Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is almost upon us, but if it's been a while since you played the previous games the story might be a little bit hazy. We're here to clear that mind fog by offering you a rundown of the complete Modern Warfare story up to Modern Warfare 3.

Prior to the events of CoD 4 / Modern Warfare 1

1996: Lieutenant John Price of the SAS is sent to accompany Captain MacMillan on a covert mission in Pripyat, Ukraine - a ghost city that formerly housed workers at the Chernobyl Power Plant. The two men set out to eliminate Imran Zakhaev, a Russian weapons dealer who is collecting abandoned fuel rods so that he can then sell them on the black market. The pair ambush Zakhaev in the middle of an arms deal, and Price takes aim with a Barrett M82 sniper rifle. Unfortunately, Price's shot only succeeds in blowing off Zakhaev's left arm, and while MacMillan believes the dealer will die from shock and/or blood loss, this doesn't prove to be the case.

Over the next 15 years, Zakhaev gets rich by selling arms (not the kind that he lost, though), using these funds to fuel his rise to political power. By 2011, he has become the chairman of the Russian Ultranationalist party. Price, meanwhile, climbs the ranks of the SAS, becoming Captain of the 22nd regiment.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare - Part 1

2011: Yasir Al-Fulani, president of an unspecified country in the Middle East, is kidnapped as part of an armed uprising that claims he has been "colluding with the West." He is then executed on live TV by a man named Khaled Al-Asad, leader of the coup. Seconds before the shooting, Al-Asad announces to the world: "This is how it begins." Meanwhile, Al-Fulani gains the dubious honour of being the first Modern Warfare player character to be killed off as part of the plot.

Al-Fulani's execution is actually part of a larger plan formulated by The Four Horsemen - a quartet made up of Imran Zahaev and his son Victor Zahkaev, Al-Asad, and an unspecified fourth member that Infinity Ward forgot to put in the game. The Horsemen collaborate to put Al-Asad in power, using his revolution as a distraction to Western military nations; this will help Zahkaev & Son's Ultranationalists to win the civil war that has broken out in Russia.

While the Americans invade Al-Asad's Unspecified Country, the British SAS have been investigating the Russian conflict. Following a lead from an informant, Captain Price and his men intercept an Estonian cargo freighter, discovering a nuclear device and documents that link the Ultranationalists to Al-Asad's insurgents. This raid also marks the SAS debut of John "Soap" MacTavish - the latest addition to Price's squad, and the main player character in Call of Duty 4.

Shortly after the mission, Price's squad carry out a successful rescue mission to save the life of "Nikolai" - the man who provided intel on the freighter in the first place.

Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare - Part 2

2011 (cont): US Marines scour the Unspecified Country in search of Al-Asad, battling his troops at every step of the way. When the Marines reach the capital city, someone detonates a nuclear device - obliterating most of the 30,000-strong invasion force, including player-character Paul Jackson. This singular act of violence incurs the wrath of the US Commander, Hershel von Shepard. And as we'll see, this will have a significant impact on the events of Modern Warfare 2.

Price, Soap and chums follow another lead from Nikolai, learning that Al-Asad fled to Azerbaijan before the nuclear attack. They track him to his safehouse, at which point the partnership between Al-Asad and Zakhaev is finally discovered. Price then shoots Al-Asad in the head.

With the help of a US Marine recon unit, the SAS head to an unspecified Russian city (Infinity Ward doesn't like naming places). The team manages to find Zakhaev Junior, but he commits suicide to avoid capture. Understandably upset, his Dad decides to launch several nuclear ICBMs at the East Coast of the United States. After locating the silo, Price and his men launch a desperate assault - successfully detonating the missiles before they can reach their targets.

The squad flees the facility in stolen trucks, but their escape is cut short when a Mi-24 Hind destroys the bridge they're about to cross. An oil tanker explodes, flooring the survivors. Imran Zakhaev then shows up to personally finish off his enemies. Zakhaev executes Gaz, one of the more prominent members of the squad, but a dying Captain Price manages to slide his pistol to Soap. Despite not being able to see properly, Soap shoots Zakhaev and his two bodyguards.

Russian loyalists show up in a helicopter and evacuate Soap. A medic desperately tries to save Price, but he looks to be dead.

Between Call of Duty 4 and Modern Warfare 2

2011-2016: The Russian Ultranationalists finally seize control of the country, celebrating Imran Zakhaev as a fallen national hero. A statue is erected in Red Square in his honour, and he gets an airport named after him. In all probability, he also gets a line of poseable action figures, too.

Vladimir Makarov, a former Spetznatz and one of Zakhaev's former high-ranking associates, rises to prominence within the Russian Ultranationalist movement. Over the next five years he begins arranging terrorist attacks against the West. Makarov has a personal grudge against Price and Soap, who he perceives to be directly responsible for the death of his mentor. And if you think about it, they were.

MacTavish rises through the SAS and becomes Captain, abandoning the "Soap" nickname as he's a big boy now and has to look authoritative. Meanwhile Price, having been caught by the Ultranationalists, languishes in a high security Russian gulag. Hardly anyone knows that Price survived the events of CoD 4, let alone that he's locked up.

Commander Shepherd becomes the ultimate leader of both the US Army Rangers and Task Force 141. While the name may suggest one of Louis Walsh's failed pop groups, Task Force 141 is actually an international counter-terrorist collective, made up of elite military specialists from around the world. Shepherd uses this group to hunt for Makarov.

However, Shepherd also has a secret agenda...

Modern Warfare 2 - Part 1

2016: This is where things start to get a little bit complicated.

