Review: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (Mac)

CoD4-Mac.jpgThere is a reason why Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare on PC and consoles has remained so popular for nearly a year since release – it is an excellent game.  Often by the time a game is ported to the Mac players on other platforms have moved on to other games, making multiplayer matchups difficult and sharing the single player experience irrelevant.  This was certainly the case with the recent release of Fable: The Lost Chapters, which hit the XBOX in fall 2004 and PC a year later in fall 2005.  Three years is a very long time to move to the Mac from the PC, and that was reflected by the interest shown by Mac gamers slowly waning to the point that the actual release was met with a collective yawn.  Three years is too long, but one year is not too bad at all – again witness the huge outpouring of excitement of Mac gaming forums.

The single player campaign remains something I feel conflicted about: in my original PC review I said “regardless of how good the game is, I am still stuck with a criticism I always seem to make of these games – they are too short. You will complete it in 4 – 5 hours if you have any experience with first person shooters. And since the games are extremely scripted, replaying them means encountering the same battles fought the same way time and again – in other words there is little inherent replay value outside of multiplayer.” Yet a year later I worked my way through those 4 – 5 hours with the same excitement and joy and fear I experienced the first time.

The game’s subtitle “Modern Warfare” is truth in advertising: gone is the tired feeling World War II shooter series that seemed to be degrading with each entry, replaced with a game encompassing two scenarios of unrest that look and feel very realistic in today’s world.  This is a game that has upped the ante on a number of levels from previous shooters – it looks, feels and plays better and more intense than just about any other war shooter ever made.

In our review of Call of Duty 2 we noted that it was “an extremely intense and violent first-person shooter that uses scripting and a new graphics engine very effectively to make you feel immersed in World War II.” Call of Duty 4 is even more intense, more realistic, more brutal in every way – and therefore it is rated M. It isn’t just about blood and guts, not just about the amount of strong language – it is about taking you into the depths of brutal engagements that mirror some of the problems happening in the world right now. It connects you to current events and takes it a step further – no longer are you the hero who can live to save the say and win the battle. In this game you truly are just one of a larger force who can die at any moment. It is a subtle change, as it is scripted and not a game-ending event, but that doesn’t lessen the impact.

Technically the game is superb, as is the Mac port: action is fast-paced but not arcade-like; weapons look, feel and sound realistic; the chatter between soldiers and orders from officers put you right in the middle of the action.  Specific to the Mac port, both the DVD and download versions install easily, though there have been reports of some people having problems getting the download from GameAgent working for them.  Personally my download was pegged at 500kB/sec and the whole game came down in under four hours, at which point I backed up the download file and proceeded to install using the code I had been emailed.  Everything went smoothly and I was quickly up and playing the game.

Of course there is an immediate irony that struck me while typing that last paragraph: I spent about four hours downloading a game that only takes about five hours to complete.  That brings me back to my main point of contention with the game: it is a really short single player game.  Which, of course, is why it is a very good thing that the multiplayer game is excellent.  As I mentioned at the beginning, the game remains extremely popular on the PC, XBOX 360 and PS3 based on the multiplayer game, and now Mac gamers get to join the fun.  As initially released the Mac client wasn’t compatible with the PC servers, which was good in a way … I am a decent FPS player, but never put in the time to become more than a middling player on multiplayer maps.  So when the PC game came out there was a short period where I could compete on equal terms with others just getting the lay of the land.  A year later it is a much different world, much more difficult for new players.  So a short period of Mac only gaming gave us a bit of time before jumping into the cold cruel world of multiplatform multiplayer.  Fortunately the game is every bit as excellent for multiplayer on the Mac as it is everywhere else.  The only complaint I have is that there is no Mac XFire client so you can’t find games through that service … but that is out of Aspyr’s hands.  Too often the Mac release of a game comes too late to benefit from being able to join with a community of diverse talents, so this is a very refreshing change that will give Mac gamers loads of extra value.

