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You have to pity successful, feted and wealthy developers Infinity Ward. Because every day for the last six years they've been unable to move on from WW2. From their formative days as a cog in the EA collective with Medal of Honor, to their foundation and CODs 1 and 2, they've been unable to go through a single, ordinary working day without seeing Nazis around every corner - it must have been like being trapped in the mind of Daily Mail reader. But here you can almost taste their warm, liquid relief, because Modern Warfare reveals a team that have rediscovered their love of war; their delight in the death.
For COD 4 is more than just a change of era, enemy and equipment; it has emboldened Infinity Ward to add something to their usual set-piece extravaganza, covered with the splattery diarrhoea of a billion smoke particles, bombs blasts and tracer bullets. They have tried something that has only been achieved by Valve and precisely cock all others. They are trying to tell an emotionally engaging story through an exclusively first person view.
COD 'N' BLIPS
We won't spoil the details for you - that way you'll have to watch them too and suffer as we did - but the result is a heavy-hanged lunge at heartstrings rather than a delicate strum. The protracted and only mildly-interactive scenes that are meant to set you blubbing, including numerous slo-mo shootouts, a public execution and a lingering death from radiation sickness, are as redundant as Anthea Turner should be if our society wasn't as crevice-inspectingly stupid as it obviously is.
The characters who are meant to inspire us are so slight that automatic doors wouldn't bother opening for them, and the story, with its 24-pilfered structure and styling, is as light as the layer of Low Fat Philadelphia on Kate Moss's water biscuit. Honestly, this thrilling conspiracy of 'Iraqistani' terrorists, mono-browed arms dealers and pesky Ruskies wouldn't stray into the giant health warning if it was scrawled on the back of a fag packet in permanent marker.
What makes each battle memorable isn't the spilling of blood, but Infinity Ward's twists on their core business of bombastic set-pieces. The slewing and swaying of the sinking ship in the prologue gives you a foretaste, not only of seasickness, but also the innovative way that these post-1945 missions add to the old routine of spawn and respawn. The truly memorable sections jostle for mind-space: being pinned down by tracer fire in the gloom of The Bog; using Chernobyl's rotting Ferris wheel as cover for a last stand with... well, we won't spoil it; the dehumanising experience of manning an AC130's mini-gun; and watching a mushroom cloud bloom and suffering the silence as the shock gradually ripples out and consumes you in the maelstrom.
But instead of jarring, the joins on these set-pieces are as hard to spot as the end on bloody Sellotape. Even the onrails moments of aerial gunnery are integrated into the turmoil of lead and dead Middle Easterns. Forget about camping or hanging off a fixed gun emplacement though because the ticking clocks and pursing helicopters constantly drive you forward, pushing you out of cover - and your comfort zone - and making you sprint after a shell-suited Slav, drag an injured pilot out of a hot LZ or just to save your own skin. In fact, you spend a surprising amount of game time simply running into a hail of bullets, and that is the kind of game design that you feel in your chest and hear in your own shallow breathing.