Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Top 50 Games - 20. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

I dislike Activision. I dislike Xbox Live. I dislike Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. I dislike war. But I like Call of Duty 4. A lot. Why is that? Before this blockbuster entry in the part arcadey, part realistic FPS series, WWII was the setting for the shell-shocked player's exploits. After Call of Duty 2, which in my opinion perfected that vein of shooter, Infinity Ward set its iron-sights on the very near future. Sure, the story is pretty stupid, what with Islamic fundamentalists and Russian neo-Stalinists banding together to destroy the US of A, but it provided context for a visceral first-person experience that was more intense, unsettling, and surprising than World War II could ever be (in a video game, I mean). When you're in the thick of it, with AK fire spraying every concrete wall, grenades landing right at the tips of your toes, and helicopters spiraling out of control after being downed by an RPG, it's hard to imagine any gamer wanting things to get even more realistic. While COD4 of course takes many liberties with reality, the immersive experience seems about as true to the blinding, deafening, dumbing chaos of war as I'd ever want video games to get. Yes, Call of Duty squeezes a great deal of fun out of something as evil and atrocious as war, but (although its developers hardly weaved any subtlety or ambiguity into their creation), one could claim that it asks questions about entertainment, reality versus fantasy, or the hypocritical wiring of the human brain. Of course, when you're (fictionally) defending your position with a barrage of MG fire, carrying a pilot out of her crashed bird while being flanked by the enemy in large numbers, or chasing the son of a Russian madman through a dilapidated warzone, you don't really have time to think about those kinds of things. The bullets left in your clip, the locations of your squadmates, the fierce tactics of your enemies: that's what's on your mind. Doubly so in the competitive multiplayer mode, where, without the scripted predictability of single-player, your enemy can be anywhere, and even worse: he's not AI, but rather a human. Intensity and excitement are wholly embraced by COD4's audiovisual and tactile synthesis, and are most pronounced during the most spontaneous moments of multiplayer and most scripted and dramatic of the campaign. Such moments include the player-character being killed by a nuclear blast, but not before witnessing its horrid destructive power, and (in the game's best level), sneaking through an irradiated wasteland in a ghillie suit before attempting to assassinate previously mentioned Russian madman with a .50 cal while adjusting for the Coriolis effect. A powerful showcase for next-generation technology and developer craftsmanship, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare is an intoxicating jolt that I'm happy to receive solely through artificial means.

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