Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Well, I certainly didn't see this coming. Call of Duty 4, a legitimate contender for shooter of the year? If you'd told me that after I played the demo, I'd have laughed you out of the house. Partly because the level they have you playing is boring, and partly because I didn't much feel like playing a US marine in an ambiguous Middle Eastern country* killing ethnic ruffians given the current state of Mess-o-potamia.

Turns out the demo level is probably the worst in the game, and when taken in the context of the whole game it's not even close to being some horrible rah-rah-rah rubbish. In fact, if you're looking for political commentary in the story, you'd have to conclude that the chaps at Infinity Ward aren't very big fans of the current US foreign policy. Go figure.

The Call of Duty games adhere to the rollercoaster style of game design: the designers craft the levels with a certain path in mind, and by golly, you're going to follow it whether you want to or not. Obvious upside: the designers know where you're going to be, and can craft spetacular set pieces. Equally obvious downside: it can be horribly transparent and immersion-breaking when done badly. It doesn't work here all the time; there's bits where you get bogged down, and the fact that they're constantly spawning enemies at you until you've progressed past a certain point becomes painfully obvious. But when it works, it delivers some of the most powerful moments in gaming in a long time.

There's a level where you play as a gunner in an AC-130 gunship, covering the SAS squad you follow during the majority of the game. You hover over the battlefield and eradicate white dot after white dot on a thermal image, a laconic crewmember calmly calling out targets and commenting on your kills. It could've just as easily been footage from any current war. The effect is just chilling, which is an extraordinary thing for a game to accomplish. Then there's their take on the now so common tram-ride in the title sequence, the end of the US marine part of the story, and a flashback mission set in Chernobyl that were equally jaw-dropping. And there's a really clever thing they do with the tutorial, and a sinking ship and...well, you get the picture.

It's over pretty quickly, around six hours if you're a competent fps gamer, but it's a mostly brilliant six hours of sensory overload, filled with big wow moments. Shooter of the year? Not quite, but you can certainly make a decent case for it.

*Saudia Arabia, unless my map-reading skills have gone to hell. Honestly, why be all coy about it when you're zooming around maps with easily identifyable landmarks in the briefing movies?

1 comment:

Harakh said...

You forget that most Americans can't find shit on a map so it does work to just not name Saudi Arabia. Just us hip Euro-fags that know how to read maps and actually learned something about them back in school.