The single-player campaign is a breakneck seven (or less) hours of classic Infinity Ward set-pieces, shocks and thrills. But it's only a small part of the game, because when it's over, there's still Spec Ops to go through. This new mode focuses on small pockets of gameplay - from rescuing hostages, to skidoo races, to basic assault and defence objectives - and it's utterly brilliant. There are six tiers of missions, each offering a different type of challenge and level of difficulty. And you can play most of them on your own, although some are reserved exclusively for online, or local split-screen, co-op action.
The solo highlight is 'Suspension'. Your task is simple: get from one end of an enormous Golden Gate-style bridge to another. But problems arise when jets start bombing the area, buckling the bridge and sending abandoned cars sliding around the map. It's a perfectly paced challenge and a tense cover-to-cover battle. Spec Ops features a handful of original levels like this, but mostly they're recycled from both MW2 and COD4's single-player campaigns - albeit with loads of new twists.
'Hidden' sees you returning to the outskirts of Chernobyl in your trusty ghillie suit. You can do this Spec Op by yourself, but it's best with a pal. It sees you creeping through the radiation-soaked fields taking out enemy snipers, and it's joyously nerve-wracking. The only way you can spot the enemy is by a glint of sunlight on their scope, and by then it's usually too late.
Spec Ops is every bit as good as single-player, and even better in some respects. Without having to worry about storytelling or level progression, Infinity Ward focus on pure, focused gameplay trials - the best since PS2 TimeSplitters 2's Challenge mode. Oh, and collecting stars will become an obsession. They're your reward for finishing challenges; one for regular difficulty, two for hardened and three for veteran - the more you nab, the more missions you unlock.
And then there's multi-player. We won't go too in-depth here as we'll be doing a follow-up online review once the game has been released, but we can safely say this: it's awesome. As fraught, energetic and compulsive as ever before, with increased focus on personality and customisation, it's going to keep you busy for ages. In our two-hour playthrough we reached level 7 (earning a respectable 356XP), which seems to suggest level progression is a lot faster than before.
Which makes sense, as there's now more ways than ever to accumulate experience points. You get bonuses for stopping peoples' killstreaks, coming back from a string of deaths, downing choppers, throwing grenades back, and more. And in an idea directly inspired by Street Fighter IV you earn positive and negative 'emblems' tailored to your playing style. For example, kill yourself a lot and you can apply the 'Accident Prone' tag. And certain acts are displayed to the entire team, for example: 'PSM3 shot down the helicopter!'. Small things, but they add colour to what was previously a more impersonal online experience. Plus they let you show off.
Problems? Well, there's one that especially annoys us. There's a new effect when you get shot that looks like someone's smeared some jam on a window. It's supposed to be blood, but it looks exactly like strawberry preserve. And it totally dominates the screen, obscuring the indicator that shows the direction you're being shot from. It's confusing and disorientating during the more frantic battles, which may have been their intention, but we could've done without it.