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What’s Bad About Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Multiplayer?

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Xbox Cover Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare PS3 Cover Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare PC Cover


Sorry for the delay in posting this article. It ballooned into a much more in depth game design critique than I had originally planned. I hope you enjoy it.

Despite the fact that Call of Duty 4 has been out for well over a year and has a clear sequel in Call of Duty: World at War, over one hundred thousand players continue to log in every evening on Xbox Live. If you think Infinity Ward must be doing something right, you would be correct. Read my other article about what they are doing right also if you are interested I wrote up my campaign playthrough notes in a previous post. However this article is not about what Call of Duty 4 has done right, it is about what Call of Duty 4 does wrong.

The Bad
At the start the player’s options are very limited and new players are thrown right into the fray against rank 55 opponents to be endlessly slaughtered. Which brings me to what I consider to be the biggest flaw to the multiplayer design.

Call of Duty 4 Does Not Do Enough to Protect New Users
The first few sessions of multiplayer gaming for a new player are the most important and a game should go out of its way to ease these new players in and provide them with the best experience possible. By allowing new players to acclimate slowly, the game does not alienate new players and can keep its player base higher for longer. New players in Call of Duty 4 are punished. As mentioned earlier, brand new players are matched against experienced players from the start. In Call of Duty 4, experienced players not only have better map knowledge and mechanic knowledge (handicaps common to new players in other shooter games), but they also have better weapons and perk options. The results are ugly.

My experience with first-person-shooters is extensive and I consider myself much better than the average shooter player. The first few matches I entered I was killed endlessly by the much more experienced and better equipped players and had horrific kill to death ratios. I would be running along and instantly die from airstrikes and helicopters and have no clue how to prevent them or what was happening. It was a very frustrating experience. It is a good thing that I had the perseverance to continue to keep playing and took the necessary lumps to finally have success and fun with the game. Not everybody is as willing to continue playing despite constantly dying and having a frustrating experience. Call of Duty: World at War partially solves this problem by having game playlists that are only open to players of rank 1 through 10. This keeps the rank 11 – 55 players from destroying new players over and over and ruining their experience.

M16 is not for n00bs
New players are given the choice of five distinct weapon choices at the start. At the top of the menu of choices is the M16. The problem with this is that since the M16 is at the top of the menu and is highlighted by the cursor when the selection screen appears on the console versions, it is the gun that most beginners will select and use first. The M16 is not a beginner friendly weapon. The M16 has a three-round burst shot that has a low rate of fire that requires successive trigger pulls to fire. This all adds up to a weapon that has an unfamiliar mechanic and requires precision to use effectively. This makes the M16 a terrible weapon for a new player to begin with and one that very few will find success without extensive practice. Fortunately there is an easy fix for this problem. The MP5 is a fully-automatic weapon that shoots out 800 rounds per minute. The MP5 is better suited towards new players as they can hold down the trigger to fire and the massive number of rounds fired mitigates the need for pinpoint accuracy. The fix is to replace the positioning on the menus of the M16 and the MP5 respectively.

Some of the Maps are Not Beginner Friendly
To be beginner friendly a map should have easily recognizable landmarks to orient players so that they do not become lost. One of my favorite maps of all time is Zanzibar in Halo 2. That map has a giant windmill in the center that makes it very easy for players to use as a landmark. Another benefit to having easily distinguishable landmarks is that it aids in effective teamwork and communication. A level designer can facilitate this by creating distinctive environment geometry that will allow players to communicate their opponent’s locations to each other effectively. Using Halo 2’s Zanzibar map as an example: “There’s a guy on top of the Windmill!” Everybody on the team will instantly know where that is because the environment geometry is so distinctive. Most of the maps in Call of Duty 4 do this very effectively. Crash is another example of map with the downed helicopter serving as an effective landmark. The maps in Call of Duty 4 that do not do a great job are Backlot, Crossfire and District. While these maps do have subtle recognizable differences to orient you, these subtleties are lost on new players. The first few times I played on these maps I could not tell where I was and become lost on a number of occasions. The labyrinthine streets all look very similar and there is nothing obvious to orient new players.

Call of Duty 4’s Slippery Slope
Once a team starts losing in Call of Duty 4 it is extremely difficult to come back to win. There are fewer comebacks and more lopsided victories in Call of Duty 4 than in any other first-person-shooter that I have ever played. The reason for this is the respawning system, rewards for kill streaks and territorial control.

