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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Playstation 3)

Activision and Infinity Ward have produced some of the finest World War II shooters on the market with their Call of Duty franchise, which is why it was such a surprise when the company revealed that Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare would take players into a contemporary setting. While the weapons and enemies might have changed, this installment remains true to some elements of the franchise, such as the intuitive HUD, ability to recharge health on the fly and it's generally on-rails shooting action. However, what really sets this installment apart is its incredible graphics engine that truly immerses you into the battlefield, creating an overwhelming sensation of controlled chaos that makes for an incredible experience. An innovative online mode with a novel role-playing approach to advancement is the final touch that makes this a must own.

Most players at this point are probably familiar with the Call of Duty franchise, which up to this point has focused on World War II. However, with this installment, the series takes a quantum leap forward in terms of setting and presentation. Instead of recreating the past, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is set against a contemporary backdrop focusing of the global war on terror. Instead of battling Nazi forces, you are instead focused on terrorists and insurgent forces worldwide in a variety of evocative war-torn locales. Make no mistake, this is a sleekly designed shooter through and through that sets a new high-water mark for its genre. Everything from the high-tech interface to its selection of sniper rifles, night-vision goggles and remote control mines gives the player a visceral sense of being on a battlefield. One of the key changes this time around isn't on the battlefield, but in what you can do there. Instead of relying solely on the soldiers around your character, Call of Duty gives you the ability to call in air support to take out entrenched enemies, which is extremely helpful when you find yourself locked into a battle with a seemingly intractable force. A few hits and you'll find that the path has been cleared for you. Using Air-power is definitely not a failsafe option, but another impressive tool you can use on the battlefield to your advantage. It's been integrated into the standard gameplay quite effectively, and this makes it feel like something that's essential to the game instead of a cheap gimmick.

In addition to the standard on-foot ground attacks, players will also encounter numerous sequences where they find themselves inside a vehicle. In these areas of the game, your mission is to provide covering fire for your team while someone else drives. These make fairly good breaks from the norm and give Call of Duty 4's gameplay an impressive sense of variety. One of the cooler aspects of the game is its cover system. When your character takes too much damage, your screen turns red and you have to go and find cover, where you can regenerate your health, before you're stuck again and your character croaks. While this system is still controversial, the ability to restore health during the course of each mission helps to make the gameplay flow much better, and reduces the need for backtracking. Of course, there are still points where you will indeed fall to enemy fire, but the developers have placed numerous checkpoints throughout the game so you never really lose to much practice. This goes a long way in explaining why the series is so much more accessible and popular. However, it also reduces the real risk players face and makes playing through the single player game much less challenging, which is a shame because a game like this, with so much attention paid to its smallest details and realism would probably benefit from a harder difficulty level. That said, the AI is much stronger this time around, with multiple flanking attackers swarming you from every direction, so Call of Duty 4 is by no means a pushover when it comes to its basic combat mechanics.

COD 4 features what is easily the most intense, cinematic sequences seen in a war game to date. Massive firefights are punctuated by screaming F-17's overhead, massive tank battles ensue over bleak terrain while you try and survive the chaos. The sheer ferocity of the enemies is almost breathtaking. These are relentless foes and they'll attack you from every angle without letting up for a moment. It makes the previous installments seem almost tame by comparison, gives you very little room to breathe. However, you rarely find yourself lost since the next objective is usually quite clearly marked. Call of Duty 4 accurately captures the intensity of battle in a number of ways, from the sense of impending disaster lurking around every corner to the constant chatter and yelling from every corner that gives you a sense of controlled chaos. Call of Duty 4 marks a huge leap forward for the series in a number of ways. While the basic structure and control scheme from previous games is basically intact, the game's HUD has been upgraded and now gives you a better sense of on-the-field action while not becoming obstructive to the battle at hand. You can easily see where your next objective is by taking a quick glance at the bottom of the screen where your directional compass shows where you need to go. You can also get a fairly good idea where to go next by looking at where your fellow soldiers are headed. This is easy enough to do in practice, but it's not as easy as the previous games, since the enemies seem to lurk behind every corner and doorway, making your progression much slower this time around. A good strategy in the game is to hold back a little and get the lay of the land. One of the better aspects of the game that you'll immediately notice is its use of multiple levels and planes of sight, which sets it apart from many other shooters, since the enemies come at you from all directions.

