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     " ...One of the best games I've played in years. "

      Title: Call of Duty 4 by Activision

      Format: Modern Xbox 360 Shooter

      Reviewing Monkey: Dungapult

      The Hype: With something like six titles under its belt, it's safe to call Call of Duty a venerable franchise. It's been around forever, appeared on almost every console, and shown the joys of Nazi killing from one end of Europe to the other. But with pretty much everything conceivable done in the World War II format, veteran developer Infinity Ward had no choice but try something totally new genre wise, so they opted to bring the format to the modern battlefield. But will this change of venue be another hit or simply put new lipstick on an old chicken? Read on, my monkeys, and find out.

      What This Monkey Thought...

      Graphics: It should go without say that Call of Duty 4 (CoD4) is the prettiest incarnation the franchise has ever seen, but the real question is how does it stack up against what we know the system is currently capable of? The answer: Pretty darned good.
          The effects are some of the coolest, and most dramatic, that we've seen in gaming to date, the lighting is downright spectacular, and the textures are rich and colorful. Particularly impressive are the weapon effects, which all look more realistic than they have in any game to date. Tracers whip out of your barrel in oddly squirrelly shapes, distorted by the heat of the round, the smoke trails of RPGs waft in the wind, and bullets spark brightly and drop appropriate debris as they impact different terrain.
          The models are also exceptional, though, truthfully, not quite as detailed as some of the game's current next-gen rivals, and the levels are lavish and intricate. The motion capture and rag doll effects are also quite impressive, and seems to include more frames of animation per model than most games we've seen.
          It all works to make the game almost as fun to watch as it is to play.
          My only niggling complaints, and the only things keeping CoD4 from the venerated 5 out of 5, have to do with some small frame-rate drops and pixalization that can bog the game down a bit...but these are easily ignored in light of the larger, prettier picture. 4.75 out of 5

      Playability: At its heart, CoD4 plays exactly like all of its predecessors, enough so that if you've played any of the franchise you'll know exactly what you'll get here. Occupying the genre limbo between a run-and-gun shooter and a tactical FPS, CoD4 encourages, if not forces, you to move quickly and mow through scores of enemies, but also gives you plenty of cover and opportunities for intellectual, flanking and maneuver-style play.
         It's a delicate balance, and one that is done well most of the time, though that's not quite perfect--especially since the game will frequently demand you play one way or the other (either rushing through a situation with abandon or going slow and prowling tactically) and not tell you which it wants. And when I say demand, I mean DEMAND, since the only way to beat the level will be to do exactly as the developer expects.
          Also frustrating is developer Infinity Ward's choice not to follow suit with many of the other tactical-style shooters out there and include a take cover/peak system like Rainbow 6 and Gears of War pioneered. This, combined with a lack of an ability to lean, makes the gunning a little more Doom-esque than I would've liked...especially when you constantly face AI that is smart enough to blind fire, peek around corners, and lean out from cover while it's shooting at you.
          The only real addition to the franchise's gameplay experience in CoD4 comes in the form of penetratable scenery, which is a fancy way of saying "the ability to shoot through shit." Long awaited in the video game world, this huge advancement means that hiding behind a sheet of plywood or a wooden door will no longer save your ass, since your enemies can shoot right through it. This also means that you no longer have to be frustrated by the bad guy who is hunkered down behind a pile of pallets or just the other side of a wooden fence, since you can line up and take them out anyways. It also lets you clear rooms by unloading your ammunition through the nearside wall before you set foot through the door. Keen.
          I, truthfully, can't overstate the increased realism and play value of this feature. If you, like me, have been sick and tired of enemies using obscuring pieces of cardboard as cover, it's one of the most refreshing changes to gaming in years. Unfortunately, however, it's not perfect, especially in regards to objects' relative durability, and the game feels like the "what can shoot through what" settings need quite a bit more tweaking. Concrete jersey barriers (the things that separate oncoming lanes of traffic on the freeway), for example, are as perforatable as paper and offer no cover. Barrels and cars, on the other hand, are impenetrable.
          Still, overall, the game is a huge amount of fun to play. It gives you a nice combination of a high terrorist body count with some intelligent, lightly tactical play. 4 out of 5

