[Review] Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Published on December 8th, 2013

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The current generation is no longer the current generation. Both Sony and Microsoft are talking good games about continued support for both the Playstation 3 and the Xbox 360, but history shows that – one year from now – we’ll probably be looking at the latest yearly updates of EA’s sports franchises and the odd bit of shovelware. So, as I believe that this generation slowly heads towards its end, I thought it would be a good time to look back on it and pick out those titles that have proven the most influential, controversial and just plain fun. So, to kick it off, is a game that can genuinely stake a claim to being the most influential game of this generation. Whether or not that’s a good thing is purely a matter of opinion…

Hey, remember when the gaming world cried out for an end to the proliferation of World War II first-person shooters?

Hey, you know how the gaming world is now fed up of modern military shooters?

Well, you can all thank Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare for that.

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1

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There’s very little doubt that the Call of Duty franchise has become this generation’s lightning rod, attracting opinions from all sides, both positive and negative. However, it’s also difficult to question the fact that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (hereby known as CoD4 for the sake of brevity) changed the entire landscape for first-person shooters. In the time just before its release until the modern day, we’ve gone from reasonably staid and methodical shooters such as Medal of Honor, Brothers in Arms and even previous iterations of Call of Duty – probably more feted for their historical basis than their stellar gameplay – to insanely over-the-top rollercoaster rides in which the main goal is to top the setpiece that took place before it.

This has, of course, created almost the exact same situation as existed with the World War II shooter. Developers, all eager to find that next big money-maker, have hitched their wagons to Modern Warfare, but very few have done so with any degree of success. In fact, in some cases, you could argue that chasing that Modern Warfare money has effectively ended studios – in particular, Homefront essentially hammered the final nail into THQ’s coffin (a coffin which was arguably constructed around the time that THQ published Frontlines, another underwhelming modern military FPS). Even those shooters that have come close, such as the Battlefield franchise, have suffered to a degree. Nobody who plays Battlefield wants it to be like Call of Duty, yet DICE continues to shoehorn in average campaigns which take away from a best-in-class multiplayer mode.

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4

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However, to blame all of this on CoD4? Well, I think that would be doing it a massive injustice, because it actually remains one of the finest overall FPS packages ever committed to disc.

Its campaign takes the good points of those that went before it – a thoughtfulness and a lack of hyperbolic bombast – and hitches it to a supremely playable game engine that delivers some of the best campaign moments of this or any other generation.

For instance, has any first-person shooter done a stealth section as well as All Ghillied Up? Unlikely. They all try, but All Ghillied Up’s tension remains pretty much unmatched.

Other FPS games have attempted to effectively remove you from the first-person perspective, but none have done it with the unsettling, cold detachment of Death From Above.

Almost all military shooters now feature night vision sections, but CoD4 made the first time you used it in “The Bog” feel like an event.

Hell, even the game’s two most prominent death scenes – those of Yasir Al-Fulani and Sgt. Paul Jackson – are shot through with a restraint that so many of today’s shooters lack. In the case of controlling Al-Fulani, you even have the option of turning away as Al-Asad points that pistol in his/your face. In controlling Jackson, there’s a melancholy feel to it all. No Pearl Harbour or Titanic-esque orchestral swell to signify his heroism. Just silence and a foreboding sense of inevitability.

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There is no turning the action up to 11 from the very start, then trying to find a way to turn it up to 12. This is a game that’s just as happy to operate in the troughs as it is in the peaks, and it does so naturally. No tourists-in-London scenes or “No Russian” to artificially force emotion into the game. Just good, simple storytelling – something that the Call of Duty series could badly do with revisiting, as its premises become ever more bloated.

To top it all off, this restraint carries through to the multiplayer suite which – if you’ve played a Call of Duty recently, after years of revisions and additions – is jarringly stark at first, but actually offers up the series’ most balanced gameplay, forcing players to become competent through old-fashioned methods like memorisation of maps and improvement of skill, rather than finding the most overpowered weapons (introducing gameplay practices such as the utterly ridiculous “quick/no-scoping”) and killstreaks (player-controllable chopper gunners, for instance, allowing for the racking up of insane kill totals in the likes of Black Ops). To Activision’s credit, they have maintained servers for all Call of Duties to date, so you can easily experience it for yourself.

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5

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I absolutely consider CoD4 to be the zenith of the series. A game with several memorable moments interspersed amongst a campaign that doesn’t overstay its welcome, and a nuanced multiplayer that rewards good players, not good extras. No first-person shooter since has nailed the balance quite so perfectly, so you could do a lot worse than go back and remember what the first-person shooter was like in simpler times.

 

Andy’s a top man to the RP2 cause, and writes occasional wordy wonders.
If it tickles your fancy you can follow his ramblings on twitter here: @PsychTyson
Or leave a comment below.

All images courtesy of Activision.
Currently retailing at £19.99 on steam : http://store.steampowered.com/app/7940/

 

 

 

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