carriers (APCs) and soldiers in the brush. You can only move slightly to avoid the advancing patrols. Amazingly, you can pull it off and live to tell about it.

If getting shot at doesn't get your blood pumping, wait until you hear a dog growling. Oh yeah - dogs are in this game and as vicious as an enemy sniper. They are fast, furious and your enemy's best friend. If you get bite, you enter a minigame where you have to press certain buttons flashed on-screen to defeat the canine. If you are successful, you will break the dog's jaw and move on. If not? Smile, you're about to be Kibbles and Bits!

There is so much variation in the game that you can forget getting bored. Though the game is somewhat short (6 to 7 hours), all is forgiven with just one mission - well, two missions - that really take this game from being awesome to just downright stellar. Without dropping too many spoilers, here are the missions.

The first mission that made me say "WOW!" was the mission "Death From Above." The skinny is - you, as an S.A.S. specialist, have just helped your team avoid capture after your Blackhawk crashed. You have to evade enemy soldiers to get to the extraction point. You need some help, because tons of soldiers are working to block your escape. You call for help, and just like Michael the Archangel, an AC-130 Specter Gunship orbits on-station to assist you with your escape. Sounds good, huh? Oh no ... it gets better.

So, instead of running around in the shadows and avoiding the enemy, on this mission, you are manning one of the gunship's lethal weapons - a Gatlin gun, a 40mm cannon and the big daddy, 105mm cannon. The Gatlin is good but not really spectacular - the 105mm is powerful but slow to reload. My personal choice? The 40mm. It's fast and way destructive.

As you cover your team, you will notice they are outfitted with strobes. If you see someone with a strobe, they are friendly. No strobe? As Sgt. Robert Epps said in "Transformers":

"Spooky-Three-Two, use 105 shells. Bring the rain!"

And let me tell you - go on YouTube and watch the "Death from Above" video vs. a real gunship crew - and you will be amazed at how accurate the terminology, the dialogue and comments are.

And bringing the rain? Sick. You can toggle between all of the guns, but I fell for the 40mm. And if you hit a building enough times, you'll bring down the house.

You will find yourself playing this level over and over again. Infinity Ward does that in every game - on "Call of Duty 2," I loved replaying the D-Day mission and the demo mission, "The End of the Beginning" over and over again. "Death from Above" is one of those missions.

Now, the other mission is straight-forward. You have to rescue a man being held hostage on an airliner, well, a huge private jet. And you have to pull it off in less than 2 minutes. You and your team work fast and advance through the plane. While it's only 2 minutes, it's one of the most intense levels I have ever played. And just like "Death from Above," I loved playing and replaying it again over and over and over ...

The graphics? Awesome. The colors and animations really pop. The environments are living, breathing creatures themselves. The characters look good and truly, this is one piece of art.

Got LIVE? Go online and face some very good competition. There are several multiplayer modes, including team deathmatches and free-for-all events. You can even invite friends to private sessions. And as you advance in rank, you get access to "Perks." They are small extras that you earn for accomplishing tasks. One perk is after you die, a grenade pops out, taking out your opponents. My favorite perk? The "Last Stand" perk, which allows you a few seconds to pull out your pistol and pop your enemy who killed you. This is a fun one to watch over and over again. This mode alone (multiplayer) makes "COD4" a must-have title for folks who have LIVE. If you don't have LIVE, after playing a few multiplayer sessions, you'll want to.

The voice acting is stellar - and other sounds totally rock. The crackle of gun fire, the whistling bullets zipping past - it's one of the best efforts yet. And the chilly sounds of the 40mm and 105mm cannons on the Specter, as well as "Gun loaded!" shouts from your unseen crew adds realism to the game. Simply awesome.

If you are looking for a FPS that goes above and beyond the "Call of Duty," you should buy the game, get your sitrep and jump into action.

As an S.A.S. specialist says in the game, "Let's do this ..."

Why should I care: It's arguably the best FPS this year, and one of the sweetest games on the 360 period. Great graphics, awesome gameplay meets intense action. Nice.

The good: Nonstop action, awesome multiplayer (it would shine as an online-only game as well), engaging story, innovative missions (flying as a gunner on an AC-130 totally rocks), great team AI, relentless enemy AI, stunning graphics, killer sounds and voice acting and one of the best video game experiences on the 360

The bad: Short campaign, but who's complaining?

The ugly:
Watching enemies do the rag-doll dance as I bring the rain from the gunship. I am telling you, I was asking myself 'What in the devil would I do if shells were dropping on my head like rain?!'

Overall: I was a huge fan of "Call of Duty 2," so big, it was the driving force behind me getting a 360. I was truly impressed with the smooth gameplay and killer graphics. And when I heard Infinity Ward was at it again, I knew it would be special. Well, it is. I wasn't happy with the somewhat short campaign, but ... as good as the action is, I didn't want this game to end at all. That, in my humble opinion, marks an awesome game. If gamers are clamoring for more and complain that the game's too short, you have succeeded.

The only perfect score I have given out since I have been reviewing went to "Bioshock." While "COD4" isn't as innovative as "Bioshock," it does bring new methods and a fresh, needed dose of energy to a tired genre. Yes, this title has been baked to perfection.

Score: 10 (out of 10)

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