You take games too seriously.

How I Broke (and Learned to Love) Call of Duty 4

Da Bomb

I’m about to spoil Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, so cover your eyes dutifully if you’re one of the misguided few who haven’t played it (say, my co-author).

 Just the idea of that – a real spoiler warning for a videogame – seems more and more unique in this day and age. Since Aeris got the shish-kebab treatment back in 1997, game spoilers seem mostly like jokes, something the community can latch onto and run into the ground. Say, I don’t know, “the cake is a lie”. Portal, through no fault of its own, has had its brilliant (and charmingly simple – the only character you need to know anything about is the enemy, and that enemy is deep, funny, and melodically gifted) plot run into the ground by rampant fanboyism.

Or BioShock, who it seems can no longer be discussed by the gaming press without a “would you kindly” pun, turning a brilliant twist into a punchline you’re waiting for throughout the game, ratcheting down the sheer shock of it into a “oh, I saw that coming.”

 Imagine if movie reviewers couldn’t write about recent successes – or even upcoming or just-released movies – without dropping deeply witless references in, just to prove their cleverness. It’s a Family Guy world in the gaming press – where just knowing enough obscurities stands in for humor.

 But on to Call of Duty 4. (Spoilers after the jump.)

Luckily for those of us who care about story, Call of Duty’s fanboyism has tended mainly towards the (brilliant) multiplayer. The single-player game seems written off, in the eyes of many, as a bonus feature tacked onto the online shoot ’em up.

 But the single-player game is one of the richest uses of a first-person shooter to be found, from the first mission where within minutes of dropping onto a boat, you’re shooting sleeping soldiers and cracking jokes about it, to the dreamlike, eerie respite of the AC-130 gunship level, viewed in thermal black and white.

 But at one point – and here’s where the spoiler alert kicks in – the game uses a few moments of interactivity to push the story further than I could have expected. As Sargeant Paul Jackson, a US Marine in [UNNAMED MIDDLE EASTERN COUNTRY], you’re fighting your way out of a hostile city where a madman dictator is threatening to trigger his stash of nuclear weapons. As you’re just making it out, the view from out of the back of your helicopter is suddenly bright, as the shockwave hits, the cloud begins to rise, and the city falls apart behind you. Voices begin to scream, the helicopter and the controller rumble, and the screen fades to black.

 After a few moments, your eyes open again, and you’re in the wreckage of the helicopter, with bodies surrounding you – and the entire experience is interactive. You push forward, on your stomach, with the controller, out of the chassis and into a demolished [NAME OF ENTIRELY NON-REPRESENTATIVE MIDDLE EASTERN CITY HERE].

And here’s where I broke it. I pushed forward, and into the body of one of my squadmates – and directly through him. Not just a clean overlap, but an ugly one – polygons, inverted textures, everything suddenly revealing that my squadmate was a hollow form, made up of a bunch of colored rectangles. I was inside a videogame.

I completely lost the game here, and was a little frustrated with how long it was taking me to get past this section, which had completely overworn its welcome. So I hit some buttons, and I realized that the button which usually picks me up from a crawl still did – I struggled to stand, the screen went hazy, I tapped it again and struggled half-up again, before I finally fell on the ground.

I never expected it, but I should have. This is interactive storytelling at its best, the final moments of your character’s life, where everything you’ve already learned in the game still works. But instead of using it to hide behind a wall for cover, you’re using it to make your final steps, in a terrifyingly well-realized post-nuclear wasteland. I never expected it, but the game had pulled me back in, completely, in one button press.


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One Response

  1. […] on Hard, and I agree, the game’s great. But what more can I say? Reviews, blogs (including our own), and forums have covered the great […]

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this is a blog about video games by chris plante, sam ryan and chris littler.

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