The PC-and-console version of Call of Duty 4rocks as much as expected. But at a recent hands-on session, the DS take also impressed. The 3D graphics look surprisingly good; after a few minutes of settling in, I stopped scrutinizing textures and focused on the gameplay. And that gameplay carries the title.
COD4 switches between FPS sequences, helicopter-gunner modes, bomb-disarming moments, and AC-130 gunship sections. The DS version feels full of care and craft, from thought put into controls, to the segmented sessions that play well on a handheld.
The COD4 FPS levels follow tangentially alongside the PC/console story. You'll be thrust into similar locations with missions that loosely relate to that game. But other than those references, the DS objectives stand alone.
The FPS controls felt good in my session. The touchscreen shows a map of the area, including highlighted friends and foes. Gun and grenade icons on the left side change the weapon, and stylus movement looks and aims. I quickly got used to it all, running with the D-pad while shooting enemies with L.
A few extra combinations -- two D-pad taps crouch or sprint -- add more depth. As I trotted through dusty streets, I even double-tapped the stylus to sight down the gun and tapped the weapon icon to reload. These controls worked well, and lefties can use AB/XY for movement.
Between FPS levels, different heavy-gun modes break up monotony. While I tried gunning from a helicopter -- it feels like a decent on-rails shooter -- I was most impressed with AC-130 sequences. In these, you watch through the plane's overhead, thermal-imaging camera as an allied team scurries through enemy areas. You blast a few different guns to clear the route for the squad, keeping foes away. I initially frowned at the thought of an escort mission. But while that's the basic idea, I had fun firing three big guns from the sky to protect my soldiers.
Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare for the DS has been designed with care; surprisingly, it doesn't feel like a port shoveled onto a handheld. Extensive voice recordings even order players through the game. Four-player games are also supported, making good use of ad-hoc networking. (Two maps work with a single copy of the game, while the full seven require one game per player.) Most of all, the Call of Duty's variety and many points to start and stop make it ideal for a handheld. Along with the PC and console games, the DS title launches November 5.