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REVIEW: Call of Duty 4 November 19, 2007

Posted by pressstartblog in gaming, Reviews.
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It’s time to pack up the Garand, ground the Spitfires and turn off the ovens. World War 2 is officially over. Infinity Ward has finally ended the conflict and not before time. Call of Duty 3 marked a low point in the series and served only to confirm the ‘Infinity Ward Effect’. That is, when IW develop a game, it’s usually very good. When they hand over the reins to someone else, the game goes downhill (see Medal of Honour). Treyarch’s COD3 tried to recreate the intensity of the first 2 games but fell short due to a messy, unfocussed single player campaign that was riddled with pointless quick-time events and invisible walls. Whilst some may have feared the worst for the franchise, it soon transpired that IW was simply working under the radar on dragging Call of Duty into the 21st century. And they almost achieved it.

Call of Duty 4 draws its inspiration from the War on Terror and takes the fight to the Middle East and Eastern Europe . An unholy alliance between a Middle Eastern dictator and Russian ultranationalists threatens world security and it falls to Britain and America to stop them. The narrative is surprisingly strong compared to previous titles in the series and takes its cues from slick thrillers like 24 and The Sum of All Fears resulting in one of the most cinematic storylines ever seen in a video game. The cut scenes are not only crammed with visual trickery, they are also handled in-engine providing a seamless transition between gameplay and storytelling. IW clearly put a lot of effort into the story and it feels like a step forward as it offers a couple of genuine surprises, some strong characters and even a flashback section.

Accordingly, COD4’s level design is also much improved from previous games. The days of hoofing it around the French countryside destroying artillery gun after artillery gun are thankfully long gone. The levels in COD4 are not only much more varied, there is also a definite sense of purpose, whether you’re rescuing a downed chopper pilot, hunting down a contact or observing an arms deal. The vehicle sections are still present but mercifully don’t involve driving, and don’t feel like a distraction. One mission places you in the gunner’s seat of an American AC130 as you cover an SAS team below using infra red TV visuals (can we say ‘blue on blue?’) On the surface it seems like a cheap excuse for destruction but it also suggests that IW are not blind to the ironies of warfare, offering you a sanitised, video-game-esque view of the battlefield you have just been bleeding on. It’s an intelligent addition, and reflects the amount of thought that has gone into the structure of the game.

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The cornerstone of the Call of Duty experience has always been the chaos – the sheer number of enemies, fighting alongside allies, the big set pieces. COD4 follows the same blueprints and whilst it is undeniably impressive at times, there is a problem at the heart of the game. The chaos of war comes at a price. In order for it to seem as if you’re in the middle of a huge battle, the game relies on respawning enemies so that the levels don’t end up empty and, well, peaceful. The downside to this is that it shatters the immersion as you can spend all day behind some cover shooting the same enemy. The scripted events rely on triggers so until you move forward to a certain point, the game essentially stands still. Couple this with AI that would struggle to outwit Peter Andre and you’re looking at gaming mechanics that seem somewhat dated when compared to the sprawling pandemonium of Halo 3.

However, outside of the single player game these factors are no longer a concern and it is COD4’s multiplayer that is IW’s greatest achievement. There are a vast range of game types ranging from standard deathmatch to team games and old classics. The class-based gameplay also has a wonderfully-realised experience system that rewards your performance with promotions and unlocks. It adds a huge amount of replay value that is absolutely essential given that the single player campaign is little over 8 hours long. The map design is equally impressive and it’s obvious that IW are well-versed in the essentials of good online shooters. The arenas are very well balanced with some frankly evil chokepoints that encourage memorable battles. Indeed, the combination of well-designed environments and the lightning fast 60fps engine results in a tense, frenetic experience that will pose a serious challenge to Halo 3’s online crown.

There is no doubt that Infinity Ward has brought a degree of quality back to the Call of Duty Franchise that was missing in COD3. It’s slickly presented, plays beautifully, looks astonishingly good and, for the first time, has an engaging storyline. However, it’s hard to see what more can be done with the formula which has essentially remained unchanged since the first game. With upcoming shooters like Brothers in Arms and Battlefield: Bad Company supposedly adding new tactical and environmental dimensions to the FPS, we can only hope that the next iteration of Call of Duty can keep up. But so long as the development duties remain with Infinity Ward, it stands every chance.

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Comments»

1. Jevan - November 19, 2007

Good review, presstartblog. 😉

It sums up my own thoughts very well. It’s a very good game, but for all its visual splendor, it does seem to be living in the past a bit.

2. Mike - November 20, 2007

Nice one Andy. For me, the success of the story, the graphics and the “feel” of the game carried it through to become one of my highlights of the year, but I’m sure we will look back and curse the respawning enemies and the AI. Plus I’m shithouse at the multi.

3. Dalagonash - December 12, 2007

I pretty much agree with this review, even though I didn’t find the story that great. In truth I just saw it as a reason to go an shoot some stuff, although the story telling near the beginning, you know the bit, was really well done.

Multi is very good, even if I do prefer Halo’s.

4. Ariel Pedroso - April 12, 2010

I’ve bookmarked your site, the articles are way better here than on other blogs.. thanks for a great read!


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