'Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare' among the year's best

Mission accomplished, Infinity Ward.

The critically-acclaimed developer retreats from the World War II era in favor of today's battlefields in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, an intense military onslaught that unleashes a barrage of gripping moments.

You play the roles of a U.S. Marine and British S.A.S. soldier ordered to stop a group of terrorists from starting a nuclear war.

Modern Warfare's story captivates with an impressive freighter escape in an opening level. What started as a simple intel gathering mission turns into a race for survival.

The twists and turns combine with Modern Warfare's stellar presentation for an unparalleled level of gaming authenticity. Tension is palpable as you scour Russian villages and Middle Eastern neighborhoods, never knowing whether friend or foe awaits.

Infinity Ward producers are masters of detail, and Modern Warfare is no exception. Each weapon has a unique look, sound and feel. Explosions from grenades or allied airstrikes boast incredible punch. Individual blades of grass brush past as you crawl across fields evading watchful enemies.

Computer-controlled opponents force you into challenging firefights by cleverly taking advantage of their environments. Foes are very good at utilizing cover, making them more difficult to pick off. If you throw a grenade, they sometimes smartly dive away or toss the live grenade right back. Often, you'll encounter enemies you think are dead, only to see them muster their last bit of strength to attack as they lay on the ground.

AI-controlled allies are pretty adept at keeping enemies at bay. There were moments where my counterparts walked right into my line of sight, forcing me to start over for friendly fire penalties. Fortunately, these incidents weren't frequent enough to negatively influence the action.

The single-player campaign incorporates a strong variety between U.S. and S.A.S. missions, each of which is littered with plenty of objectives. They can range from protecting convoys aboard an AC-130 gunship to blowing up electrical towers to cutting power at an enemy base. Once you've completed the relatively quick campaign, you can switch to an arcade mode to move through levels to achieve the best scores.

Modern Warfare's depth isn't truly realized until you reach multiplayer mode. Most skirmishes involve as many as 16 players at once, sneaking through expansive maps in a wide array of matches. One element that surprised me was all gameplay options have to be unlocked. Only free-for-all and team death match are available at the start, which offers incentive to play. But it would be better to have all the options available from the start. Modern Warfare also allows you to customize your soldier's class, uniform and weapons.

It doesn't matter whether they explore the beaches of Normandy or a bullet-riddled Middle Eastern neighborhood, Infinity Ward creates a breathtaking battlefield experience that's worth of 'Game of the Year' accolades.