Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Review

I’ve been a fan of the Call of Duty series since the first title. The World War II genre has been overdone for the past two years, but this one series has walked tall amongst its peers with exceptional immersion and unbelievable audio. I was excited to hear about the latest version, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, taking place in the present day.

Then I played the DS version and what follows should be considered one man’s lament about poor graphics, awful controls, repetitive gameplay, and very little value. There are other, vastly superior titles available on the DS and those are the games you should be playing. Not this one. Please not this one. Just buy it for PC, or for one of the other consoles and avoid the DS version all together. For more details on why this game brought the suck in a big way, read on.

The graphics lack punch is a succinct way of describing the visuals here. “Dark” would be another, and I was grateful for having a DS Lite to play with because if there wasn’t the extra light coming from the console I wouldn’t have been able to see what was going on. It brings back memories of Call of Duty: Finest Hour which was anything but. Even a small amount of extra backlight in a room has a detrimental effect while playing the game.

The characters twitch whenever they move across the battlefield, and when they’re shot it seems they had a total of three animations as they fall to the ground. It feels odd describing who honestly looks like a slide show when you kill an enemy soldier, but there it is. The vehicles don’t fare much better as they appear more like giant blocks on wheels than anything else.

What does work is the scale of the environments. When you’re dropped into a city or flying high overhead, you get a sense that the geography before you is enormous. The levels are all well designed and look, and more importantly feel, like bombed out cities. Running through the buildings feels like you’re genuinely in the moment, but then you run outside and the rest of the city pops in. This happens only every so often while on the ground. In the air, it is an entirely different story with great swaths of landscape vanishing then reappearing then vanishing again.

The Call of Duty sound legacy is secure on the DS. Frankly, however the development team managed to coax so much excellent sound out of Nintendo’s little handheld is nothing short of amazing. The explosions resonant, there are tons of voices barking orders throughout chaotic firefights, and the weaponry all packs a heck of a punch.

Since your character spends a healthy amount of time manning turrets in helicopters, it helps that the choppers sound like the real thing. Enemy helicopter zoom past yours only to turn and open fire and were the graphics as life like as the PC version, players might find themselves inadvertently ducking. This is top notch work by the team, and further proof that creativity plus engineering know-how can work miracles on the DS.

The controls are absolutely the death knell for this game. Absolutely awful would be a charitable way to describe the feeling of aiming with the stylus while in a pitched gun fight. It doesn’t help that the developers made the bone headed decision to have a double tap on the screen activate the weapon sight. I cannot stress enough how easy it is to accidentally go into this at the worst possible moment. How is it so easy to screw yourself up, you ask?

Here is an example. You move around with the directional pad but only forward, backward, left or right. In order to turn, you have to use the stylus. The left and right buttons are the triggers, by the way. So instead of using the A or Y buttons for turning and the X and B buttons for looking up or down, which would have been the intelligent thing to do, these four buttons mirror the directional pad. When you move with the stylus, it is only natural to lift up, readjust, and put it back down. The game, however, reads this as a double-tap and the gun barrel will fill the screen as you find yourself looking down the sight.

In a funny irony, when you actually want to look down the sights, the game has trouble responding to the double-tap. And by “funny” I mean “I now need to buy another DS because I stabbed mine to death with the stylus.”

That’s some top notch quality assurance, Activision. Bravo.

Your character starts out in basic training to get a handle on the controls and this is where the first red flag went up. Working the stylus while shooting and moving meant that no matter what position I tried, I could not get comfortable at all. This might be considered a control issue, but I make the point that if one is uncomfortable playing the game, how might one enjoy the gameplay? After training, the base is attacked and you’re thrown into running, crouching, shooting, and tossing grenades while under assault from constantly spawning foes who love nothing more than to shoot you… and sometimes your teammates.

The game plays on modern fears of Middle Eastern terrorists obtaining a nuclear device and you find yourself playing American, British, and Russian soldiers in a global quest to stop this cell from achieving their goals. In addition to running through urban warfare scenario after urban warfare scenario you also man turrets in helicopters as they fly support for ground operations.

The urban warfare sequences are strong in one sense – design. The levels are extremely well designed to feel as though the geography could shift on a moment’s notice. Enemy soldiers lurk in the shadows, planes fly overhead on bombing runs, and the overall atmosphere is exactly what the series has received praise for.

The problem is that players wind up fighting the controls almost, if not more so, than the enemies they’re supposed to take down which literally kills any sort of immersion the game may have. It doesn’t help matters when your character dies and then respawns without the cool secondary weapon you just picked up. You say you dug that sniper rifle? Make sure you don’t get killed with it because if so then it’s back to a machine gun and pistol for you. It would help a great deal if your teammates actually were worth their salt but instead act like canon fodder while you take out everything in sight. It’s like playing DOOM again, only with a military scheme. I recognize that there is only so much that can be done on the DS with regards to AI, but anything else would be better than this.

The aerial combat sequences are a mixed bag. The early ones are extremely exciting, riveting in fact. The bird you’re on swoops through enemy strongholds while you remove the resistance with a big honking gun, and this is one of the few times the game lives up to its namesake. Then come the latter missions where, again, the controls wind up getting in the way. But the controls aren’t the only problem as evidenced by one of the last flying missions. In that situation, you are again in a helicopter manning a major machine gun. The problems appear when the helicopter is flying all over the place, you’re aim is equally all over the place, the enemy soldiers continue to blast you with rockets and weapons fire, and the pilot shouts at you to hit all the guys on your left.

The trouble is you can only see some of the guys on your right and have no way of even seeing the guys on your left. Can anyone else point to the problem here?

The game does come with a multiplayer option as well where you can join your friends in a few different combat modes. You also have the ability to jump in and play whatever level you’ve unlocked from the campaign, but my opinion is once is more than enough.

If someone held a gun to my head and demanded that I find some value in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare for the DS, I’d probably point out the various difficulty levels. If the Easy level wasn’t enough to cause an aneurism, then Medium and Hard are sure to do the trick. Fighting awful teammate AI and worse controls are bad enough, but when the enemies start taking you down with fewer and fewer shots fired then your DS will learn to fly, which might be an entertaining, if expensive, thing to witness. When pressed even more for some additional value I would point out the multiplayer options available, and the Quick Play option which lets you play any mission that’s been unlocked in the campaign.

But really, why do that to yourself?

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare for the DS is a giant steaming pile of failure, but it sounds great. The idea of an excellent game is buried so far down you’d need a backhoe to find it. The horrific control scheme literally kills the game from the word go, and the pain is only amplified by the equally terrible teammate and enemy AI, the awful graphics, the schizophrenic aerial missions, and on and on and on.

The PC and console versions of this game are being hailed as contenders for Game of the Year. At no point should the DS version enter that discussion because if it does then whoever wants it on the throne can flush my copy while sitting there.

Ron Burke is the Editor in Chief for Gaming Trend. Currently living in Fort Worth, Texas, Ron is an old-school gamer who enjoys CRPGs, action/adventure, platformers, music games, and has recently gotten into tabletop gaming. Ron is also a fourth degree black belt, with a Master's rank in Matsumura Seito Shōrin-ryū, Moo Duk Kwan Tang Soo Do, Universal Tang Soo Do Alliance, and International Tang Soo Do Federation. He also holds ranks in several other styles in his search to be a well-rounded fighter. Ron has been married to Gaming Trend Editor, Laura Burke, for 21 years. They have three dogs - Pazuzu (Irish Terrier), Atë, and Calliope (both Australian Kelpie/Pit Bull mixes).
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