Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare review

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It’s possible, following a year’s worth of games such as Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2, that gamers might be slightly sceptical about yet another modern, realistic first-person shooter. After all, modern war doesn’t afford the gravity-defying possibilities of Half-Life 2, and there are no interesting-looking aliens to splatter the walls with, as in Crysis.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare review

It is, however, obvious within five minutes of starting the first level that Call of Duty 4 (COD4) stands head and shoulders above every modern-day shooter of the past year. The game starts with a kind of interactive cut-scene: you can look around, but there’s no fighting to be done. The only clue we’re prepared to divulge is that the end of the cut-scene is a genuine shock and sets the stage for the rest of the game perfectly. (Somewhat inevitably, there’s a nuclear bomb involved, but the storyline is otherwise so good we’re prepared to forgive it.)

Graphically, COD4 is as good as it gets. At times, it borders on the photo-realistic, and if you have a fast enough system to run it at 1,680 x 1,050 you’re in for a spellbinding experience. Some of the levels that take place in abandoned Russian cities are particularly striking. C0D4 also makes great use of depth-of-field effects: press the right mouse button and you peer down the sight of your gun, throwing things close by out of focus. It’s the kind of effect that has the potential to be deeply distracting but, while it’s unsubtle, it adds a sense of drama.

It’s the gameplay, however, that ensures you’ll be playing COD4 until your eyes are bloodshot and your boss is demanding to know where you’ve been all week. Technically speaking, it’s a team-based game: you’re part of a squad that, despite your lowly rank, responds roughly to where you go. However, instead of needing to direct them and ham-fistedly lead them into ambush after ambush, they’re self-sufficient and will bark orders at you. This means, oddly, that COD4 feels more team-based than games such as Ghost Recon. You don’t need to order your team around, so it feels like you’re playing with intelligent characters who don’t need you to oversee their every step. It also means that, more often than not, it’s your team that will dig you out of desperate firefights, rather than relying on you to charge in and save the day for your hapless underlings.

It’s also incredibly varied. As with Call of Duty 2, you play different characters throughout the game, which means that one minute you’re a member of the US Marine Corp, leaping out of a helicopter in the Middle East, and the next you’re a member of the SAS, creeping through a town in the dead of night. It’s difficult to say exactly which mode of gameplay we prefer, but there’s a mission where you and an SAS squaddie have to crawl through a field in Chernobyl. Suddenly, a Russian patrol draws near. As you move forwards, giant tanks rumble past and Russian soldiers pass by inches away. It proves that a game doesn’t need you to hide in the shadows for minutes on end to be tense.

A brilliant soundtrack tops it all off. Swelling banks of violins temper those moments when you’re metres from victory, and the shouts of your team-mates lend COD4 yet more realism. The only missing element is the emotional resonance given to COD2 by its World War II setting, but even without this COD4 remains a brilliant game. If you’re a fan of the genre, we recommend you buy it now. Even if you’re not, this is probably the game to convert you. The set pieces are immense, the voice acting is superb, and the graphics are horrifyingly realistic. You get the picture: COD4 is a genuine must-own.

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