For all of Modern Warfare 2’s bombastic, throat-grabbing fireworks, once the campaign had reached its climax it wasn’t difficult to concede that it may just have set some kind of benchmark for brazen narrative incoherence. It wasn’t just that it didn’t make sense, it was that it seemed to treat its own sense of coherence with the same degree of respect that it bestowed upon the imaginary families of its bowling pin villains. Stir in a bevy of ridiculously uneven airborne kill streaks in multiplayer, and you’re left with a near-excellent videogame thats crippling flaws dutifully earned it a spiteful fan backlash. It was, essentially, a Z-grade Chuck Norris movie with a barnstorming AAA budget, and for all of its amazing set-pieces, it did seem like a callous backwards step in light of its sober, immaculately paced predecessor.

Modern Warfare 3 blends the best bits of both of its forerunners together, and the concoction is energising. The plot this time is much less haywire and much more coherent than its immediate predecessor, and its story features more than a few moments of actual, palpable surprise. But when the going does get bombastic – which it does with customary frequency – it’s never shy about hurling harmony and good sense out of the window in order to overwhelm you with some none-too-cheap thrills. The campaign does hit a few bum notes – such as the intriguing rush to out-run a sandstorm that’s inexplicably abandoned as quickly as it’s introduced – but that curious spell aside, the game’s campaign manages to disguise its inherently repetitive nature in ways that its competitors haven’t ever been able to match.

As is now traditional it’s a tale that’s told via a bare minimum of cinematics – which is to say, none at all – and it’s shrewd enough to keep everything swift and simple. Reaching a waypoint is about as complex as Modern Warfare 3’s goals get, but Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer (who’ve clearly brought out the best in each other) really know how to push people’s buttons. Sadly Lorne Balfe and Hans Zimmer’s rabble-rousing score from Modern Warfare 2 hasn’t returned to assist them, but replacement Brian Taylor has done a sturdy and effective job, if not an especially memorable one. This is as much of an interactive action movie as Uncharted 3, and if you can stomach the abundant silliness you’re in for an unexpectedly captivating trip.

So the fact that the campaign is so strong comes as a very welcome surprise, but it’s probably fair to say that for the vast majority of the COD elite, anything that isn’t multiplayer is of negligible interest. On the surface, Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer component is instantaneously familiar, but to evaluate the extensive number of covert modifications that have been made would involve turning this review into an interminable essay. That said, there are definitely standouts. Kill Confirmed mode is a rejuvenating, why-the-hell-didn’t-they-do-this-ages-ago triumph that’s been primarily designed to abolish campers. It doesn’t totally work on that score – in less than 24 hours they’ve already adapted their play-styles to fit around it – but it constantly introduces on-the-fly moments of attentive strategy that simply don’t exist in standard bouts of TDM.

The new Killstreak modifiers are similarly canny, and they allow players who aren’t obsessed with their K/D ratio to earn rewards that benefit everyone on their team. If you only get your kicks from racking up kills – to consequently acquire killstreaks that net you even more – then you can still play as you always have; but now, players who are more concerned with nailing objectives no longer have to feel as if they’re constantly banging their heads against a brick wall. In addition to the standard multiplayer suite, Modern Warfare 2’s best feature – the justly celebrated 2-player Spec Ops mode – reappears here in the rudest of health, and adds a new Survival mode to its tight bundle of brief little thrillers. Survival is essentially yet another riff on Gears of War’s Horde – albeit a slick and thoughtful one – with the increased mobility offered by COD’s wonderfully oily controls making for a very different experience to the slower, much more pensive pleasures served up by Epic’s pregnant lummoxes.

So it’s a package that’s most aptly described as being ridiculously generous, and the only game this year that matches it for sheer wealth of content is Gears of War 3. Sledgehammer and Infinity Ward have publicly shunned the idea that this is the “climax” of the Modern Warfare trilogy, or even that they’ve attempted to make this iteration somehow definitive. That the story is both engaging and comprehensible is clearly emblematic of their cautious hard work, but the fact that every mode shines brightly – even the Horde-aping Survival Mode couldn’t be any less of a weak link – goes to show that none of its creators ever felt the need to treat Modern Warfare 3 as just another franchise sequel. Clever refinements, more neat content, and a narrative that’ll actually hook you. It’s difficult to imagine anyone being disappointed.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is available now on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC and Nintendo Wii.

Watch the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 launch trailer below:

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