By Nathan Steinke
I have loved the intensity and atmosphere of Activision’s Call of Duty series since the first installment came out in 2003. I remember buying surround sound speakers specifically for Call of Duty 2 and experienced being enveloped in audio from all angles for the first time. The squad based feel of team members helping me out has always been appealing, and I was excited to try Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. With all the good reviews and a friend’s personal recommendation from playing on a PS3, I was most interested to see how the game would run in stereoscopic 3D (S-3D) given some positive results I had with shutter glasses on previous Call of Duty titles.
I fired up COD4 with some good first impressions including gripping action from the get-go, out of screen effects on my iZ3D monitor, and immersive visual experiences. Given my limited computer specs (e.g. 256MB 7900GS graphics card), smooth frame rates were only possible at 1024×768 with medium settings. However, this review was amended by MTBS with more modern equipment.
Story and Presentation:
COD4 is a first person shooter, and you get to play from the perspective of different characters throughout the story. You play a novice member of the 22nd SAS Regiment (Sergeant John “Soap” MacTavish), Lieutenant Price, and a US Marine named Sergeant Paul Jackson. The most notable enemy is Imran Zakhaev, whose appearance reminds me of Bitores Mendes from Resident Evil 4. Zakhaev is a Russian ultra-nationalist wanting to bring Russia back to ultimate power by cleverly getting a Middle East terrorist named Al-Asad to help him. Your task through various missions, some shocking and powerful, is to stop them by fighting in the Middle East, Russia, and other international locations.
One of the most effective storytelling sequences happens in the second level when you are taking a car ride through a town through the eyes of a political prisoner. It was striking to hear the trance-like drone of the drums while seeing the crowded, brutal, and dusty streets firsthand. The speech delivered through a megaphone during the ride was both a chilling and effective backdrop to the visuals. I think you will find the story is filled with surprises.
The mix of levels from shooting from a plane, to ground combat, and one level seamlessly combining the two by softening up the enemy ground troops from the air, and then landing to reinforce squad mates on the ground gave a nice variety to the game.
“All Ghillied Up”, a chapter giving some history from fifteen years ago, has to be one of the best sequences I’ve ever played. I enjoy cooperative game play, and this session is led by “McMillan”, an experienced sniper.
You are mostly told what actions to take but are given some choices whether to use stealth or force. You can be hiding in the weeds waiting and wondering whether or not you’ve been discovered. I often got impatient while crawling under cars waiting for people, and it was cool that when I was about to do something foolish like shooting prematurely, McMillan would remind me to be patient and not to do anything stupid – it was just awesome!
The on-screen compass is a big help to focus on enjoying the game instead of trying to figure out where you are supposed to go. One of the few negatives that I can think of is that due to scripting, if you don’t walk to the next trigger point, people will stand around doing nothing while they wait for you to move ahead.
I was so into the game, it was a disappointment to get distracted and realize that I was just sitting in my living room, and not in the middle of an intense virtual battle.
Sound cues are helpful for getting the job done. For example, on the battlefield your squad mates will yell things like “Enemy at 11 o’clock, 2nd floor”, and you will get commentary on your firing during the gunner level.
The surround sound support was effective to deepen the experience of being in the midst of a battle, with grenades and bullets echoing by and resounding from all around me. The voice acting is also top notch with rich accents and impassioned delivery of lines. The music is good too and effectively elevates the level of emotion in the game.
I was impressed with the early sequence on the ship and how the audio cues flowed together so nicely from different members of the team. “Watch right”, “I’ve been saving this gun for occasions like this”, and other comments combined with rich accents make you feel like you’re part of a real team while playing the game.
This game looks exceptional in S-3D, and is one of the best games I have tried so far in this regard. It has very few distracting anomalies, and I was able to achieve a good depth and pop-out effect.
A good example in COD4 was when I was crouching and lurking in the weeds at dusk near a trickling stream. I was hoping I wouldn’t be seen by the sentries at the upcoming bridge, and seeing the blades of grass piercing through my monitor and shifting my focus off into the distance really gives a strong sense of immersion. I tried turning off stereoscopic 3D for a few minutes and then back on, and it was clear that the 3D depth really added a lot to the game’s visual experience.
