A confession: amidst all the excitement of Killzone 2 at E3 this year we didn’t really take notice of Infinity Ward’s true follow up to Call of Duty 2 (we’ll ignore the dull third installment) assuming it to be more of the same and surely this multiformat title couldn’t possibly match what Guerrilla games were promising. So, with almost stubborn ignorance until just before launch, we’d not even watched the multitude of hype-inducing trailers and apart from a few screen-shots didn’t know much about the game except it’s more modern setting, finally moving away from the constraints of a World War II setting.
So, when off-screen photos started appearing on the net during the week of release, TheSixthAxis finally awoke to just what Infinity Ward had managed to pull out of the bag – for that we can only apologise: we should have been behind the hype wagon like everyone else because Call of Duty 4 is the finest first person shooter this generation, it’s as simple as that. The beauty of keeping away from the rolling impressions and spoilers can be a mixed blessing because you don’t always know what you’re getting yourself into, but from the very first scene to the explosive finale approximately 8 hours later, this is a stunning example of what we should be seeing with the power of modern consoles.
With a storyline spanning multiple characters (and nationalities) the developers have managed to combine guns blazing action with tense, atmospheric tactical sections without once breaking the flow – from the first helicopter drop as the SAS (in what must be the most incredible opening level to an FPS ever conceived) through to the events surrounding the US Mario Force Recon halfway across the world, the storyline just keeps getting better and better, dragging you further into the action whilst all the time moving seamlessly from objective to objective, taking in gunships and bombers along the way always ensuring you as the player are right in the centre of everything.
The game is split into three acts, with each offering multiple playable sections as either the British or the Americans, and as with earlier Call of Duty games you’re rarely on your own – in most of the scenarios you’ll be accompanied by a cast of other key characters and a spooling supply of cannon-fodder for when things get really tough, and more often than not the enemy has the same advantages. This ‘infinite machine’ of bad guys isn’t meant to frustrate, it’s designed to keep you moving through each level at the tempo designated, and once you understand that there are clever key-points during each battle that stop the tide the game starts to click into place: battles in Call of Duty 4 require grit and courage, and the presence of cover fire and some smart AI from your companions (and some shouting from your superiors) the way is always clearly signposted.
There’s no backtracking, unless the story specifically demands it, no red keys for red doors and you’ll struggle to run out of ammo because you can pick up and use any weapon you find on the battlefield (two principle guns and two types of grenades) – it’s always forward and the action is kept tense and exciting because of it. Timed sections work brilliantly, increasing the stress and the few scripted sequences dotted through the three acts are told with passion and confidence, and always keep you rooted to the story.
Gunplay is delicious, and although there’s no plans for the game to be patched for the Dual Shock 3 the absence of physical feedback is compensated in game by realistic recoil, hit detection and the finest audio ever sampled for a game like this. It’s impossible to convey in words the sheer sense of immersion when your team is locked down by enemy gunfire with teammates taking hits as you desperately try to advance towards the line – you just have to experience it for yourselves. The visuals assist massively – the frame rate is an amazing sixty frames per second and the animation can only be described as ‘real’ – the motion capture team have worked wonders making all the characters around you acts exactly as you’d expect them to in any given situation.
The game can be played at a number of difficulty levels, and whilst we rushed through the game on Normal the first time there’s no way you won’t want to replay at least some of the levels on Hardened or even Veteran, which is a truly punishing experience and only for the hardcore. However, a smart addition to the single player is Arcade mode, which opens up upon completion (on any level) and is a cool way to extend the life of the game, with pop-up points and some cool visual gags to keep you aiming for higher and better scores for each area. Infinity Ward didn’t stop there, though, and Call of Duty 4’s multiplayer is above and beyond what we could of reasonably asked for.
With a huge number of lag-free maps, the multiplayer mode offers a level-based upgrade structure to ensure that lower level players can always find a game matched to their skills but once better at the game a number of persistent perks and special abilities slowly become unlocked so that gamers can find a niche (and a class) that suits their game style and then take their character into massive pitched team battles and the sublime Search and Destroy mode – there’s more here than the likes of Warhawk and Resistance put together, and we’ve yet to find a game filled with trash talking and abuse given the PS3’s relative infancy, unlike the fate suffered by Halo 3 players online.
Call of Duty 4 is a powerful, gripping title that every PS3 owner should experience – a brilliantly crafted single player story coupled with the finest multiplayer action since Warhawk represents astounding value for money. The production values shine through out of every pixel for the entire length of the game, it’s utterly brilliant and absolutely unmissable. Ignore the nay-sayers complaining about the single player life because Infinity Ward have ensured that each and every minute of gameplay is filled with intense action, and you’ll get more from the first act of Call of Duty 4 than you will from the whole length of some of the other more bloated first person shooters on the market just now. Essential.