My daughter has a Nintendo DS, but I'd never had much respect for it. Don't get me wrong; as a fascinating little gadget, it certainly is attractive. No, my nearly complete ability to not lust after it probably had more to do with the games she has, or more importantly, the ones she doesn't have. My view of the DS from my lofty, arrogant PC perch was of Pokemon, Brain Age, and Cooking Mama. Pokemon? Puh-leeze. I'd rather spend a day hand-washing Rosey O'Donnell's voluminous underwear. Brain Age? Well, let's face it: nothing but bad news there for me. Cooking Mama? You know, when you're a grownup and have to, you know, actually cook your own food, a game like Cooking Mama is just about as appealing as Vacuum Cleaning Mama, or even worse, Lawn Mowing Dada. Honestly, I think I can be forgiven for not sparing any of my attention for the DS.
Now obviously you wouldn't be reading this if I hadn't written it, and I wouldn't have sat down to convert keystrokes to pixels unless I had something to say, so the implication is starkly clear: something has happened that changed my opinion of the DS. Well, it happened thusly. It was New Years Eve, a night when burgeoning hermits like me prefer to huddle in our homes watching Andy Griffith re-runs and drinking Sams Club champagne. Bed by 10 pm, that's the way to do it. It wasn't to be this year, though. Facing a family mutiny, I agreed to go to a neighbors house and pretend to celebrate what to me is nothing more than the day that marks the date at which I can no longer put off the onerous task of buying new calendars. Kids everywhere, screaming, shouting, bickering and fighting: basically a living hell for a recluse-in-training.
There I was, camped out in the basement, hoping to avoid the slushy and distinctly uninteresting conversational gambits of inebriated partiers, when I happened to notice that one of the kids was playing some type of deathmatch game on his DS. A closer look showed that a similarly aged child, although slightly younger, was participating in the role of the older kid's pawned bee-yatch. I mean, this little kid was whaling on the younger one. The score finally ended up being 10 – 0 in the older kid's favor.
Now that just didn't seem all that sporting to me. That said, what could I do about it? It's not like I had any chance of avenging the whupping the little guy got, given my complete ineptitude at deathmatch games. The only thing I do worse is co-op. Not worse in the sense that I don't kill players, mind you, but worse in the sense that the only kills I rack up are fratricidal. Believe me, the best player, by far, on the opposing team is me. You simply do NOT want me watching your back, because I'm probably doing it through a scope or the iron sights and with a twitchy, epileptic finger on the trigger. Well, drat the awful luck: he offered to let me play. How could I refuse? Really, if you're going to self-emasculate yourself, you have to have some standards. In front of a Victoria's Secrets model? Sure, who hasn't? In front of a barely teen little boy? Not on your life. The gauntlet had been thrown, and my honor (such as it is) was at stake. I had to accept the challenge.
It wasn't a bloodbath. That's about all I can say. I think I lost 10 – 7. One of those doesn't count, really. We were face to face. He threw a grenade at me. I threw a grenade at him. He turned tail and ran. Being fully in touch with my canine self, I gave chase. What dog wouldn't, after all? It's what we do. And I was catching him, too. Right up until I ran over my own grenade, which chose that exact moment to pretty much do what you would expect a grenade to do. It blew up. I went with it. No, that one doesn't count. But here's the thing: win or lose, it was fun! I had fun playing on a DS!! Who woulda thunk it?
So, what was this game that brought me out of my self-imposed DS abstinence, thereby creating yet another resource conflict with my daughter? I'll give you a hint: it was a game that I've desperately wanted to play, but couldn't for lack of a suitable platform. I don't have an Xbox 360 or a strong enough PC, and neither is likely to be acquired in the near future. Here's another hint: it rhymes very closely with Call Of Duty 4. Rhymes exactly, in fact. I was shocked, of course, not having had any idea that a game of that level of sophistication was available on the lowly DS.
There was an even bigger shock in store for me, though. Get this: only one of the DS's had the game cartridge! The other unit had simply downloaded the client code so that two could play, while only one actually had to buy the game! Now, I'm not saying game publishers are greedy jerks in the manner of say, the RIAA, but I would never have guessed at a level of sanity and beneficence that would exhibit itself in letting two people play for the price of one! I have to confess, I actually felt a slight lessening of my age-related cynicism at that very moment. Shocked, I was. It was at this point that I knew, just KNEW, that I had to have this game.
New Years Day found me in the dreaded Den of the Blue Shirts buying the second to last DS version of CoD4 in the entire city, at least according to a prolonged web search. I rushed home in time to catch the beginning of what would ultimately be hours of football interspersed with playing the single player version of the game. Yes, there was a flaw in my plan: we only have one DS in the family, what with the dog, who could afford one, lacking the opposable digits that would enable him to get much use out of it, and me myself being unable to afford one on my very small monthly stipend. Not to worry, though. The single player is fun too.
Now I'm sure that it doesn't fully compare to the “big” versions with regards to window-shaking sound and eye-bulging cinematics, but it is still a really good game. The controls aren't as comfortable to use as a mouse/keyboard or a nice, beefy console controller, but for the most part they work well. You use the stylus on the lower screen to perform the movement functions that would normally be the purview of the mouse or thumbstick, and the D pad for forward/backward/left/right movement. Either of the buttons on the back of the unit will work as triggers. Go lefties! You're covered too!
There is one thing that drives me nuts, though, and that's the ADS, or Aim Down Sight control. I think this is normally controlled with the right mouse button, but on the DS version it is controlled by a double-tap of the stylus. The problem is that I simply cannot get the timing right on the tapping. I've tried both ends of the sensitivity setting in the options, but its still like a cop: never there when you need it, always there when you don't. I've died any number of times because I either accidentally activated the ADS (which in this case stands for Another Damned Suicide) which fatally slowed my movement speed, or been unable to activate it in time to get off a precisely enough aimed shot. I sincerely wish they had found another, more reliable method for providing this control. It is the one and only thing about the whole game that I didn't like, and was very frustrated with.
It's not as bad as it could have been. I'll say that. The reason that it is more or less bearable is that, at least with the game difficulty set on 'Normal', the enemies are pretty forgiving. They don't move around a lot once they start firing at you, and they often wait a respectable amount of time before opening fire. Face it, the DS is small. If the enemy AI was overly aggressive, you wouldn't stand a chance. With the small delay built in and their propensity for immobile shooting, you have a fair chance. They're tough, though. Unless you can get a good head shot (which requires that darn ADS), you can fill them with more lead than a Chinese pacifier before they keel over. All in all, I think it balances nicely between too hard and too easy, with the result being a good challenge that can be edged towards “pushover” or “bloodbath,” depending on whether you select Easy, Normal, or Hard.
With my frustration with the ADS being what it is, it will be no surprise that my favorite parts were the levels in which I operated a large weapon (or weapons, in the case of the AC-130) that stressed throwing massive amounts of heavy projectiles in the direction of the enemy, rather than precisely aimed little bullets. Ah, those were terrific fun, and I suspect that they are the levels that I will return to when it comes time to use the Quick Play option.
All in all, I'm every bit as impressed with Call of Duty 4 as I expected to be, but for a different reason. I've always been in awe of the immersive abilities of the Call of Duty series on the PC, but never expected to be playing it on a DS. It's a different way of playing, and translates well to the smaller platform. As long as you consider the reduced capabilities of the DS version as compared to a full size console or a strong PC to be worth the trade off in cost and portability, you won't be disappointed.
As reflected in its lower shelf price, CoD4 on the DS doesn't directly compare with the higher end console and PC versions. It's a very good game in its own right, though. And the single-cartridge multiplayer could be the bargain of the year!