Don't get me wrong. In most respects, CoD4 is pretty generous. It uses the same health system as CoD2, where you only die if you're hit repeatedly and don't take cover, or when a grenade explodes within a few feet of your vitals. However, the fact that bullets can now penetrate walls (depending on their material) and the frequency with which your enemies now employ grenades means that - on a decent difficulty level - you can still come a cropper in a heartbeat. In sections where the game throws gang after gang of enemy troopers at you until you cross a certain line or satisfy certain, unexplained conditions, wading through the same five minutes of combat six or seven times in a row only to get hit by a sniper or blown up by a lucky grenade is a tad annoying. You'll notice this most when the game keeps you constrained within a fairly tight area as enemies hone in from all around. This doesn't happen much, but the three or four times it does occur are infuriating. The L33T SK1LLZ brigade are probably laughing, but the rest of us might get very annoyed indeed.
Still, for this one little weakness in the single-player campaign we get ample compensation in the multiplayer options. Thanks to the new arsenal, some solid maps, a good class system and some great rewards - love the helicopter gunship attack - online CoD4 is an absolute blast. The matchmaking facilities on Xbox Live are exemplary, and the game uses a persistent ranking system as its backbone. Cleverly, the more advanced classes, equipment and game modes are restricted to higher ranks, meaning that you can grow your skills and learn the maps in the basic deathmatch and team deathmatch modes before you start having to think about objectives, bombs or HQs. Meanwhile, the most hardcore players get specialized game modes where they can be sure that they're only playing with other hardcore players. That keeps them somewhere where they're not beating up and demoralizing noobs, and everyone is happy. Nice work.
To sum up, it's more bad news for your already beleaguered wallet. In the best season for FPS games in years, we have another one that should be considered essential for anyone with a yen for the genre. In fact, I'd argue that the more casual gamers who lapped up CoD2 will have a better time with CoD4 than they would with Halo 3 (Heresy!), The Orange Box (Double Heresy!) or even Clive Barker's Jericho (OK, not much heresy to speak of there). To be frank, I didn't expect it, but Infinity Ward's latest has utterly blown me away. Do yourself a favour: buy it and let it do the same to you.
Call of Duty's switch to the modern era has bought it back to winning form with a blast. Superbly paced and pumped with adrenaline, it's the all-action blockbuster to beat.