The Respawning System
The respawn system in Call of Duty 4 is one of the most complained about systems by the Call of Duty community because players are often killed immediately upon respawning. So how does this system work and why is it failing?

C_Stick of the Gamespot forums theorizes that the respawn system “waits for an enemy airstrike, or puts you in an open area under an enemy chopper, or in the middle of two enemy run-and-gunners, or right where you get sniped if you take three steps in any direction.” That may not be far from the truth.

From studying respawning patterns in the game, my best guess at how the respawn system works in Call of Duty 4 is that it respawns players near a teammate furthest from the enemy. This seems like a logical system in theory, but in practice it does not work. As players die and are respawned next to each other they have a tendency to get increasingly clumped together. The situation gets worse when the teams that are dying are surrounded by the enemy and are forced back and contained by the other team into small pieces of territory. This can be seen on any of Call of Duty 4’s maps, but it tends to happen most often around the airplane hangars in Countdown and various corners of the Backlot map.

Containment generally happens in areas that have islands of cover (a space with lots of cover, but surrounded with open no-man’s land) or corners of maps because teams can be pinned down in these areas and it is difficult to leave without exposing yourself to enemy fire.

This is disastrous to contained teams because when clumped together their firing lanes are limited and they become much more susceptible to area of effect attacks like grenades and airstrikes. This leads to waves of people dying over and over just as they spawn in and games that become lopsided and out of reach quickly. The only way to end this negative feedback loop is to have a player escape from the enclosed enemy lines to start the team respawning elsewhere. So how do we fix this? There are two problems here, the first problem is map design and the second is the respawn algorithm itself. I will address map design first.

Map Design
Map designers need to pay attention to map flow. Map flow is what paths players generally take through a map defined by firing lanes, available paths through the level and cover placement. Maps should always have multiple (at least 2, but more is preferable) protected routes from any place on the map. Careful attention needs to always be paid to map corner boundaries because these areas are restricted by the edges of the map. There should be no islands of cover that are hard to leave without dying. These islands typically force players to linger in these places because they cannot leave without exposing themselves and the longer players stay in these islands the more likely teammates will begin to spawn next to them and be trapped in the same situation.

[Countdown Example]

Call of Duty 4 - Countdown Map topdown overhead

The above image shows the locations on Call of Duty 4’s Countdown map where teams are often isolated and become bunched up.

Call of Duty 4: Countdown Map No Man's Land

Notice that there are no viable exits from the hangar that do not expose the players to enemy fire. Also note, the amount of space that the no man’s land takes up in front of the hangars.

Call of Duty 4: Countdown Map cut door

For this particular example, I would recommend cutting entry holes through the hangars at both ends and placing additional cover at these entrances to allow for better map flow.

Respawn Algorithm
A suggestion for the respawn algorithm could be to have a player occasionally respawn furthest away from the enemy regardless of whether an ally is close or not. This suggestion is not without its own tradeoffs in that players may complain that they are spawned way off from the action and alone. Another possible solution could be a player chosen respawn system similar to Battlefield: Bad Company. Whatever the ultimate solution, this should be at the top of the priority list of must fix items for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2.

Kills Streaks
In Call of Duty 4 players are rewarded for kill streaks. The player is given a UAV reconnaissance that reveals the location of all enemies on the mini-map for their entire team at three kills, three large area of effect bombs dropped from an airstrike at five kills and a support helicopter that comes equipped with a very damaging machine gun at seven kills. While the positive feedback given from the UAV, airstrike and helicopter rewards the player that achieves a kill streak, it makes it very difficult for the opposing team to come back. The kill streak mechanic rewards players and teams that are already winning and gives them an even greater advantage. This is like giving a team that scores in basketball possession of the ball again so they can score again. The argument can be made that a member of the losing team can have a five and seven kill streak and bring a helicopter in to help their team make a come back, but the losing team is less likely to be able to do this considering the winning team’s control over any non-covered territory with their previous airstrike and helicopter and the aforementioned respawn killing issue. I am not saying that the losing team cannot achieve the same, only that it is harder for them and that this mechanic can make teams that are already winning by a slight margin completely out of reach.

What is the best way to fix this problem? I have a few suggestions that involve slightly lowering the advantage given by the kill streak rewards and making the rewards harder to achieve. Here is a rundown of the rewards and suggested modifications.

UAV Reconnaissance
This is powerful, but it is mostly ok in its current form. It might be useful for the development team to explore with a smaller localized reconnaissance effect for it, centered on the person who triggered it. I say explore because there are a number of risks involved with this change that would be impossible to foretell without rigorous play testing. Foremost would be how to communicate (UI elements) what the size of the reconnaissance effect is to players.