Shepherd recruits Army Ranger Joseph Allen for a top secret assignment. Allen is given a new identity and sent undercover to infiltrate Makarov's terrorist outfit, which he manages to do. The thing is, Shepherd actually wants Allen to fail in this mission, and secretly ensures that he'll be found out by leaking information to Makarov. It's not clear whether he does this indirectly, or if the two men are knowingly working together despite being enemies.

Two members of Task Force 141 - Captain MacTavish and Sergeant Gary "Roach" Sanderson - are despatched to a Russian airbase in the Tian Shan mountains. They have been sent to recapture an ACS module - a highly sensitive bit of kit that was aboard a satellite that crashed. The module itself plays a crucial role in maintaining the United States ' defense grid. MacTavish and Roach succeed in recapturing the module; unfortunately the Russians have already copied the information they needed from the device, but no-one knows this yet.

Makarov and his men launch a horrific attack on Zakhaev International Airport, massacring countless civilians. Crucially, the terrorists keep their identity a secret, remaining silent throughout so that their nationality can't be confirmed. Just as the gang are about to escape, Makarov unexpectedly shoots and kills Allen. When the authorities close in, they find his body and realise he's an American. The Ultranationalists declare war on the USA, and the poop hits the fan.

Here's the kicker, though: Shepherd planned for all this. He set up Allen to fail in his assignment, he (presumably) arranged for the ACS satellite to be brought down. Why? Because if the Russians start World War III and invade the USA, thousands of people will join the military, and he'll be in charge of a massive force that will allow him to get some payback for the events of CoD 4. Or as Shepherd puts it himself, towards the end of the game:

"Five years ago I lost 30,000 men in the blink of an eye - and the world just f***ing watched. Tomorrow there will be no shortage of volunteers, no shortage of patriots."

There are a number of logistical problems with Shepherd's plan. How did he arrange for the satellite to crash, and in exactly the right place? If he wants the Russians to have the ACS module, why did he send Soap and Roach to get it back? It seems unlikely that Shepherd and Makarov would directly collaborate, but if this wasn't the case then how did Shepherd know that Allen would be killed and framed at exactly the right moment?

Beyond this, it seems weird that Shepherd wants to do this in the first place. He's already powerful, for a start - and by helping the Russians to invade he's actually weakening his own side, not to mention the American economy. And if it's all revenge for what happened five years ago, why is he helping Makarov, who was Zhakhaev's buddy? It's like two football firms agreeing to organise a brawl after a match, only on an international level.

The real answer to all these questions: because it's a video game, that's why.

Modern Warfare 2 - Part 2

2016 (cont): No-one has a clue about Shepherd's crazy agenda, and everyone is busy frying bigger fish - namely a fish called World War III.

Task Force 141, desperately trying to link Makarov to the airport massacre, chase down a lead in Rio de Janeiro. The squad locate and subdue Rojas, a weapons dealer who has worked with the terrorist. Rojas reveals that Makarov's worst enemy, Prisoner #627, is held prisoner in a Russian gulag.

The Russian military invades the United States, and thanks to the stolen data from the ACS module, they manage to do this without anyone noticing until its too late. US Rangers Private James Ramirez is one of many troops who attempt to repel the attackers, but the conflict is brutal - especially since the Russians are successfully contesting American airspace.

MacTavish, Roach and the others successfully assault the gulag and rescue Prisoner #627, who naturally turns out to be Captain Price; at this point MacTavish regains his old nickname. Price joins Task Force 141 and says he'll help go after Makarov, but first he wants to do something about the war in the USA. To this end, the squad invade a Russian port - in defiance of Shepherd's orders - and Price personally captures a nuclear submarine. To the alarm of everyone but himself, Price then launches a nuke at Washington DC.

Price programmes the missile to detonate in the Earth's upper atmosphere, killing an innocent astronaut in the process. More helpfully, the nuclear explosion creates an Electromagnetic Pulse (EMP) over the US Capital, disabling most electronics in the region and causing all the Russian helicopters to fall right out of the sky. This effect comes just in the nick of time for Ramirez and his squadmates, who successfully recapture The White House in time to call off a massive American airstrike - one that would have otherwise flattened the city.

Modern Warfare 2 - Part 3

2016 (cont): Shepherd and TF141 have now determined that Makarov can only be hiding in one of two places: a safehouse in the Caucasus Mountains, on the Georgian-Russian border, or an aircraft disposal yard in Afghanistan. Roach goes with half the team to the safehouse, where almost everyone is killed trying to retrieve a DSM - another MacGuffin gizmo that carries vital intel on Makarov's activities, including the airport attack. Roach and Ghost (a masked soldier who sounds a lot like Gaz) acquire the device and reach the extraction point, despite Roach being badly wounded. Then Shepherd turns up and kills them both, revealing his duplicity. He steals the DSM and leaves.

Meanwhile Soap and Price have already discovered Shepherd's treachery. In Afghanistan, the pair find themselves in the middle of a battle between Makarov's ultranationalists and Shepherd's Shadow Company - which is either a US military unit, or some kind of private army. Knowing that Makarov will be listening over the airwaves, Price grabs a radio and asks his foe to reveal the location of Shepherd's base, stating, "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." Makarov warns Price that the old idiom cuts both ways, but he tells Price where Shepherd can be found. At the same time, Shepherd uses his status to brand Soap and Price as war criminals.

After an epic battle at Shepherd's base, Price and Soap chase the general and manage to shoot down his helicopter. In a final stand-off, near the wreck of the chopper, Shepherd stabs Soap and starts brawling with Price. As Shepherd is about to kill his nemesis, Soap pulls the knife from his chest and throws it into the general's eye. Price recovers and resuscitates Soap, then the two men are rescued by their old friend, Nikolai.

Shepherd has been defeated, but Price and Soap are now the most wanted men in the world. And Makarov is still very much alive and well.