IGN Review of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Back on Game Boy Advance there was an amazing obsession with pocket first-person shooters. 3D environments were no easy task on the hardware, with most efforts resorting to classic raycasting engines circa Doom and Wolfenstein, but for some reason that development bug ran wild for a few glorious years of low frame, low res FPS goodness. For whatever reason though, pocket FPS development has slowed down considerably since the release of the Nintendo DS, with only the mediocre Goldeneye: Rogue Agent, impressive first-party Metroid Prime Hunters, and recently released survival horror Dementium: The Ward.
With Call of Duty fever kicking in again, however, Activision decided it was time to bring the franchise to gamers on the go, and solicited the help of developer n-Space (GCN Geist) to shrink the series down to pocket size. For the most part you're getting an experience that feels like a smaller outing of the full-fledged Call of Duty 4 design, as you'll follow the same SAS crew though very similar missions, make use of the same type of gadgets and weaponry, and experience the same "in the heat of the battle" feelings you get on the consoles; just on a much smaller scale. Call of Duty 4 DS makes use of fully-modeled environments, but also falls back to 2D for very minor sections including iron sight gun models (basically your aim mode), and storyboard cut scenes.
For anyone that's seen what DS has done in the world of shooters thus far it should come as no surprise that Call of Duty's production value isn't going to be on par with what you get in a larger, console-like experience. Aside from a few pieces of lighting trickery in Dementium and some superb resource management in Nintendo's own Hunters, the system is pretty elementary as far as 3D goes, so we were pretty surprised to see helicopters cruising overhead, destructible vehicles, morphing levels - though simple overall - and some pretty decent effects to set the mood including lighting strikes, rain, and smoke. In general you'll notice that level skyboxes aren't much more than a straight color or basic pattern, and draw distances won't dazzle players that have seen the technical achievement as something like Brothers in Arms on DS, but the core experience is much more fluid than most of Call of Duty's competition as well. For the most part character models look decent, utilizing a ton of animation and scripted movement, the frame-rate holds at 20+ (usually closer to 30) for the entirety of the adventure - something that can't be said for the choppy aforementioned Brothers in Arms - and the mouse-like stylus control is about as precise as you could ask for on DS.
So while the experience isn't the most technically dazzling effort in pocket FPS history, it puts priority in what counts, and in our opinion flourishes because of it. The Call of Duty feel - instantly noticeable to any veteran of the series - is there, and that's a huge tribute to the game's ability to construct a fluid, entertaining experience onto a smaller platform. Everything from tons of voice over to slick, iron sights-based gameplay is there, as are the epic "out of FPS" moments COD shoots for. Rather than just running from point A to point B gunning the hell out of everything, you'll be disarming bombs with the touch screen, planting explosives or hacking terminals in mini-games, manning .50 Cal machine guns in nests, helicopters, or on the back of a hummer, spotting targets for off-site artillery with binoculars, using night vision for midnight bombing runs, and getting your hands on virtually every expected piece of weaponry from the COD world. There's a ton to do and see in COD DS.
The game does have its issues though. For starters, the experience is generally very dark, so players without a DS Lite will feel like early adopters of the GBA back in 2001. If you've only got the DS Fat, you may want to see the game in action before buying it if at all possible. There's also a large emphasis on double-tap control in the game, with sprinting being up, crouching being down, and iron sights taking a double-tap on the touch screen. When moving around, however, you'll naturally be lifting and taping the touch screen constantly, and without fail you'll end up pulling up into aim mode unintentionally at least a few times. Oddly enough, this also happens in reverse when trying to use the double tap on-screen, as we'll occasionally try to bring up sights with no success.
General bullet power is also a bit odd at times, with single headshots taking an enemy out (expected) while you can put upwards of 12 shots into a person's body with certain weaponry and see them smiling back at you. The intent was obviously to make weapons in the SMG or pistol class weaker than rifles, but in the end it's far too large of a stretch, as you'll feel like you're hammering the heck out of certain enemies for far, far too long. Stick with headshots though - or focus on rifles primarily; a smart tactic anyways - and you're golden. In addition there're also a few odd geometry issues that come up, as players don't seem to fit right through doors at all times, or get caught up on spaces they very well should - and need to - pass through. For the most part the game plays fine, but every once in a while it'll trip up a bit.
As far as multiplayer goes, however, COD is an entertaining experience; we just wanted more. You've got deathmatch, team deathmatch, a hunter vs. prey game (similar to VIP), and capture the flag. Games can be played with up to four players, and if you've got only one cart on-hand you can still download for some basic wireless free-for-all; not too shabby. Each of the games makes use of a computer system as well, which works in two stages. When finding the A computer, you'll initiate map for yourself and any team members. After grabbing point A, point B becomes active, allowing you to add a full radar to your map. This definitely keeps the action a bit more hectic, as you're always fighting not only for kills or points in team games, but also for the technological edge via maps and motion detectors. Before each match you can also switch up your character model, change your weaponry, and tweak limits for each game.
Unfortunately while a game like Hunters that came out well over a year ago supports online play, voice over IP, and stat tracking, COD has no online experience to speak of, which is definitely a downer, as the primary SKU is so amazingly online-focused. To be honest, we'd rather pay full DS price for a multiplayer-centric COD experience than a single player one, as the system could use some impressive online support, and COD can most certainly deliver. As it stands for COD4 for DS, however, you'll need to stick with local wireless play only, which means four players and a few copies to do it right.
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