Airstrike
The airstrike itself is bad. It is very frustrating to be killed via airstrike. You are given little to no warning and then you are dead. Not to mention the huge framerate hits (on the Xbox 360 version) when it occurs. The current implementation of the airstrike does not enhance gameplay. Thinking about gameplay as a “series of interesting choices” what are your choices as a player being airstriked? There are no choices, because you instantly die without warning. The only gameplay choices happen before the airstrike. The player has is to prevent the opposing team from ever achieving a five kill streak (not like you are not trying already) or fight entirely from under covered buildings on the off-chance that an airstrike might happen.

As the player who calls in the airstrike, there is a risk element in that you must bring up a map that covers the entire screen in order to call it in leaving the player unaware of their surroundings. This gives the airstrike a slight risk versus reward to its use and this risk element should be preserved in any change that is made.

My suggestion is to change the airstrike to a laser designated airstrike that must be equipped, aimed and fired. This would be a similar mechanic to the airstrikes during the Heat level in the single-player campaign of Call of Duty 4. This would also limit airstrikes to within line of sight of the player and prevent airstrikes from ignoring battlelines and gut enemy positions. To address the framerate issues, limit the airstrike to a single bomb so that the framerate hit is not as prolonged. Lastly, there should be a voice over warning for the airstrike and a slight delay before the airstrike occurs. With the warning the player would at least get a chance to run to cover to avoid the airstrike instead of just randomly dying.

Helicopter Support
The Helicopter is pretty close to where it should be. My suggestions are for just a few minor changes. Raise the kill streak necessary for the helicopter support up to eight from seven. With airstrike kills counting towards achieving the seven kill streak necessary for the helicopter, the helicopter is very easy to get. My second suggestion is to have the helicopter give 10 experience points for killing it. This small reward will prompt more people to shoot at it instead of ignoring the helicopter and allowing it to roam around picking them off and eventually flying away. My third suggestion is to make the RPG a HARD counter for the helicopter. Currently the RPG does not kill the helicopter outright. It requires a RPG attack and a little more. I would propose that the RPG should kill the helicopter in one hit. Let’s look at the RPG as a weapon.

Call of Duty 4 - RPG silhouette

This is why they should do an extra hundred damage on a direct hit and kill the helicopter outright.

While I am on the topic of what to have in the sequel to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, I had a few more quick suggestions.

As a caveat, my suggestions may change as I put in more time with the game and discover more of Call of Duty 4’s intricacies. This is only a snapshot in time.

Conclusion
The bottom line is if you can get past Call of Duty 4 multiplayer’s initial frustrations, it becomes very addictive and fun. If, like me, you are one of those willing to pay the steep price of entry, there is a lot about Call of Duty 4’s multiplayer that will keep you coming back for more.

See my other related articles:
What’s Good About Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Multiplayer Mode?
Call of Duty: World at War Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Campaign Playthrough Notes
Become a Video Game Designer: Everything You Need to Know Part 1
Roger Ebert is Right: Games are Not High Art…Yet
Top 5 Greatest Moments in Competitive Gaming (eSports)
What Video Games Taught Me About Life
Low Skill Cap and Luck (RNG) in World of Warcraft PVP
Best Games of All Time by Genre Part 1
10 Greatest Video Game Designers Part 1
Dead Space Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
8 of the Most Underrated or Overlooked Video Games of All Time


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What’s Good About Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Multiplayer?

Friday, February 20th, 2009

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Cover Picutre



I have been spending what little free time I have with Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare’s multiplayer. I recently reached level 55 out of a possible 55 and decided to gather my notes together into a post.


The Good
The combat in Call of Duty 4 is a cross between run-and-gun and tactical with stronger leanings toward the tactical. CoD4 is a polished, mostly-balanced and skill-based FPS experience.

Persistent character
While Call of Duty 4 is not the first shooter game to have persistent characters, Rainbow Six comes to mind; it executes it better than any shooter game that has come before it. The persistent character can rank up through experience gained through kills and meeting any of dozens of challenges. The challenges encompass everything from getting a certain number of kills with a weapon to humiliation tactics like killing an opponent and then picking up and using their weapon to kill the same opponent again. Constant level based rewards are a proven mechanic and it is used to great effect here. The system is simple and the choices are important, yet limited. The choices include which primary and secondary gun to equip, one attachment for the primary gun and lastly there are three slots of perks to choose from. New options are opened up as you level. The player is given 5 slots to create custom classes with and during a game you can choose between any of them to play with. The persistent character keeps players coming back and playing to unlock the next perk or gun. These unlocks also keep the game fresh as new options are dolled out at regular interval for players to experiment with.

