When Treyarch first announced that they'd be porting Infinity Ward's two-year-old Xbox 360/PS3/PC powerhouse Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare to Wii, nobody seemed to think that the game would faithfully translate to Nintendo's underpowered console. The first screens were laughed at and the game seemed poised to be a disaster of Dead Rising: Chop 'Til You Drop proportions. It just seemed like a bad idea that wouldn't work. It shouldn't work, right? But it does; it honest-to-goodness does.
What stands out the most isn't how many corners Treyarch had to cut to cram the experience on weaker tech but just how much they managed to keep intact. Reflex stands toe-to-toe with nearly every feature and gameplay mode found in the HD original, in both the single-player campaign and online multiplayer, while sharpening the controls and pushing the Wii harder than most developers bother to.
It's tough to recommend Reflex without hesitation as there are a lot of factors to consider for this two-year-old title. If you're a shooter fan, odds are good you've already found some way to blast through the campaign and destroy the multiplayer modes, and unless you really want pointer controls then Reflex is not for you. If you haven't played it but own a capable PC or HD console, you're likely better off with that version, or even Modern Warfare 2. However, if you're a Nintendo stalwart who hasn't ventured into multiconsole terrain for the past two years then you're in for a treat, even more so if you want a serious online multiplayer experience.
Reflex obviously can't compete with its older siblings' photorealistic HD visuals, but it's still unmistakably Modern Warfare. Environments and character models are less detailed, lighting isn't as dynamic, explosions and smoke don't look as cool and all of the videos are noticeably compressed. But what's here is still great-looking and one of the best use of realistic visuals on the console so far. Screens make it look like a muddied, low-res mess compared to its HD outing, but seeing the game in motion smacks those suspicions in the face. It's relatively smooth too, although the framerate takes a minor hit when there's massive chaos on the battlefield but never to the point of being unplayable.
The story centers on both SAS and Marine Corps. squads in the near future, tasked with stopping a radical group in an unnamed Middle Eastern country and an ultranationalist Russian movement who have managed to get their hands on nuclear missiles. It's solid, but where Modern Warfare shines is in its intense set-pieces throughout the campaign, all of which made the jump to Reflex. Missions haven't shrunk or been broken up and things get equally chaotic, another impressive feat on Treyarch's part. You'll infiltrate a ship and escape as it sinks, control an AC-130 gunship in detached combat, fight in an impressive nightvision battle and take out tanks with a really cool rocket launcher, and that's only the first few missions. Combat is intense, and harder difficulties do not mess around.
What gave the HD game legs was its multiplayer mode, which has been brought over also largely intact. Treyarch's previous Call of Duty Wii effort, World at War, made an admirable attempt to bring its online multiplayer to Wii despite only including two standard multiplayer modes (Free-For-All and Team Deathmatch) with Hardcore variants, a whopping four options. Reflex squeezes every single one of its source modes in and manages to take the top spot for most robust online shooting experience on Wii, easily trumping World at War and The Conduit. The leveling/unlocking system is intact, complete with all of the perks and challenges that encourage continued play and helped make Modern Warfare an online giant. There have been sacrifices, though: the max amount of players has been cut from the original's 18 to 10, no DLC and Wii Speak is not supported. Lag is kept down to a minimum and additional visual sacrifices aren't noticeable. Local deathmatch is a no-no, but there's a two-player Arcade mode that allows a second Remote to assist in blasting terrorists lightgun-style. Unless you're extremely attached to the WWII theme, World at War Wii vets will want to make the upgrade post-haste.
Control is fluid and customizable but not to the same level as The Conduit. Aiming is precise and the dead zone bounding box size and turn sensitivity can be tweaked to be as fast or slow as you'd like. Motion control is optional and non-intrusive; if you'd like you can use gestures for reloading and switching grenade types, and those who'd rather everything be button-based are but a menu option away.
Hats off to Treyarch for showing that a crown jewel HD game can work well on Wii. It's not the best version of the game, but Wii-only owners who have yet to experience one of the biggest shooters of the decade now have a very good opportunity to do so. With a strong campaign and a rock-solid multiplayer that will keep you playing well into the new year, Reflex shames its competition and delivers a great FPS package. Developers, take note: this is how you do a Wii port.