After half a dozen tours in the near-mythical battlefields of World War II, the Call Of Duty series sets its sights on contemporary conflicts. Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare follows members of the British Special Air Service and United States Marine Corps Force Recon on life-or-death missions to prevent rogue Russian nukes from falling into the hands of terrorist types. What's surprising is how handily the game makes the leap from tried-and-true Nazi-hunting to less-traditional territory. The feat is carried off narratively: An early mission puts players in the powerless position of a deposed president as he's transported through his ravaged capital to a date with the firing squad. And just in case the first-person lesson in fascism doesn't strike a chord, the bad guys have even nastier deeds up their sleeves. There's no substitution for the bone-deep abhorrence we harbor for Hitler and his henchmen, but Modern Warfare does an admirable job of creating villains out of arms dealers and ultranationalists.
Online matches are kept fresh (a tall order for such a crowded field) with a generous series of player upgrades. Every kill, captured flag, or win earns experience points. Promotions score you new "perks" like the ability to take a couple of pre-death potshots at the jerk who iced you. These carrots are an incredibly effective sleight-of-hand, distracting players from realizing that they're replaying the same scenario over and over. These bribes, as well as the refreshing change of scenery, are more than welcome.
Beyond the game: Imran Zakhaev, the game's villain, has an over-the-top accent that conjures Bela Lugosi's "atomic supermen" speech from Bride Of The Monster.
Worth playing for: The single-player game's highlight: a haunting trip through the ruins of Chernobyl as a sniper in ghillie-suit camouflage.
Frustration sets in when: In addition to enemy soldiers, the game frequently throws snarling canines at you. With the exception of the zombified hellhounds in Resident Evil, killing dogs is never fun.
Final judgment: New setting, same compelling fight.