Perks
By gaining levels players unlock new weapons and perks, which offer additional options to customize their character. Perks range from extra damage on weapons to having a final opportunity to pull out a pistol in a last ditch effort to kill your enemy before dying. Perks are a great way to customize your character and since only three can be equipped, players must weigh their choices carefully. Each perk is designed to only fit in one of three slots. A perk like Juggernaut (greater health) is a tier 2 perk and will only fit in perk slot #2. Stopping Power (greater weapon damage) is also a tier 2 perk and will only fit in slot #2. This was intentional and designed so that the player cannot have both Stopping Power and Juggernaut perks on the same class. The player must decide which they would prefer and only take one.


Here are some balancing suggestions for CoD4’s perks.
Frag Grenade x3
I really hate no skill random grenade spam kills. Lowering the primary grenade number down to 2 from 3 would go a long way in resolving this issue.

Add Call of Duty: World at War’s Toss back perk
Tossing back grenades maybe new and important COD4’s single-player campaign, but it is almost always suicide in multiplayer. The Toss Back perk in CoD: World at War resets the fuse timer on grenades and would be a great addition to CoD4.

Bomb Squad
Remove this perk entirely and add its functionality in with the Sonic Boom Perk.


Weapons
In a first-person-shooter the gun is effectively your character and modern guns with all their moving parts and high tech nature simply feel and sound more powerful than their World War II equivalents. This is a big reason to why I like CoD4 over CoD:WaW. WaW’s weapon’s feel weak in comparison and it is just weird to see red dot sights and silencers on WWII weapons. The weapons of Call of Duty 4 are incredibly lethal and are surprisingly well balanced. There are a few anomalies in their balance, but in general the team at Infinity Ward have done a fantastic job. The weapons can be customized through the choice of one attachment selected from such selections as a silencer, a red dot sight or an ACOG scope. These are unlocked through achieving a certain number of kills with the specific weapons. Further, players can choose the paint scheme on their weapons (new paint schemes are unlocked after a certain number of headshot kills on opponents are reached). There are just enough options and slots to customize that the player feels unique, but not so many that it becomes inaccessible and clumsy.

These are the weapons that I currently like using.
Skorpion
I really like the Skorpion machine pistol. It has drawbacks like a small 20 round clip that will often have you reloading and having to switch out to the secondary to finish off multiple opponents, but the lack of recoil and its 50 damage per round up close is insane. I also like it because so few people use the Skopion so that makes me feel special.

P90
I like using the P90 with the silencer. The iron sights on the gun do not block your vision very much so the gains from the red dot sight are minimal. The gun has a 50 round clip with low recoil and I have found that it is ideal for ninjaing around levels.

MP5 / AK – 74
Both of these guns have good damage at the short to medium range distances. The two are so similar in stats that the two guns are nearly redundant. The AK – 74 has slightly greater consistent upwards recoil, but this can be compensated for. The MP5 has less recoil, but the recoil is more erratic.

M16
The M16 in the hands of a good player is really out of control. I almost never equip my class with this because it is such a popular gun that I can generally find this weapon laying around the map and when I do I always pick it up to replace my secondary weapon.

M40
I generally equip this sniper rifle with the ACOG. For some strange reason the damage is increased with this attachment from 70 to 75 damage. Use stopping power for very reliable one shot kills.

On a side note, the grenade launcher (n00b tube) is really annoyingly effective. Since I do not use it, I might be biased in saying the damage needs to be toned down on it.

Modes
I will not go into too many specifics in each of the modes, but if you want to wrack up kills to complete your gun challenges use free-for-all mode.
Mercenary Team Deathmatch is probably my favorite mode and the one I play the most often. While it is team oriented there are no set teams allowed to play together. This means that all the players are playing solo and teams are shuffled around after each round. This lets me get in a few team-based games without running into organized clans. There should really be more modes other than team death match that use mercenary rules. I understand that this may shard the user base, but for a person like me who just wants to hop on for a few games it would be a great option to have.


