Just call it the anti-Crysis. If Crytek’s immersive next-gen messiah is suppose to usher in a revolutionary era of open-ended shooters, Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty 4 shows us why linear missions and wholly scripted gameplay aren’t ready to be replaced yet. The shift in this series’ setting to modern day brings more high-tension gunplay and explosive ambiance than any game in recent memory. From furious firefights in Arab towns to nail-biting infiltration missions under the dark of Russian night, we were absorbed in more grandiose military heroics than any Michael Bay blockbuster. And since the game’s goal is to take you along for an unabashed joy ride, that’s actually a good thing.
The story’s requisite crisis, which is clearly torn from the scripts of TV’s 24, revolves around the threat of militant Middle Eastern and Russian radicals who’ve joined forces to dethrone the Western powers. While we weren’t searching for suitcase nukes in this near-apocalyptic scenario, the hunt for terrorist leaders and their generals is played out with familiar Jack Bauer-esque bravado and a real sense of urgency. Switching between the boots of a US Marine Corp and British SAS officer, we delivered justice from two perspectives of the fight – each with unique pacing and varied styles of play to keep the action always fresh.
From the American camp, we played as Sergeant Paul Jackson, keeping the peace in the Middle East after a recent uprising by the fundamentalist leader Al-Asad. Jackson’s missions showcased the game’s grand sense of scope and impressive attention to detail in urban sieges and large-scale strikes. In the War Pig mission for example, escorting a M1A1 Abrams tank through hostile streets was incredibly nail-biting and chaotic. As we sprinted along city streets, dodging bullets and flying debris, enemy troops fired at us from rooftops and abandoned storefronts. AI teammates slid into cover and fired blindly around corners, utilizing convincing (but scripted) tactics. We felt like we were in the middle of a real war, with dozens of dead bodies collapsed on the battlefield and cars exploding at every corner.
The British levels were equally intense, but focused on the exploits of a small SAS squad instead of a massive invasion force. These operations, mostly played at night, had our squad rescuing captured informants deep in enemy territory and running away from hunting parties and helicopters after being discovered. One of the more satisfying moments in the game came from shooting down a helicopter that had been stalking us throughout the level as we hid from its bright search beam. Our one complaint is that, like in the American missions, swarms of enemies were too easily dispatched. While enemies did hide behind cover, they didn’t have the intelligence or programming to flank us or even avoid funneling through corridors straight into harm’s way. Our suspension of disbelief also suffered from the fact that some of our British comrades were nearly invincible, since they were integral cast members of the plot
Still, Call of Duty 4 has some spectacularly memorable sequences that had us gasping out loud. Several on-the-rails “god-missions” put us in control of devastating firepower. In the infrared vision equipped gunner’s seat of an AC130 gunship, we peppered enemies with explosive shells as they ran for their lives. Another awe-inspiring aerial mission let us fire rockets at the same rooftop forces that had assaulted us in previous encounters. We also need to give special note to the game’s playable cut-scenes, which let you experience dramatic cinematics from a truly fresh and terrifying point of view.
And even if you’re not taken with the six-hour single-player campaign, the multiplayer is so addictive it should be a controlled substance. In the online arena, urban settings like the Crossfire and District maps feel like real-world war zones where you’re never safe. Here, battling against human players forced us to use gameplay mechanics like penetrable walls and exploding cars to survive skirmishes. We love the Headquarters and Search and Destroy game modes, which feel like the perfect combination of Battlefield and Counter-Strike play styles.
Team games with 32 players are delightfully frenzied, rewarding skilled players with UAV drones and Helicopter support for impressive kill streaks. Persistent statistics tracking is sure to keep us playing for months as we grind to unlock new weapons, attachments, and ranks. Each player can also customize their own class with personalized weapons and Perks – special in-game abilities like longer sprint or faster reload. We especially like the ability to drop grenades once we’ve died to get revenge on players who’ve out-dueled us.
Unpretentious and unrelenting, Call of Duty 4 is perfect for gamers who just want to experience a terrific cinematic shooter. The breathtaking spectacle may feel forced at times, but it’s a rousing thrill ride that’s definitely worth taking.