Back in 2002, before the Call of Duty series began, Medal of Honor: Allied Assault was created by 2015 Inc. Allied Assault became an instant PC classic, and it made WWII videogames a cinematic, heart-pounding experience. The Omaha Beach mission remains one of my favorite levels in gaming history. From its tension-filled beginning on the coast of France to the desperate scramble to the top of the beach, Spielberg’s Saving Private Ryan had a contender in videogame format.
Key members 2015 Inc went on to form Infinity Ward, who’ve just released Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and the game goes back to Infinity’s 2015 roots.
Like an adrenaline shot rammed into your chest, it’s hard not to be stunned by the whole experience. The time Infinity Ward took off between Call of Duty 2 and Modern Warfare has been well spent; it’s by far the best Call of Duty game yet.
The first mission, which opens with your crack SAS team infiltrating a military ship, is an exhilarating action experience that sets the game’s modern tone. Fast-roping down a helicopter rope, you watch a bridge full of soldiers look up in surprise as you open fire from outside the ship. It’s a sublime cinematic moment that speaks to the series’ ambitious progress.
While Modern Warfare‘s visuals, Mis-En-Scene and overall feel are a departure for the series, the interface and controls are reassuringly familiar. It’s the fundamentals of gun combat that the Call of Duty series has down to an art, and Modern Warfare represents a subtle evolution. The quiet thwack of a bullet finding your enemy’s cranium; the distinct contrast between a wild blast of gunfire and pin-pointedly accurate assassinations; the panic you feel as your vision blurs red, a sign you’ve been hit.
Switching between normal view and zoom mode is used as a narrative device: When it’s time to kick ass and take names, we squeeze the left trigger. When it’s time to pay attention to dialogue and environment, we release it. This cognitive system allows us further freedom in playing the active protagonist in Modern Warfare‘s campaign.
It’s within these fundamentals where players will find an infinitely re-playable killing experience. Make no mistake; at its heart, Call of Duty 4 is still all about widow making. Every gun game glorifies violence, but this one makes it beautiful.
This is a violence-obsessed game. The opening credit sequence features an in-game cut-scene viewed from the perspective of a soon-to-be executed president of a vaguely undetermined Middle-Eastern country. The game’s villain, Al-Asad, draws a Desert Eagle in your face; reverberating bass thumps shake your console, as poor President Al-Fulani’s heart strains in anticipation. In slow motion, the terrorist fires a single shot directly into your field of view, and the game blacks out.
Of the five individuals you adopt as your character throughout the game, two of them are killed as part of the game’s storyline. Sure, you do more than your fair share of killing, but it’s not often in a game that your protagonists are subjected to same brutality in the narrative.
Where in most military games characters have about as much personality as their equipment, Modern Warfare actually contains people bordering on being likeable. Sure, it’s no Bridge Over the River Kwai, but certain characters’ sudden death gets a little, well, upsetting.
Warfare’s language is predictably nationalized, but it goes to lengths to diversify the experience between fighting alongside fellow Yanks and pummeling terrorists with British compatriots. “Yeah! There goes our boys! Ooo-rah!” shouts an American Marine with all the authenticity we desire from our men in green. Token British exclamations like “bugger” come from the mouths of Captain Price and his SAS troops. It’s a nice variation of narrative that keeps your interaction with NPC characters from getting too stale.
Speaking of camaraderie, the multiplayer component is one of the best to be found on Xbox Live. While playing free-for-all can be an amusing romp through the many war zones on offer, the meat is in the plethora of team modes at your disposal. I personally just can’t get enough of team deathmatch; simple run ‘n’ gun antics are bestowed with added strategic depth in territorial spawn-point control and the use of bonuses such as helicopters and air strikes, which are rewarded to your arsenal in exchange for killing sprees. It rivals Halo 3 for its longevity and addictiveness, thanks to a superb RPG-class system that rewards your combat skills with unlockable “perks” and weapons.
Modern Warfare brings Call of Duty to the contemporary era, and does it admirably. The single-player campaign is cinematic enough to warrant a complete play-through, and the multiplayer action can extend the game’s lifetime long enough to make it worthy of a spot on your shelf.
Bottom line: The best the Call of Duty series has to offer, Modern Warfare has pretty much everything you could ask for in a wargame. It stands up on the foundation of its fundamental gameplay elements but reaches excellence with an interesting narrative and engagingly visceral presentation.
Recommendation: Buy it.
Alex Hayter is a student and journalist living in Waterloo, Ontario. When he’s not working on his university newspaper he is busy eating candy and blogging about videogames on cordweekly.com.