When you complete Modern Warfare 3's first proper mission, Black Tuesday, you get an Achievement. It's called 'Too Big to Fail'. You can read into this in one of two ways.
On the one hand, it could represent the kind of arrogance and hubris you'd expect from the team behind the biggest game in the world - a reference to its inevitable record-breaking success. On the other hand, you could imagine that it's the mantra for a development team that had its guts ripped out when the founders of Infinity Ward left, and faces the most credible challenger to the series yet in the shape of Battlefield 3. The stakes are enormous. Call of Duty is too huge - too important to too many people - for the developer to stuff it up. Failure isn't an option.
Fortunately Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer have soaked up the pressure and produced a tight, thrilling action game that makes Modern Warfare 2 - supposedly Infinity Ward at the height of its powers - look like self-indulgent nonsense by comparison. It's a breathless, explosive tour of the globe that takes in a remarkable number of recognisable locations and serves up spectacular set piece after spectacular set piece.
Its enthusiasm can be almost overwhelming. Modern Warfare 3 is so excitable that it's never long before a seemingly quiet level explodes into an almighty shitstorm, and you'll actually find yourself feeling exhausted as your body attempts to maintain the required adrenaline level. It maintains variety throughout, though, regularly hurling new mechanics into the mix to counterbalance mowing down the endless supply of Russian soldiers.
It's also better at hiding the quirks of its scripting system this time around. You're far less aware of endlessly spawning enemies as you were in MW2 or Black Ops and there's nothing as gruelling as the Favela or Vietnam levels from those games. Instead, you have a series of missions that are packed with memorable sequences. One unexpected and underplayed moment is the assault on Hamburg, which is a conscious nod to old school Call of Duty games and sees you making a beach landing and then following a column of tanks as it rolls to the heart of the city.