Come back tomorrow for a much more interesting article on what I think is bad about Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare multiplayer. I will cover such topics as:
1. Call of Duty 4 does not do enough to protect new users.
2. M16 is not for n00bs
3. Call of Duty 4’s Slippery Slope balance
4. The flawed respawn system
5. Kill Streaks

Update
What’s Bad About Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Multiplayer Mode? has been posted up. Click here to go to it.

See my other related articles:
What’s Bad About Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Multiplayer Mode?
Call of Duty: World at War Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Campaign Playthrough Notes
Become a Video Game Designer: Everything You Need to Know Part 1
Roger Ebert is Right: Games are Not High Art…Yet
Top 5 Greatest Moments in Competitive Gaming (eSports)
What Video Games Taught Me About Life
Low Skill Cap and Luck (RNG) in World of Warcraft PVP
Best Games of All Time by Genre Part 1
10 Greatest Video Game Designers Part 1
Dead Space Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
8 of the Most Underrated or Overlooked Video Games of All Time


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Posted in Video Games | No Comments »

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Campaign Playthrough Notes

Friday, February 6th, 2009

I know this game is not a recent release, but it just happens to be what I have been playing a lot of lately. So I decided to dig up my hand written notes and type them up and in the process organize them a bit better. I structured the notes off of the levels this time around. Hopefully it will be easier to follow. As always there will be spoilers, so stop reading if you have not played through the game.


F.N.G. (Fucking New Guy)
F.N.G. is the tutorial level of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. You play as Soap MacTavish, a member of the British S.A.S. The tutorial is very good at teaching you the necessary basics to play the game in a mostly non-contrived manner. The only exception is the tutorial on melee, which involved using your knife to slash a watermelon. The developers seriously couldn’t hang a target dummy on a post somewhere for the player to learn to melee attack?

One of the first elements of the tutorial happens when the player is looking down a gun range and an audio cue to “look up” plays. Whichever way the thumbstick is moved by the player determines whether you were an inverted player or not. That is if you looked up by pressing up on the controller the game automatically sets your controls to non-inverted and if you pressed down on the stick to look up the game sets it to inverted. I have always like this mechanic in shooters as it ensures players have the correct controls before the action gets started.

Once all the basics have been learned, the tutorial then has the player practice by stringing all the skills together in a competitive timed training course that simulates the layout of the next level. The player is encouraged to repeat the training course to beat their previous times. Repeated playthroughs really familiarizes the player with Call of Duty 4’s controls and shooting mechanics.

F.N.G. is a very fun and effective tutorial. The only thing that struck me was that the dark confined rooms of this introductory level really do not do the rest of Call of Duty 4’s beautiful graphics and environments justice. The first level of any game is the most important and the setting is not the most ideal choice to introduce an audience to your game. Thankfully, the gameplay in F.N.G. carries players through.

Crew Expendable
After completing the tutorial level the player and his team begin a mission to infiltrate a cargo ship on the high seas. The S.A.S. team arrives by way of helicopter and fast ropes onto the deck of the ship, mirroring the tutorial’s training course. The crew of the ship is caught unawares and the first few crewmen are taken care of quickly by your team whether you participate or not. Several of the highlights of this level are the AI that seemingly have lives instead of waiting around for the player to kill them. One of the ship’s crew is drunkenly wandering the ships hallway with a bottle in his hand and two others are sleeping in their bunks. You almost feel bad for killing them, but the level is called Crew Expendable for a reason. More games need to do this, having AI that are going about their lives before the player arrives creates the illusion of a living world.

The mission is punctuated early on with a nice scripted event of your friendly helicopter laying into the enemy crew, who have an elevated position over you, with gunfire.

I also really like the gating mechanism used where the friendly AI “stack up” at the door before they open the “gate” to allow you to proceed to the next area. The animations look very realistic and the stacking up really shows them off in a good light. The rest of the mission proceeds with combat, which leads up to a harrowing escape from the sinking ship. This was exciting as you watched the ship sway from side to side and water pouring in, but it was also frustrating as there are several wrong turns that can be taken resulting in a fail condition and a reload back to the last checkpoint.

Crew Expendable is a good mission, my largest problem with it is where it is placed in the game. It is the first real mission experienced by the player and I could not think of a worst level to start new players in than Crew Expendable. The constantly rocking and swaying ship is disorienting and the crosshairs on your gun are affected by this, making the shooting frustrating. This level would have been better placed somewhere in the middle of the game, where its unique setting could have served as a breather for the visual fatigue caused by the constant urban street fighting and similar color pallets that marked the middle portion of the game.

