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The folks here at Activision were kind (and understanding) enough not to have me go down on the show floor with the frenzied teens, and instead, come up here to their meeting room, where I got to sit down for the demo X360 and play two single-player missions from Call of Duty 4.
All of the stuff we've written about so far, outside of what Vince covered in his multiplayer preview, was actually seeing the game being played by one of the developers. This time, for the first time, I actually set down, fired up the Xbox 360 and played those two missions myself.
This was a really good thing.
The game feels a lot more fluid and grittier when you actually sit down and play for yourself. You'd think you'd get a good enough feeling for the gameplay when you just watch the action, but that's entirely not the case. Playing it goes beyond the 'wow' factor and it feels smooth.
I started off by playing the boat mission (Cargo), where you take control of a British SAS soldier as your squad makes their way through a smugglers ship to recover a certain manifesto revealing a shipment of nuclear warheads. When I watched the mission, it seemed to play like Rainbow Six a little, but that's actually not the case. When you sit down to play it, you get the tried and proved feeling of a Call of Duty game. Your squad navigates excellently through the environment, and as in other CoD games, you move from a chokepoint to chokepoint so to speak, taking out bad guys before advancing ahead. Obviously, Cargo plays like your classic indoor mission, but I have to say, the whole feeling of the rocking boat adds a whole new dimension to the gameplay. When aiming down on iron sight, you actually feel the rocking of the boat (big time), and as you aim down for a while longer, your hand gets to tire, so you become less accurate. This adds a nice little dynamic almost within the gameplay itself that feels really good as you play.
As the dramatic moment in the mission approaches and the boat is hit and starts sinking, the intensity of the mission picks up exponentially. As you and your squad are rushing through the sinking hull of the ship, you actually get that sense of urgency and panic as it becomes much harder to look ahead, or navigate through tight corridors. The game makes it harder on you, and this adds so much to the dramatic. The boat is now rocking like a Tokyo earthquake.
The mission ends with your desperation leap into the rescue helicopter. This is, from what I could understand, actually the very first mission in the game, so prepare yourself for a hectic ride right at the outset.
The second mission called the Bog, sees you and your team of marines battling in the Middle East. Conceptually, this is very much a classic Call of Duty mission, much more so than the Cargo. The visuals look extremely detailed and crisp, so at first, I spent a couple of seconds just admiring the detail on my weapon. Naturally, this is an action-packed mission, so you won't really get much time to enjoy the scenery. In classic CoD fashion, the player fights his way through chokepoints under heavy fire, taking note of heavy machine gun nests and enemy ambushes. The mission then moves into the narrow corridors of Middle Eastern style buildings, where the action truly gets up close and personal. At one point in the mission, I saw an enemy RPG lying down on the floor and I went for it. Yes, I was in a really tight space too. Needless to say, this produced some fun moments, for me AND my boys (who probably wanted to kill me afterwards).
The Bog mission culminates with the defense of a US tank stranded behind lines. As you can imagine, the action intensifies up to a point where you almost feel like you're being swarmed by a small army. You know the drill. Still, the Bog mission felt sharper, with tighter AI than any other CoD game I've played.
Having done my previewing on an Xbox 360, I can tell you that the controls were perfectly intuitive, exactly what you'd expect from a high profile FPS. I was able to pick it up and immediately get into the groove of things.
Overall, CoD 4 is looking like a great game. After actually sitting down to play it, I'm even more anxious to get my hands on it on November 5.