Friday, October 19, 2007

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Preview (Part 1)

Infinity Ward leaves behind World War II to bring the most intense and stunning Call of Duty title to date.

(IGN.com) June 13, 2007 - The Call of Duty franchise is back. Infinity Ward, the developer behind the acclaimed Call of Duty's 1 and 2 has returned to prove the third time's the charm -- even if that third time happens to be the fourth iteration in the series. Gone is the familiar setting of World War II, replaced with a fictional modern war. That means all of the insane attention to detail IW paid towards accurately representing WWII weapons and vehicles is now being brought to the high-tech age of the new millennium.With the announcement of a modern setting, many had the same questions. Is it going to become tactical? No. It plays very much like previous Call of Duty titles. Will the multiplayer become ordinary? Not at all. In fact, the multiplayer sounds unique and intriguing. Could it possibly compete against Ubisoft's Tom Clancy dynasty? Certainly. After sitting through a significant demo showing off multiple levels, it's fair to say Call of Duty 4 is Rainbow Six with chest hair. Imagine Ubi's Rainbow Six with incredible graphics mixed with the intensity of Criterion's Black and you'll have some idea of the thunderous experience of Modern Warfare. Yeah, it's going to be one hell of a fall for shooters.Beauty in WarIf you are expecting to see Call of Duty 2 with some new "modern" skins, you're in for a pleasant surprise. Infinity Ward has spent the past two years improving its technology to create a far prettier game. There's an astounding level of detail in both the environments and the characters.At one point you may step into a barn, look up and see beams of sunlight breaking in through the cracks. You'll see dust particles in the air, though that's not nearly as impressive as the smoke trail from a rocket launcher. The sun can rise or set during a level with realistic lighting effects so that the transition from dusk to dawn appears natural. There's impressive damage modeling on derelict cars; you can waste some bullets shooting out tires or toss a grenade and blow the doors off. Walk past a hill of burning trash and you'll see not only smoke, but debris floating in the air. The stunning backgrounds are actually matte paintings, just as would be used in a movie.
As for the characters, each has full self-shadowing and a level of detail never-before-seen in Call of Duty. Get close to a soldier and you can actually read the time on his watch. Once you know it's not time for bacon and eggs, you can cast your eyes on the uniform and its rich level of detail. Breathe down the neck of a U.S. Marine and you will see realistic-looking flesh. You might even see them sweat.More impressive is that all of this works in a frantic environment. The chaos of modern warfare has AI Marines screaming ooh-rah as gunfire echoes through the ruins of a Middle Eastern city. There are explosions left and right, enemies around every corner, helicopters spinning out of control and crashing in a fiery wreck. And all of it happens at 60 frames per second. It's fair to say that what we saw of Call of Duty 4 was a greater graphical feat than Epic's Gears of War. The trailer released in April was in-game footage and not some CG magic. The screenshots posted are, in fact, exactly what the game looks like. It's not a trick; Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare really looks that good.War Through a Soldier's EyesThough Infinity Ward isn't going into great detail on the story elements, Modern Warfare is set in a world where a quartet of evil men threatens global peace. The Four Horsemen, as they are called, must be stopped. To do so, you'll do some globetrotting through Russia and the Eastern Block and also through the Middle East. Don't expect any excursions to Iraq -- while COD4 is realistic to an extent, it creates fictional conflicts and avoids any overt political commentary.As is the standard in the Call of Duty series, you'll see Infinity Ward's fictional war through the eyes of several different soldiers. However, instead of working from one national campaign to the next, the viewpoints will switch around more frequently and be strongly tied to the narrative. At one point, you play a revolutionary who gets shot in the face (we'll assume you never play him again). COD4 plays out like a TV miniseries with one cohesive story tying the various viewpoints together.The bulk of your missions will be either as a mustachioed member of the British SAS or as a US Marine. You'll notice a difference between the two well beyond a change in uniform and standard weaponry. The Marines are loud, with AI partners shouting a lot, cursing excessively, and being a bit looser even in the heat of combat. The SAS tend to be a lot quieter and calmer on missions and, at least outwardly, appear more professional.
Modern WarfareWe saw a number of missions, many of which won't seem too surprising to longtime COD fans. There were several seek and kill/destroy missions. And though the setting has changed, the interface is instantly familiar. Sure, there are a few tweaks here and there, but this is still Call of Duty. When a grenade falls at your feet, you'll see the grenade icon appear alerting you to the danger. There are still stationary guns to be found, so rest assured, you will shoot ducks (or terrorists) in a barrel once again. And there are a number of signature cinematic moments, the kind that make your finger slip from the trigger and stare in awe.
The thing that really changes up COD4 is the weaponry and equipment. World War II may have been the stomping ground of The Greatest Generation, but modern warfare has all the cool gadgets.
The most impressive weapon shown in the demo was the Javelin. The tops of tanks are vulnerable and the Javelin exploits this. Just aim at the tank and wait for the Javelin to lock on. Launch and a rocket fires at a higher arc and comes straight down onto the top of the tank. It's quite a sight.
It's also nice to finally have greater functionality with night vision. Of course, night vision is meant to allow a soldier to see in the dark, but in COD4 it does a bit more. With night vision on, you can see the UV laser light from your gun -- and anyone else's. At one spot in the demo, our Marine poked his head up on the second floor only to see a half-dozen crisscrossing beams. Wisely, he backed his ass up.
The soldiers in COD4 wear glint tape on their helmets. These black, shiny strips of tape go almost unnoticed in the light. But switch to night vision and the tape shines brightly. This is a way to easily identify friendlies in the dark. You're going to need it when you take a brief journey into the shoes of an AC130 pilot.

