I recently got around to playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, thanks to it coming down to a reasonable price on Steam. Having come to the game after all the hype surrounding it has calmed down, I would have to say that it's one of the best shooters I've played since Far Cry 2 - though I would have to say I prefer Far Cry 2 in respect of it not being utterly on rails, though some of Modern Warfare's set pieces are absolutely brilliant.
The reason for this post, however, is less to do with the fact that I've finally gotten around to playing the game, but more to do with one particular level - All Ghillied Up - which is probably my favourite in the entire game, since it plays like what my conception of what being an elite, special forces soldier would actually be like on a mission behind enemy lines, without backup. Some of the level is Operation Flashpoint-esque: crawling around in a ghillie suit, trying not to be trodden on by enemy troopers (or run over by BMP-2s), while still allowing you to do silent takedowns of lone patrols (Gotta love that silenced M-21). The level is great for building suspense and tension without ever really giving you much of a chance to relieve it. I was on the edge of my seat pretty much the whole way through.
A lot of the time in linear FPS games, you can see where the level designers have thought "we need to throw in more excitement here", if you've not had a firefight for 200 yards, but this level is all the better for restraining its hand. Less is most definitely more. I was shitting my pants as I was crawling through a field, three yards behind the arse of my commander, as a couple of dozen troops and four BMPs were coming the other way toward us. You know that one mistake is instant death - fighting your usual "I'LL TAKE YOU ALL ON!" impulse that you get in FPS games really sets your heart pounding.
And still, there are odd moments of levity. Captain MacMillan (your CO for the mission) has some great lines, not least when you see a wild dog gnawing on the corpse of a dead civilian - "Pooch doesn't look too friendly." It's the kind of gallows humour you'd expect from people whose trade is the dealing (and possible receiving) of death.
It's a great level, and the fact that you don't do a lot of shooting covers the big flaw in the overall game (and its sequel) - infinitely respawning enemies. They're there to help to force the pace - as in, they stop respawning if you keep moving forward - but I still think infinite respawns are a hateful design choice. Some situations call for a defensive action, but COD doesn't have any of that - it either makes you keep moving or run out of ammunition, and that's a big flaw in any shooter that could be seen as being of a more tactical bent (like the ArmAs or Delta Forces of this world). No Spec Ops soldier in their right mind would push themselves forward into the kind of situations that COD presents you with - but admittedly, it is just a game, and therefore NOT REAL.
It's the SAS levels that really make the game for me - the USMC ones are good, but lack a little of the edginess of the SAS ones. I was also pleasantly surprised by the voice-acting. Captain Price and Gaz are real standouts, despite them being voiced by cast-offs from The Bill and Eastenders, respectively. Somehow, it just works. And the final couple of levels are simply awesome - given that its the Brits, not the ubiquitous Yanks who take the lead in the missions. The finale is great, too, where Soap has to take out three Ultra-nationalists (include The Big Bad) with just seven rounds from Price's .45 calibre pistol. They don't call me "Double-tap, one kill" for nothing...
Actually, they don't call me that at all, but that's another story...