As usual, the audio doesn't disappoint, either, with a typically grandiose Harry Gregson-Williams score, roaring gun effects, massive explosions and a wonderful use of surround effects. If you've got the gear, this is one game you'll want to crank up the volume to - just make sure the neighbours are out. A special mention to the voice casting, too - with some of the most memorable character acting in a war game to date, and allied to that, the excellent between-mission briefing sequences add a touch of modern style to an already slick looking game.
In terms of how the game actually feels, Modern Warfare deserves a special mention for the ever-useful aim-assist system, which adds a level of intuitiveness to pad-based targeting. By simply tapping the left trigger near an enemy, it effectively 'snaps' the reticule to them, meaning you can instantly see an enemy, and basically juggle the two triggers, auto aiming with one, and firing short bursts with the other - allowing you to 'shoot from the hip' far more effectively. If such cheating devices offend you, there is the option to turn it off, so don't worry. Alternatively, just aim down the barrel by holding down the left trigger, but in the white heat of some of the game's insanity, that's not always an option. Overall, the controls feel spot on.
Elsewhere, there are a few minor niggles to note - certainly checkpointing is a bit of a black art in Modern Warfare - with the game mostly very efficient at storing regular progress, but then failing when you need it most. For example, in time sensitive missions, it has a hugely frustrating tendency to go AWOL, often kicking in only after you've failed a large number of times. Whether this is a deliberate design decision it's not clear, but it's not helpful to have something so fundamental taken away when you need it most. Another little moan is the way tracer fire appears to penetrate solid material yet causes you no damage - confusing to say the least, as you don't every really seem to be able to tell what is dangerous and what is just friendly fire. As much as it's cool to be able to penetrate objects that were previously deemed as cover, it does throw up a few odd technical hitches that look odd to say the least. Also, is the ability to take endless amounts of damage to your body and recover every time really the best way to handle health? We really are nitpicking now. Moving on.
Gamerscore whores need not apply
In terms of its long-term appeal, there are a number of things that make Modern Warfare stand-out. For a start, the majority of the Achievement points only come from playing it at Veteran level, while finishing the main campaign unlocks a score-based Arcade mode that has its own leaderboard. And, of course, the expansive, experience-based multiplayer mode (up to 4 players split-screen, 18 players online or up to 24 via System Link) is certain to be a huge draw for many - especially in the light of an already successful beta and how strong previous iterations were. Needless to say, with the game not even on the shelves at the time of writing, it hasn't been possible to put it through its paces in any meaningful sense, so we'll aim to report back on this side of the game early next week when we've had a chance to play it with, you know, actual human beings.
In the meantime, you can expect a vast array of game modes (Free For All, Team Deathmatch, Team Objective, Team Tactical, Search and Destroy, Headquarters, Domination, Sabotage, Team Hardcore, Old School, Oldcore, and Ground War) to suit all tastes. The game will offer five preset classes (Assault, Special Ops, Light Machine Gunner, Demolitions and Sniper) with the lure of a Create-A-Class option once you've ranked up a touch - but much more about all of that next week.
For now, all you really need to know is this a huge return to form for the Call of Duty series, and for war-based FPS titles in general. Even without the vastly impressive multiplayer elements, Modern Warfare would be worth buying for its outstanding single-player campaign. It succeeds not only for being consistently spectacular, but for the way it has been crafted into something that keeps you engaged right to the very end.
9 / 10