Call of Duty 4 takes a break from killing Nazi troops and points its gun towards modern warfare. While this game offers a new cosmetic look and feel from the series WWII norm, it is still essentially the same Call of Duty that gamers have been playing for years.
In terms of First Person Shooters, Call of Duty 4 (CoD4) does not really do anything new except add a new story, a new setting, and some new weapons. The game’s overall familiarity will allow gamers to immediately jump right in and get into the action but also contains a slight flavor of that been-there, done-that theme.
The meat of the game lies within the single player campaign and will take about eight or so hours to complete, depending on the difficulty. Without question, CoD4 contains some very memorable gaming moments. Trying not to give too much away, but the sniper fight, the big explosion, and the final scene in the game will stay with gamers for a very long time. Despite the fact that this game will produce some quality memories, the gameplay is not without its flaws. First of all, Infinity Ward has not changed the core scripting of its game. This means that the same invisible check points, enemy spawn points, and safe zones are again placed at the gameplay’s core. The biggest flaw with this can best be explained in an example. Say your HUD is telling you that the next objective is to the north. In order to reach this next checkpoint, you need to cross a large room, traveling from the south to the north. Upon first entering this room, you will be bombarded with enemy soldiers, but even after sniping 20 enemies in the face, more enemies will still keep coming forward. Just about every enemy situation in the game will keep pumping out enemies from spawn points until the player just eventually makes a run for it. So while I just killed 20 bad guys, my time crossing this room will still be just as difficult as if I did not kill anyone. This ruthless and poorly form of scripted A.I. carries the same problems in CoD4 as it has with all previous versions of CoD.
The next biggest gameplay flaw fails on an overall sense of urgency. Yes, the player will be constantly fighting an infinite amount of soldiers due to the recurring enemy spawn points, but the game’s health system is both a blessing and curse. Just like Gears of War or Halo, if the player takes many hits in a very short amount of time, you will die. However, the player can always take a few hits, retreat to a safe zone, recover health, and jump back into the fray. But while Gears of War and Halo punished the player for dying by decreasing an overall point total or starting the level back at the beginning, CoD4 doesn’t really have a negative consequence as the player will immediately be respawned from the last checkpoint which occurred just a few seconds ago. The game almost encourages you to run out into a heated fire fight, take a few bullets, and reach the check point; because in all honestly, that is the only way to reach some of the game’s checkpoints, especially on the higher difficulty levels. But when you reach a checkpoint, your fellow A.I. soldiers will also follow you, take out any remaining enemies, and trigger the enemy A.I. scripted retreat. In essence, the player has the possibility to reach check points without firing a single shot and survive. This shady formula follows the player throughout the entire game.
Finally, there are some major problems with online multiplayer VS matches. Similar to Halo, CoD4 features a matchmaking system that promotes player skill level. Like any RPG, the more you play and more kills you produce, the higher your rank will be. Whereas Halo’s player’s level was solely based on skill, CoD4’s leveling up system is based on skill plus weaponry/accessories (called Perks). For example, say I want to play a VS match over Xbox Live with my buddy on the same team. While I am only level 10, my buddy is level 48. When we hop into matchmaking, we are going to be playing other gamers that are somewhere near the level 48 mark. Me, practically a n00b, is not just going against players with more gaming skill than me; I am also going against skilled players with much better weaponry and options. Being at level 10, my best gun can shoot through a thin piece of wood, whereas all my opponents can shoot through solid metal walls, carry more ammo, possess more extra attributes (like automatically dropping a grenade before they die, increasing their health, staying invisible to radar, dressed in awesome camo gear, run faster, etc), and also know each and every part of every level due to their experience. This means that n00b players are at an extreme disadvantage and could cause high levels of frustration, as it did to me. In fact, because my rank/level was so low, I could not even participate in many of the game’s online mode such as TeamHard Core. My buddy, being a much higher rank than me, sent me a game invite to play with him online. Even though I was in the same lobby as him, right when he booted up the TeamHard Core match, I was ejected from the game and sent back the lobby without any kind of warning while my buddy immediately jumped into the game. This left me waiting for him to finish his match (taking over 10 minutes) and sending me another invite. Thinking this was some type of connection error, we tried it again. However, it produced the same result; I got kicked from the game. After trying this several more times, I finally realized that I needed to be a higher rank/level before I could play TeamHard Core. It would have been nice if the game gave me sometype of warning before I wasted all my time.
With this said, if you play someone that is of higher rank in Halo, it is strictly a matter of skill. However, if you play someone that is of higher rank in CoD4, you are not only playing against someone who has more gaming skill, but also your opponents will have better armor, weapons, accessories, and a wealth of other stat enhancing properties. This makes CoD4’s matchmaking flawed with unbalance. Further, every single one of the game’s achievements can only be unlocked in the main single player mode. In combination of the unbalanced nature of the online VS mode, the lack of online multiplayer achievements brings the Xbox Live VS mode down several notches.
In terms of sound and graphics, CoD4 looks just like a next gen game should. High res graphics, realistic sound effects, motion captured character models, solid voice acting, and a top notch musical score (created by Harry Gregson-Williams of Metal Gear Solid fame) gives this game high presentation values. My only gripe is there that is some occasional clipping, some textures has issues, and some particle effects look a choppy if you actually take the time and study theme. For example, as I was taking cover by a grouping of cement blocks, some blocks appeared to be falling from the top as they were taking fire. But you notice, the overall pile will never decrease in size, giving the illusion of the stack diminishing. Gamers will hardly notice things like this, however, as the gameplay is fast enough paced.
Overall, CoD4 is basically an updated recycling of from previous CoD games. The new coat of cosmetic paint does give this series a breath of fresh air as WWII shooters have become a dime a dozen. But while the single player experience is entertaining and provides of great memorable moments, it is a disappointment that the main story mode cannot be played with a buddy over Xbox Live. The VS mode is unbalanced and actually provides a lesser incentive to play because all of the game’s achievements are located in the single player campaign, but can provide a decent amount of entertainment if you can look pass the gameplay flaws. But the graphics and audio qualities of the game are well suited to a next gen title.
Is CoD4 the best FPS ever made? Definitely not. Will it provide a decent amount of entertainment value and cover the cost of $60? Absolutely.