Everything's better when you work together. Infinity Ward are well aware of this basic fact of life, and duly supplemented Modern Warfare 2's singleplayer campaign and competitive multiplayer suite with the Special Operations mode. This feature took the community by storm and created countless inseparable gaming power couples, so Modern Warfare 3 plans to up the cooperative ante with what promises to be one of the most hectic and exciting co-op gametypes on the market.
Welcome to Survival Mode.
Players start each match armed solely with a pistol in what the rep affectionately referred to as the "shotgun run." Enemies poured into the dusty desert level from two distinct choke points, armed only with pump action shotguns, grenades and a distinct disdain for self-preservation. Quick headshots and knife executions soon reward you with an enormous supply of buckshot (stripped from the ragtag miltia that dared to take you on), but as you'd expect, each subsequent wave is more dangerous, better-equipped and downright unpredictable than the last. Attack dogs, exploding dogs and heavily-armed foes all provide an increasingly stiff challenge, and one that's impossible to survive without close communication, overlapping fields of fire and constant repositioning.
Fairly standard, you might assume, but Modern Warfare 3's survival mode takes a leaf out of the original Counter-Strike's book. Killing enemies and scoring assists rewards players with virtual currency that can be spent at computer terminals located at strategic points within the level. These computers yield new weapons, upgrades (such as mounts and scopes), explosives, turrets and even pricey air support so long as you have the cash, making them absolutely invaluable in combat. A short - and skippable - breathing space between stages gives you time to stock up, but more often than not, you'll end up desperately dashing towards them while taking fire from all sides.
You can even buy weapons, ammo and gear for your partner and transfer it instantly via the share command. It's worth doing - after all, a poorly equipped wingman will get you both killed.
The odds soon go from stacked to utterly ridiculous - which is exactly what we want from a survival mode. Helicopters attack in teams of two, strafing the battlefield and working together to corral players into cover; picking off stragglers with casual, brutal efficiency. Luckily these little birds were no match for sustained firepower, requiring one player to get their attention while the other could blast their undefended underbellies at close range. I also downed one while out of action, which the rep reckoned was a MW3 first.
Sadly, my self-assured swagger was eventually squashed by the arrival of an enormous squad of armoured and shielded operatives (better known as the Juggernauts). These brutes took every last round I could muster without breaking stride, eventually overrunning our position and putting us both down with merciless ease. Copious sentries, air strikes, claymores and good old fashioned running away will be the order of the day when these bruisers join the fray.
There's a case to be made that Infinity Ward are missing a trick by not adding support for four players (especially when compared to Treyarch's Zombie mode), but the clarity and satisfying simplicity of two soldiers working together is difficult to beat. Combat roles and weapon selection suddenly becomes a life-or-death decision rather than a personal preference, and in simpler terms, talking strategy with one other person is a lot less confusing. Prepare for lifelong friendships to be forged in survival mode... and broken just as quickly.
Modern Warfare 3 doesn't pack the gorgeous wow factor of DICE's Frostbite 2.0 engine, yet compensates for it with some incredibly fluid animations and a frame rate that's consistently, pleasingly high. 60 FPS sounds like a raw and pointless number, but after a day of witnessing enormous amounts of chuntering alpha code, the It's mechanically flawless, comfortably familiar and feels just right; like your favourite pair of trainers or underwear taken directly out of the airing cupboard on a cold day. Call Of Duty will doubtlessly have to consider a major engine overhaul in the fullness of time, but when a game looks crisp and plays perfectly, there's no reason to fix what ain't broke.
It's going to be an interesting Winter for us FPS fans. In one corner looms a brash, slick Swedish newcomer; packing a stunning new engine and a marketing campaign that dwarfs most development budgets. In the other lies a polished, honed and tested titan whose predecessors practically defined the military shooters and multiplayer we see today (for better or worse). There's room in the gaming arena for both titles to flourish, overlap and thrive... but after enjoying both singleplayer campaigns, you'll probably find me getting stuck into MW3's survival mode. It's better when you work together.