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Call of Duty 4 - a lesson in level design


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358w ago - Activision made my weekend by sending me an Xbox 360 copy of Call of Duty 4, which I played for most of Saturday night and a lot more of Sunday morning than was sensible for the father of a two-year-old who's started getting up at 5.45am every day.

No doubt you've seen some of the rave reviews (full marks in the US Official Xbox and UK Official PS3 magazines) and may even have sampled the beta test. Even if you haven't, I advise you to buy this game when it hits the shelves on Friday and then cancel whatever you have planned for next weekend. As a lesson in multiplayer level design, CoD 4 is quite possibly peerless.

Something I enjoyed about the three environments in the beta test was that almost every obvious sniping position could be reached from two different entrances, meaning it was more-or-less impossible to park yourself in a safe place and view the game through a gun scope without fear of being snuck up on. This has carried through to the full game. Here, even the most elevated of juicy snipe points are visible from other similarly covered areas so you get these little snipe the sniper sub-plots developing through each round. However, I did notice that the denser urban locales definitely do offer more blind alleys and cubby holes at ground level, so determined campers can usually find somewhere to dig in and wait for victims. Each to his own, I suppose.

Balance was always the key concern with CoD4, given its intriguing rank-up system which rewards experience points with special skills (or 'perks') and more advanced weaponry. However, even as a lowly private you can match veterans by taking your time, learning the environments, watching the radar and communicating with your team. It's not a slaughter of the newcomers out there. If you've played a team-based FPS before, you'll be okay.

Oh and the visuals are stunning - not just for effects or basic aesthetic competence, but for the sense of place. The detail. Pulverised low-rise buildings, bullet-riddled vehicles burnt out and rusting in the sun, rubbish swirling through deserted streets like tumbleweed. CoD4 is a patchwork of every nightmare battlezone to hit our screens for the last twenty years. In its approximation of war-battered streets, all that's missing is haunted-eyed kids playing amid the soldiers.

There's been controversy in the States surrounding the game's single player campaign mode which, according to the Official Xbox Magazine review, takes just 4-6 hours to complete. Does that bother you? Personally, I'm not sure. I know I'm more interested in the multiplayer, plus, as a dad with limited time available for 'recreational gaming' (you know, as opposed to the stuff I'm paid to play), I'm not as interested in 50-hour slogs. I'm still only halfway through GRAW for god's sake, and now have GRAW 2 and Bioshock lined up behind it.

Anyway, buy it. It's just wonderful to see a game so thoughtfully designed by a developer (Infinity Ward, of course) clearly loving its work and the genre it operates in.



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