Every time a new Call of Duty game comes out I go through the same dilemma. I stand looking at the disc knowing that if I dare put it into my console I will likely face months of gaming solitude, only to emerge once I have reached multiple prestige levels.
It is this incredibly addictive, well thought out and rewarding multiplayer that has earned the Call of Duty games such a huge following. Of course the adrenalin filled single player is always worth a play through but lets be honest, taking COD online is what its all about.
So it was with much excitement in the Pocket-lint ranks that we were invited to CODXP, the first expo devoted entirely to the series and a chance to get our hands-on with the holy grail of gaming; Call of Duty Modern Warfare 3's multiplayer.
Normally when we are offered hands-on time with anything it involves a brief play through or quick fiddle with buttons and settings as we found at this year's E3 (check out our Quick Play from the show).
This MW3 hands-on however was very different. Activision and Xbox had teamed up to bring a virtual ocean of 360 consoles, meaning we could play through the multiplayer to our hearts content, so that's what we did.
The first thing we are going to say is that absolutely none of the magic has gone, which will likely keep the fans happy. Things have just been laid out differently, refined and reorganised to make what feels like the most balanced and fair Modern Warfare yet. For the first time ever the newbie to Call of Duty has a chance to get stuck into a multiplayer game without dying over and over again but the ultra-pro player still has the chance to flex his gaming muscles. It is design and ingenuity like this that makes developer Infinity Ward so good at what it does.
Modern Warfare 3 achieves this level of balance via several changes to its levelling, perk and killstreak system. Firstly weapons themselves now have proficiency levels, this means you find a gun you like and you can stick with it, building improvements onto as you go. This takes out some of the difficulty in the previous games faced when you start out, as in theory any gun you use can be as good as another, with practice at least.
The next major change is how killstreaks work. They exist in three separate forms; either support, specialist or the assault which is essentially the classic old Modern Warfare approach. Support grants you access to things like UAVs, drones and our personal favourite, a juggernaut. Crucially you don't lose streaks when you die, meaning newbies can gain bonuses no matter how many times they die.
Specialist is most definitely for the pros, granting you perks like in the old game. Each kill will add one on until you reach maximum where the number of perks makes you virtually unstoppable. It is however very difficult to play as, requiring multiple kills without deaths to start becoming useful.
All three are incredibly well balanced and contribute to a different but still fun Call of Duty experience. We found it easy to find our footing using support and then switch to assault when we learned the maps. The balancing meant that we didn't get totally obliterated by hordes of skilled Modern Warfare players but they still got a good innings.
Level design has also undergone a subtle but much needed rethink. There is a lot less verticality in maps, which was a problem for many in Modern Warfare 2. Games are now very quick and there is a lot less opportunity for the irritating lone sniper or camper. Of the maps we played, the London level was a particular highlight. The smashed up underground trains and subtle nod to royalty (the station is called Middleton) was very cool indeed. It also has a nice two part fast and slow feel to it, outside being very open and inside being frantic room clearing action.
We also got a chance to play through the new Kill Confirmed mode, which is a clever take on classic team deathmatch games. Every time you kill and enemy they leave a set of dog tags, which you then have to run and pick up to get an extra fifty points and point for your team. If however someone on the opposition gets to them first, the point opportunity is lost. It means as soon as you die or someone else is killed, everyone begins sprinting for the dog tags left floating in the map and a massive firefight ensues. The mode is frantic and a welcome addition to all the usual Call of Duty Multiplayer staples.
Modern Warfare 3 sees the return of the much loved spec ops mode. These mini games and challenges are highly addictive and push the Call of Duty gaming style to its adrenalin filled limit. We were lucky to get a play through survival mode, which is not unlike Gears of War 3's horde mode. Essentially you are tasked with defeating wave after wave of enemies, including juggernauts and yes...dogs. Not easy but incredibly rewarding.
So definite good first impressions with the new Call of Duty multiplayer. It feels more like Infinity Ward hasn't played it quite so safe this time round. A risky move given the communities commitment to the Modern Warfare style, but if it means a better experience for the beginner and brings fresh players to the experience, we are all for it. One thing we will say is that the engine is definitely starting to look tired now, particularly after setting our eyes on Battlefield 3's PC powered juicyness.
All this aside, Call of Duty is a bit like a new generation iPhone; no matter how little you need the upgrade and whatever excuses you make to avoid buying it, when it comes to launch day, you are going to man the queues like the rest of us.
Why exactly? Because it is fun..pure fun and the latest Modern Warfare looks like it could be the most enjoyable of the bunch.