After we bore witness to a raging firefight in and around the New York Stock Exchange, the second part of the Modern Warfare 3 presentation we were privy to earlier this week drew far closer to home, specifically London. An altogether stealthier affair than romping through the streets of NYC, this level sees you assume the identity of a soldier named Burns, part of an SAS squad sent to infiltrate a dockyard facility near Canary Wharf or, as Schofield put it beforehand, you're 'sent on a covert mission to the dock area to put some eyes on a target, combining air support with your team on the ground to get up close and gather intel'.
The level opens with a thermal map of the dock area, patrolling soldiers abound, with Burns and co. tucked away in the cover of nearby buiding. It transpires that the Russians are up to some pretty dastardly stuff, there are a bunch of suspicious trucks going to and from the warehouses, armed potentially with WMDs and bound for Westminster, and it's your job to find out exactly what's going on and put a stop to any nefarious machinations.
The London skyline was instantly recognisable thanks to the conspicuous spectre of One Canada Square in the distance, even if it's surroundings weren't entirely accurate, one suspects, for licensing reasons. The powers-that-be have been rather touchy about official representation of structures and organisations in games such as this following 7/7, and it's not too surprising that, for example, the TFL logos on the underground are notably absent.
But there's not too much time to sit and enjoy the scenery, the London Eye vaguely visible if you swing around far enough, there's wetwork to be done.
Sneaking through the yard, using containers and vehicles for cover, the initial approach is taken up with dispatching Russian guards as quietly as possible. As you enter the warehouse, the ruthless efficiency of your sniper companions camped elsewhere comes to light as their laser sights swiftly and clinically dispatch a couple of guards as you step in through the doorway.
Moving on towards the trucks, shit hits fan and the SAS team is exposed, prompting a rampant firefight as stealth breaks down into bullet-peppered chaos. After fighting off a seemingly endless horde of miscreants, a bunch of the ringleaders jump into a 4x4 and take off, heading straight for the old tunnels, the SAS lot left staring at an empty truck and no package.
So into the Tube system we go. The Modern Warfare franchise is no stranger to the ridiculous and, let's be honest, we love it. We don't want realism, not really. We want to see things like John McClane fighting a jet single-handed, or Jason Bourne taking out a man with a pen, or James Bond chasing bad guys across the Millennium Dome. Things like chasing down a speeding Tube train, loaded with nuclear weapons and machine gun-toting bad guys with a clapped out Jeep. The train comes out of nowhere, racing past, it's carriages empty but for a few terrorists, spewing forth death in millimetres, and for a few moments you forget about the target truck in front of you.
The music, along with the Jeep's spluttering engines, roars into life. Gunfire ricochets off of tunnel walls, the train goes screaming past, the wheels complaining as they're forced to turn faster than they ever have before. The air is full of cacophonous discord, shrieking strings forced together with screeching metal and, as the action hurtles through a busy Docklands station, the confused cries of bystanders just waiting for their train home. The camera is just as wild as the music, your driver desperately attempting to avoid the architectural hazards in front of him as you try and play pin the bullet on the baddie.
The truck is still there, though, and they have a mounted turret. As you train your sights on the driver, squeezing the trigger finger, the bullets fly and the truck swerves wildly into the path of the train. As with any Hollywood-esque chase sequence, a grand pursuit requires a grand finish, and Mind The Gap is well up to the task. You eliminate the train's driver and the train begins to lean, uprooted from its tracks by the wayward truck, like a whip the carriages swing round, taking out pillars and archways, crumbling rock and brick and dust fills the air, the noise is incredible now. More pillars, more arches fall, as the flipped train goes flying, finally coming to a halt in a bed of its own waste.
The whole room catches its breath.
The Faily Fail Daily Mail has already had a token go at this next bit, all rampant hysteria, large words, no facts, spurious arguments from those too lazy to engage properly with the material on any sort of level. I won't lie, there's a certain ambivalence to it. On the one hand, you're saving your city, defending your land, it's recognisable, familiar and evocative. On the other, it's a little bit uncomfortable, the trademark symbols of London, the running, screaming bystanders adding an extra dimension to the action. But that's a good thing. You're locked in, utterly engaged, and this is still without a controller in hand.
Modern Warfare doesn't really do serious, but rather cashes in on the spectacle of war, the primal nature of a perceived good vs bad battle. It doesn't offer up deep questions as such, and if it does, it certainly doesn't provide any answers, but that's not its job. Perhaps most importantly, it doesn't pretend to be anything it's not. The graphical choices, going with framerate over fidelity, is a telling clue regarding the series' missions statement: to provide a high-octane, action-packed cinematic FPS experience that sets the heart racing. On this evidence, they're well on the way to another cracking Christmas season.