Chip away at the hype, scratch away at the layer of gloss coating each tank, turret and trooper, and you can see Modern Warfare 2 for what it actually is; barely more than an expansion pack for the original Modern Warfare. Developers Infinity Ward have come to the conclusion that their particular brew of tightly-scripted gunplay is so delicately balanced that to make sweeping changes now would be to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Thus, there are minor tweaks to the rules (most critically in multiplayer) but nothing that would send veterans of the series scurrying to the instruction manual.
But here's the thing: this is only a thought that occurs several hours after you've clocked the game and you're a long way from the battlefield. Because MW2 might offer up more of the same, but it does so with an assured confidence, and, more importantly, an endless, effortless supply of innovation. Don't worry about MW 1 & 2, as complete experiences, feeling similar; in MW2, no two levels feel alike.
Certainly, you won't get a vibe of deja vu when you're doing something you've never done before. Ever ghosted through enemy patrols during an impenetrable Siberian blizzard? Or directed a stake-out at a Burger King (sorry, Burger Town) while your superiors attempt to ferry governmental officials into the store's freezer under heavy helicopter fire? Ever tried to rescue hostages on a Russian oil rig in smoke so thick you literally can't see two feet in front of you? When was the last time you experienced the end of the world as you know it from an orbiting space station?
MW2 realises that war has moved on since the days of Blackadder waiting for the big push; rather than simply going for the obvious targets, Infinity Ward have used their latest offering to showcase just how far, globally, the arm of international warfare can reach, and in taking us from the heat of Rio de Janeiro to a frozen Kazakhstani mountain and back again, they've presented the world with a first-person shooter of unparalleled variety.
A change in time zone doesn't automatically make one level feel different from the last, but a change in technology does. Although the first game hinted at it, this truly is Modern Warfare, with a dizzying array of cutting-edge military toys helping you to adapt to the unique situations each level asks of you. They're not gimmicky, either - these are things you'd well expect first-world nations might invest in, such as the heartbeat monitor, strapped to a silenced weapon, which allows you to pass through a Siberian blizzard with ease - they can't see you, but you've got a good fix on where they are. That firefight at Burger Town? Made all the easier thanks to the presence of the Predator Drones, remote-controlled aerial missiles which can be directed right up until the point of impact.
And how about those thermal optic weapons? You might not be able to see the nose in front of your face in the event of a smoke grenade, but you'll have a good idea where the enemies are if you equip yourself with one of those bad boys. MW2 doesn't give the player an inch to get bored with their surroundings; while other shooters creak under the pressure of stretching their one-note act across an entire game, MW2 is still introducing fresh elements on the last level.
Although MW2 presents a fair challenge, it's by no means the biggest game going. At an estimated ten hours long, the campaign is epic in scope but not in scale. Turning up the difficulty dial to Veteran will lengthen the time between start and finish, but doing so ruins a little of the mystique - it becomes more obvious that opposition troops are respawning and that your teammates are, in effect, shooting blanks. But in Special Ops, Infinity Ward has finally struck upon a formula that will keep lone or misanthropic players plugging away past Christmas.