Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Release Date: November 5th, 2007
Developer: Infinity Ward
Where to buy: Steam – $19.99
What’s the Premise?
In a fictional near-future, there’s a full-blown civil war within Russia and violent unrest in an unnamed Middle-Eastern country. You, the player, will alternate between controlling Sergeant John “Soap” McTavish of the British SAS and sergeant Paul Jackson of the USMC, with a few others sprinkled in. Through course of the game you take part in varied battles in different theaters of war, eventually discovering that the two separate conflicts are related. The story events of the game unfold over a period of 6 days.
By the time 2007 rolled around, Infinity Ward had gained a lot of experience making games based on wars. Some of their core staff used to work at 2015, Inc., which made Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. After that, the team at Infinity Ward started the Call of Duty franchise with two games set in World War II. Call of Duty 3 was made by another studio, Treyarch, giving Infinity Ward time to craft the game that took players into the contemporary field of war.
Why Should I Play This?
I don’t think it’s hyperbole to say that Modern Warfare was a watershed title for first-person shooters. Both the single player campaign and multiplayer experience built on past titles in the series to create a new definitive first-person shooter experience. For better or for worse, games are still trying to copy what COD4 accomplished; and relatively few have been successful.
Your first clue that Modern Warfare is a special game comes in how the tutorial is handled; it does an excellent job of setting the stage for the whole game. The tutorial mission begins with a few minutes at a gun range, familiarizing the player with various combat controls, reloading, and simple movement. The training then shifts to a warehouse where the bridge of a cargo ship has been roughly built out of plywood, complete with pop-up shooting targets and instructions spray painted on the walls. Your objective here is to run through this seemingly innocuous course as fast as possible. Upon finishing the course, your time and accuracy ratings are displayed, as well as the recommended difficulty for the campaign.
Wouldn’t you know it: the plywood training mission was literally preparation for your first mission of the game: an assault on a cargo ship. It’s here that the stage for the entire game is set: loud, showy, action-packed, and constantly moving at a breakneck pace. Infinity Ward pulled out all the stops for this one; roiling seas, weather effects; rain, thunder, and lightning; and a ship that actually feels like it’s being tossed around by the seas outside. Much like the training mission, you begin by rappelling from your helicopter down in front of the ship’s bridge to engage hostiles inside. After [SPOILERS REDACTED] the mission ends with heart-pounding chase and a leap of faith, after which your view fades to black and the opening credits start rolling.
Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the rollercoaster that is Call of Duty.
To be honest, I’ve been struggling as to whether or not I should use the term “roller coaster” when referring to the game because it implies a passive thrill ride in which the rider has no part in the proceedings. To think of it another way: If levels FPS games prior to COD4 were a playground, the player’s objective would be to experience each set of equipment on the playground (slides, swings, monkey bars, etc.) in order to progress to a new playground. In COD4, the player is given a timed, flashy, explosion-filled, guided tour of the playground with no control over which piece of equipment to check out next. While it may sound limiting and forced; like your parents trying to convince you that you were in fact, not terrified of the giant slide; the game is so masterfully executed that it is rarely anything other than exhilarating.
In all honesty, I’m not going to write a lot about the gameplay because at its core it’s not very different from any other shooter ever made. Guns, run, jump, reload, shoot, grenade, etc.; in terms of basic gameplay mechanics it’s all very familiar. What wasn’t familiar at the time of release is the experience crafted around the player: you are now an agent in the middle of a larger, visceral conflict. Some of the highlights include fighting to protect a stranded tank from attackers using C4, chasing a fugitive through enemy territory, an eerie and tense calm between firefights, providing support for a ground team via aerial firepower of an AC-130 gunship, and the sniper mission. Not a sniper mission, the sniper mission. While technically they are two separate levels, “All Ghilled Up” and “One Shot, One Kill” have to be considered as a package and are widely regarded as one of the finest experiences in the history of first-person shooters.
While a game that’s nothing but hours of adrenaline-fueled rollercoaster thrills might become exhausting to play, the pacing is spot on in that when the action gets a bit too frantic the scope shifts for just a little while before the game throws you back in the fire again.
With one or two exceptions, the campaign plays just as well now as it did back in 2007.
What doesn’t work?
Those one or two exceptions will be things that you notice quite a lot once you start looking for them. One is the absolute absence of player choice. Being such a heavily scripted game, if the mission script determines that you are supposed to walk through a doorway, then you will walk through that doorway or else nothing else in that mission will progress.
