"Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3"

"Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" (Infinity Ward/Activision / November 8, 2011)

Bottom Line: Once again, this shooter series shows why it’s the one everyone plays. And copies.

Developer: Infinity Ward (“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2”), Sledgehammer Games, Raven Software (“Singularity”), Treyarch (“Call of Duty: Black Ops”), n-Space (“Tron: Evolution: Battle Grids”)

Publisher: Activision

Available on: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, PC, NDS

Reviewed on: Xbox 360

Rating: 4 stars (out of 4) 

When "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" begins, World War III is in full swing, with the Russians occupying New York City and much of Europe. Meanwhile, the disavowed heroes from the last game, Soap and Price, are hoping to clear their names by bringing the real enemy to light -- just as soon as they get away from some trigger happy Russians.

What follows is a whirlwind tour that stretches from Sierra Leone to Siberia as you engage in a series of harrowing firefights that are as ridiculously, gloriously and unapologetically over-the-top and full of a cinematic whiz-bang-boom as they are exhilarating and challenging. It's like playing the climactic battle of an epic war movie over and over until you suddenly realize it's 4 in the morning, and where the heck are my pants?

As always, you spend most of your time on the ground, but you'll also take to the skies in an attack helicopter, go swimming like a SEAL, take a cruise through New York harbor, and use a miniature remote-controlled tank to clear out a village full of pests. It is that non-stop of a rollercoaster ride. You don't run for you life in this game: you run for your life while someone rains mortars down on your head and enemies jump out at you with guns a blazin'. And then the helicopter coming to take you home crashes ... again.

Of course, it helps that this has the same responsive and intuitive controls that are the hallmark of this series (though the optional targeting assistance has been dialed back a little). In fact, the only real issue with the story mode is that it's even shorter than the one in "Warfare 2. Sure, it's a very intense couple of hours, and it's engaging enough that you’ll want to play it multiple times, but it's still only a couple of hours.

The thing is, even if the story mode had been an unplayable disaster that lasted only 20 minutes, "COD:MW3" would still be worthwhile for the online multiplayer alone. All of the things that made such modes as "Team Deathmatch" so addictive before are still present and accounted for, sir. But this also has a fun new mode called "Kill Confirmed" in which you don’t just take out an enemy, you also have to grab the dog tag off their body before their teammates do.

Besides the competitive multiplayer modes, this also has some co-op ones, such as "Missions," in which you and a partner have to complete a series of story-driven objectives that range from storming a sub to grabbing someone who, in the story mode, you were supposed to protect. But the really fun one is "Survival," in which you battle an endless series of enemies. Granted, it does play like similar modes in "Gears of War 3" and "Halo: Reach," but this game's modern military setting sets it apart. Especially when you get past the suicide bombers and attack dogs and have to take on suicide attack dogs.

Whether you just play the explosive story mode by yourself over and over, play the co-op modes with a friend over and over, or shoot your friends online over and over, you will get your money's worth, and then some, out of "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3." It's not a gigantic leap forward the way the first "MW" was, but it's just as much fun.