Modern Warfare 2

We're with you all the way, Soap

What's in a name? Quite a lot if that name happens to be 'Call of Duty', arguably the biggest franchise of the last two or three years (a 'billion dollar game', by Activision boss Bobby Kotick's own reckoning), with a huge sequel due out in time for Christmas. But this eagerly awaited next offering won't actually be part of Call of Duty, Activision deeming the first Modern Warfare such a huge success they are seemingly spinning of this new title as simply Modern Warfare 2.

Clearly, Activision have designs towards the creation of yet another huge new IP, that can stand by itself, perhaps having eyed the likes of Ghost Recon - a staple best-seller for rival publisher Ubisoft. So, with Call of Duty (and Treyarch) persuing the historical angle, it has been left to Infinity Ward to keep things 'modern', which leads us neatly to a sweltering back-room on Activision's manic E3 booth.

Leaving behind the clamouring crowds outside, Infinity Ward designer Robert Bowling sits us down for a few minutes looking at Modern Warfare 2, which, as you can imagine, doesn't have to work too hard to draw an impressed reaction from the otherwise cynical assembly of hacks who know too well how important this game is.

As our demonstration begins, we're presented with an all new wintery scene, Modern Warfare's MacTavish clad in arctic gear, making his away across tundra while the wind howls and the mists come and go. We seem to once again be in the boots of a rookie, following the SAS veteran's lead as we make our way through this refreshingly chilly setting. You can almost feel the wind-chill, Infinity Ward using impressive effects combined with fluid and life-life animation to deliver what is patently the best-looking Call of Duty (sorry!) to date.

This natural animation comes to life further as we start scaling some icy outcrops, using realistic mountain gear that seems to work perfectly in this locale - arms grip ice-picks and legs strain in cleats as we scale an ice-face following MacTavish. A blizzard is in full swing, and as we clambour through this forboding environment we're forced to leap into the mist - following in our commander's footsteps. All of a sudden, the ice cracks and falls away below us, and for one cinematically terrifying moment we're left hanging before MacTavish drags us up - offering words of comfort as we arrive on the outskirts of what looks like a millitary installation.

Using our new gun-mounted radar, we can see enemy guards patrolling the presently calm installation, and we employ creeping stealth as we move inside the airbase, despatching our foes with silent swift killer blows that are hugely reminiscent of the last Modern Warfare. This is Modern Warfare, that much is obvious, but everything seems to have been taken a stage further while Infinity Ward have added a lot more variation to the experience.

We plant explosives and detonate some tanks (more cinematic camera work couples well with some lovely fire and destruction effects), and suddenly all hell breaks loose, explosions ripping through the base and sending soldiers running. A frenzy ensues in which we work through the base with MacTavish, despatching enemies who come from all sides, and seem to make impressive use of available cover. Soldiers race into view in jeeps, while the music, sound-effects and of course the visuals combine in a cinematic maelstrom that would make Steven Spielberg proud.

We're bidding to make our escape, and we follow MacTavish's lead as we steal two discarded snow mobiles before racing off down the side of the mountain, persued by soldiers also on snow mobiles who race into view from the periphery; and must be dispatched via machine gun, or by being forced into the trees that serve as deadly obstacles on the route down the hill. At one point we race over a frozen lake, a helicopter popping into view, and on, on, the pace increasing as hope of escape seems ever more improbable, before we fly off a concealed precipise into the misty blue sky, bringing our demonstration to a tantalising close. I saw that one coming.

The mission we were shown was perhaps even more cinematic, and also felt less 'corridor-driven', than 2007's Modern Warfare. Bowling also promises us generally larger levels, awash with more detail and diversity - presumably indiciative in this Siberian environ. Infinity Ward have also reportedly upped the resolution, and added a great deal more variety to the singleplayer mode.

Multiplayer will of course be a focus too - although the snow mobile will be absent from here - we're sad to learn. Storyline-wise, Bowling seems keen to avoid details, but he does say a direct sequel to the first Modern warfare is planned, covert ops taking place in Kazahkstan set to be one new dimension offered. Soap MacTavish is now a Captain, and characterisation is clearly focus, while the singleplayer experience overall promises to be deeper and longer.

A new Special Ops mode will also add another twist for lone-players, while the game's developers aren't talking too much about the online experience at this stage, presumably because of the importance of this mode - the main reason for the IP's impressive staying-power in the popular conscience. We're eager to see, and play more of this vast release.

Modern Warfare 2 will launch this winter on the PC, PS3 and Xbox 360.

E3 Trailer