You take games too seriously.

Late to the Party: Call of Duty 4

chernobyl pool

A month ago, Sam gave his opinion on Call of Duty 4, while taking a jab at me for skipping it. Look, the holiday season busy was last year, and though CoD4 was on my to do list after playing the multiplayer beta, one excuse or another always got in my way.

Excuses no more! I just completed the solo campaign 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 scenes.

SPOILERS: You shoot militants sleeping like lambs. Stumble for safety before radiation kills you. Cause carnage with warship guns while your pilot quips.

These are all awesome moments, and I don’t mean to understate them by carelessly listing them. That said, they were for me (as they now are for you, if you haven’t played–sorry) spoiled. But honestly, if I play a game a month or more after release I’m shocked to be surprised once in 8 hours of game play.

Call of Duty 4
shocked me.

How I fell for a swimming pool after the jump…

In the latter part of the game, my partner and I camp in Chernobyl to assassinate a terrorist figurehead. Slowly, we trek through the devastated city’s debris, sneaking between brush, taking pot shots, breaking into abandoned housing projects. We climb to the top of a hotel, and wait. Then, when the moment’s perfect, we strike.

I blow off the target’s arm leaving him to bleed to death. His squad immediately spots me, and after shooting down a helicopter with nothing, but my hand sniper rifle, I book it. Down the stairs, across the fields, and into what appears to be a massive industrial building.

The entrance resembles a convention center, but flakes of intricate artwork stick to the wall. I push through the main doors gun-ready for an intense corridor battle, but no ones there. No tiny apartments, no hallways, no baddies. Instead, the room is so strange, so large; it takes me awhile to recognize it.

It’s an indoor swimming pool.

Stills don’t do it justice, but this YouTube video gives you an idea of the care the designers took creating it. Plus, this particular YouTube has a pretty sweet jam.

The Olympic scale mixed with the decrepit walls—it hit me. This is a metaphor. The swimming pool, a sign of Russian power and sleek physical prowess, has been ruined by the nuclear age.

I can’t remember another time I considered an environment as a metaphor without the game telling me to consider it. Bioshock’s Rapture was a beautiful metaphor of the power and danger of Randian beliefs, but that was by no means subtle. The various tape recorders made the designers concept clear in case you were one of the meatheads that was eager to skip the scenery for the kills.

CoD4 never felt smug. It offered plenty of brilliant moments, but allowed me, for the most part, to build your own critique. It never explicitly told me shooting slipping enemies is good or bad. I experienced death by nuclear radiation, but the game never vocalized an opinion on warfare. It was most forward at kill screens, when it offered famous warfare quotations and statistics.

This game asked me what I thought about what I’m doing; how does this make me feel? Now I hope every game, seriously or not, to ask those same questions.

Am I not giving Bioshock enough credit? Were there any moments that stick with you from CoD4? The comments section is all yours.


Image: Freeenergynews


Filed under: Commentary, Story Analysis, , , , , ,

8 Responses

  1. The game told me something for sure:

    “I am an interactive Michael Bay film.”

    Of course, all Michael Bay films are interactive if you watch them like I do: shouting vulgarities at the screen.

  2. Fin says:

    After playing COD4 I honestly felt like I was part of something, the story meant something to me. From the beginning where “you” are dragged into the square and SHOT IN THE HEAD – I kept thinking that someone would swoop in and save me, like the old game cliches, but it never happened. And when Jackson died of radiation – I was severely bummed. These are some of the best characters, situations and story I have ever seen in a game – EVER. And I truly don’t understand why people gush over Bioshock when COD has an immensely better story. I didn’t blink at the “twist” in Bioshock any more than I overthink why Mario or Master Chief or any game character does what he/she is told.

  3. Fin, perhaps they (including myself)gushed over Bioshock because it was a refreshing change of pace. That game has a rich, amazingly thought-out lore behind it, much unlike Call of Duty 4, which I saw as a retread of plots from previous military first person shooters. (Which, in turn, are retreads of so-so Tom Clancy novels) Granted, Call of Duty 4 did a magnificent take on these story elements, but I thought the plot was enjoyable only because of the way it was presented. If I allowed the presentation of the plot to affect my judgment of it, that would be akin to loving Ulysses because I really enjoyed the font.

  4. ctplante says:

    Eh, I disagree with Chris.

    I think the the style used to tell CoD4 is closer to the windy way Joyce wrote Ulysses, and that’s exactly what has made it so popular for years.

    I won’t go as far to say these are some of my favorite characters, like Fin, only because I don’t remember much about them. One was named Soap.

    I think, and both Portal and Bioshock did this, that an occasional small twist in narrative changes the way we look at games, much like how a narrative twist applied to the occasional play can create whole new forms – Dada, Absurd, Existential – that all tell similar stories, but from different perspectives.

  5. I think the fact that you can’t remember much about the characters says more to my point than yours. If something is all style and no substance, you can’t tell me that the style itself is the substance.

  6. ctplante says:

    I ‘ll argue most great films from 1920-1940 were style over substance, and that a fair share of pop art’s style is its substance. Why shouldn’t this work for games?

  7. It does work. I never said it doesn’t. But it works even better when the plot seems fresh and the characters 3-dimensional (not to mention memorable). My response was in defense of Bioshock, which was a rewarding mix of style AND substance. I’m not saying that COD4 is a not a great game. It is. But to glaze over the muddled, forgettable plot simply because the game itself was enjoyable brings to mind the same people who defend Transformers because it was ‘exciting to watch.’ Can’t I love something and still ask for more?

  8. ctplante says:


    You’re right, it’s not unreasonable to ask for substance and style. We’ll just all have to agree the style was pretty great… and the plot was OK.

    Except Fin, who thinks it’s more than OK.

    Yes, I just wrote a synopsis.

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