If you're a soldier in a war and you don't say much, and if your face isn't made out of as many polygons as your friends' faces are, and if nobody ever specifically mentions your name or talks to you, then you're probably going to die. That's what Call of Duty 4 has taught me.
Fleming, Smithy, Bartlett: just a few good men who gave their lives for a cool ragdoll animation and a dramatic 'man down!' moment. I salute thee.
Here's what I definitely did not want when I heard that Call Of Duty 4 was going to be set in modern day: squad-based gameplay, with over-the-top Ghost Recon technology favouring strategy over bravado-saturated gunplay. I didn't want to replay the game every modern warfare shooter tries to be: that fiddly emulation of planning, ordering, tactics and military brotherhood.
Here's what I did want though: Call Of Duty with terrorists instead of Nazis, nukes instead of V2 rockets, a made-up angry communist instead of Adolf Hitler, and maybe - if Infinity Ward could get around to it this time - an ending. And hoorah, because that's what we got. Even the ending, startingly.
Call of Duty 4 is just like every other Call of Duty game, but in a radically different setting, and with an ounce of clever-dust sprinkled on top. Why mess with a winning formula, eh? Originality, you say? Well, it was a rhetorical question...
Actually, that's slightly unfair - Call of Duty 4 expands on the series mightily. Its Middle Eastern and Russian locales, while still linear, feel far more open than the ruined streets of Occupied France ever were, and every mission contains at least one sweet chunk of surprise and delight (that is, mostly scripted events which make you want to push your swivel chair away from your desk and shout "Wow, that was sort of cool, I liked that").
Take one of the very first missions, for example, in which you get to use your night vision in a townhouse occupied by Russians who can't afford candles.
Having cut the power seconds ago, you enter the building and switch on your goggles to find enemies literally fumbling about in the dark, arms outstretched. Upstairs a panic-stricken man cowers and whimpers in a pitch-black corner, firing randomly into the darkness as you enter the room.
That touches on some part of my brain that the other Calls of Duty never did -
a part of my brain that doesn't expect to be touched while my violence-loving shooty-shoot pre-frontal lobe is having all the fun.
And it happens a whole lot throughout the game too, not always simple emotional tugs like a terrified terrorist (oh, the irony!), but just through sheer, overpowering atmospherics, and often powerfully beautiful scenes.
It's as if the folks at Infinity Ward created a series of regular Call of Duty missions, then went home and each thought of five things that would make those missions memorable, or at least meaningful. Then they all sat in a meeting room and put those ideas into the game, grinning all the while.
But what about in between all this storytelling and narrative gumph? What about the bits where you're projecting lead at subjectively evil people? Well, they're still here too, and they play out very much like they did in past Call of Duty games. It builds on Call of Duty 2 in that the cues for the combat to progress are less obvious than ever, meaning offensive pushes are more fluid and player-led.
You won't be sitting around waiting for your commander to give the order to move forwards, but instead picking and choosing your cover, snapping up vital ground as the fight continues.