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Thrilling combat scenarios feature myriad aircraft in a new first-person game.

Major Harold Moore, played by Mel Gibson in the movie his troops to the helicopter, saying, “Gentlemen, we will ride into battle, and this will be our horse.” It’s a brief moment in the film, easily dismissed by casual viewers, but it pays respect to the relationship between infantry and the helicopter in the Vietnam We Were Soldiers, introduces War. This relationship flourished in Southeast Asia, but it has grown even stronger in the years since that conflict ended. The helicopter is no longer an accessory of the modern arsenal—it is a foundational component. Of course, fixed-wing aircraft have also become even more important to the infantry, often to awesome effect.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Activision’s Call of Duty games are ac – claimed first-person shooters. Readers have probably noticed an increasing presence of such shooters in this column: a reflection of both the market and the ability of military-themed shooters to render more realistic combat environments. As software and hardware improve, game developers can overcome technical hurdles that previously prevented them from depicting the modern battlefield and the combined forces of foot soldiers and aviation.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare ($50, re – quires Microsoft Windows XP/Vista, 2.4Ghz processor, 512MB RAM, 8GB hard drive space, 128MB DirectX 9 compliant video card, DVD-ROM drive, may be the best modern combined-arms representation gamers have ever seen. This is definitely a game, not a simulation, but while played largely from the infantryman’s view, the pervading presence of aircraft makes it worth considering.

The game’s story follows a Tom Clancy-like thriller in which American and British forces work together to defeat generically defined Middle Eastern opposing forces. It is an intense journey that’s impressive to watch and filled with both plausible and fantastical events. Aviation is integral from beginning to end, fulfilling nearly every kind of role from transport to close air support, rescue to airstrikes. The game features several aircraft from different nations. Variants of the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk are the chosen workhorses, and players do a fair share of riding, rappelling and shooting from them. There are chilling scenes where squadrons of Black Hawks fly past streaks of RPG-7 rounds, recalling scenes from the movie Black Hawk Down. An even scarier moment comes when the player, as a passenger, witnesses an autorotation landing after an attack by a surface-to-air missile. The Boeing CH-46 Sea Knight also stars as a U.S. Marine transport. One mission, for example, has the player manning its mounted General Dynamics Mk. 19 grenade launcher.

Attack helicopters like the Bell AH-1 Cobra are typically called in by players to assist in striking enemy positions. The Mil Mi-8 Hip is also common in the game, as a transport to both allied Russian forces and the opponents. In addition, jet aircraft are seen from a distance, handling other strike roles. Despite the fact that it’s primarily an action game, Call of Duty 4 incorporates aviation in believable fashion.

The biggest aviation mission—and one of the game’s finest surprises—is where the player becomes the weapons controller on a Lockheed C-130 Hercules gunship. The gunship effectively escorts a group of allied troops through a pair of towns by destroying everything in their path. What would otherwise be a gory and gruesome mission is abstracted by a grayscale thermal view that looks very much like what’s been seen in declassified videos of gunship footage on the Internet. Just as the game’s designers are politically correct in making the nationalities of the opponents somewhat vague, so too are they neutral in delivering any opinion in the gunship mission. As the player directs fire upon enemy infantry below, gunship crew members comment with calm enthusiasm on the proceedings. Some may find the crew’s detachment cruel, but others will likely perceive it as evidence of military professionalism. Regardless of your own perception, the entire sequence is realistic as well as harrowing.

There’s also a mission where players participate in a hostage rescue aboard an airliner. And aviation even plays a role in the game’s online multiplayer component, where successful players are rewarded with the ability to call in rotary and fixed-wing aircraft on strikes.

Players with no interest in taking on the role of a shooter could certainly skip this one. But aviation fans who enjoy playing games in addition to making use of pure flight sims will appreciate the strong role of aircraft in Call of Duty 4, which also happens to be one of the most exciting and cinematic experiences you’ll get in a computer game. The nimble helicopter certainly gets its due and is a potent player in the game. But ultimately it’s the lumbering C-130 that leaves the biggest mark


Originally published in the May 2008 issue of Aviation History. To subscribe, click here