The Call of Duty games have always been rail-bound carnival rides, but recent incarnations have become adept at masking their mechanisms behind smoke and mirrors (well, okay, mostly smoke). Playing the first entry, in all its slightly crude glory, feels like you're going through the same carnival ride but now all the lights have been switched on, and you can see the wires and pulleys that make the plastic skeletons fly overhead. It's fun, but hardly immersive.
This means that a lot of the recurring complaints about the COD template are even more relevant. Enemies tend to either pop in and out of cover like whack-a-mole puppets, or run towards your location in a suicidal manner. Too many encounters can be survived simply by waiting in a room for enemies to run through the door, one after another. Allied AI isn't much better, with squad mates wandering in front of you (friendly fire is an instant "game over") or squatting on top of grenades.
The game predates the era of rechargeable health, so medical kits litter the ground - at least on the lower difficulty levels. Veteran, as is traditional, is brutal, frustrating and often blatantly unfair. With no quicksave, no way of regaining lost health, some horribly spaced checkpoints and enemies that can kill with one shot, it's the sort of experience that will reduce those weaned on the comparatively cuddly Modern Warfare to a gibbering mess.
If you picked up Classic for free as a thank-you for buying Modern Warfare 2 in some fancy pants special edition then it's an interesting history lesson. If you're paying 1200 Microsoft Points (£10.20 / €14.40) for the privilege, however, it's harder to make an emphatic recommendation.
First-person shooters are a little like supermodels, in that they're swiftly shunted aside when a younger, fitter alternative comes along to do exactly the same thing. The existence of Super Mario Galaxy doesn't impact on the genius of Super Mario Bros 3, but Call of Duty Classic is, in most aspects, simply a clunkier version of what you can now do in Modern Warfare 2 (or, if you want to be pedantic, World at War) with a lot more polish and audacity.
The multiplayer, for instance, offers six modes and apart from the crude lobby system is a compelling part of the package. But... who is seriously going to invest the hours when Modern Warfare 2 is beckoning with its longevity, depth and fiercely committed community?
All of which leaves this exhumed Call of Duty in a weirdly redundant position. It's a very good game, and the "classic" tag is deserved. As the reviewer's cliché goes, if you like Call of Duty, you'll like this. How could you not? It's the same game you've already played in its more advanced form, making this more of an academic exercise in gaming genealogy.
An important game then, though perhaps more so for Activision's accountants than the FPS genre itself, and one that fans won't regret experiencing again. Just don't feel like you're missing out on anything too essential if you decide to stick with Soap, Roach and friends.