The AC130 "Spooky" GunshipThe AC130 is a gunship that's so large it can't be used during the day, since it makes such an easy target. However, at night the gunship is an awesome tool for the military. When in control of the AC130, you'll be staring at a monitor showing the area below. All you can see are little more than tiny blobs for the people on the ground. The Marines will glimmer thanks to the glint tape, meaning you shoot at all those who don't sparkle.
"It's like your mother humming over you in the cradle," one member of the development team suggested. That's a fitting and eerie analogy for the AC130.
In the AC130 mission, you need to help clean up some bad guys on the ground while avoiding your allies. The first thing you're told: "You are not authorized to destroy the church." Don't pout; there are many terrorists on the ground and you have permission to blow them back to God. You'll do so with any of three guns on the AC130: The 25mm Equalizer Gatling Gun, the 40mm L60 Bofors Cannon, and the 105mm M102 Howitzer.
You've perhaps heard that some aspects of U.S. modern warfare have turned into little more than a videogame? That's what it's like to light up crowds of people with the AC130. You lay down the law with the M102 Howitzer and watch what amounts to a group of green sprites scatter every which way across your screen. Cool and creepy at the same time.
If you prefer to see the face of your enemy, don't worry -- vehicles are back again. You'll pilot an M1A1 Abrams tank in at least one mission. Have fun running over abandoned cars on the way to blowing up some terrorists!
Getting DefensiveNot every mission is going to be a linear shooting affair. One level, which was shown only briefly and not played, is a new kind of defensive battle. Both COD1 and COD2 had great moments where you were forced to defend an area from an onslaught of enemies. This happens in Call of Duty 4, only now things are much more open.
There will be at least one sandbox defensive level in COD4. You will come to a spot where you need to make a stand, but how you do so is fairly open. The sandbox area has a couple of decent sniping points, a stationary gun, and some more open spaces with decent cover. The area you are defending is fairly large, so it isn't like every sensible defensive position is just a couple steps from one another. You might set up in a forward position, hit the first wave of enemies and then fall back to another area, wisely working your way into better defensive positioning until reinforcements arrive.
It will be interesting to see this in action, since it sounds like it could be a nice evolution on the classic COD defensive missions.
Infinity Ward admits that Call of Duty 2 was set at pretty much one speed -- balls to the walls. It was constant, unrelenting action. In contrast, the first COD had a more realistic ebb and flow, where raucous combat was followed by quiet moments. It's only with some variations in tempo that gamers can truly feel the drama of the more intense moments. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare returns the franchise to its original standard, with a promise of greater peaks and valleys in action.