      Story and Drama: As with other CoD games, 4 follows multiple story lines that loosely come together in the end. In this case it's the plight of an English SAS recruit and a US Marine who end up both being involved in a series of missions that aim to take down a network of Middle Eastern terrorists and Russian Ultra-Nationalists who are all trying to destroy the world.
          Writing and pacing wise, the story's a little light, but it's plenty good enough to get you motivated for your next takedown, and allows for two distinctly different environments of play: the wasted villages of a dilapidated Middle East and the quaint small towns of Russia. It also does a decent job of weaving in several different level styles, from hard-core action to delicate sneak and snipe, and an interesting twist you won't expect at the end of Act 2. 3.5 out of 5

      Multiplayer and Replayability: Starting with the multiplayer, the first thing you'll notice about CoD4 is the very functional, and nicely paced, persistent character system it uses. You earn points in On-Line multiplayer matches for kills, assists, performing objectives, calling in support elements, and completing games. These points work like XP to increase your character's rank and unlock new weapons, classes, and perks. And while all that sounds like stuff you've seen before, it's the balance of it all that is so damned impressive.
          First off, it's worth noting that the weapons you begin with are all perfectly usable, which means that new players won't be totally out gunned by the veterans they'll invariable have to play against. Also of interest is the fact that attachments, the little goodies like red dot sights and silencers, that you can use to customize your weapons are only unlocked by scoring kills with the weapon in question. So, as you advance and unlock new weapons, you go right back to using them bare bones and non-tricked out. It's a good balancing choice that never lets you feel like you have the run of the farm.
         Next is the addition of special abilities, called Perks. Not inherently impressive on their own, these Perks give you small, subtle abilities such as being able to sprint for longer, slightly increased weapon or grenade damage, increased bullet penetration, or the opportunity to sense enemy claymore mines before you set them off. Each is useful, but not particularly overpowering on their own--but what's awesome is that with the Create-a-Class feature you can choose the three you like best for your style of play. The result? A wide assortment of character combinations that let you fine-tune your multiplayer performance to highlight the style of play you like.
          It's an absolutely fantastic system that works well and adds a significant amount of both strategy and incentive to keep playing. When just a few more on-line games may give you the ability to wield the venerable M60 machinegun, or to unlock the UAV Jammer Perk that hides you from enemy radar, you really do have to fight to put the controller down.
         And speaking of UAVs, another great addition to the multiplayer experience is an innovative support system that basically functions as kill rewards. Get three kills and you get a UAV flyover, which functions essentially like radar, exposing all the enemies on the map. Get five kills and you can call in an airstrike, which takes the form of three fast-movers racing across the battlefield and dropping cluster bombs on the target in question (this is especially useful in team games when a teammate can call in a UAV so you know where the bad guys are, then bomb the hell out of 'em). Finally, at seven kills, you can request a chopper to come in and fire close air support. It's an unbelievably cool feature that adds a real sense of drama to the multiplayer experience.
         And while we're on the subject of drama, CoD4 brings in one of the best single player campaigns I've played in years. One that guarantees you will play through it at least a second time. It also includes the best "gimmick" level I think I've ever seen, one that has you playing the gunner on an AC130 during a close support mission.
         Not to be all glitz and glamour, however, there are a few small negatives that keep the game from a perfect score. The spawn system in multiplayer, especially Free for All and Team Deathmatch is one of the worst I've ever seen, frequently spawning you right in front of an enemy, or even in the path of a currently falling air strike (I once went five deaths in a row without so much as being able to move in a Team Deathmatch game).
         Also glaringly absent is the presence of any kind of cooperative play. A note to developers: From now on coop is a MUST. Rainbow 6 has set the bar as far as the gaming community is concerned, with even Halo jumping on board, and the lack of at least a coop campaign mode is no longer even remotely acceptable. 4 out of 5

                The Verdict:


       All in all, Call of Duty 4 is one of the best games I've played in years. It's pretty and fun, features a kick ass campaign, and has one of the best persistent on-line modes I've ever seen. This is a must for any shooter fan. End of story.

      The Good: It's as fun to watch as it is to play, and it's damned fun to play. Off line, on-line, and everywhere in between is just awesome.

      The Bad: A few small, though noticeable errors and the lack of a coop mode make it fall short of a perfect score.

      The Overall Ugly: Add a coop mode and a few tweaks to an expansion (or Call of Duty 5) and this will be one of the greatest games of all time.

      What it's Worth: Market

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