Every fall around Remembrance Day millions of grown men and women – including yours truly, a 37-year-old father who's never even held a real gun – are willing to look past any ethical concerns and dive right into the latest bloody, war-glorifying Call of Duty game.
There's no denying COD's Modern Warfare chapters tend to exploit our worst post-9/11 terrorism fears. Advice: Young moms and dads may want to select "yes" when prompted whether to skip content that Activision deems potentially "disturbing or offensive" in this year's edition.
What's more, arguments that decry Activision's blockbuster shooter franchise as a Michael Bay-esque ode to military hardware aren't without merit. Play one of these games for a few hours and you'll likely learn more about exotic weapons tech – hybrid assault rifle scopes and holographic targeting reticules – than you would at an NRA convention.
So why do we play them? Because they're a fragging good time.
The thrills in the series' latest entry, Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3, go beyond anything I saw at the multiplex last summer. The nearly non-stop adrenaline rush is perhaps best exemplified in a mission that sees players taking on the role of an agent attempting to stop the Russian president's jet from being hijacked. Imagine zero gravity firefights while the plane is in free-fall, a spectacular crash landing experienced from a first-person perspective in real time, and a race to save the president and his daughter from swarming ground forces.
Not that it matters, but rookies to the franchise will likely begin the game in a state of dazed confusion: This outing picks up where its predecessor left off, in the middle of a third world war headlined by the United States and Russia, all of it orchestrated by terrorists with inscrutable motives. By the time your brother-in-arms is smashing the face of one of the war's architects into the hood of a car in a ruined Paris street, you'll know enough about who's more-or-less good and who's actually-pretty-awful to feel only slightly guilty for gawking at the beating.
And the six-hour campaign is just the start. The moment the credits finish rolling we're prompted to enter Special Ops mode, where players can work with others online to face down wave after wave of increasingly powerful enemies, and embark on short, graded missions that put specific skills – stealth, sniping, heavy assault – to the test.
Then there's the real meat of the game: Online multiplayer. Honed to a bayonet's edge and featuring satisfying enhancements – like a new "Kill Confirmed" mode that requires players collect the dog tags of their enemies, creating a fresh strategic dynamic – it's a genre-defining online interactive experience that's accessible to greenhorns, deep enough for the hardcore community and wildly habit-forming for just about everyone else.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 hits the trifecta of military-themed first-person shooters: it boasts exemplary single-player, cooperative and competitive experiences. All it asks of players in return is that they switch off the section of their brain that recoils from gun-nut culture and exploitative storytelling.
Enjoy the ride.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3
Platforms: Xbox 360 (reviewed), PlayStation 3, Wii, Windows PC
Developer: Infinity Ward