It is, however, a remarkably similar experience to the Call of Duty you've been playing for five years, and its incremental updates will do little to revive the spirits of anybody fatigued by its annual resurrection. Yet it is also easy and comforting to get sucked back into the breadcrumb trail of unlocks and upgrades across 80 levels and, if you're a Prestigious kind of guy, ten cycles of 1,264,000 experience points.
Multiplayer is an unashamedly hostile experience, and after five iterations of the core principles Call of Duty 4 established in 2007, you can expect to be met by some extremely talented players. Spec Ops is the bridge, then - a two-player co-operative addition of 16 missions and a wave-based survival mode. While it's particularly hard to get excited about the latter, Modern Warfare 3's take offers its own slant by virtue of demanding a greater degree of communication than the usual four-player efforts. The difficulty curve is also nicely designed, picking up the pace in most of the right places, but let down slightly by the fact it takes a few waves too many to get stuck in.
The best co-op moments arrive in Mission mode. Perhaps the strongest scenario puts one player at the helm of a security weapons system, allowing them to help their partner progress through a series of intricate corridors. Most of the 16 missions can be played solo, which means there's only one other mission of this ilk; the other has a player providing air support in an AC-130. It's a real shame there's not more of these specific two-player missions, but the 14 other scenarios do manage to hold your interest.
Then there's the solitary single-player experience: a six hour campaign which takes you through three acts and seventeen chapters, picking up straight after the messy-yet-thrilling knife-in-eye ending of Modern Warfare 2.
Modern Warfare 3's campaign presents its global war with wide panoramic shots of devastation and neatly framed pockets of destruction. The nature of the game flits between shock and awe, plopping bombastic aeroplane raids and vehicle battles right next to the indiscriminate murder or men, women and children. The tone is occasionally a little off, but it's simply fascinating from a geopolitical standpoint. This is a campaign positively delighted to litter the streets of Paris and London with the dying and dead, but one which presents the heart of Manhattan as an unpopulated ghost town. If Modern Warfare 2 wanted to set fire to an American flag while kicking down suburban picket fences, the third now wants to wreak obliteration on as much of Europe as possible.
There's nothing quite like the infamous No Russian on display here, no matter how many times sensationalist tabloids and overeager blog posts try and make it so, but Modern Warfare 3 does run into video games' age-old problem: it is impossible to dump players into a narrative that sincerely deals with death when it demands you to blast enemy goons in the face with a sniper rifle immediately afterwards.
Occasional moments of controversial schlock aside (yes, it does ask at the beginning if you're sure you want to see the notorious content), this is a meticulously directed and focused action piece, one with a far more crafted sense of place than the disconnected world-hopping of its many contemporaries. It's also a particularly smart touch that the game recalls and reworks signature moments of the Second World War with a modern twist; a US beach landing on some German shores is trying so desperately to funnel the spirit of D-Day you wonder why the game doesn't just plonk you in France, which itself finds it the target of a Europe-wide chemical attack at the hands of some nasty terrorists.
The point, of course, is to funnel players through various pop-up galleries and to detonate the rest of the world around them, and in this regard Modern Warfare 3 is a resounding success. Sledgehammer Games and Infinity Ward have created a string of interesting set-pieces that will be guaranteed to dazzle anyone who can surrender to the fact their player character is little more than an actor on the world's most destructive stage, and while that flaw is plain to see Sledgehammer Games and Infinity Ward do a far better job than their rivals of smoothing over the cracks.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 doesn't do anything new, but it also doesn't do anything wrong. For better or worse, this is a slick and well-metered trio of modes that make an entertaining package, but Sledgehammer Games and Infinity Ward are simply looking to augment previous games rather than expand the series into pastures new. Modern Warfare 3 is another beat in the colossally successful rhythm Activision has mastered, but what this year's game lacks in imagination it makes up for in quality.