Brilliant! Another chance to strap on my handlebar moustache and jump out of a Lancaster over Normandy to do battle in the bocage.
Or not. Evidently Infinity Ward has finally decided to let World War II go with its latest squad-based FPS. Call of Duty 4 is set in the present day, and ticks all the usual soldier simulation plot boxes. Embittered ex-communists, bad guys in balaclavas and nuclear weapons are all present and correct, and it’s up to you to save the Earth.
The action zips all over the world, with you taking control of, among others, a US recon marine and a British SAS Sergeant called Soap. The game starts in typically bombastic Call of Duty fashion, with a night time assault on an Estonian cargo vessel. You quickly realise how much darker Call of Duty 4 is than the previous three games, as your men gun down the crew and execute enemy soldiers in their sleep. This sets the tone for the rest of the game; war in the modern world isn’t cut into good and evil, and some of the game’s twists are genuinely shocking. The developers certainly haven’t shied away from experimenting with the FPS genre.
The game looks fantastic, with the best explosion and smoke effects of any game yet. The character models are wonderfully detailed and some of the animations have to be seen to be believed, especially when the SAS are crawling through tall grass or climbing in and out of windows. The gameplay can be as frantic as we’ve come to expect from Call of Duty games, but there’s definitely more variety in the latest instalment. Stealth is vital in some of the SAS missions, and some missions ratchet up the tension to an unbearable degree as you hide in long grass with enemy soldiers stepping over you. You’ll often find yourself heavily outnumbered and reliant on air support, and calling in a chopper to do the dirty work is immensely satisfying.
The single-player campaign is beautiful, immersive and completely compelling, but it is short. Experienced gamers will get through it in fewer than seven hours, but it’s such fun it’s worth playing again. As with Call of Duty 3, the game’s multiplayer is stunning. The usual deathmatch and team deathmatch modes are there, and there are also objective-led modes where you have to hold control points. Kill streaks are rewarded with bonuses to make your life easier, such as recon sweeps or air strikes, and the game even has an RPG element. As you play you gain experience, which leads to higher ranks. As your rank increases different character classes are unlocked, each with its own particular traits. It gives you something to wok towards, and adds a sense of achievement to playing beyond a simple Gamerscore figure.
Whether Call of Duty 4 is worth the money depends on whether you intend to take advantage of the multiplayer mode. The single-player campaign is beautiful but really too short to be worth £40. Put the single and multiplayer games together, though, and Call of Duty 4 is unbeatable.