Modern Warfare 3 is, in some ways, a bit like buying a Spice Girls album, in that, no matter how cool you think you are, it's impossible not to sing along. This is what Call of Duty is, gaming fun in its purest form. There is nothing complicated about it, you stick the disc in, let it spin up and hold that right trigger down, blasting your way to the end.
The game marks the finale in what has been one serious rollercoaster ride across the globe for über soldiers Soap and the gang. It features the same explosion filled eight hour blast-fest of a single player followed by a social life sapping multiplayer like no other. The difference is that this time Infinity Ward has come so close to perfecting every element of the experience that it makes us wonder where else they could possibly take it.
We like to play games at Pocket-lint, our bloated bellies and puffy eyes tell tales of hours spent on our Xbox. Every year when a new Call of Duty title comes out, we prepare the friends and family for the worst, lock ourselves away and play through the single player in one sitting.
It is a tradition that began with the first Modern Warfare and one that, up until now, has remained. Modern Warfare 3 however has defeated us. This is a game that likes explosions, so much so, in fact, that you become so acclimatised to them that when you die, the silence feels like your ears just don't work any more. From the very first level of MW3's singeplayer, which we won't spoil for you, it is an absolutely water-tight polished experience that is relentless up to the last moment.
The game is full of moments where you find yourself saying "They aren't going to do that are they? Oh wait they have". Every level acts like a game of one-upmanship to the last. How many more vehicles, enemies, explosions or landscapes can Infinity Ward possibly pack in to outdo it. The only issue with this insanely intense explosion-fest is that on the easier settings, you can become entirely desensitised to it. The game stops being an interactive experience at all, and more like a piece from a Michael Bay film which you move forward by shooting at 'things'.
Crank the difficulty back up however and all those classic COD single player tactics return. You are still vulnerable as anything out in the open and enemies will rain down an absurd number of bullets at you. Not to worry, in many cases our faithful friend the drone returns, complete with missiles. Other levels take this concept even further but we want you to find that one out for yourself.
Engine, Engine, Number 9
The Call of Duty engine is something which has spanned the majority of the current console generation. We remember how impressed we were the first time we fired up the original game. Others will have been thrown into the CoD universe via that highly detailed, if extremely violent 'No Russian' level - where you can, if you choose, kill a lot of people in an airport setting - in the second Modern Warfare game.
It was a game that for a good while easily retained the looks crown on consoles. There are however, several new contenders for that crown, namely Battlefield 3 and Crysis 2. The latter quite frankly destroys MW3 graphically. Battlefield however, isn't quite as impressive, despite looking gorgeous on a PC, CoD on consoles wins. Why? Because it manages to pack so much onto the screen while never ever fluctuating from the golden 60fps.
We know for a fact that 60fps has remained paramount to the design behind COD. Without it, all those stunning set pieces and lightning quick multiplayer matches just wouldn't play the same. Sure textures and lighting sometimes show their age, but quite frankly, it's all forgiveable when you see just how much is going on, on-screen.
Make us feel special
Special ops returns in its most complete and polished form in MW3. If you are a fan of split-screen gaming, then this is one of the best experiences you can have, with a friend, on consoles. All the new additions add to what is already a beefy gaming package, making MW3 incredibly good value for money.
Spec ops is the sort of thing you will be able to pour hours into, on top of the multiplayer, and you'll struggle to get close to finishing by Christmas. It exists in two forms; 'survival' and 'missions'. The latter is more the like conventional Spec ops you know from previous games, replete with all the usual steal, shoot and sniping challenges. Survival is CoD's take on horde mode from Gears of War, and is almost just as addictive. You pick up different weaponry or perks during, or, between rounds to survive an ever more difficult onslaught of enemies. It is fast paced and perfect for a brief half an hour play session.
Spec ops is a sort of Call of Duty lite. It sits on the left at the launch screen, tempting those who fancy a short, sharp, blast with friends or a quick solo play.
Let's get online
Chances are, if you are thinking about picking up MW3, it's for the multiplayer. Sure many still spend hours on the previous games online, but for the casual player, the joys of Black Ops online will have diminished many months ago. The arrival of MW3 means it's time to go through it all again.
So, get ready to pour hour-upon-hour into one of the most in-depth, complete and balanced online experiences in any game. It's bolstered even further with CoD Elite, an incredible back end for managing and engaging with players.
So what do you get? Well all the favourites are here, team deathmatch and all. You also benefit from a revamped and rethought approach to killstreaks. These exist to even the playing field now, rather than push the kill counts higher for better players. It is extremely refreshing and whilst the balance isn't quite perfect, there are plenty more helping hands for beginners. That said, we still think there could be more, as multiplayer remains a daunting prospect for less confident players.
The three 'strike packages' which decide what sort of killstreaks you gain, do almost exactly what they say on the tin. Unsurprisingly then, 'support' gives you support perks, like ammo drops or radar boosts. These don't get lost when you die. Assault is the more conventional, accumulated kills approach, complete with helicopter attacks and airstrikes. Finally there is Specialist, which is most suited to those who like to go solo, it includes additional perks which you can stack to transform yourself into some sort of super-soldier.
Weapons themselves now also level up, meaning you can work on a single gun, unlock parts for it and build a play style to suit yourself. No longer are things like red dot sights interchangeable, you have to unlock individual parts for individual weapons.
Levels themselves are also very different, they are multi-layered affairs with far more close-quarters setups. It stops any nasty situations where you get stuck and repeatedly blasted to pieces by a cleverly placed sniper or speedy assault gunner.
The sum of all these changes is a unparalleled console multiplayer package. By itself it would outdo the longevity of most other triple A titles, but with the rest included it's a bit of a stunner.
So all this praise yet again for a Call of Duty game. It is almost impossible not to acknowledge what Infinity Ward has done here. It has put polish on top of polish so that MW3 shines brighter than any other game in the series.
But for all its good points, of which there are many, ultimately it is just another Call of Duty game. That's no bad thing, but quite frankly if the game hadn't been so good we would have felt it a seriously tired affair. But then, why mess with a formula that can generate so much revenue? All we want to see, from whatever comes next, is something totally new, a new engine, story and play style reminiscent of all the excitement we first felt when playing the original Modern Warfare.
In the meantime we can enjoy all the delights of what has to be the best game in the Call of Duty series yet. And, one of the best games of the year.