Being a Londoner, grumbling about the Tube is an activity often overheard (and indeed occasionally undertaken by this writer). But even so, sitting in a darkened room, eyes fixed upon the huge screen in front of us depicting a high-octane, adrenaline-fuelled, explosive subway chase set in Her Majesty's backyard, there's a pang of uncomfortable familiarity as a logo-less yet distinctive train carriage flips off of its rails and grinds to a halt, taking out numerous subterranean archways in the process.
Certain tabloid rags have already cried wolf over Modern Warfare 3's slickly edited trailer, but watching the full sequence unfold - complete with the confused cries of platform bystanders as the speeding train and pursuing vehicle race through a station - the developers' assertion that this is to be a global conflict is presented impeccably.
We'd mooched around a studio in North London for the best part of seven hours for this presentation, and it didn't disappoint.
Both Robert Bowling, creative strategist over at Infinity Ward, and Glen Schofield, CEO of Sledgehammer Games, took to the stage, dim green lights gloomily half-illuminating the room, and quickly hammered home the global scope of this game. America's Eastern Seaboard is in all sorts of turmoil with invading Russian forces pushing hard for control of the coast and looking to get a stranglehold on New York.
'In Modern Warfare 3, we’re taking scale to an entirely new level,' said Bowling, and he was quick to suggest that the game would not ust be limited to the US and UK. As well as Manhattan and London, the action would be 'going throughout all of Europe, Russia, Parts of Africa and the Himalayas, it’s truly a conflict that travels the globe.'
The first of the two levels we saw was called 'Black Tuesday', which plonked the player down squarely in the heat of the action in New York City as a Marine named Frost. Felled after your helicopter goes down, you're pulled up by your squadmate, tossed a magazine for your trusty M16 and you're off, straight into the action. A quick look around reveals that this is far from the NYC we know. The streets are littered with rubble, the carcasses of buildings half-eaten by artillery lining the once resplendent avenues, smoke and dust and confusion fills the air. Even as you take your first steps through Manhattan, there are skyscrapers shedding enormous chunks of concrete like massive tears. But no time to marvel at the scenery. The Russians have taken Wall Street and it's your job to flank them, take back the Stock Exchange and neutralise the pesky jamming station the Russians have installed on the roof.
There will be things about Modern Warfare 3 that astute observers and series' fans will have no doubt already gleaned from preceding games and, indeed, the trailer that went live a few days ago. Yes, the game looks quite a lot like Modern Warfare 2. As the enemies move from rubble mounds to broken walls to cars, it's difficult at first to see much of a difference. But that's no bad thing and in later scenes, with bullets flying everywhere, glass cabinets shattering theatrically, puffs of dust and blood and smoke, it's clear to see that locking the game at 60FPS was a brilliant call.
Speaking of which, we hadn't heard much on the subject of destructible environments, with DICE's rival title sitting pretty on Frostbite 2.0, but as you make your way through a shop room floor, low-slung glass display cases all around, Everything gets a bit John Woo. Every bullet finds a target, be it flesh, brick, paper or glass, and the ensuing firefight is chaotic to say the least. Add the new grenade into the mix - the 9-Bang cluster that fizzes and crackles upon explosion, blinding your adversaries - and your synapses begin to fuse. It is utterly spectacular.
Things are no less impressive afterwards in the Stock Exchange itself, which sees you sneaking about the detailed trading floor (due to be the basis of a new multiplayer map), worming your around derelict yuppie shrines before hightailing it up to the roof. A spot of thermite and the tower is down. Of course, it's never as easy as that, and you can't get picked up because the enemy has advanced across the surrounding rooftops an there are rogue choppers on the loose. Cue an entry for the Reaper. Switching to a zoomed, aerial view of the action, it's up to you to guide the rockets of this UAV down upon snipers and that marauding helicopter. Once that's done you leap into your own chopper and take to the skies.
But it's not over yet, out comes the minigun for a chase sequence that will no doubt get put up on YouTube at some point to the Airwolf theme tune as the helicopters engage in a spot of combat, circling one another above a construction site that leaks the occasional girder, although it was disappointing to note that concentrated fire had no real effect on the environment. Defeat the enemy chopper and it repays you by taking out your own Black Hawk, the camera spinning woozily, speakers screeching as the rotators scrape the sides of the buildings around you, and down you go.
Fade to black.
'The campaign is all about that cinematic intensity,' said Bowling as he and Schofield returned to the stage, 'and we are locked at 60 frames per second. That’s what allows us to do the high speed gameplay and the tight gun control, and really sells the cinematic experience.' I felt my buttocks unclench slightly. It's Modern Warfare as you remember it, only faster, even more frenetic, the pacing of the action breathless even when you don't have a controller in your hand. And although I could detect one of two niggling issues that could be important come that battle for FPS supremacy come November, it was an utterly enthralling and exhilarating ride...
...and it wasn't over yet.
We'll have the second part of our MW3 preview, detailing the second level we saw, set in London, later today. Don't miss it!