Say what you want about Activision, but at least it's prepared to put the money where its mouth is. In previous years the publisher has unveiled the multiplayer side of Call of Duty to a select group of press, but Modern Warfare 3's has gone all-out to parade itself in front of the series' most scrupulous and knowledgeable experts; the fans.
And what do the fans think? Optimism, mostly - there's a near universal agreement from the people I spoke to at the Call of Duty XP event in Los Angeles that Modern Warfare 3 is making changes to the ingrained formula that needed to happen.
Modern Warfare 3's core, however, is still eminently recognisable, and it's the perfect playground for close-quarters infantry battles running at a blistering fast pace. With over 20 million active players, even the most seemingly minor of tweaks and additions can have huge ramifications on the end result - just look at what the 1887's and the nuke did to Modern Warfare 2.
The game's latest suite of changes and differences are far reaching and significant, although they won't be able to change the mind of any of the game's detractors. The whole idea is to find a balance between the endearing chaos of Modern Warfare 2 and the tight gunplay of Call of Duty 4.
Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games are also working to promote team play. Former Call of Duty titles have modelled themselves around Killstreaks, bonus caches of potential destruction dished out to players for unbroken chains of kills. But Killstreaks, Infinity Ward regrettably admits, were only really perfect for one type of game: Team Deathmatch. Why bother keeping points captured in Domination, or guarding the bomb in Search & Destroy, when you could see everyone else running around with all the cool gear?
With Modern Warfare 3 the idea is to change Killstreaks to Pointstreaks and reward players for assists and captures alongside their straight kills. While the rebrand will likely outrage anyone who works in website SEO, the subtle difference might just make a lot of sense for the rest of us.
This now works in tandem with new Strike Packages, which allow for further specialisation and of which three are available - you choose one as part of your Modern Warfare 3 loadout, and your Pointstreaks will feed into these in different ways. The Assault Strike Package works identically to Modern Warfare 2 (including the fact streaks count towards further streaks) and is focused on destructive rewards such as predator missiles (for 5 kills), attack helicopters (for 7 kills), and the new osprey gunner (for 17 kills).
Meanwhile, the new Support Strike Package offers a defensive slant. Your Pointstreak survives even after your death, and rewards are focused around assisting your team and countering the toys Assault classes will be throwing at you. You'll be able to do things like dish out ballistic vests for the whole team, alongside recon drones, sentry guns, and the advanced UAV.
Then there's the Specialist Strike Package, which can unlock an additional perk with every second kill. You can unlock a maximum of three perks, giving you a total of six perks running at any one time, but your extras reset upon death. I didn't really understand the whole point of Specialist (I'm too used to UAVs and sentry guns) but Infinity Ward assures me that expert players can create devastating perk cocktails. Which is probably why I was a bit duff, thinking about it.
When it comes to the 15 Perks, spread as always over three tiers, there's your expected mix of returning classics and new ideas. Sleight of Hand, Scavenger, and Hardline make their return, whereas One Man Army and Commando are completely removed. Some old favourites have been tweaked and rebranded a little, too; Marathon has had to make way for Extreme Conditioning, which gives you an extended but not infinite sprint. Then there's completely new additions like Recon, which makes enemies show up on the mini-map if they've taken damage from your attacks.
Call of Duty's RPG-like mechanics now cross over to the weapons themselves, which now level up individually of the player. As your weapon gains in experience you'll unlock the standard bevy of attachments - such as the red dot sight and underbarrel grenade launcher - but also a single selectable proficiency, which allows you to adjust things like weapon flinch, sway, or number of attachments you can bolt on at once.
While the finished game will include a variety of new modes alongside the returning likes of Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag and Domination, only one was being shown: Kill Confirmed. It's a spin on classic TDM, with players dropping a pair of flamboyant revolving dog tags upon death. These need to be collected by your opponents to actually count towards their team score, and any allied players who retrieve your tags will deny the other team those all-important points.
Kill Confirmed is a fun mode that went down well with virtually everyone who played it, and the ability to focus on and around noticeable objectives will make it easier for new players to make sense of Call of Duty's chaos.
All this would be for naught if the 16 maps weren't up to scratch, but each of the five maps on show brought something to the game. My personal highlight was Team Deathmatch on Underground, a map based around the fictitious Middleton (nice touch, guys) tube station after it's been bombed by terrorists.
Infinity Ward has stated that Modern Warfare 3's maps would be more horizontal than vertical, and Underground shows this off perfectly - the map is set over two spread out levels, with plenty of choke points around the ticket barriers and train platform.
I couldn't possibly make a judgement yet on whether Modern Warfare 3's various subtractions and additions will make for the balanced game that Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer Games are promising, but what I can say is that I'm looking forward to playing it again.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is due for release on Xbox 360, PS3, PC and Wii on November 8.