This article originally appeared in PC Gamer UK issue 232.
I poked around the Scrapyard paintball arena and scanned the ground while dangling from a zipwire, but there wasn't a single PC to be found at the recent Call of Duty XP event in LA.
When asked about our platform, Infinity Ward employees only offered happy patter about their return to dedicated servers. Compared to Battlefield 3's grandstanding, MW3 is short on PC love or technical boasting, and instead refreshingly open about design specifics.
The Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer that Call of Duty's baying fans had travelled to LA to see isn't a revolution – it's the series putting its house in order. Anything that unbalanced the game back in the days of Modern Warfare 2 – and there was a lot – has been changed or removed.
Among the notable absentees announced to a rapturous crowd (yes, they cheered the removal of mechanics) were the One Man Army perk with its sneaky midspawn class change, the Stretch Armstrong arm-reach provided by Commando, the game-ending nuke and the prevailing threat of secondary shotguns. As fun for the individual as they might have been, they were ruining the game at large.(opens in new tab)
Killstreaks have undergone the greatest transformation, emerging Brundleflylike from a pod in their new form as Pointstreaks. In Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops, newer players could barely dream of access to the higher realms of Killstreak rewards, and success in more exotic objective-based game modes didn't always involve chains of enemy death.
To help reward players more fairly, and encourage less antisocial play styles, the new system rewards not just kills, but flagcaps, objective grabs and basic teamwork.
What's more, the streak rewards you choose are now split into Strike Packages. The first, Assault, will provide the explosive delights that are familiar to all, but the Support package is now home to all of the rewards that help your team. UAV scans, SAM turrets, drops of ballistic vests to divvy out among the troops, Recon drones and even a suit of Juggernaut armour can be called in.
Vitally, your ascendance to these team-helping goodies doesn't reset when you take a bullet to the head, but instead keeps on ticking upwards throughout the round.(opens in new tab)
Meanwhile, the Specialist Strike Package rewards talented lone wolves with an extra perk for every two points collected. However, dying at the hands of another still sets them back to the foot of the ladder.
Maps are international affairs. There's an American interpretation of a London tube station, complete with a 'Porter Potty', and a mythical underground map containing delights such as Wrong Shoes Street and Big Beard Tower Station.
There are the streets lying in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower and a foliage-packed African village surrounded by caves and waterfalls. All of them are fairer and better designed than most of those locations found in MW2, whose settings provided dozens of angles of attack via unnecessary doors, windows and rooftops in every conceivable direction.
In recent CoD games there's also been a tendency to make the player feel guilty for specialising in one weapon. Modern Warfare 3 instead positively rewards you for remaining faithful to your chosen piece of hot, sexy metal. Guns now level up as you do, enabling you to strap different scopes and reticules to its body, and even letting you improve intricate details such as its kick, stability and the number of attachments it can handle.(opens in new tab)
These are all good, solid and intelligent changes to a multiplayer framework that, while loved, has long had rough edges in need of smoothing. Infinity Ward have risked angering the community in order to experiment, albeit with experiments that Quake III and Unreal Tournament modders first toyed with a decade ago. Firstly, there are user-tweaked game modes in private matches that work like UT's mutators. Secondly, there's a new mode called Kill Confirm. Here the deceased drop dogtags: collect an enemy's tag and you gain 50 points; collect an ally's and you deny the opposition their prize. It's a simple concept, but it brings a new edge of teamwork to Team Deathmatch.
After running through the biggest changes to the game's multiplayer offering, Activision announced the price for Call of Duty's new premium service, Elite. The Facebook-enabled social network is £35 a year for 20 drops of map DLC, high-end clan features, prize competitions, in-depth tactical guides and twice-weekly, Hollywood-sponsored video content.
This is clearly the year that Call of Duty aims to go from gaming stranglehold to world domination. On PC, though? The day we actually see the thing running on a desktop, we'll let you know.