Ever-grinning Infinity Ward president Grant Collier has put on his serious face. "Folks thought it would be Vietnam or Iraq, but nobody thought it would be a fictional conflict," he explains while revealing a snazzy T-shirt printed with a smart Call Of Duty 4 logo on the front and a battle scene on the back.
"There's sensitivity about the subject matter, but we don't want people to misunderstand what we're doing - it's absolutely not about the war in Iraq..."
As with Call Of Duty and Call Of Duty 2, PC ZONE has been invited to publisher Activision's UK HQ for the exclusive first look at the new Infinity Ward shooter - this time Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. We're just about to find out the closely-guarded secret setting of the new game, and you could say that we're a teensy bit excited.
"We really wanted to craft an enemy that would give the Western powers a stand-up fight," continues Collier. "COD for us is two sides with different advantages pitted against each other, but very evenly matched. A lot of the modern battles are very one-sided, so one team comes in and f***ing annihilates the other guy, then it's just insurgencies and mopping up - stuff that really isn't Call Of Duty and doesn't make for a fun game."
BACK IN THE USSR
We settle down in the presentation room in front of a large hi-definition TV, displaying a pre-Alpha splash screen of the brand new Call Of Duty. So what is the 'Modern Warfare' in the game's title? Collier explains that they've created their own conflict, focusing on a main bad guy - a Russian ultra-nationalist called Zakhaev, who wants to bring back the Soviet Union in the style of his idol, the ruthless genocidal Stalin.
These are actions that would obviously have Boris Yeltsin turning in his recently-dug grave. Zakhaev is being backed by a significant group of dodgy Russian businessmen, mafia and military, so has a lot of meaty hardware at his disposal, which he promptly uses to start a civil war in his mother country. However, Zakhaev knows that the other world powers will eventually get involved in his little conflict, so he hatches a scheme to occupy the attack dog of the West, the USA.
LURE OF THE DESERT
"Everyone knows the Americans are a sucker for a conflict in the Middle East," says Collier, "so Zakhaev uses a buddy called Al-Asad to fund a coup in this nondescript Middle Eastern country. It's a trap, so the Americans get tied down and Zakhaev is ecstatic."
Meanwhile, the good ol' British, in the form of the SAS special forces, have been keeping tabs on Zakhaev for a long time, since the days when he was an arms dealer. They're in Russia undercover trying to find him, while gathering more intel by working with loyalist Russians to try and convince the US that the war in the Middle East is just a distraction.
So, the Yanks send the Marines' elite division, called Force Recon, to track down Al-Asad - eventually leading to the two storylines interweaving and meeting up in Russia. You ultimately have to track down and stop Zakhaev, Al-Asad and their two close associates (known collectively as 'The Four Horsemen') before the world is plunged into a catastrophic global conflict where nukes are involved.
"COD4 takes place over 30 days, and we really want it to play out like an episode of 24 - we're working with TV writers who understand how to get a strong, episodic storyline going," says Collier. "We're able to have continuous characters throughout the game while being able to change locations. In previous games we changed locations through the various campaigns, but you lost contact with all the characters from that storyline. And besides Price and McGregor, do you really remember any of the characters from Call Of Duty? No. Our goal is for you to really get to know these characters, to have an attachment to them, and at the end of the game, remember them."