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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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 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 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.
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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