MultiplayerCall of Duty multiplayer on the PC received a lot of praise, but Infinity Ward wanted to try something different for COD 4. While the Kill Cam is back, you're no longer just an anonymous soldier running around the online battlefield. Modern Warfare has a Halo-like party system and introduces a new class-based system to the franchise. Before you moan about medics tossing out health packs and engineers fixing fences, know the COD 4 is doing its class system in a unique way.Each class is defined by three perks. Some of the perks are fairly straightforward. Dead Silence lets you walk without making a sound; GPS Jammer keeps you from showing on radar. But there are also some unique and very interesting perks to compliment the standards. The one that seems certain to pique the interest of many gamers is Last Stand. When you take enough damage that you should be dead, you won't fall to the ground. Instead, you pull out your pistol and have a full clip to fire before shuffling off this mortal coil (unless someone pops you). You can't keep yourself from dying, but you might be able to take someone with you. Or, you can choose the "coward's way out" by holding down a button and take your own life to deny your opponent a full kill.Some of the other base classes include Assault, Heavy Gunner, Spec Ops, and Demo. The class you choose also determines your primary weapon (and attachments), side arm, and special grenade.
You won't be able to pick from the full range of classes right off the bat. Infinity Ward wanted to ease gamers into the multiplayer and reward those who put in the time and played a few hours. Only the Assault and Spec Ops classes are available when you are at level 1. But thanks to a generous XP system, you should be able to get new classes unlocked quickly. But what if you don't like any of the classes Infinity Ward created? Not a problem. After gaining a few levels online, you unlock the ability to create your own class. You can name the class, choose its three perks, primary weapon, side arm, and special grenade. You can mix and match pieces to create the uniform you prefer and even add cammo designs to your primary weapon for added flair. You'll take that class online in a variety of modes, including Deathmatch, Capture-the-Flag, Search & Destroy, and some new game types not yet revealed. IW has also added several popular COD 1 & 2 mods to Modern Warfare's multiplayer. Chief among these is Realism Mode, which removes the HUD and offers "true" weapon damage. Another twist to the typical shooter multiplayer is the addition of challenges. While in a multiplayer game, you gain specific bonuses for completing any of the hundreds of challenges. Kill three opponents without dying and you'll gain access to your radar. Earn a five kill streak and you can call in an air strike (with all carpet bomb kills added to your total). Keep up that spree and earn the right to call in a support chopper to lay suppressive fire on your opponents.
There is, however, a tradeoff for all of this. In order to make what it felt was a balanced and fun multiplayer experience, Infinity Ward decided to do away with vehicles in the multiplayer. While this might kill your hopes for a "Tank Girl" class, COD4 multiplayer is likely better off without vehicles and the limitations they can bring.Specific details on PC and PS3 online functionality remain a little unclear, but we do know that the Xbox 360 version supports Live, System Link and 4-player offline split-screen multiplayer. There's also a demo planned for release on Xbox Live Marketplace, though it hasn't been announced if this will be a single-player or a multiplayer demo. OutlookNo one was quite sure what to expect from Call of Duty's move to Modern Warfare. For those who were worried Infinity Ward would somehow lose its magic, relax. While the switch to a modern setting changes some aspects of the series, those changes appear for the better. Modern Warfare lets you feel the rattle of a machinegun in your hands and hear the frenzy of war at a higher fidelity than previous CODs. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare has shot its way towards the top of our most anticipated games of the year.

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