The Coup
The Coup begins with a pair of men dragging you into a car. You have control over the camera, but are unable to move. The .50 caliber round hanging from the car’s rearview mirror made me chuckle. You are then driven through the streets of a Middle Eastern city and along the way are presented with scripted gun battles, executions and even a man running from a dog. There are also caged chickens lining the streets. I wonder why these art assets were not used elsewhere in the campaign. I would have loved to have had a firefight with some caged chickens running and flapping around. You arrive at your final destination and are then promptly executed by Khaled Al-Asad. Only in the next cinema is it made clear that you were seeing the world through the eyes of the now dead president of that country.

With as many gun battles as are happening along the path of the car and general chaos, I would have thought a high profile target like a presidential hostage would have a larger escort than a driver and one armed passenger. The Coup serves as a player camera controlled cinema that introduces the player to one of the game’s antagonists, Al-Asad. While this is enjoyable, it is offbeat and I was surprised at how front-loaded Call of Duty 4 is with unique experiences. It is not until Blackout, the fourth mission, that the player really dives into what I consider classic Call of Duty gameplay.

Blackout
What I mean when I call Blackout classic Call of Duty gameplay is that it is sustained combat over solid ground with some nice scripted moments and multiple objectives strung together. There are a good mix of objectives and mechanics introduced, including planting claymores, sniping, rappelling, shooting through walls and using the grenade launcher. All the teaching is done while playing and nothing is forced. The swamp where you are inserted is beautiful looking. A really awesome moment was when the Russian loyalists standup and remove their perfect camouflage from the tall grass right in front of you.

Blackout also makes good use of the Call of Duty staple of having AI waiting to show the player the way to go. While I loved Half-Life 2, I got frustratingly lost on multiple occasions. Valve could learn a thing or two from Infinity Ward on techniques to lead your player through the level.

Charlie Don’t Surf
You now switch perspective away from Soap to Sergeant Paul Jackson to take on Charlie Don’t Surf. You arrive into the level via a lengthy helicopter ride with the requisite insurgents firing upon you with RPGs.

What is interesting is that the AI have leans and blind firing animations. It did not sit right with me that I, as the player, was limited in this regard.

As soon as you fast rope down you see some marines cordon off the operation area with razor wire. This struck me as very realistic and smart to both prevent the target’s escape as well as a counter-attack by insurgents on the marines. This made the mission feel that much more realistic.

The Bog
This mission begins with your team going through enemy lines to meet up and defend a stranded Abrams tank. This level also introduced the Javelin missile weapon. During my playthrough of the level I could not find the Javelin. The VO kept calling out “get the Javelin”, but I had a hard time locating it. The CO kept screaming the same two non-descript VO lines about the Javelin and it got annoying after a while. The VO lines could have called out the location of the Javelin better “it is in the courtyard” or something to that effect.

The behavior of the Javelin was very interesting. As soon as a lock was achieved the javelin would fire upwards into the sky and unerringly strike its target. It is too bad that this weapon did not make it into the multiplayer in some form.

Air support helicopters blowing up the building and taking out the enemies was a good way to end the level on a high-note.

Hunted
For Hunted, the player is put back in the shoes of Soap. Your chopper is shot down and you must evade detection by the enemy helicopter.

At one point you had to go under the bridge to avoid the helicopter flying by overhead. That to me was the most memorable event of the level.

Death from Above
In Death From Above, you take over the guns of an AC-130. Using the AC-130’s arsenal, you must fly escort for your friendlies on the ground. The gameplay of this level and the top-down camera really started to remind me of a god game or Real-Time-Strategy game. You wiped out the enemies while your friends gained territory and traveled through the map.

The disinterested voice of the spotter calling out targets was awesome. To have that type of power in your hands and snuffing out the enemy felt great.

Death From Above really helped with the pacing and was a much-needed breather from the last four ground missions.

War Pig
War Pig switches your perspective back to Jackson. The mission is to escort the Abrams tank back to the highway.

One of the best openings of a gated area in the game happens in this level when the Abrams runs over a car that previously blocked the player’s path.

In addition there was a really nice moment when friendly marines move a dumpster forward to advance on the enemy behind cover. I was really impressed by this and the only negative is that I would have liked to see this mechanic used more throughout the rest of the game. Unfortunately this was not the case.

Infinity Ward accurately recreated the scene of ground troops cheering when close air support comes to the rescue as can be seen on this video.

Another memorable scene was when the Abrams tank shoots through the wall to take out the Russian made tank.