The final thing I want to discuss is the DRM scheme if you buy the game online through Aspyr’s GameAgent service.  DRM stands for ‘digital rights management’ and is a form of copy protection aimed at preventing piracy.  If you buy the retail disk you simply install, enter your serial number and get to playing.  Aspyr’s new GameAgent offers online purchase and secure download of select Aspyr games, with Call of Duty 4 being the first.  The Mac forums caught fire when the game was released with complaints about download speed, failed downloads, failed installs and so on.  This is to be expected for such a highly anticipated game on a new service.  Anyone who bought Half-Life 2 through Steam right at release remembers this sort of thing well.

The concern for many users was that they would be chewing through their limited number of activations and downloads.  This is because GameAgent uses a DRM system that limits the number of downloads, the time between purchase and download, the number of computers you can install the game on, and the number of activations.  In detail, you can install the game on up to two computers, and activate up to ten times.  There is no deauthorization method, so when you’re done you’re done.  GameAgent offers an optional (i.e. costs additional money) ‘protection plan’ that allows for more downloads over a two-year time period.  This system – download-limits, hardware-limits, and activation-limits – is the most … um … limited in the industry: Steam would still download and install a fresh copy of Half-Life 2 for me on my new laptop last week despite having installed and uninstalled it countless times on perhaps a dozen laptops over the last four years.  Similarly Direct2Drive and GamersGate allow you to redownload games you bought once you have your account set up.  Even EA games, which has similar limits for some things, allowed me to reinstall Crysis again despite having bought it last year and not added download protection.

Am I saying that GameAgent is anti-consumer?  Yes.  Buying the retail copy will allow you to install and uninstall without limit for all eternity so long as you have compatible hardware.  We all know that this game is either already pirated or will be soon enough.  Therefore this draconian system punishes one group: those who choose to buy it through GameAgent.  That is really unfortunate – especially since shelf space for Mac games is almost non-existent.  When I heard about GameAgent I was thrilled – Mac games need no longer be limited to a few online channels, but could be easily grabbed in digital form.  Then I discovered that what was offered cost more than the retail copy and had a very short expiration period.  Sadly, in this state I have to strongly recommend avoiding GameAgent at all possible costs.  Forget convenience, buy from somewhere else.

OK, enough negativity – let’s get back to the awesome game that is Call of Duty 4 and the wonderful job Aspyr did bringing it to the Mac.  It is pretty simple math here: if you are a FPS fan of any sort, and if you have a Mac that will play this game (need either a Macbook Pro or other recent Mac with discrete graphics), then you owe it to yourself to buy this game.  The game itself is excellent, and Aspyr did a fantastic porting job.  There are retail channels or Amazon available to get your physical copy of the game and completely remove my rant about GameAgent from the equation.  But regardless of whether you buy the digital download or physical copy, you will be getting an excellent value for your money and a game that is sure to keep you busy for many, many hours.


+ Excellent technical presentation.
+ Superb port of a superb game.
+ Intense action with realistic sights and sounds.
+ Lively multiplayer community between Mac & PC versions.

– Very short single player game
– Demanding system requirements
– Lack of third-party matchmaking options (e.g. XFire)

Game Info:
Platform: Reviewed for Mac, previously released for XBOX 360, PS3 and PC
Publisher: Aspyr
Developer: Infinity Ward (Aspyr responsible for port)
Release Date: 9/30/08
Genre: FPS
ESRB Rating: Mature
Players: 1 – 32
Source: Review code provided by publisher

About the Author

I have loved technology for as long as I can remember - and have been a computer gamer since the PDP-10! Mobile Technology has played a major role in my life - I have used an electronic companion since the HP95LX more than 20 years ago, and have been a 'Laptop First' person since my Compaq LTE Lite 3/20 and Powerbook 170 back in 1991! As an avid gamer and gadget-junkie I was constantly asked for my opinions on new technology, which led to writing small blurbs ... and eventually becoming a reviewer many years ago. My family is my biggest priority in life, and they alternate between loving and tolerating my gaming and gadget hobbies ... but ultimately benefits from the addition of technology to our lives!