I’ve been reviewing Call of Duty 4 over the weekend, a game we haven’t talked about much here as yet. It may have gotten a bit lost in the recent FPS deluge – though I suspect it’ll be a mega-hit on console – and I have to admit I hadn’t been paying a great deal of attention to it myself until now. Possibly because, having found GRAW 2 a bit dull, I wasn’t in much of a hurry to play any more thinly-veiled allusions to the Mess O’Potamia just yet. Discussion on the quality and content of the game I’ll save for once the review’s published, but kindly commissioning editors have given me the go-ahead to briefly mention one moment.
There’s a cutscene after the first mission, only a few minutes into the game, which dropped my jaw. There are no plot spoilers in the following, but if you’d rather experience than read about the inventive approach taken by one of the game’s earliest sequences, you may want to turn away now.
Until then, you’ve been playing as a fresh SAS recruit, in the company of some surprisingly charismatic veteran Brit commandos. Call of Duty traditionally jumps the player into various different characters throughout the course of the game, so I wasn’t surprised to find myself looking through someone else’s eyes all of a sudden. What was unusual was that, apparently, I was set to spend the next chapter of the game playing as the just-kidnapped President of a war-torn Middle Eastern nation. I’m being violently hauled off to a car by two burly men. Will I be rescued? Will I get a bit Harrison Ford in Air Force One any minute now and become Action-President? Is it all a trick? Or something else? I’m not saying – that’s for you to find out. I’m just going to describe what happens first.
Able to look around but not move – I’m a prisoner, after all – I’m taken on a five minute tour of a devastated city. There’s poverty and ruin all around, the constant sound of gunfire, men running from unseen threats, armed soldiers forcing civilians to the ground, a graffiti artist dropping his spray can in terror at the sight of the car I’m in – wait, was that a firing squad? Jets fly overhead, the tide crashes against a coastal wall, and heavy armour rumbles along distant side-streets. Throughout it all, the car radio bellows propaganda about revolution and overthrow, and an invisible crowd cheers after every firebrand sentence. The sneering guy in the passenger seat occasionally gestures at something outside the window, or turns to fix me with a murderous stare, waving his machine gun at me menacingly. I’m nervous, I’m awed – I’m even moved. It creates an incredible sense of place. Okay, so when do I get my gun and go fix this stuff? I am going to get my gun and go fix this stuff, right?
All through this sustained barrage of unique animations, names of the game’s creators blink across the bottom of the screen – this is a pure Hollywood title sequence. Better, I’d argue, than a Hollywood title sequence, as I feel that much more involved. Yeah, I can only move my head – I can’t talk or use anything, but I don’t really notice. I’m a prisoner, and I’m scared and overwhelmed. This is how I rather suspect I’d actually behave in that situation – nothing more than a wide-eyed spectator. It’s the legendary Half-Life train journey intro sequence, but in the midst of a bloody armed uprising.
Fascinating stuff happens beyond, and there are other, more interactive jawdroppers of similar cinematic panache later in the game, but unfortunately I can’t talk about any of that yet. Name me any other game, though, that features an interactive title sequence in which you’re given a guided tour of a revolution-in-progress.