Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare
Infinity Ward returns to the franchise they created and brings it into the present with its best entry yet. The gameplay is a little tweaked and improved, but it isn't any leap forward there that makes it easily my favorite in the series, it's all about the presentation. Previous games were more or less historically based since they took place during World War II, so there was little room for them to surprise you in any meaningful way. But this one has its own storyline, one that manages to be more interesting and emotionally affecting than I've ever expected a war shooter to be. There are plot twists and tense cinematic moments, including a sequence at the end of the first act that left me feeling completely drained and in awe. They do a lot more to mix up your objectives, and while there's still plenty of the same sort of huge battles the series is known for, there are also some very fun quieter moments, like playing as a sniper on a covert mission in a flashback level.
Part of why it was so successful is it looks and sounds so good. I'm not obsessed with graphics, but I disagree with anyone who says they're not important. I can enjoy a game with bad graphics just fine if it's fun, but if it looks amazing, there's simply more they can do with it. The parts of Call of Duty 4 I love best simply couldn't be pulled off in the first game's engine. You still see some tired video game stuff like glowing outlines of where to place your explosives, but in general it's an extremely immersive and fun shooter. The gunplay isn't really much better than the field's, but it feels solid and works just fine. Your abilities are a little expanded, with a nice knife melee attack, quick access to multiple grenade types, and even the use of air support in some levels. I haven't played too much multiplayer, but it seems pretty cool, and I like the idea of leveling up as you keep playing. It's a little disappointing to learn that Treyarch is taking the fifth game back to World War II, but we'll see how that turns out.