Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
It looks ace, but is Modern Warfare all that modern?
Xbox 360, PS3, PC
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By Adam Doree
Thank the gods - it's about time. Just ask Infinity Ward - they wanted to make a modern-day shooter since before they even started Call of Duty 1. Activision kept asking them to make World War II games though. But in a funny old way, we can't complain that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare has taken this long to turn up, because the result is a reflection of the masses of experience Infinity Ward built up with previous games, and we get to play it in full-power next-gen-o-vision.
COD4 is an exceptionally tight, if surprisingly short-lived singleplayer game, with an engrossing multiplayer mode that easily contends Halo 3's crown. On the graphics side of things, this is probably the best FPS released on the new consoles to date. First and foremost, it runs at a near-flawless sixty frames per second, something Infinity Ward quite rightly set as a development priority from the get-go. The speed of the action is so relentless, that anything less than sixty would have crippled the experience. It's a visual standard that not even Orange Box (review) or Halo 3 (review) could manage on console, and the result is nothing short of stunning.
And we don't want to hear all these excuses about detail-over-framerate, either. We don't want cry-baby excuses. We want detail AND framerate. COD4 pulls it off. Just as Burnout Paradise graphically wipes the floor with its competition with the combination of BOTH in the racing genre, COD4 laughs at other FPS titles on shelves right now for its technical visual merit. And the detail is in there in spades. Writing reams of text describing every last graphical detail with so many pretty games out there now it becoming a bit pointless, but ultimately it just looks fantastic. Dynamic lighting, shadowing, lovely texturing, explosions, particles, dept-of-field, brilliant animation, and some excellent set-piece visual effects (like when you're a bit out of it after a vicious attack) are all up there with the best.
It's not infallible though; shadow rendering, in places (like on characters' faces) leaves a lot to be desired, looking all glithcy and shaky, but this is a rendering issue we've seen in a lot of games lately so we assume there must be a reason for it. Somebody needs to find away around this tacky shadowing. In addition, the 60fps standard does falter occasionally. And while it all looks exceptionally beautiful, with many varied environments on offer, none of the places you battle in are as destructible or as interactive as you might expect, and the foliage is all a bit static.
The single player mode is not as long as we've come to expect from other FPS titles, and the story is barely traceable from start to end with missions that bare little sequential relevance to each other. Switching between US and British forces, constantly skipping from a mission in one part of the world to another, keeps things from getting stale, but does little to glue the story together, and aside from a couple of themes and characters that stay consistent throughout the game, I largely lost interest in what was going on and just got on with the action. It's more like playing a story-less game with an episode of 24 on your TV in the background that you're not paying attention to. MGS, it ain't.
Some mission objectives do relate to the story a bit, but between levels, there's not the same feeling of plot progress momentum, nor any real sense of storytelling pacing, to create the feeling of drama that other games manage. That's not to say the game doesn't have its exciting moments, just that the story aspect feels like it could have been better more deeply executed; the story-based presentation is stylish but seems entirely segregated from the game. The campaign is less of an actual story and more just clothes for the action, and it's also significantly shorter than other campaign modes, taking around five or six hours to get through (there are, however, several unlockable modes and a rather competitive leaderboard to contend with).
The singleplayer mode complaints end there though. There are some exceptionally well designed sequences that do set-up the missions - typically you can only look around in these segments, but they are entertaining and engrossing. More importantly, the game's 20 or so missions are nicely varied. There's plenty of traditional running and gunning, combined with an excellent mix of tactical shooting, sniping, airborne missions, on-rails arcade-style shooting, against-the-clock missions, and stealth. Level design and balance through the missions is second-to-none, providing good challenge and extremely fast action, while the intuitive, horizontal compass at the bottom of the screen marks out objectives so that you always know where you're supposed to be going - there's never a moment of confusion like there is in every other FPS game at least once or twice.