Go on, be honest. WWII games are soo 60 years ago. You'd think that shooting Nazis would never get old, and yet, here we are. It's time to move on, but before we do that, let's take a quick look back.
The WWII shooter genre was here to stay from the moment Medal of Honor stormed onto the scene back in the days of the PSone. Gamers loved the authenticity of the weapons and liveries, the recreations of famous campaigns and the grittiness of the setting as a whole. It was with Medal of Honor: Allied Assault, however, that the fledgling genre took its first big step forward, with the player's role no longer falling into the Rambo category - single-handedly taking down the enemy forces, but instead became that of a cog in the war machine. The scale of the battles suddenly grew, and the player now assaulted enemy positions flanked by squads of allies, with fire echoing all around.
Call of Duty took that this concept one step further. Little wonder either, given that many members of the Allied Assault development team left to form Infinity Ward. Call of Duty was intensely cinematic - comrades fell as they charged, shells rocked the ground and planes got shot down as you were desperately crouching behind cover. Since then, the series has become one of the WWII shooter genre's greatest stalwarts, with a slew of releases across both PC and consoles. Ask the hardcore fans about the games in the series, however, and they'll tell you that it's the Infinity Ward titles that stand head and shoulders above the rest, which is why it's so exciting - after Treyarch developed Call of Duty 3 - for Infinity Ward to be back for Call of Duty 4. And let's not forget the biggest bombshell; that this is the first game in the series not to be set during WWII.
Enter Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare.
What does this mean for the series? Well, as we alluded to in the first couple of sentences, we're really happy to see the series move on from WWII. The formula for the genre as a whole is growing somewhat stale - large scale, cinematic set pieces can only entertain for so long. It's time for some new directions. The Medal of Honor series for one is trying to shake up the genre by air-dropping players into the battlefield and letting them carve their own paths to objectives, while the Battlefield series has a long history of varying its settings, from Vietnam all the way out to the year 2142. Now it's Call of Duty's turn.
Which brings us to the reveal trailer - you can click through to the first trailer below (we should have the extended one up soon too). Infinity Ward has played it smart, keeping the trailer short and sweet, yet if you look hard enough, it still gives a comprehensive glimpse of just how different this game is going to be.
The most immediately obvious change is - of course - the modern era of warfare the game takes place in. The footage cuts back and forth between locations in Eastern Europe and locations in the Middle East, and hints at a terrorist organisation with nuclear capabilities. We're also repeatedly introduced to an insignia used by the terror organisation - a gold and red flag with crossed twin blades rising up to a golden star. It shows up at several key points in the trailer, and is especially notable during the execution scene later in the trailer. The elements of a star and sabres hint that COD4's foe could be an evil coalition between Middle Eastern and European terrorists. Think Al Qaeda meets the Chechen Rebels.
While we don't know many specifics yet, it's clear that we'll either be playing as US or Russian/European troops. American's play a huge part in the trailer, basically hogging the limelight, while a European accent delivers most of the dialogue. It's also clear that there's going to be huge variety in the locations on offer in the game.
Perhaps the most dominant settings in the trailer are of intense urban blight. Think of the scenes you've seen from embedded journalists in the war torn areas of the Middle East, with rubble strewn streets, pyres of smoke rising into the air and swirling eddies of dust kicked up by choppers, then give that a serious injection of the cinematic delivery that the Call of Duty series is renowned for. From great wide shots showing off the incredible scale of the pockmarked environments as squads fast-rope from helicopters into combat, down onto the streets, where the visceral nature of war reigns supreme as soldiers are cut down and shells explode, it's intense stuff. This is also a world that feels lived in - clothes hang on makeshift lines across streets, and cafes and shops are visible behind the carnage.
While there isn't any specific evidence that the environments will be destructible, we're certainly hopeful that the player's surroundings will be more dynamic than in previous titles. One shot in particular - of a car being crushed under the treads of a tank, really stood out as an indication that this may be the case.
There's no doubt that these scenes show off quite a familiar vision of modern warfare, and one that echoes a number of other titles, from GRAW through to Metal Gear Solid 4. Fortunately, that seems to be the tip of the iceberg. There are several shots set in muted grasslands, a line of wonky telegraph poles protruding from the earth as camouflaged troops move carefully through, not to mention a richly atmospheric forest setting, with fog settling on the moonlit ground. Even from the trailer, it's clear that Call of Duty 4 isn't light on mood. The lighting in particular frames each setting wonderfully, from husky sunsets through to night vision melee combat.
The two settings that most whet our appetites, however, would have to be the brief glimpse of gas-mask-clad soldiers sweeping through an airplane, and the scenes set upon a massive cargo ship. This last setting has huge potential - imagine creeping through the claustrophobic hold of a ship, moving through a labyrinthine maze of corridors and rooms with any number of paths and hiding places, before emerging out onto the deck in the midst of a fierce storm, the wind and rain lashing at you through the dark. This setting could be an absolute gem, both in single and multiplayer.
One interesting aspect of the trailer is that while there are some great shots showing off scale - such as a squadron of nine Blackhawks sweeping over a docklands, there really seems to be an emphasis on up close and personal situations; and in particular introducing us to the idea that your enemy isn't going to be faceless. Moving from WWII into the modern age isn't just about more advanced military technology and radically different settings - it's also about global communication, and the power it can hold. This becomes chillingly apparent as the trailer reaches its climax and a man - presumably a terrorist leader, strolls in front of a video camera, gun in hand, before firing at the screen, execution style.
This scene is followed by a shot of a desolate smoking wasteland, a fading mushroom cloud just visible in the left of frame. Earlier in the sequence we see what appears to be a nuclear silo opening - perhaps this mushroom cloud is a direct result of this opening of Pandora's plutonium box? The execution scene is also one of only a couple in the trailer that is displayed from a first person perspective. The other shows a Middle Eastern insurgent with a red neck scarf bursting into a car and knocking you out. Could it be that one of the characters you play in the game is kidnapped then killed off?
While most of the footage takes place from the third person - which means that any of the action could be in-engine cut-scenes - it will be interesting to see if the player will be able to use any of the melee moves from the trailer, such as kicking in doors, sliding into cover and sweeping an enemy off his feet.
Rampant speculation aside, Call of Duty 4 is looking hot. We've only been given the smallest of tastes, but already it's clear that while the era may be new, the combat is going to be every bit as intense.
©2007, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved