E3 2011: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Hands-On Preview

E3 2011: We leave the single-player campaign and buddy up for our first hands-on look at Modern Warfare 3's new Spec Ops mode.

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Spec Ops made its Call of Duty debut as part of the Modern Warfare 2 package and gave players a chance to defend a location against waves of attackers of escalating difficulty. The game mode returns in Modern Warfare 3 and brings with it a new mode in Survival; an army of two experience where you lean on either an AI buddy, for same-console split-screen play, or go online.

Today, we had a chance to get hands-on with the new mode, with our demo located on Dome, a level that will also appear as a multiplayer map. Activision reps confirmed that these levels will not come from the single-player campaign. Beginning initially with only a pistol, you will need to either get used to it or scrounge the weapons of fallen enemies for freebie upgrades. The first group we took on were all fans of the shotgun, but within a few short waves, enemies were packing submachine guns and assault rifles. Afraid of germs from secondhand guns? There's also the option to spend the money you earn from felled troops on more advanced weapons, items, and special perks.

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Human life is meant to be priceless, but our targets worked out to about $150 per kill, with us earning a cool 20 beans for dealing damage but our buddy landing the finishing blow. Bonuses are given for earning kill streaks, and you don't get perks like the spy planes, radio-controlled cars with munitions strapped to them, or gruesome napalm strikes (that we saw anyway), but you will get some extra cash for the kitty just for doing your job well by earning successive kills without taking damage. Be warned, though: Catching even a single stray bullet with your character will reset your counter, which is marked at the bottom of the screen by a yellow progress bar.

The Dome map was split into a few distinct zones: the shell of a gutted office building, an outdoor area with parked military vehicles, and a bunker area down a ramp (a good spot for hiding in wait for targets to approach the incline). There were also two open spaces begging for machine gun turrets and grenade launchers, as well as the level's namesake dome: an indoor section with a large cement column blocking line of sight to its second doorway.

Located in three of these areas (the office, underground bunker, and dome room) were supply boxes. When we had enough money and wanted to upgrade our salvaged kit to something that packed a harder punch, we wandered down to drop some coin. Like the outfitting options in Call of Duty: Black Ops multiplayer, each weapon has an assortment of available unique upgrades, such as red dot and ACOG scopes as substitutes for raw iron sights, as well as under-barrel grenade launchers. Ammunition doesn't automatically restock between rounds, so you'll need to keep some cash handy to replenish.

While the box of tricks in the dome was limited to offering new guns, the others played host to something a little nastier. The one marked on the heads-up display with a grenade icon sold explosive and flashbang grenades, as well as Kevlar vests. It also sold portable auto machine gun and grenade turrets. Once purchased, they were automatically assigned a location on the D pad ready for use and could be activated at will. Once placed in your preferred location, your partner can still pick up and reposition them. This became a crucial tactic when one of the waves replaced ground grunts carrying riffles with attack helicopters. At that point, we squirreled our unmanned guns away under cover to avoid our investment being blown to bits.

Because each player approaches combat differently, it's unlikely all players will earn cash at the same rate. Thus, at times, there may be an imbalance with the virtual checkbook. As a result, if you're a little light, you can either take a $500 handout from your mate at a time or play the role of generous benefactor bankrolling the mission. Because you can only have a single type of turret in operation at any time per player, it makes sense to share the wealth, giving your friend a chance to pay for either another of the same kind or a complimentary type to use in tandem.

The third and final shop granted us access to more valuable and exotic items, such as Delta Force reinforcements and predator drones. Calling in Delta Force dropped a half-dozen extra men on the field to help even the numbers. Your teammate has his name clearly visible and hovering above the character model at all times, but that isn't the case with other squadmates. In the heat of battle, the green crosshairs of friendlies easily went unseen, and friendly fire meant it was easy to perforate part of our own group with itchy trigger fingers.

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Player stats flash up onscreen at the end of each wave with ratings for your weapon accuracy, number of kills achieved, and total cash earned. There's a leveling system at play here to rank up as you go, but none of the weapons or items we came across in the stores were out of our reach if we had the dollars.

Enemy combatant AI went easy on us at the start, moving in packs and clumping near walls and vehicles. But as the mode continued on and the waves rolled by, riot shield-wielding enemies and juggernauts joined the fray and made better use of flanking. For this reason, communication between you and your friend becomes essential to cover blind spots, and we had fun plugging away at bad guys and searching out the optimal spots to hold to cover two entrances simultaneously.

The Modern Warfare 3 content train now seems to be gaining speed, giving us our first look just before E3, taking the wraps off the first details of its proposed Call of Duty: Elite service details, demoing a new chunk of single-player content during Microsoft's E3 press conference, and now throwing open the doors on the closest thing we've seen so far to multiplayer. Stay tuned to GameSpot for more on Modern Warfare 3 from E3 2011 in anticipation of its release on November 8 this year.

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