Stuart Fry reminisces the FPS revolution as Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare celebrates its 10th anniversary.
Remember, remember, the fifth of November! — since the 17th Century, Brits have uttered these words, regarding something to do with a bearded fella attempting to blow up a Catholic-hating King and a bunch of parliamentarians — but gamers will remember the fifth as the day Infinity Ward first treated the world to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
In 2007, this multi-award-winning and unanimously praised game, revolutionised the first-person-shooter genre, particularly for the console market, and defined a generation: Modern Warfare will be remembered dearly, by ageing gamers, for a long time to come.
Let’s be honest: in more recent years, there have been some bloody diabolical COD releases, and the franchise has rightly received some slack — but, you’ll have difficulty finding a mass of COD 4 ‘haters’.
So, what was it that made this game so special, you ask? Well, for starters, the single-player campaign had a story that was genuinely engaging, and provided players with a strong emotional connection to the game’s memorable protagonists.
Anyone who has played Modern Warfare’s campaign, will surely remember the likes of Captain Price — the hard-nosed, no nonsense, moustachioed SAS soldier, with a notable compassionate and humorous side to his multifaceted persona.
Price was a hero, there is no doubt about that and as a gamer, one that you wanted to ensure survives and succeeds: in how many COD games since the release of Modern Warfare, have you truly given a monkeys about the plight of the characters?
Another major factor in the huge success of Modern Warfare, was its setting. Back in 2007, present-day warfare was rarely opted for by developers, particularly for console gamers, and the decision to take the game to the Middle East provided a gritty atmosphere, that was fresh, and also highly relatable and timely.
Perhaps ironically, the most obvious appeal of the campaign was the fact that it was so cinematic — dramatic cutscenes are faultlessly intertwined with interactive, snap-decision, action sequences and a healthy mix of stealth and Rambo-style gameplay. Some in the gaming community tend to scoff at this overly cinematic approach to game production and prefer a game that allows you to personally take control of every piece of the action firsthand without the need for a ton of impressive cutscenes or button-mashing, tense, slow-mo sequences. While there is certainly an argument to be had in that this can hinder immersion: I for one, certainly felt immersed in Modern Warfare during my original experience of the game.
A discussion of COD 4’s campaign, would not be complete without an honourable mention of that cult favourite mission. ‘All Ghilled Up’ sees you take control of the aforementioned, stern-yet-genial, Captain Price, tasked with the first assassination order provided by the British government since World War II, in a memorable trip to Pripyat, the Ukranian abandoned town near the site of the Chernobyl disaster — this glorious mission was as exciting as it sounds. Who could forget that moment when you find yourself flat to your stomach, deep in the undergrowth, metres away from daunting signs warning you of high levels of radiation, as a menacing platoon of enemy troops, chaperoned by several BMP-2’s, get agonisingly closer and closer to your location.
Modern Warfare’s campaign was a ton of fun, and stands out as something special in its own right, but it was its, immensely popular, multiplayer element that was truly monumental. Call of Duty’s online multiplayer has firmly become a gaming leviathan, and it all started with COD 4.
Looking back, from the privileged position of 2017, Modern Warfare’s multiplayer could be viewed as simplistic and stripped-back, and it is compared to the majority of its modern-day counterparts: certainly compared to subsequent releases in the Call of Duty franchise. However, for its time, it was groundbreaking and refreshing.
Amassing a streak of three, five or seven kills without dying rewarded the player with a UAV, an air strike and an automated attack helicopter, respectively: it was straightforward, but the whole concept of killstreaks was a new idea that added a new element to the multiplayer FPS genre, and it didn’t stop there: Modern Warfare was brimming full of innovation.
Perks are another element, that made Modern Warfare both a huge success and a true gaming pioneer. Every gamer was entitled to three perks, which would each enhance a certain aspect of their strengths and added a further level of customisability. Some of these were controversial and unpopular with many, such as ‘Juggernaut’, which allowed you to pretty much dance around in front of an enemy and casually brush yourself off, pre Craig-era Bond style, after being shot at multiple times and of course, ‘Last Stand’, which allowed you to lay on your back and shoot a sidearm after, what would have otherwise been, your death.
These perks were certainly not going to win many fans among the hardcore, elitist, gamers who take all their games dead seriously but they did make the game fun and added multiple levels of unpredictability. Perks, also made online FPS gaming, in Corbyn-esque fashion, a casual hobby that could be enjoyed by all and not just the few.
Continually unlocking new perks, weapons and camo is something that we expect as a given in both COD and many other contemporary FPS games but at the time, this was revolutionary: it enticed further play and along with the prestige system, whereby you could start all over from scratch, in return for a new icon and the subsequent bragging rights, this game had ultimate ‘replayability’.
Everything about COD 4’s multiplayer made for an exciting FPS experience with other gamers. Small maps also made for explosive encounters and you had to be constantly on your toes: games are always intense and there is never a dull moment. Killcams, were yet another innovative and fun gimmick, at the time, that allowed you to witness your own demise and ultimately, to help you hunt down the bastard that just had the audacity to kill you!
What was unique about this, was that despite these numerous aspects that would transparently turn away typical elitist gamers, COD 4 was revered by pretty much everyone at the time and it was a gamer magnet. Gamers of all description flooded the servers in their droves. Once they had given it a shot, they were hooked and if you wanted to pose as an elite, you could still aim for a top spot on the online leaderboards and grind for the tenth prestige.
The map design also played a huge part, COD 4 has some of the strongest maps of the entire franchise and the fact you could cheekily get to parts of the map that you were not supposed to, actually added further enjoyment for many. Maps were also largely realistic and gritty, unlike many subsequent COD maps, that see you fighting in some bizarre locations, such as an abandoned skatepark, a falling skyscraper and the surface of the moon!
Modern Warfare’s multiplayer was innovative, rewarding and addictive and yes, it was casual but that is a major part of what made it such a hit among such a diverse range of people. If you never played Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare back in ’07, you missed out on something special. Those of us who were lucky enough to enjoy it, the first time around, do tend to look back at with our rose-tinted specs on, but it was certainly a monumental point in FPS multiplayer gaming for the console market.
Infinity Ward have since released a ‘remastered’ version, but unfortunately, it failed to receive the love it deserves, due to their immense greed. Despite their unhealthy greed, Infinity Ward were responsible for the original and it will be remembered fondly for many years to come.
Happy tenth anniversary Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare!