This week on Zero Punctuation, the most requested review of all time, Call of Duty 4.
Never let it be said that I am an impressionable twenty-something gaming media prick. If I reviewed every bloody game people told me to, I wouldn't even have the free time to mainline the heroin necessary to keep me from putting a gun between my teeth, so for the most part, I let requests go fuck themselves. The only time I review a game from recommendation is when it's simultaneously recommended by about four thousand bleating lambs, which was the case with Call of Duty 4. This game came recommended more highly than a triple-cunted hooker, and brace yourself for a shock, because it deserves the praise it gets. Mostly.
I was surprised, because I had this presumption about serieses like Call of Duty and Medal of Honor being samey shooters with futile pretensions to realism, time-locked Bill Murray style somewhere between 1941 and 1945, endlessly repeating America's sole moment of glory in living memory by punching out an endless stream of cackling Nazis with one hand and scoffing apple pie with the other. Call of Duty 4, conversely, is set in the present day, which inevitably means that the enemies will either be Arab insurgents, Russians, or both, and the plot will involve the theft of nuclear weapons. And while this turned out to be right on the money, it's executed in a very compelling way.
The plot deals with a conflict in a Middle East country (that tactfully goes unnamed, undoubtedly because the state of that region fluctuates so much that it could be a waterslide park by the time this comes out), and your perspective shifts twitchily between a number of different participants in the conflict, allowing you to experience various different environments and combat styles. The US Marines posted in Unspecifiedistan whoop their way into open warfare with their guns balanced on the end of their massive erections, while the stealth-based British SAS scurry around in the bushes like Cockney weasels. These changes of perspective and gameplay ensure that boredom is impossible. The controls are tight and intuitive enough to be effective however you have to apply them, and to balance the unentertaining seriousness of this sentence: boingo, boingo, whoopsy knickers.
What I like about Call of Duty 4 is that there's less of the smarmy, black-and-white, "My Country, 'Tis of Thee" jingoism that turns me off most war games. While the US Marines act with short-sighted self-righteousness, convinced that they're the heroes in their own personal war movie (you know, just like in real life), their attitude eventually leads to them screwing the pooch so hard that the pooch has to lock itself in the bathroom for an hour with a tube of soothing cream. You spend most of the game with the British SAS as they covertly fix things from behind the scenes, but they're depicted as a bunch of morally questionable, psychotic thugs. Again, just like in real life.
CoD 4 never sacrifices gameplay for story, or vice versa, and that's a principle that many game devs neglect like an orphaned chimney sweep. The sequence that stood out for me was a moment where you Quantum Leap into the body of a chap dying slowly and horribly of radiation poisoning in the aftermath of a nuclear explosion, dragging his useless legs around a wasteland steeped in graveyard stillness before finally breathing his last, unloved and unmourned, thousands of miles from home. It was an unflinching and effective statement, which cheered me up immensely, and not just because I hate my fellow man. It was the turning point that shifted Call of Duty 4 in my eyes from "above-average gun-wank" to "actually pretty excellent gun-wank".
Alright, alright, the use of the word "excellent" should never go unqualified. It's far from perfect; it always seems to be up to you to push forward, because your allies are content to sit in their hidey-holes shooting at endlessly respawning bad guys all damned day. Unless a grenade flushes them out, most likely dropped by me. Some of the characters are difficult to take seriously, like the incidental black marine who unironically raps over the end credits or the SAS commander who has the kind of absurd facial hair that would indeed have given him a proud military bearing circa 1915 but these days just makes him look like a German porn star.
Despite all that, though, I was becoming genuinely attached to the characters, which is why the ending is such a fucking cockslap. It comes out of nowhere in the middle of a fucking gunfight and gives no closure whatsoever, only a completely irrelevant epilogue thing plonked on after the end credits. It's like having a big tasty meal at a nice restaurant, but when you ask for the check, the chef comes over and farts in your face. Oh yeah, and some guns take so long to reload that it'd be faster just to send off for a new one by mail order, but now I'm just nitpicking.
All you need to know is this. There are two kinds of games: games that I stop playing because I've been bored or frustrated into a state approaching rigor mortis, and games that I stop playing because I've just noticed I should have had dinner two hours ago, and Call of Duty 4 is in the latter category. It's a truly shining example of the genre that sucked me in like, well, like a triple-cunted hooker. And now, since this review has left me with a lot of surplus bile, let me close by requesting that if any more of you would like to tell me how to do my job, then please get hurled out of a plane, and land anus first on the spire of Winchester Cathedral.
- Never done an honest day's work in his entire life: Ben "Yahtzee" Croshaw
- Yes, I know, Soap McTavish is a retarded name for a main character, but at least he wasn't called Jake Dynamite like they usually are
- Ask me why I keep posting this email when it only brings me suffering: firstname.lastname@example.org