The game's controls are fairly easy to use and take good advantage of the PS3's controller. You aim and shoot in the normal ways and switch weapons using the d-pad. The soldier's position, standing or crawling is simple to use as well. Players change the viewpoint between the normal firing mode and the weapon's scope easily and can also enable the night-vision goggles with a single button press. As noted earlier, the interface and HUD is streamlined, simple and easy to understand, and shouldn't take much time to get used to. You have a fairly decent selection of weapons with the usual sniper rifles, machine guns and pistols at your disposal along with some cool extras like rocket propelled grenades and mines. You can fire either your standard weapon or your grenades using the shift button. There are also several other weapons such as anti-tank missiles that can be used a limited number of times during the game. Unlike previous installments, Call of Duty 4 gives the player a few more options on the battlefield which opens things up and makes you feel like you're immersed in the action and less like you're playing an on-the-rails shooter. The gameplay is still quite linear to a large degree and you have to get to the predetermined checkpoints in order to progress through the missions, but there seems to be more paths there. Call of Duty 4's maps are much more complex and realistic than before, and there are more alleys and hidden areas, which makes several things happen. The first is that you have more places to find cover but conversely, there are more places on each map for the enemies to hide. They're smarter now as well, and attack in groups, track you down and fire at your position relentlessly until you fall, making the gameplay feel much more dangerous with higher stakes.

Call of Duty 4's engrossing single-player game offers some fairly intense battles, Call of Duty 4's multiplayer online modes are equally impressive. Instead of merely offering the usual modes of play with little reward, the online experience here rewards successful players with a slew of unlockable content that includes extra play modes which go beyond what's typically offered. For example, there's a cool mode where you have to work together as a real team would in order to defeat your opponents co-operatively. The more victories you build up, your character becomes stronger and additional modes become available. Players can also choose their gear and weapons and customizable characters to further personalize their online games. In addition, there are a number of community features such as matchmaking and leader boards that make for an extremely well polished online component that's just as engrossing and challenging as the main game. There's an impressive array of maps and levels available online, though we did encounter a few glitches here and there that made the experience less smooth than it could have been. Hopefully, this will improve with time.

While the previous games in the Call of Duty series won praise for their accurate recreation of the past, its impressive visuals look just as brilliant when applied to a contemporary setting. The game's levels are truly astonishing in the level of detail they create. The animations on each of the soldiers is incredibly detailed, with fluid looking, life-like characters battling in near photo-realistic environments that are stunning to behold. Every weapon has also been rendered expertly and these authentic arms add more credibility to the experience. You'll find yourself battling through Russian forests, dangerous Middle East cities and other locations, and this range of areas shows off the graphics engine's power and versatility. You'll face a variety of weather conditions ranging from rain to snow plus day and night missions. COD 4's graphics engine is probably the most impressive we've seen in quite some time, with an excellent interface used between rounds that feels both realistic and slick. This makes for quite an impressive package, and the total effect when you're in the heat of battle can be some of the most visceral and exciting war sequences ever seen in a video game. Call of Duty 4's engaging storyline is unrelenting, with the urgent calls and shouts from your fellow soldiers combining with the enemy's calls to create a real sense of being in the middle of battle. Huge explosions and the constant white noise of gunfire keeps you alert throughout each mission, and the consistent frame-rate and incredible sense of detail immerses you into the action in ways few previous games have. This is definitely one of the best-looking shooters in any genre to date, and Infinity Ward deserves credit for making such a highly-polished and at times stunningly realistic game look so effortless.

It would be easy to dismiss Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare as just another shooter, but those tht do are missing out on one of the more impressive examples of the genre to date. The sense of being in the middle of a combat zone is something that the game has pulled off well, and is quite an accomplishment when you consider the sheer number of actions going on at the same time at any point in the game. It can be a bit difficult to keep track of everything, but if you focus on the task at hand, things become easier. It's not always easy during the heat of battle to stay on mission, but that's one of the key skills you'd need as a real soldier. While the new setting might have caused some problems, the series seems to have made a successful translation and is more intense than ever. However, the game isn't perfect with the biggest flaw we've encountered being the too-easily rejuvenated soldiers, their ability to regain health simply by standing in a corner somewhere makes Call of Duty 4 a little bit too easy at parts and reduces the challenge to a large degree. Additionally, while the developers give the player more freedom than in previous titles, the action still feels a little bit constrained. However, the enemy AI is a lot smarter this time around and their relentless attacks have been ratcheted up in their intensity and danger, which helps mitigate these problems. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare isn't flawless but it's definitely one of the best military shooters on the market in terms of graphics and intensity, making this a superb choice for gamers who want a slick combat experience that's authentic and intense. 

- Michael Palisano

Grade: A

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