For the past few years, fans of the Call of Duty series have enjoyed a fairly predictable stable of guns, guts and glory.
Both Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2 have solidified Activision's franchise as the preeminent first-person shooter on the market, both managing to sell over twenty million copies apiece.
Keenly aware of the adage "if it ain't broke, don't fix it", Activision is pitching Modern Warfare 3 firmly in the same ballpark as its predecessors. At least, that's judging by the twenty minutes or so of the campaign we saw at a Los Angeles press event this week past.
Modern Warfare 3 picks up where Modern Warfare 2 left off. Although heavy plot details are still wrapped in secrecy, the invading Russian forces have solidified their position on the eastern seaboard of America and are fighting a fierce street-to-street war in the commercial heartland of the nation.
The first chapter demonstrated to the press involved a fierce gun battle in downtown New York, and it's immediately obvious that Modern Warfare 3 will be every bit as action-focused as can be expected. Zampella, West, and many others may have departed from Infinity Ward, but their legacy lives on.
Moving through the rubble-covered streets of New York, Russian troops take pot-shots at our position, forcing members of the elite forward squad to take to the buildings in order to progress. Bullets shred office furniture and kick up sheets of paper as they cut a path to the nearest Russian troop.
Throughout all this, the player is never a heartbeat away from a memorable moment. The scripting is tight, and the one-off animations from squad members set up visual cues that propel the action forward in a relentless wave of cartridges and cordite. The sense here is of a stage upon which the player is very much the focus, in no small part due to the studied disorder built into the level design. Manhattan is presented in a far more desolate form than even Crytek imagined earlier this year, although the destruction never strays far from the bounds of credibility.
The trading floor of the New York Stock Exchange is the symbolic scene for some of the most frenetic action. Although there's never any more combatants than can be managed, incoming attacks arrive from a variety of sources. There's tanks roaming about outside as Russian soldiers spill into the utterly ruined building, scrabbling for cover and lobbing grenades as your squad struggles to repel and advance to a forward pick-up zone.
By traversing the upper levels, a path is cleared to the roof, prompting marauding enemy choppers to engage the squad. It's here we're given the opportunity to use an aerial drone in defence. These behave much as they have in the past, although the interface, targeting and visual effects clearly benefit from two years of development. The infra-red first-person camera on the guided missile identifies sources of heat, and it seems to be a relatively simple matter to steer the missile to an inevitable conclusion.
The chapter appears to end with the safe extraction of the remaining squad members aboard a chopper, however in typical Call of Duty style, this isn't without a sting in the tail. At one point the extraction gunship faces down an enemy through the shell of a ruined skyscraper as heavy-calibre rounds tear though the structure of the building. Defeating the hostile chopper results in a scripted air-to-air impact that forces your own chopper towards the dirt, rounding out the New York component of Activision's demonstration.
From there, it's on to London for a far more surgical operation. Your elite squad infiltrates Canary Wharf to examine Russian transport trucks in an operation designed to showcase stealth takedowns. It's not as player-centric as the New York chapter, as your squad will frequently move ahead to take out patrolling soldiers given the right opportunity. There's an overwhelming sense of participation in a team operation, and when everything falls apart, this becomes even more crucial.
Managing to somehow end up in the London Underground system on the back of a pickup chasing a tube train filled with Russian operatives is no small feat. Screaming through brightly illuminated tube stations before plunging back into dark tunnels and picking off said operatives demonstrates the level of attention lavished upon the campaign.
From the content revealed so far, it's clear Infinity Ward is on a mission to prove that it's still capable of producing a campaign packed to the hilt with insane action. It's too early to say whether or not this reliance will adversely affect the plot of the game, but those concerned at the possibility of a monumental change in the underlying structure of the franchise need not worry.