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Call of Duty 4Call of Duty 4: Experience Vicariously What Our Troops Go Through

By Jim Bray
February 5, 2008

Of all the types of video and/or computer games, first person shooters are some of the most popular – and arguably some of the most fun.

Ever since Wolfenstein 3D blasted onto the scene so many years ago I hate to mention it because it might make me seem, well, my age, these games have evolved until now the virtual world they create can be so involving you may want to have your heart checked before you boot one up.

One of the latest of these shooters (games in which you see the game environment from your own "first person" perspective, with your weapon extended in front of you as you navigate the playing field) is Activision and Infinity Ward's Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. It puts you right in the middle of today's type of conflict, fighting terrorists, insurgents and other baddies, almost as if you were on hand with the coalition troops now helping keep we civilians safe by keeping the bad guys occupied in far off lands such as Iraq and Afghanistan.

Not to make this a political rant, but if you ever wanted to get even the slightest and most superficial feel for what it must be like over there, this is a good place to start. I hesitate to say it's anywhere close to the real thing, if for no other reason than you don't have to worry about really dying or getting maimed, but it's a heckuva simulation.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare arms you with today's advanced firepower (though in my case there never seemed to be enough of it!) and sets you down in global hotspots as a U.S. Marine and a British S.A.S. soldier. Your missions send you through a story full of twists and turns in a variety of locales and scenarios from the Middle East to the high seas and against a range of opponents.

I played the PlayStation3 version (it's also available for PC, Nintendo DTS and Xbox 360), running it at 480p and 1080p on a 106 inch Epson/Rotel/Da-Lite/Definitive Technology/M&K home theater system with 500 watts of power per channel. Yikes! Talk about immersive and exciting! The graphics are terrific, the most lifelike I've seen in such a game (well, other shooters may be as good technically, but the ones I've played are full of aliens and/or monsters, which makes it hard to tell if they're "lifelike" or not).

Call of Duty 4One particular segment saw me huddling in thin branches on the bank of a creek, taking aim at snipers on top of a bridge while some evil jerk tried to gun me down from a helicopter; I could almost feel the branches wiping against my cheek as I tried to stay out of their sights.

The graphics at 1080p didn't seem a huge improvement over 480p, though perhaps that was because I was so busy keeping my head down I didn't have a chance to sightsee. It's very realistic, with great lighting and other effects such as smoke and flames.

The surround sound is just as good, immersing you in the middle of the action. It's very realistic, though I doubt you'd have a musical score accompanying a battle unless you're Colonel Kilgore leading a horde of Hueys  into action accompanied by the strains of "Ride of the Valkyries." But that wasn't real combat, either….

The previous version of Call of Duty (COD3) was set in World War II and was a great game as well, but the new, "modern day" setting really hits home in this age of the global war on terrorism – and the game's new capabilities up the action ante a lot.

COD4 features more than 70 new weapons and assorted gear, including assault rifles with laser sites, claymore mines, .50 caliber sniper rifles, and M-249 SAW machine guns. You'll also need to partake of accessories such as night-vision goggles to get through the ordeal as unscathed as possible.

They set the scene very well, with cinematic sequences in which, for example, you're helicoptered to the theater (it could be an urban setting, a sinking ship, etc.) and then "fast rope" down to your assignment – at which time all hell breaks loose as you and your buddies come under enemy fire, potentially from all directions including above.

Call of Duty 4Along the way you reach checkpoints at which your progress is saved (and thank the Lord for that or I'd have never gotten past the first few minutes!), so when you come back you can pick up nearly where you left off. Dying for the cause sends you back to the last checkpoint, but checkpoints are frequent enough that you probably won't get too depressed at having to "advance toward the rear".

Here's a good way to avoid getting sent back to a checkpoint: make the other guys die for their cause instead of you dying for yours. Maybe someday I'll achieve this….

The game also delivers multiplayer action the makers say gives fans of online gaming "an all-new community of persistence, addictive and customizable game play."

I rarely go online to play, because those people are nuts! They're serious gamers and I have neither the time nor the inclination to get good enough beforehand to compete with them: any time I've gone online I've been dead nearly the instant I showed up, which takes a lot of the fun out of it.

What I usually have to do if I want to get a good feel for a game I'm reviewing is to keep it on "wuss mode" and have at it to the best of my abilities. That generally gives plenty of challenge – and fun – for a gamer of my skill and interest level. And so it is with COD4, with "wuss mode" offering plenty of battle action (and far too many virtual deaths). 

I've been making continual progress and having a ball doing it, though my guts get wrapped up so tightly when I play it makes me grateful to know it's only a game and not the kind of real life experience so many brave people are going through today.

I also have a heckuva time keeping track of the several thousand buttons on the PS3 controller, but that's an unfortunate combination of age and lack of practice (and patience) with the console; my son, who plays more games than I do, was more at home with the interface and could make faster progress than me.

I hated him for that.

You move your character via the two joysticks (one moves you forward, back and side to side while the other rotates you left/right and up/down – and there's more functionality at "thumb" when you press down on them). Locking onto a target and firing your weapons is accomplished via buttons on the front of the controller, and the buttons on top let you change weapons, crouch or crawl, etc.

 My son made an excellent point about game console controllers versus a PC's keyboard/mouse combination. Both of us are a lot better with the PC-based solution (my aim's faster and truer with the mouse; I only die needlessly two thirds as often!), which makes us pine for such accoutrements for game consoles – especially in this day of USB and wireless Bluetooth capability.

Are you listening, Sony, Microsoft et al?

As I write this I'm still plodding through the single player mode, which another reviewer complained was too short for his liking. I'll let you know my opinion of that if I ever make it to the end….

In the meantime, I'm having a great time playing Call of Duty 4. I'm also becoming more amazed by and grateful for the fine military personnel, busy in some of the hottest spots on the planet, who do for real the things I do vicariously from the comfort of my home theater.

Copyright 2008 Jim Bray

Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.

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