Infinity Ward's Call of Duty 4: Modern Combat was one of E3 2007's darlings, generating some of the loudest buzz among the gathered press and scoring the "Best Action Game" Game Critics Award post show. The Activision published shooter made waves not only for its gorgeous graphics but for its fresh, modern setting, finally sounding the duty call in the present day.
If you watched Microsoft's E3 press conference, you were treated to a few minutes of the game's co-op experience, courtesy of Infinity Ward lead developer Jason West. While that demo focused on more covert, tactical gameplay and the E3 demo was strictly single player, Call of Duty 4 also features a robust online multiplayer experience, now in beta form.
Recently, I had a chance to finally go hands-on with Call of Duty 4's multiplayer portion, shooting and shanking dozens of gamers via Xbox Live in team deathmatch. At this point, most online multiplayer efforts feel like a been there, done that obligatory inclusion, but Infinity Ward has added plenty to the feature set to make the game stand out among a sea of realistic shooters.Unfortunately, the hands-on event, held at Hollywood hotspot Cinespace, was marred by technical difficulties. After waiting hours for multiplayer matches to be set up, then consistently being dropped from games and kicked off Xbox 360s for the next 45 minutes, we were collectively grumbly. There was pissing, there was moaning, there was last minute rescheduling. A handful of expletives may have been uttered.
Most of that bitching can be chalked up to simply wanting to get our damn hands on the thing and alternately kill infidels, terrorists, rebels... whatever. I just wanted to put a virtual bullet in something.
Thankfully, the game did not disappoint.
Yes, CoD4 is a gorgeous title. The only hands-on impression I can add to that discussion is that the game runs at a near-perfect clip, meaning no stuttering or inconsistencies in presentation soured my experience. (Nor did they give me a scapegoat for getting stabbed in the back multiple times.)
Where the game shines, play-wise, is in its additions to run of the mill head-to-head action. The game's class system starts you off simply, giving you access to player types like Heavy Gunner or Sniper, each with its own load out and weapon types. If you grow tired of your current rifle or sidearm, you can always switch to a dropped weapon from a fallen foe or teammate.
Unlockable class types are available, but only after you've earned enough experience. Experience is earned from actions that you'd expect, from regular kills, knife-only takedowns and even assists, but you'll also earn points for other, less obvious actions, like various self inflicted deaths.
Gaining experience will also unlock aspects outside of classes, including new weapons, grenades, challenges, and promotions. The most intriguing aspects of these unlocked items is combining them in Call of Duty 4's "create a class" system. These custom classes, which you can tweak with your weapons of choice are made deeper by the game's "perks."
These perks, three of which you can apply at one time—one of which is strictly dedicated to adding items to your arsenal—include effects like increased splash damage, better stamina, the ability to shoot through walls, extra health, and even a skill that will allow you eavesdrop on your opponent's voice chat, if they're nearby.
Far more interesting than those rather mundane perks are more unique attributes like the ability to squeeze off one last shot when your health has expired or the option to pull the pin on your last grenade at time of death.
With some twenty perks planned for the final release of the game, I expect that custom classes will be wildly varied—and hopefully well balanced.
While Call of Duty 4: Modern Combat may be one of the breakout shooters of 2007, it's still sure to get somewhat lost in the noise. Anyone who doesn't currently have the game on their personal radar would be well served to give it a second look. Based solely on the multiplayer aspect alone, it's shaping up to be a return to FPS glory for Infinity Ward and Activision.