Modern war in modern cities: Gunfights in the walled canyons of New York City's Financial District, rolling battles in the subterranean train tunnels of London.
This is the promise of Modern Warfare 3, as revealed during a press event in Los Angeles last week. Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 doesn't reinvent itself, but it does strive to expand its framework, creating a battleground that isn't limited to a handful of settings, but instead globe-trots around the world.
Before kicking off a run-through of a hefty chunk, perhaps the entirety, of one of the two levels that take place in Manhattan, Infinity Ward's Robert Bowling takes to the stage to describe the upcoming shooter, something he does based on its scale. It covers the entire globe, he says.
While we know the game opens in India, the mission we're shown is set in Manhattan: "Black Tuesday". In the level that they show us you take on the role of Frost, a Delta Force operative under the command of Sandman.
The level opens with Frost running down a street in Manhattan fighting his way through Russians as he makes his way toward the Stock Exchange. He is flanked by an Armored Personnel Carrier. The Stock Exchange building is surrounded by rubble, as he approaches the building we see televisions in a nearby window showing a live broadcast from CNN which is covering the "Battle for New York".
After making his way through the debris surrounding the Stock Exchange, Frost goes inside and fights his way up to the roof of the building. Once there he plants thermite on a jamming tower that has been scrambling all communications and guidance systems in the area.
Russians hiding on the roofs of nearby buildings open fire on Frost and his team until US Reaper Drones commanded by Frost, fly in and clear the area. A sortie of Blackhawk helicopters next picks Frost up and works its way out of the city. On the flight out, Frost is manning a mounted gun, taking out enemies and pursuing choppers.
The scene, played in front of a room packed with journalists, matches perfectly the run down of the entire game and its content leaked to Kotaku earlier this month.
As the screen fades to black, Bowling returned to the stage to tell us that the game will be locked in at 60 frames per a second and remind us that single player is just one aspect of Modern Warfare 3.
Special Ops, he says, is coming back to Modern Warfare 3 with new game modes. While he didn't elaborate, we've been told by very reliable sources, exactly what those new game modes are.
The game will also have multiplayer, which Bowling describes only as a "beast".
Next a developer from Sledgehammer Games, which is working with Infinity Ward on the game, takes over the presentation. He's here to show us a second level, this one set in London.
While the level isn't named, the details match perfectly what we were told was the level called "Mind the Gap."
The level opens with players taking on the role of an SAS operative tasked with keeping an eye on a charity operation suspected of being a front for a terrorist group.
The surveillance watches people moving stuff to trucks and then trucks leaving the area.
After noticing suspicious heat signals in a building, you're sent in to check out what's going on. This quickly devolves into a gun battle on the docks, with players controlling a black-garbed, gas-mask wearing SAS operative.
The gun battle works the operative into the streets nearby and finally to a subway and onto the tracks. The mission whips through train stations, passing screaming passengers before finally cutting to black just as a train derails, rolls and begins to skid.
This mission too matches what we were told by our sources of the game. If accurate, it means the gathered press were shown the bulk of the only London level in the game.
The gameplay, while exciting, had very little new to show aside from interesting new settings. There were no overt signs that, as Bowling has since said, the game developers have moved beyond Modern Warfare 2 tech. Playing through a war-torn New York, while becoming increasingly status quo, is still relatively new. Gunning your way through the train tunnels and streets of a modern London is intriguing. But neither offer the sort of surprises one might start to hunger for from the Call of Duty franchise.
My first glimpse of the original Modern Warfare delivered a shift from the World War II settings that had long been the stomping grounds for shooters. Last year's Black Ops grabbed my attention with near space flight, Vietnam jungles and a shotgun that spewed fire. But I don't see any of that coming from this first peek at Modern Warfare 3. I fear that it's a game that will be a period, not an exclamation point for this era of Modern Warfare series.
Don't get me wrong. I'm sure I'm going to love playing through Modern Warfare 3. I'm an unapologetic fan of Call of Duty games, just like I mostly loved the latest Medal of Honor and anticipate Battlefield 3. These games are my pulp fiction, a sort of guilty gaming pleasure that I can sink into at the end of the day and enjoy unabashedly.
But I couldn't help but feel slightly let down by what I saw of Modern Warfare 3 last week. I don't expect, I don't think I even want, true innovation in my shooters. They're like baseball or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. But I'd like something a bit more visually stimulating than new backdrops in the single-player campaign. That's where these games have a chance to show us something different, new, surprising.
Perhaps the issue here is that because I've noodled out all of the details of the game, its setting, its plot, its multiplayer, that I am immune to the hype, the buzz that usually surrounds the months-long drip-feed of information for a Call of Duty game.
Maybe, as some readers have said in the wake of our Modern Warfare 3 leaks, some people like the hype that surrounds their games. Maybe it even goes further than that. Maybe the hype is the thing that is new and interesting about modern shooters these days.