Shock and Awe
Shock and Awe is a mix of rail shooting out of a chopper and some on-foot street battles through a Middle Eastern city. There is a large statue reminiscent of Saddam Hussein that just begs to be shot at during one of the rail shooting segments and if shot, it falls in a satisfying way. It is always nice to be rewarded for shooting stuff.

Another scripted event of a Cobra crashing happens when you are locked into the chopper’s turret that conveniently forces you to witness the scene. First-person-shooters have to rely on these types of techniques to ensure player’s cameras are pointed in the correct direction for an in-game scripted sequence.

The plot twist that occurs in this level is that Al-Asad sets off a nuke and blows up the city. I thought for sure Sergeant Jackson was going to live through it with only a few scratches to show for it, but I was in disbelief the moment he died. That makes for two player controlled characters dead and we’re only halfway through the game.

All Ghillied Up & One Shot One Kill
I am going to group these two flashback levels together because they are a continuation of each other. These two levels were by far my favorite missions of the game. Chernobyl is a really good setting and a great excuse to have a city without civilians around.

Having a friendly AI lead the player through the level was a brilliant way to avoid the general frustrations and problems of a stealth mission placed in a more run and gun game like Call of Duty 4. The friendly AI gives constant feedback and instruction and shows you the best path through the mission. Following the friendly AI and narrowly avoiding detection by the dozens of enemies on patrol was exhilarating. The vignette of crawling underneath the truck as the overwhelming number of enemies walked all around you was one of my favorite moments in all of gaming.

While I cannot remember this happening anywhere else in the rest of the game, there was a moment as you escape after having blown off Zakheav’s arm with a .50 cal, where just before you enter into a hallway enemy shadows cross in front of the light ahead alerting you of their presence. This is a simple forewarning mechanic that few games take advantage of.

The helicopter turning sideways and crashing towards you blades first and injuring your fellow sniper was visually impressive and exciting.

For the rest of the level your injured friendly AI is unable to walk and must be carried. While carrying your friend you are unable to fire, but you can drop him down in tactically advantageous positions where he will become what is essentially a turret. The sheer variety of gameplay and water cooler moments made these missions stand out from the rest of CoD 4’s excellent levels.

Heat
In Heat you are back in the perspective of Soap MacTavish. The mission starts with waves of enemies attacking your position and you and your team must organize a fighting withdraw. Having to fall back as a game objective is difficult to pull off, but the developers did it well. The more memorable moments in this level were the use of a downed helicopter’s turret to fend off waves of enemies and having to fight your way through the defenses of waves of insurgents as you raced against a four minute clock down the hill to your extraction point.

Sins of the Father
In this mission you ambush Zakheav’s son. The ambush fails and Zakheav’s son manages to flee the scene on foot. You and your team give chase.

The easiest (laziest) way to make a chase and how a lot of games default is to have a cut scene just as the player rounds the corner to show the person that is being chased leaving to the next area just out reach. Cut scenes break up the flow of the level and I hate having control wrested away from me. Thankfully Infinity Ward does not take the easy route. When I think about designing a chase in a first-person-shooter without the use of cutscenes the two solutions that immediately come to mind are (1) make the Zakheav’s son invulnerable or (2) fail the player if they kill the target. The developers opt for the later, making this a capture mission. While the level is well executed, the chase ends up masking what is just more urban combat.

Ultimatum
In Ultimatum you and your squad must find and free SSgt Griggs and kill the power to the ICBM launch facility.

This level brings back the too long missing “enemy AIs with lives outside of waiting for the player to show up” with an enemy AI sitting in a chair with his back to you and his legs propped up on a table.

When you find Griggs, he is tied to a flimsy wooden chair with his gun placed not 2 feet away from him. I found that to be a little too convenient. Having a member of your squad toss him a pistol to get him rearmed would have been a lot more realistic.

The destructible cars in the level were really good looking when they were destroyed. The wheels would fall off and roll around and they would be cool to look at. The problem with them are that they are the equivalent of explosive barrels and should not be used as cover under any circumstance until they are in their destroyed state. This went against my natural tendencies.

Also frustrating in this level is watching your friendly AI take cover right behind red exploding barrels and the aforementioned cars and promptly dying. It really made the otherwise mostly smart AI look bad.

All In
All In is more standard shooting gameplay. Here you must breach the defenses of and get inside the ICBM launch facility.

