Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Imperialish: COD4) was a 2007 video game that was immensely popular in the Empire. Noted for its innovation and excellence, the game was, and still is, a shining example of how to not only invigorate a stagnated and stale genre, but essentially wrote the book on how to design a modern multiplayer shooter (for better or for worse).
Up until the release of Call of Duty 4, multiplayer shooters were approaching absolute stagnation. The golden age of arena shooters like Quake, Doom, and Unreal Tournament was over and releases like Quake 4 further cemented the need for some sort of innovation. Meanwhile, a separate genre of multiplayer shooters were becoming popular: war shooters, based on the Second World War. Call of Duty was at the forefront of this genre, with the motto “No one fights alone” becoming an important staple of the type of scripted action to be expected from the series. Although Call of Duty: United Offensive enjoyed a sizable multiplayer following, it was not until the release of Call of Duty 2 that the series conventions became staples of the genre: regenerating health, a dynamic movement system, and the flourishing of the competitive community. However, lack of innovation led to the war shooter genre becoming completely stagnant by the time Treyarch’s Call of Duty 3 and countless other Medal of Honor games were released.
Following the modernization of Batltefield with Battlefield 2, Call of Duty did the same for the smaller number shooter games with their roots in arena shooters (Call of Duty‘s engine, for example, was and still is based on the Quake III: Arena engine). Turning the entire genre on its head, the game was a massive success not only critically but fiscally as well, almost single-handedly creating the Call of Duty franchise, the biggest franchise in the world.
The game’s popularity within the Empire can be traced to several different factors:
- The game nailed the feeling of being an OPERATOR in a war zone. Everything the player did, from movement to just the weapon animations felt right. In fact, Infinity Ward’s animations were so crisp that animations from Call of Duty 2 and 4 are still in use half a decade later (although some may attribute this to the lazy sweatshop production strategy of the newer games).
- An in-depth, never before seen class system and other RPG elements in a first-person shooter game. The Create-A-Class feature of the game allowed a player to create several predefined soldier classes and customize their abilities to complement their gameplay styles with several perks, attachments, equipment, and more. These classes would persist through death (unlike money-based systems like Counter-Strike). The most important things about the perk system was that most changes were very minor, often only making a difference within a particular playstyle. Later games in the series got carried away with the entire “Create Your Soldier” aspect due to a fundamental misunderstanding of why the class system in Call of Duty 4 worked.
- The level design was rock-solid. Call of Duty 4‘s mapping team consisted of industry veterans who were familiar with the type of game the design team was making and what works. The maps range from playable to excellent, with most maps falling somewhere in between (which is a good thing when you consider that later games in the series included only one or two “alright” maps among a plethora of garbage filler). Often when a genre is reinvented, map design is one of the last things to catch up to the changes since playtesting and map philosophy differs wildly and develops slowly. This was not the case with Call of Duty 4. Even when a map was rehashed from a previous game (Carentan/Chinatown), the developers took the time to go through and redesign the entire thing from the ground up instead of just porting the .pk3 over like later games.
- The game had a decently high skill ceiling and rewarded excellence. As you do better, the game rewards you with “Killstreak Rewards” that range from a simple radar to an attack helicopter. These weren’t major, game-breaking rewards but did make enough of a difference to sufficiently reward good gameplay. As usual, later games in the series (starting with Modern Warfare 2) took this aspect to an extreme and Call of Duty games now completely revolve around these killstreaks.
- The game had a large competitive following. The Call of Duty 4 Promod on the PC version was the staple shooter for the next 3 years to come, and is still played today.
There were, however, some problems with the game that have not been alleviated in future games. In fact, most of these problems are now even worse in later games in the series:
- Guns have almost no recoil. Aside from the Promod version of the game, and a rare selection of specialized weapons like sniper rifles, the guns have next to no recoil besides a slight, random kick upwards (most notable in the AK-47). This removed a lot of the barriers that separated good players from bad players and, while making the game easier to pick up and play, limited the skill ceiling of the game. This, added to the fact that players die extremely quickly, made the game less about being a better shot, and more about “who sees who first”. Modern Call of Duty is entirely about positioning; the actual shooting part is just a formality. In contrast, in a game like Counter-Strike, every gun has a predictable and unique spray pattern that you can learn, making the process of mastering a weapon unique to that weapon. The mastering of a gun’s recoil pattern is a fundamental part of the gunplay in Counter-Strike.
- The game has a plethora of different weapons, but they all feel the same. The only difference between the weapons tend to be the different stats they have like damage, rate of fire, et cetera. In the end, it makes the range of weapons incorporated in the game a relative waste of development time since the entire metagame boils down to the AK-74u and the M40A3. This problem is even worse in future games, where the developers just keep shoving more guns into the game instead of balancing the existing ones or removing the extraneous weapons. To present a contrasting example, Counter-Strike once again employs a range of weaponry but each is made unique not only by factors like the damage and rate of fire, but also the unique spray pattern of that weapon and the cost to buy. Later installments of Counter-Strike such as Goyim Offensive aim to rebalance every weapon to make each usable instead of just adding more wood to the fire.
- Explosives dominate the game. Grenades have massive splash radii. Grenade launchers (colloquially called “noob tubes”) in enclosed spaces often lead to multiple kills without line of sight. Perks like Frag x 3, RPG-7 x 2, and Martyrdom lead to grenades being almost everywhere you go. A well-placed airstrike can decimate an entire team very early on (although this can be excused because of the relative rarity and skill required to acquire an airstrike in the first place). This is even worse in future games where perks like Danger Close Pro can shut down an entire game.
- Support grenades are not useful. Flashbangs and concussion grenades are only active for a short period of time and can still get you killed from a randomly spraying enemy very easily (recall the fact that weapons have no recoil). The support grenades in Call of Duty 4 are basically only used to act as a mobile “hitmarker” to see whether there are enemies in that room, instead of actual grenades.