This one isn't for the faint of heart. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare's campaign is among the darkest and grittiest the franchise has yet produced, thrusting players into a first-person perspective to experience such things as horrific waterboarding torture and the terror of being a little girl chased by a murderous Russian soldier intent on exterminating every man, woman, and child in her village. And by making us carefully select targets prior to pulling the trigger, developer Infinity Ward has taken its simulation of the modern military experience one step further, forcing players to do the moral -- and life-threatening -- thing by hesitating until we are certain that targets are enemies. It makes for a harrowing, yet also strangely compelling, experience – assuming you have the stomach for it. It's worth noting, though, that the game's message and sense of authenticity is undercut, to a degree, by its glorification of violence. While some scenes are so horrific that most players will be glad when they end, others are undeniably thrilling. This is the seemingly unavoidable conflict based in military first-person shooters.
Of course, any sense of authenticity is pretty much thrown out the window once you move into multiplayer, which is where the vast bulk of players will spend most of their time. The new four-player Special Ops cooperative game type, while story-based in theory, is essentially a run-and-gun mode that serves up fast-paced action with a focus on teamwork and little in the way of any serious moral quandaries. It's undeniably fun, but not nearly as emotional as the campaign. And competitive multiplayer, which is just as entertaining, essentially abandons any pretense of battlefield realism. From its wildly fast-paced combat to its chaotic and large scale new Ground War mode to its reliance on fun-first mechanics -- including kill streaks that unlock special abilities (including the controversial white phosphorous chemical attack) -- it's designed for competition and esports rather than simulating a war experience. It's as finely tuned as any competitive shooter and will be wildly popular among avid genre fans -- and probably furiously challenging for the rookies and casual players who go up against them. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare succeeds very well in being the game it wants to be. Now it's up to individual players to decide whether it's what they want.