There are some excellent sequences in the game where the S-3D viewing really shines! For example, in the car ride I alluded to earlier, the captured political prisoner’s perspective in the Middle East has a slowly building tension. You start to squirm in your seat wanting to jump out of the car and make a mad sprint down a side alley. The scene reaches a scary climax of having a gun in your face (literally!), and the stereoscopic 3D added a frightening realism that would not have otherwise been possible.
You are really thrown in the game in the introduction level when you’re making a dash to get off a ship that is falling apart at the seams. Salt water is spraying all over the place, metal panels are shearing off the support beams and flying across your path – even the camera angle is tilted to the right and left, giving you that awkward and off balance feel. All of that, combined with the S-3D depth and pop-out effects really pushes a feeling of panic and urgency to get off the ship and make it to the rescue chopper on time.
With the iZ3D solution, there are sequences where the background is improperly rendered at screen depth, and does not come across correctly. There are also rare occasions where shadows won’t render properly in both eyes. iZ3D has been informed of the issues for a future correction. Finally, if you enjoy playing multiplayer, you will not be able to play on PunkBuster servers because the iZ3D stereo driver is falsely declared as a cheat.
It should take six to ten hours to complete the single player campaign. In this six to ten hours, you will find a tight story, dense action and memorable plot development. My experience reinforced what I had heard from others, and I think it is difficult to fully appreciate all that had been poured into this game: the mixing of script, the storyline, the game play, the sound, and the beautiful pacing. All these elements made COD4 truly amazing.
Call of Duty 4 could be the best experience I have had in stereoscopic 3D so far, and is in my personal top ten list of gaming experiences of all time. Incredible.
MTBS Amendment by Neil Schneider:
With the iZ3D stereoscopic driver solution, expect to achieve playable performance with 7900GTX or better graphics cards at 1680 X 1050 resolution. We have successfully tested the game on an NVIDIA 8800GTS 512 and an ATI 3870X2 with very satisfying results. Anisotropic filtering is the only set-back where performance became seriously hampered with the 8800GTS 512 when set too high. The ATI 3870X2 was not affected this way – probably because it has 1GB of GPU RAM and has some speed advantages thanks to its dual GPU architecture.
There is an important clarification that needs to be made. While this is not a limitation of the AMD hardware, the iZ3D development team is still working on anti-aliasing compatibility with ATI graphics cards. In the meantime, regardless of the AA settings used in the game, the iZ3D driver forces the anti-aliasing off to maintain the best S-3D compatibility with AMD graphics cards. My earlier remark about anisotropic filtering having more flexibility with the AMD3870X2 than the 8800GTS 512 is most likely due to the fact that the high level of anti-aliasing was not actually present with the ATI GPU, and the memory resources being used was significantly less.
What is interesting is despite having played my share of games on the 8800GTS 512 prior to installing the 3870X2, I didn’t notice the lack of AA in the game. This may indeed be an indicator that anti-aliasing is far less important in stereoscopic 3D games in higher resolution situations.
The system specs for the iZ3D solution included the following:
Athlon 64 X2 Socket 939 4600+
4GB Ram (3GB usable by XP)
8800GTS 512 and ATI 3870X2
XP Home SP3
We did test Call of Duty 4 with the modern NVIDIA S-3D driver solution (stereo driver version 174.76 on Vista). Visually, it was successful, but there is a performance bug that makes the game unplayable with the 8800GTS 512, and the game is too overpowering for the 8600GT.
We are hopeful the next driver update will resolve this bug, and we will adjust NVIDIA’s portion of this review accordingly. Until then, we are maintaining a TBD status until further notice. For those that can get it to run well, turn “Glow” and “Depth of Field” off in the COD4 settings when running on the NVIDIA drivers.
How Memorable Is This Game
Stereoscopic Effectiveness iZ3D
Stereoscopic Effectiveness NVIDIA
iZ3D Overall Rating
NVIDIA Overall Rating