Five minutes in and I find myself in a scenario unusual for Modern Warfare - no-one is shooting at me.
Having been parachuted into the middle of a warzone in the badlands of Afghanistan, an airstrike has just levelled part of the suburb meters in front of our position. It was close. So close it almost killed our team. As we progress through the deserted streets debris and glowing ash fleck the hot air and it's deadly silent. Too silent. That kind of silence when you know something louder than God is brewing. The tension builds.
Watch the first part of this tense sequence for yourself below
Then it happens, just like I can only imagine it happens for real in the disorienting chaos of urban combat. The crack of sniper fire comes from nowhere. Should we fire? Then an RPG soars out of a building and slams into the ground just in front of our vehicle. The rest is inevitable.
The game sits me (or rather Joseph Allen) at a gun turret on the roof of an armoured vehicle and I fire at anything that moves. This isn't precise marksmanship - I'm just shooting blindly into the space in front of me. Am I hitting things? Probably - there’s blood everywhere. Are they enemies? Not sure. Do I care? No, because I've just got to get out of this Afghan slum alive, whatever the consequences. Strangely, I find myself smiling.
It's worth dropping in a film reference here as it helps to explain that strange, inexplicable enjoyment that can be had from being involved in a near-death situation. It's the opening quote from The Hurt Locker, a recent US film about a bomb disposal team in the Iraq war; "War is a drug".
I'm frequently reminded of this during the course of the game - also because the film revolves around a series of highly suspenseful missions interspersed by staggering set-pieces. Which is kind of Modern Warfare's bag. That's not to say this sequel is as close to reality as The Hurt Locker. Far from it - it's pure fantasy.
Above: A later mission at a boneyard airfield where it goes *insane*
Modern Warfare 2's 'story' is just one of a trilogy of game options alongside Spec Ops and Multiplayer (more later). Compared to the original, it's even more far-fetched to the point of being downright preposterous. Not just in the sense that it deals with an apocalyptic vision of the US mainland under siege but also in the twists and turns that afflict the fate of its cast.
The reasoning for this may be to deal with decreasing attention-spans of today's gamers, but also because it gives Infinity Ward free reign to explore a whole host of locations, environments and combat styles. Whatever, it's never boring - but occasionally confusing.
Above: Fighting in middle-class American suburbs
If I'm totally honest, I can't remember some of the key plot points due to their contrived nature - and I completed the game just two days prior to writing the review. The central premise is simple enough though: Russia has invaded America and you schizophrenically flit through a series of characters in the elite ‘141’ special forces as Gary ‘Roach’ Sanderson and the US Rangers, in an effort to end the war and get to the bottom of why it happened. And of course, it's personal.
Fundamentally, the game controls identically to the original, which can only be seen as a good thing - except in one area (which I'll come back to) and weapons are as weighty and powerful as ever. The emphasis shifts between all-out dogged infantry warfare (as the US Rangers) and more covert special-ops infiltration and wet work (as 141).
Visually, the improvements are kind of minimal, most noticeably an increased level of destructibility to the environments. In most cases this means objects in your line of fire are blown to bits, but also that you can shoot the caged chickens in South American market place.
Above: In key areas smoke shields can be penetrated with a new thermal-imaging scope
In addition, more things obscure your vision - like a revamped visor blood splatter indicating you've taken a hit and impressive swirling smoke, mist and snow effects requiring you to switch to the new thermal imaging scope or night vision goggles. We might be doing IW a disservice here, but in fairness you’re so focused down the middle of your sights for 85% of the game, only a bystander would spot some of the more understated visual polish.
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