Upon reaching the facility you must wait for your squad to create an entrance with electric handsaws. It seemed like a missed opportunity, while the guys are cutting the vent to not have to have to defend them from enemies. Instead it is just a matter of waiting until they cut through.

This marks the fourth mission in a row with standard combat and the pacing starts to really suffer as a result. Another AC-130 mission or moving the Crew Expendable mission into this spot would have been ideal to inject some variety into this portion of the game.

No Fighting in the War Room
In No Fighting in the War Room the player must navigate air ducts and tight corridors to reach the control room and abort the nukes.

The level felt very cramped and there were no opportunities to flank the enemy. The only option was to barrel head on ahead through waves of enemy soldiers.

I also got a progression-stopping bug on this level in the PC version where Captain Price would sit at the door waving for me to enter the room even through I was already in the room. I had to restart the level in order bypass the bug. The gameplay was very similar to the last four missions in that it was your garden variety Call of Duty 4 combat, only this time with tighter corridors and ICBM base interior art.

Game Over
Game Over is a rail shooter on the back of a jeep escaping from the ICBM facility. You are equipped with an M4, which is annoying because of how often you have to reload. A light machine gun would have been a much better choice of armament.

Partway through you are also given a RPG in which to shoot down the enemy helicopter with. I could never hit the damn chopper despite three playthroughs. Since there is an achievement for this I will keep trying until I get it. Infinity Ward did a great job developing the player’s antagonism toward Zakheav through the story and the depictions of his despicable actions. As a result finally killing Zakheav was incredibly satisfying.

Credits
Instead of having a video of the AC-130 in action, it would have been nice to let the player actually play the AC-130 while the credits rolled. Although I do not know if there is some crazy patent that prevents this, similar to Namco’s silly patent of playing mini-games during loading screens.

If you are interested in further reading about Gameplay Patents, I would suggest reading Ernest Adams’ The Designer’s Notebook: Damn All Gameplay Patents!

The rap song at the end is comical and it reminded me of the Iraq War documentary Gunner Palace. The documentary’s soundtrack was almost entirely composed of rap songs and poetry performed by the soldiers of the 2/3 Field Artillery.

Bonus Mission: Mile High Club
I missed this mission entirely on my first playthrough of the game on the Xbox 360 as I usually turn off games instead of watching the credits (a bad habit I know). It was not until I played through the campaign again on the PC and left it running that I found out that there was a bonus mission.

The Mile High Club consists of a mission where you must race to the clock to save a VIP aboard an in-flight passenger airline. The amount of time to complete the mission varies depending on the difficulty chosen.

There is a moment during this mission where the airplane is breached with a giant hole. It would have been awesome to see all the oxygen masks in the plane fall down when this breach occurs. The luggage and other dynamic objects being pulled through the cavity was cool though.

As I attempted to beat this final mission on Veteran, it made me realize that I really miss the multiplayer camera switch that happens after a death to show me how I died each time that I did. I have spent several hours already attempting to beat this level on Veteran and I am very close to achieving it. This achievement is popularly considered one of the toughest achievements to get on the Xbox 360. If you feel like tackling a challenge, as a guide writer called it, “created by Satan himself” I would recommend trying your hand at it. I’ll let you know when I finally do get it. It is only a matter of time now.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is one of my favorite games in recent years. It is certainly one of the games I have devoted the most time to. While some of my comments may sound nitpicky (they probably are), the game as a whole is a masterpiece. Despite the single-player campaign falling on the short side, it was an incredible experience. I have been steadily climbing levels in the Multiplayer. Despite being out well over a year now and having a direct sequel in Call of Duty: World at War, Call of Duty 4 still draws 100,000 people nightly over Xbox Live. That speaks to how good the Multiplayer portion of the game is. Expect a write up on the Multiplayer portion of Call of Duty 4 as well as a direct comparison between Infinity Ward’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and Treyarch’s Call of Duty: World at War shortly.

See my other related articles:
What’s Bad About Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Multiplayer Mode?
Call of Duty: World at War Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
Become a Video Game Designer: Everything You Need to Know Part 1
Roger Ebert is Right: Games are Not High Art…Yet
Top 5 Greatest Moments in Competitive Gaming (eSports)
What Video Games Taught Me About Life
Low Skill Cap and Luck (RNG) in World of Warcraft PVP
Best Games of All Time by Genre Part 1
10 Greatest Video Game Designers Part 1
Dead Space Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
Gears of War 2 Through the Eyes of a Game Designer
8 of the Most Underrated or Overlooked Video Games of All Time


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