If I said to you, Call of Duty, you'd probably respond: World War II, right? Normally you'd be correct. Not this time, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare strips away the overused World War Two genre and replaces it with a blisteringly sharp modern setting that smacks of cinematic production values and crisp level design. The developers: Infinity Ward has taken a bold step forwards for the franchise and if this is the shape of things to come, well, sign me up for more.
It's not a deep/tactical game; it's a straight-forward shooter. You're not meant to agonise over what gun to setup at the start, or where to find the next ammo cache. This is combat against a relentless AI foe with all the bells and whistles of next-gen attached. That isn't to say that you can't make those kinds of choices, since running in like a mad-man is likely to get you killed in the game. There's no cover system either so you're going to have to crouch or go prone to avoid being turned into Swiss cheese.
You play the single-player (agonisingly short) from the viewpoint of two characters, one British SAS operative and a USMC soldier as the story unfolds. You'll switch from sneaking through night-time outdoor environments to the jam-packed dangerous streets of a Middle Eastern city as the game rockets towards a definite conclusion. There are plenty of insane fire-fights and even a sniper based stealthy flashback that is arguably the best mission in a modern war game to date.
The pace of the single player game is just right and thanks to an excellently scripted and planned series of levels, you're never left twiddling your thumbs or staring bored at a wall. There's always something going on and the first time you lay your eyes on the cargo ship rocking in a thrashing sea, you know you're in for something special. It doesn't let up either; it'll push you on from encounter to encounter without any time to draw breath.
It's easy to get to grips with, the controls are simple and there are a number of custom setups that allow you to tweak them to your play style. If you're familiar with the Halo style B-for-melee and prefer that, then just change to the right control method. I'm never fond of clicking the left or right sticks in to be honest, with some controllers it's all too easy to do that in the heat of battle and either zoom in when you don't want to, or crouch as someone throws a grenade at you.
Talking of grenades and controls, CoD4 lets you throw back grenades if you can get to them in time (watch for the warning indicator) and features a similar GUI to the previous games. There are no health packs and armour pickups, you take too much damage you'll get a warning to seek cover and get out of danger. It's good advice to hide behind something metal as well, since bullets have varying degrees of penetration in the game.
Thin interconnecting walls or doors don't make for good cover, we can tell you this from experience and so can the AI.
You are very rarely on your own in CoD4, there's always some NPC operatives around with you, giving the maps a feel of being a living and breathing skirmish as you're thrown into these dynamic fire-fights that have become the trademark of the Call of Duty series. AI clashes with AI and it's mildly annoying to see them taking cover, using blind-fire and being unable to do the same (we love you Rainbow Six Vegas!) At least you can climb small walls with the A button, as well as rappel down ropes at certain points.
Yet I found myself not caring about that, the game was too in-your-face and the story compelling to bother with little details, like the lack of a decent cover system. Then the story was over and I was left feeling a little short-changed, even a few more hours would have made me happier I think.