Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
A soldier in the British Armed Forces, known only as Jay (not pictured above) in the article, who had a recent tour in Helmand Province and patrolled the streets of Kabul, explains what is actually the most realistic shooter he's played. You may be surprised by his answers, as detailed on the blog justandn.
However, he begins with a note on the validity of so-called "realism" in video games:
Obviously games, as with any form of entertainment, ultimately act as escapism from our everyday lives. I don't think anyone expects any war game to represent just what being on the frontline is like any more than anyone expects Mario Kart to portray a realistic drive in the countryside. During my most recent tour in Helmand Province I saw and experienced things that I would certainly never want any other person to have to live through and in that sense the fact that games will never be able to capture the reality of war is probably more of a blessing than you'd realise...
Nobody wants to develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from a game!... No game will ever be able to fully get across what it’s like to take a casualty and treat them as it just wouldn’t be fun anymore. And that’s what we need more of in this world – fun!
Back to the topic at hand, he asserts that the tutorial in Modern Warfare 2 that takes place in Baghram Airfield is the most realistic setting that he's seen so far:
The uniforms of the soliders around you and the vehicles on display in the background are spot on, as is the sense of scale they manage to portray; it’s a truly massive place and the game captures that perfectly. The sheer amount of dust in the air is something I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate until I was there either, that stuff gets everywhere, and the almost mist like nature that you see in this section of the game isn’t an exaggeration. The soldiers chilling out between operations are a nice touch as well, and are a good reminder that it’s not all doom and gloom out in field.
However, Modern Warfare 2's gunplay is far from realistic, with movement that is "far too fast and crisp", weapons that "snap into view when aiming", and enemies who just "stand in the open just begging to be shot".
Oddly enough, he admits, the futuristic Killzone 2 gets his seal of approval for making you feel "weighed down not only by your equipment but also by your weapons" and seeing characters "actually bring their weapon into the shoulder when they look down the sights". The lack of ammo is true to life as well since "you don't know how long you're going to have to last until you can get a resupply", and the camaraderie you have with your teammates is much more tangible than "faceless names that are immediately replaced", like in Modern Warfare 2:
[Killzone 2] does a fantastic job of bringing you into this world, allowing you to build a bond and then unexpectedly takes it away from you. Again, something I'm sadly all to familiar with.