It’s no secret that gamers are tired of engaging in the conflicts of World War II. The genre has been rehashed so many times in the past five years that it’s hard to differentiate one entry from another. Developer Infinity War, best known for their console work with the exceptional CoD 2 from the Xbox 360 launch, has decided to change the tides of war with their latest chapter in the franchise Modern Warfare. However, CoD 4 is much more than a new subtitle and change of weapons; the team has crafted one of the best paced, most beautiful shooters ever created. Couple this with the highly-addictive and extremely well balanced multi-player and you have a package that is the epitome of how sequels should work.
We begin with the single-player campaign, which is almost worth the price of admission alone, almost. Anyone who has played a previous CoD game will be familiar with the mission structures and objectives found in Modern Warfare. You still work with squad mates to attack specific waypoints all while moving between intense firefights. The difference with Modern Warfare is a combination of vastly improved AI and the stunning visuals that accompany each level. From a sinking cargo ship to Russian farmhouses this game sports some of the most amazing detail I have yet encountered on a console. It also runs at a blistering 60 frames per second without even thinking about dipping.
The biggest drawback to the campaign though is its length. On the standard difficulty you could run through the entire game in less than seven hours. This is literally the only factor that keeps the core single-player experience from being worth 60 bucks on its own. Granted once you complete the campaign you unlock a strangely addictive Arcade mode (think Halo 3’s score mode and you get the idea) which rewards you for things such as knife kills and of course headshots, but overall the length is certainly this game’s Achilles heel. For all of the sadists out there CoD 4 does offer up the infamous Veteran difficulty which separates the men from the boys, but even this won’t last you more than ten hours to complete nor does it reward you anything else outside of Achievements on the Xbox 360 version as incentive for completing it.
Thankfully what it lacks in length it makes up for with quality. The short stint that is Modern warfare’s campaign is one of the greatest thrill rides available this holiday season. Whether it’s the pacing of the game itself or the simple fact that having it set in modern times CoD 4 feels much more appealing than the previous two efforts. Subtle details such as the opening cinema where you are being dragged through a Middle Eastern town, seeing everything through the eyes of a man about to be executed down to dropping bombs from the skies later in the game.
Every time you grow tired of what the game is offering it throws you into a completely fresh experience, and that my friends is great pacing. The only thing that could have made this better was the addition of a co-op option either online or via split screen. While it certainly isn’t the norm quite yet, it is becoming more and more common and not having it simply makes me want it that much more.
The second helping of Modern Warfare comes in the form of an extremely robust and highly addictive online multi-player. Both the Xbox 360 and PS3 versions support up to eighteen players with the possibility of that number being increased as time goes on. There are 16 maps out of the box of which a large portion of them are based on some of the single-player missions. The maps are arranged like a nice buffet with a sampling of large, open arenas great for sniping and smaller, more confined stages great for short-range weapons such as the shotgun.
There are a total of six different game modes to choose from and all of them should be familiar to fans of online FPS games. The default mode and arguably the most popular is team deathmatch. There is also a free-for-all mode which tends to be the least populated due to the fact that this game is built around team play. The other modes are various objective-based modes where you will fight for control points as well as try to blow up the opposing team’s base with explosives. The main reason all of this works so well is due to the implementation of the party system similar to Halo 3. You can create a party of friends and jump into any match together. This is by far the best system currently available and why all games still do not use it is beyond my comprehension. For me, and many other gamers out there, this can make or break an online experience.
All of this probably sounds pretty standard to most of you, and you may be wondering what is so great about a team-based online game. The answer is simple. CoD 4 hooks players with its ranking system and doesn’t let go. Each level you earn while playing online opens up new upgrades and weapons as well as special classes and even the ability to create your own class. At first this sounds daunting, but the way the game holds your hand through each rank-up makes it very user friendly and extremely addicting. I found myself at times sputtering the infamous line all gamers love to hear “just one more game” as the hours of each night slowly dwindled away.
Players are also likely concerned about balancing issues, which if you listen to our weekly podcast you know I addressed on the most recent episode. The reason the game works is because there is never really a penalty for dying let alone for losing. Each kill nets you points towards your upgrades and each win or loss will still let you keep said points towards your ranking. The game does reward you for being better though and even a lowly level one can change the tide of the battle instantly. Earn three kills without dying and you earn a UAV that shows the position of your enemies, earn five in a row and you can call in an airstrike. It is these small rewards that really drive players to get better. Before you know it your level is in the double digits, you are earning new upgrades, and you simply cannot stop playing.
In addition to the new weapons and upgrades for said weapons the game also allows you to create custom classes for your online persona. Here you can choose a starting weapon layout that consists of one rifle, one sidearm, and one grenade type. As your level increases you can add a special grenade such as a flashbang or smoke as well as the ability to assign perks to your character. Perks work like minimal upgrades to certain abilities and can range from things like extra health, longer sprint speed, and even increased bullet damage. These perks are nicely balanced and even add some new dynamics to the overall design. Two great examples of this are the last stand and martyrdom perks. Last stand gives you the ability for a nice revenge kill when you die; instead of simply falling to the ground and respawning, having this perk equipped allows you a few seconds after being fragged to pull out a pistol and take out your killer. Martyrdom on the other hand is a completely random act that still surprises me to this day. When you are killed your player automatically drops a grenade at their feet taking out anyone close by for a satisfying kill directly from the grave.
Outside of these two incredible sides of the game CoD 4 is also a visual juggernaut. As I mentioned earlier the game runs at a solid 60 frames per second without hesitation and the environments are some of the best found on either console. The multi-player does suffer some downgrade, but it is still technically proficient. The sound is also immaculate as with any Infinity Ward title. Explosions will rock your living room, bullets whiz by your head with surround setups, and the in-game chatter is so immersive you almost feel like you are on the battlefield. Perhaps someday consoles will generate different smells to accompany their game, but as it stands Modern Warfare is one of the most engaging experiences available on any console.
Even with a disappointingly short campaign CoD 4 is a must own for fans of the genre, I know it seems like there have been a million FPS game released in the last three months, but this is yet again another must have. The highly addictive online mode is the first game that I could see knocking Halo 3 off its pedestal as well as becoming a staple for future online games. If you love FPS games then 2007 has been your year and CoD 4 Modern Warfare is easily the best in the genre on PS3 and can hold it’s own against the best the 360 has to offer.