It's fair to say, I have have never been in the army and hence never been to war. On the strength of this game, I don't ever want to be near the front lines.
Call Of Duty 4 is a seriously good game by any standards. I was new to the Call Of Duty series prior to this, not being a huge fan of WWII sim games and I was attracted by the modern setting, and very realistic graphics. I'm going to review the game on the single-player campaign, having not yet tried the online multiplayer, which I'm assured is fantastic.
You play 3 distinct characters in seperate, but interwoven, campaigns; "Soap" McTavish of the SAS, Sgt Paul Jackson of the US Marine Corps and eventually Lt Price of the SAS in a series of flashback missions. Each section handles completely differently. The US Marine ethos of rushing in en masse, all guns blazing is present; the SAS method of dodging from cover to cover, avoiding fire and picking your targets carefully in the dark; but the ghillie suited sneak-em-up mini-campaign is just sublime.
Being a walking shrub feels brilliant. Especially as an entire tank division rolls past you, so close that it almost flattens your fingers, without them detecting you. The tension that is ramped up as you are approached on all sides by hoards of bad guys or as you sneak under a truck while five men, mere inches away, have their backs to you is unsurpassed in any game. You can't help but break into a panicky sweat, whispering "they're gonna see me, they're gonna see me.."
The main campaigns are great too - bullets from your weapons genuinely feel like they connect. There is nothing cartoony about the punishment that your enemies can take as you visit death upon them. Shoot them, they die. You can absorb a bit more flak than they can, but this is probably a good thing from the perspective of making the game too damn hard to play. You can probably crank up the difficulty if you are hell-bent on suffering an early and lonely death, but for me that would make the game maybe a tad too realistic for comfort. If you're stuck in a firefight here, it's scary, disorienting, noisy and brutal. Just, I would imagine, like actually being there. Bullets hit you from all sides. Crouching behind cover does not help when they are behind you so you panic and try to move, then you're just pinned from all sides and nowhere is safe. There's no other game out there that can touch this scale when you are stuck in no-man's land and guns are blazing, literally everywhere around you. One sequence in particular, awaiting an evacuation in the abandoned radioactive city of Pripyat (see also STALKER) is incredibly intense as you are steadily overrun by what seems like an endless tide of assailants.
So that's the action. But the story is really very good - much better than you'd imagine, and (in certain moments) truly surprising! A lot of it develops around a conflict in "The Middle East" (somewhat non-specifically) which is a tad dubious but despite this you do still get a few properly jaw-dropping moments.
Slightly more morally dubious is some of the violence. You might enter a darkened room with your night vision on and see a panicked enemy soldier, shivering on the floor in a corner, yelping at shadows and firing random shots at thin air. But one sequence in particular makes you feel very uneasy; when you are in charge of the weaponry of a US warplane, all rendered in the grainy infra-red that we've all seen on news footage of smart bombs being dropped down chimneys. Wipe out a tiny enemy soldier and be rewarded with voice-overs such as "That's a good kill", or "watch it, we've got a runner", or worse still "Heh heh, I can see parts down there". To me that's just a bit inhuman and unnecessarily desensitising. But then again, if you've always wanted to be rewarded for killing from afar with vastly a ridiculously superior arsenal then I'm sure it will float your boat. It's just that, for me, the game feels a little too close to reality already, so this is just maybe a little too cold, even cynical. This is a very adult theme and it's worrying how many kids will play this. Perhaps I'm just eulogising though.
Despite this misgiving, I do strongly recommend Call Of Duty 4 as a gaming experience. As modern warfare shooters go, it's just about peerless in terms of what it puts you through. It looks outstanding, tension is almost unbearable, and these are the least wimpy guns I think you'll ever use in a game. Above all, it plays very, very well. You won't be disappointed in the single-player mode, but it's fair to warn you that you might well feel, at times, more than a little uncomfortable. To be fair though, I do believe that a good game should challenge you, and not necessarily just in terms of difficulty.