(CBS) - Released in 2007, Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was the first installment in the series to depart from the War World II backdrop. Also adding memorable campaign characters and a completely retooled multiplayer experience, it cemented the franchise as the perennial blockbuster it is today.
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is the best in the series, succeeding in the face of overwhelming expectations, not to mention stiff competition from Battlefield 3. (In fact, COD's influence on its genre can be seen in no place greater than in Battlefield 3's newly cinematic main campaign. They say imitation is the sincerest form of flattery - well Infinity Ward should feel pretty darn flattered.)
For the uninitiated, the Modern Warfare series took the tried and true military shooter and gave it a Michael Bay-style kick in the teeth. True, the COD franchise has always had large action set pieces, but never infused with the level of drama and cinematic flair that the Modern Warfare series introduced to the genre.
With World War III in full effect, MW3's campaign is as grand and spectacle-filled as anything else in the series. You'll be taken to major cities all over the world - including New York, London and Paris - as you fight overwhelming forces in the midst of the most cinematically beautiful destruction.
The narrative sticks to the series' now formulaic (but still effective) thrill ride that Infinity Ward does so well, and delivers a bittersweet conclusion to the Modern Warfare saga and its characters.
Not everything is gravy though, as the main campaign does see the return of two of the series' most infamous schemes - infinitely-spawning enemies and an overabundance of hand-holding.
Infinitely-spawning enemies has always made the COD experience descend into a mad dash to reach the next checkpoint taking as few hits as possible rather than engaging in a strategic battle for cover. The limitless bad guys in MW3 do behave a bit more intelligently than in previous titles, only occasionally sprinting through lines of fire, ignoring your allies along the way, to shoot you specifically. While this does create an exciting pace that pushes the action forward, it also breaks the immersion and realism and, on harder difficulties, ruins the experience with cheap, frustrating deaths.
Additionally, MW3 still leads you by the hand from checkpoint to checkpoint but does offer a little more room for flanking and smart maneuvering then previous installments. This hand holding and the infinitely-spawning enemies are the big reasons why hardcore gamers loathe the franchise. But we play it anyway - hour after addictive hour - because they just do it so very, very well.
Despite these returning issues, the main campaign is extremely satisfying. Of course, this isn't why fans flock to their local retailers waiting hours in line to be the first to play. It's all about the online multiplayer.
MW3 sticks closely to the multiplayer experience of its predecessors - and why wouldn't it? If it ain't broke and all.
It's not all the same though as a few nice tweaks and additions have been made to weapon customization and game modes. Most notable is the inclusion of Call of Duty ELITE. Similar to Halo's Waypoint and Bungie.net, ELITE allows you to track your multiplayer stats online as well as meet people, join clans and even study completed matches and maps to create better strategies.
MW3 brings a satisfying conclusion to the campaign and fine tunes an already stellar multiplayer experience. This installment has shown that this franchise will continue to dominate the market as fans everywhere rejoice. See you next November Call of Duty!
Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 is available now for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, Wii, Nintendo DS and PC. It is rated M for Mature by the ESRB.