Platforms: Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PC, DS - Xbox 360 version reviewed.
Here's the story so far. In 2003 Infinity Ward - a new developer made up of much of the team that produced Medal of Honor: Allied Assault for the PC - produce a game that instantly redefines both the WWII shooter and the military FPS as a sub-genre. In 2005 the same developer produces a follow-up that gives us our first glimpse of what next-generation console hardware and high-end PC graphics can achieve. Call of Duty 2 isn't just visually and technically accomplished; it's a masterclass in how to orchestrate a fairly linear FPS so that it becomes an almost overwhelmingly immersive and cinematic experience. It sells bucketloads on the PC and Xbox 360, and for about a year becomes the most played game on Xbox Live.
But now the tragic twist in the tale. Infinity Ward and publishers Activision hand over development of a third, Xbox 360 and PS3 only Call of Duty to a second developer, Treyarch. The results are excellent - when you're playing it online with other players. Sadly, the single-player mode is a bit of a disaster. It still has moments of grandeur and tension, but for the most part it's unfocused, monotonous and messy. This left us with a couple of questions. Why did Infinity Ward hand over development to Treyarch, and what was the team up to while its beloved series was being mangled?
The answer to both questions appears to be Call of Duty 4. If so, then the hours I sacrificed to that game suddenly don't seem so completely useless. If one poor CoD is the price we paid to get this one, then it's a price I'm happy to have paid. We've known for ages that this was the game where Infinity Ward left WWII behind for contemporary action, but what I didn't expect was how excellent and different the new game would turn out to be. CoD4 takes everything that's great about the CoD experience - the carefully staged action, the big cinematic set-pieces, the intelligent squad AI, the awesome sound and graphics - and makes it all work for a different age and a different mode of combat. The effect is a bit like a turbo-charged G.R.A.W. or Rainbow Six, but with all the tricky strategy stuff dialled down and the action turned up to the max.