In another mission the game tells you to fight your way to the bottom of a hill in order to reach the extraction point – and to do so in a limited amount of time. The game clearly wanted me to hustle down the middle of the hillside village, running through thickets of enemy bullets. Doing this caused me to die and restart the checkpoint at least a dozen times. Trying for an alternate route I worked around the edge of the level and found what should have been a spot to let me sneak past almost everyone, but I couldn’t progress because an invisible wall was blocking my way. Sergeant “Soap” MacTavish of the British SAS, stymied by an 18-inch tall bale of hay and the invisible wall on top of it.
Speaking of invisible walls: one thing the game relies heavily upon are “trigger points”. These are set points within the levels that you the player “trip”, usually by moving past a certain point, and will then cause some pre-determined event to happen. In COD4 these triggers will usually stop enemies from spawning and / or allow you and your friendly NPCs to proceed to the next point in the level. If you don’t pass that magic line, your friendly allies don’t move and the enemy troops just keep on coming, long after they should have stopped.
What else doesn’t work?
Multiplayer. Yes, I am talking about the multiplayer entirely within the “what doesn’t work” section because, quite honestly, COD4 multiplayer can’t recapture the magic now that it had upon release. Parts of it are still fine. The map design is still flawless, the guns are still balanced and fun, and the system of unlocking better equipment is just as addicting as it was in 2007. In preparation for writing this retrospective I thought I’d fire up the multiplayer for a few rounds, just to remember what it was like. Before I knew what happened, I’d been promoted to rank 32 and spent 5 hours on team deathmatch. Oops.
But the overall gameplay is lacking, mainly because it’s hard to find a server on PC THAT STILL PLAYS THE GAME AS IT WAS MEANT TO BE PLAYED [leaving the caps lock on there was a mistake, but I like how it helps emphasize my point so I’ll leave it as is – Joe]. Originally, the main game modes were meant to be played by two teams of 6, or in the case of ground war (the largest official game mode), two teams of 10. Matches of that size left enough space on the maps for small engagements to take place and for players to form some kind of strategy for use when they next encountered an enemy. Killstreaks, rewards given when a player got a 3, 5, or 7 kills without dying happened regularly but weren’t a constantly occurring thing. There was room to breathe during a match. It was still fast, but there was a tactical element to it – depending on what map it was.
Now, the vast majority of servers have a minimum of 18-24 players; simply too many. Every match with this many people turns into a unfun drudgery of spawn die spawn die spawn shoot die spawn score two kills die by airstrike spawn again die by same airstrike quit match in rage. It’s kind of like when you discovered records could be run faster than intended. Sure it was fun to make a record sound like the chipmunks album, but it got very annoying very quickly. And it certainly wasn’t anything that you went back and listened to on a regular basis.
Is it fair to judge a game if it’s not being played in the way the developers intended? Not necessarily, but if there’s only one way to experience a game almost nine years after its original release, I have to critique the current experience. If you can play with a group of friends, or find the rare server with a max capacity of 8-14 people, it’s still a lot of fun. Sadly, that’s a very rare thing to find and as things stand now I can’t recommend spending a lot of time on multiplayer gameplay.
Tips for New Players:
- Unless you’re a glutton for punishment, don’t play on a difficulty level higher than “normal”. This will give you the most enjoyment out of the thrill ride that is COD4.
- If you seem to be stuck at some point in a level, don’t underestimate the value of running forward blindly; you might cross one of those invisible lines that moves the mission forwards.
- Don’t forget that your bullets can shoot through walls.
The Final Raving – Full Endorsement
Anyone who plays video games should give this a try, even if this is a genre you’ve never been interested before.
Let’s be honest: in 2016 the Call of Duty franchise is a bloated, overhyped monstrosity that probably just needs to be quietly put to rest, but this title from 2007 still deserves all the accolades the series has ever gotten. Don’t misjudge the original because the copies aren’t that good.
- A finely crafted gaming experience that feels like an action movie
- Tight gunplay is as responsive as any shooter has ever been
- THE sniping mission, seriously
- Invisible trigger points are frustrating at times
- Harder difficulty levels are punishing, rewarding twitch reactions instead of skill
- While the sound design isn’t bad, it’s noticeably not as good as certain other games
- $19.99 feels a bit steep for a 9-year-old 8-9 hour single-player campaign, but that’s more a con of Activision than the game itself
- The way your view is “kicked” when hit by enemy fire will cause a significant amount of frustration
- The only issue you might run into is trying to play online. COD4 uses an anti-cheat system called Punkbuster. Unfortunately, Infinity Ward stopped supporting Punkbuster in 2014 so you’ll have to update those files manually. This YouTube video contains full instructions on how to perform that update: How to Update Punkbuster COD4 – 2016 / 2015