Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is the first game of the series to break away from the tried and true World War 2 setting and into the new era of war, involving constant risks of nuclear annihilation and smaller scale, urban combat. Russia has fallen into civil war as Ultra-nationalists attempt to resurrect the Soviet Union, meanwhile an unnamed Middle Eastern country has been overthrown by a warlord with ties to said Ultra-Nationalists. We play as two main characters, one a US Marine called Paul Jackson and a British SAS Sergeant named John “Soap” MacTavish. Starting off we play as Soap who has just been accepted into a SAS squad led by series’ famous and mustached hero, John Price.
You are tasked with completing some quick practice training before being briefed on your mission to familiarize you with the game. If you have played any Call of Duty game or any FPS in general over the past decade you will have no issues getting the hang of it. Introduced in this tutorial is the new feature of flash grenades designed to disorient enemies caught in its blast. Mastering these will greatly improve your chances of survival since you will now be fighting in small areas instead of the vast battlefields of WW2 and a well-placed throw can decide the outcome. By far my favorite edition is that bullets can now pass through thin objects which makes it a ton of fun as bullets penetrate all your surroundings, causing you to desperately seek cover behind something sensible.
It works the other way around as well so no longer will enemies by able to use a tiny fence as indestructible cover. With that new found knowledge found in your training you are then briefed on your mission to retrieve an object from a well-guarded enemy cargo ship. It is here that you realize that the CoD series has taken a new feel to it. While previous games were more down to earth and grim with the sight of allies being killed being common place, Modern Warfare goes the Michael Bay route with tons of explosions, escaping a flooding cargo ship and jumping into the helicopter at the very last second. It’s not a criticism nor a necessarily bad thing but it’s a change of tone I felt was worth mentioning.
The journey of playing both US and British forces take you all over Russia and the Middle East, both stories are interconnected and give you a greater view of the story instead of being there for convenient teleportation to another cool location. You play as a few other unnamed soldiers, pilots and even John Price for a bit though those are over very quickly and are just keep the game from getting stale by changing up the gameplay such as you having to provided air support and carefully shooting your missiles. Most of these extra characters feel gimmicky and are not really all that fun except for when you play as Price in Chernobyl, on an important stealth mission. That was easily the high point of the game and a moment I will remember long after I stop playing. And that is saying something as there are many high points when playing as the main protagonists.
Aside from bullet penetration, the gameplay is the same as previous entries only now you have newer weaponry, gadgets and gun attachments such as a grenade launcher added under your assault rifle. Smoke grenades are back and as useful as ever to pass through heavy fire or be concealed from tanks and such. Another new addition that is extremely gimmicky and neigh on useless are the night vision goggles. You could see just fine without them and don’t really serve any purpose other than a bullet point on the new features list. You’re never in a position where you have to scavenge for items or ammo, they are refilled after every mission or taken away, you will always have what you need which makes sense considering these elite soldiers won’t go in unprepared but feels too “hand holdy” gameplay wise.
Especially when it comes to ammo. You are given an obscene amount and I have never once had to switch weapons or take an enemies weapon. That was one change to the series I did not like as you will not use any of the other weapons in the game unless you go out of your way to do so while playing through the campaign. Melee combat has been changed a bit as well, while the previous games had you use your weapons to smack an enemy, Modern Warfare has you automatically pull out a knife and lunge at him which I personally find much more satisfying. The smaller environments both harm and help Modern Warfare, on one hand it is far more obvious how linear the game is but on the other it makes it more in your face and fast paced than ever before.
The campaign is short but sweet, it took me about 5 hours to fully complete though it went at break neck speedy action every step of the way and had a shockingly decent story. There is not much motivation to replay it though. 30 enemy laptops are scattered throughout the campaign and unlock cheat codes after finding enough of them yet the cheat codes are usually very underwhelming such as making your screen black and white or other pointless screen effects. The only cheat code that I’ve unlocked that was decent was the “Cluster grenade” which causes huge explosions once your grenades detonates. To try to motivate you to reply they also added an Arcade Mode once you finish the game that lets you replay any mission and earn points for everything you do. It offers nothing but racking up high scores and is nowhere near enough to get me to replay the campaign after just having finished it.
Where the game really shined back in the day was in its multiplayer. It’s RPG like progression system to unlock titles, weapons and perks was revolutionary and changed the FPS genre as a whole. For better or for worse is in the eye of the beholder. It introduced the problem that those who played longer have a significant advantage over newer players but on the other hand it is satisfying to be constantly rewarded with stuff for playing and helped differentiate each player. One may have a perk that allows them to run further without stopping, another may simply have more health and yet another player may be able to hip fire far more accurately and surprise you. It makes every firefight interesting since you never know just what tricks your foe has up his/her sleeve. Once you hit level 5 you can build up to five custom classes that will be useful for different situations and tons of fun to experiment with.
Be warned though, the multiplayer will crash on start unless right click on your sound icon, go into your recording tab and then enable “Stereo Mix”. No clue as to why but that fixes the issue. Another issue is that if you are playing via Steam make sure to unbind the in-game screenshot key that defaults to F12 as that will also cause your game to crash if you take a screen-shot. Weird steps to make the multiplayer work but it is definitely still worth playing even after all these years and still has a decently sized community so finding a game won’t be a problem (as of this review). In a rather cool move by Activision the 1 DLC pack released for Modern Warfare is already included. All in all, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was a breath of fresh air and finally broke the series free from it’s done to death WW2 roots.