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Call of Duty Wii: Not so Modern Warfare?

Digital Foundry analysis, comparison vids.

So, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Reflex on the Wii. The basic idea of bringing one of the most advanced HD console shooters to the Nintendo platform sounds ludicrous, but Activision in concert with its Treyarch development studio has only gone ahead and done it, and the result is pleasantly surprising. Wii owners get a surprisingly fully-featured rendition, which even includes the lion's share of the online gameplay as well as the customary Wiimote-powered "waggle" controls that you won't have experienced in the initial release.

The notion of porting Modern Warfare to the Wii isn't so whacked out or as ker-azy as you might initially think for a number of reasons. The first Modern Warfare's core engine still has a fair amount of DNA left over from the Quake tech upon which the Call of Duty franchise itself was born. The basic setup of the levels in Modern Warfare offers little that any last-generation shooter couldn't cope with, and this is born out by the quality of the conversion in the Wii game.

Content-wise, it's pretty much all there. Compare and contrast with the new stages in Modern Warfare 2, streaming and decompressing on the fly from the disc - providing a vastness of scale never seen in the series before, and almost impossible to replicate on Wii without some serious re-engineering.

More than that, in some development circles, there is the school of thought that porting over your Xbox 360 game to the Wii is actually easier than it is in developing it for the PS3 (swap over the 360/PS3 roles if you like, the point remains the same). Essentially, in a market that demands platform parity in its HD console releases, the amount of effort required to achieve this is pretty exhaustive bearing in mind how different the base architecture is. In porting over to the Wii, developers face no such pressure - they have carte blanche to cut down and remove whatever they like, just so long as the final result looks okay and is playable.

Modern Warfare on the Wii. Graphically rather functional, but the last-gen elements of the core engine tech help make the transition to Wii easier to swallow.

That's exactly what Treyarch has done with Modern Warfare. Texture detail and geometry levels are savagely hacked down, lighting effects and shadowing are brutally pared back, frame-rate is cut from 60FPS down to the more manageable 30FPS (and even then it has trouble sustaining it in some of the more sustained firefights). The whole lighting model has been adjusted to such a degree that the night-vision section in The Bog is entirely superfluous - despite the game nagging you to don the goggles, the section remains so bright you don't actually need to.

Graphically, Reflex is functional, looking pretty much as you'd imagine a PS2 version to look if handled by a reasonably competent developer, but put it this way - Criterion's Black this ain't. However, stick the Wii game into a side-by-side comparison with the PS3 version and you can see that despite the vast array of cutbacks and compromises, it does a good enough job of capturing the look of the original.

A standard def head-to-head between the Wii and PS3 versions of Modern Warfare. The Wii game is serviceable enough but when Criterion's Black still looks so much better, it's clear that no technological barriers are being pushed back on the Nintendo console.

Reflex follows a very different gameplay strategy than its HD siblings. Infinity Ward prides itself on ultra-low latency controller feedback and targets 60FPS gameplay to achieve that. In the drop down to 30FPS, that feedback has been compromised, but then again, the IW control system itself is history.

In swapping out the joypad for the remote (no MotionPlus support, sorry), the lack of 60FPS doesn't really matter bearing in mind the additional "latency" of dropping the controller-based system for the use of the remote instead. Moving your arm about incurs much more "lag" than using your fingers and thumbs on the tried-and-tested joypad - the trade-off being that pointing with the Wiimote should feel more instinctual, and you should be able to target the enemy more quickly.

The Wii's waggle system operates on a similar basis to the scheme found in The Conduit and there are moments where Reflex feels great. Running across the battlefield, firing from hip, works beautifully in that you can spray fire anywhere you want, without it affecting the direction you're running in - you can't do that so easily on the HD console versions. Similarly, the process of using ironsights, the sniper scope or just lobbing a grenade is transformed completely. If the overall "aim" in using these modes is to get more precision and control, the effect is boosted immeasurably through the use of the Wii remote's infra-red pointer.

However, over and above these aspects, the awkward button placement on the controller makes things difficult for anything other than running and gunning and it's here that the control system is left wanting. Lobbing flashbangs and grenades with the plus and minus buttons involves a clumsy rearrangement of your fingers on the remote - chucking back thrown grenades is particularly time-consuming and unwieldy. Attaching the knife to the down button on the d-pad also kills off the whole notion of having an instant form of close-range kill due to the time it takes to move your fingers into position. Over and above that, there is still the notion that simulating head movement by pointing the view weapon to the far left or far right of the screen feels rather unnatural.

That said, there is something here that - when it works - feels worthwhile, and it makes you wonder just what sort of implementation we could see with the Sony motion controller. If the system's mooted PlayStation Eye head-tracking tech (coming to GT5) works well with minimal latency, this could solve the view weapon issue. That, combined with the extra precision from the Sony controller, could make all the difference. A patched up, motion-controlled Modern Warfare on PS3? That's something I'd love to see.

Look out for our review of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare Reflex, with more on the online modes in particular, soon.