Modern Warfare 3 preview: Spec Ops Survival mode

Neither the single-player nor multiplayer modes of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 are playable at this year's E3, but Activision is running a demo for a brand new version of co-op that Infinity Ward is calling Spec Ops Survival. I say Infinity Ward is calling it that (and they are, because that's its name), but given that this is multiplayer, it was probably developed in conjunction with Sledgehammer Games and/or Raven Software. Activision wasn't completely clear on just how the co-development work is being divvied up, so we're not sure who to credit for it.

Whoever made it, Spec Ops Survival is a brand new mode for co-op in the Modern Warfare series. I was told that Spec Ops missions are still available (though those weren't being shown off at all), but Survival is a new mode that can be played on any of the maps being used for actual multiplayer. The map used in the demo was called Dome, and after a quick breakdown of the mechanics (it's Horde, basically -- waves of enemies show up on the map, and you and a partner have to take them out) my Activision cohort and I went to work.
Where to begin? Survival can be played online with a buddy, of course, or split screen local, or even solo (where it's just you against the incoming troops). The basic goal, again, is just to survive as long as possible. But as you play this match, you earn money (actual virtual dollars, not COD points as in Black Ops multiplayer) that you can then spend at a series of in-map stores. After the first match, a gun store opens up, and then a few matches later, an equipment store appears, and finally an "air support" store shows up as well.

Money earned in the match (for kills, teammate revives, and various other actions) can be spent in these stores on all of the various things a Modern Warfare soldier would usually carry. The gun store holds a number of weapons which you can not only buy, but then upgrade with various sights or add-ons. There's also an option to re-purchase ammo, in case you run out. The equipment store is packed in with things like frag grenades and tripmines, and even turrets and C4.

The air support store is probably the most interesting -- for a significant amount of money (and after it opens up on the map, around wave 3), you can buy some air support attacks, including a new reward called "Delta Squad." When used, that will summon a group of four AI soldiers to the map via helicopter that serve as your allies, shooting alongside you for as long as they live.

Some of these purchases are governed by progression level, and I was told that this time around, Spec Ops has its own experience and level progression, completely separate from the multiplayer progression. While the balance and rewards on that aren't completely locked down yet, one of the highest level rewards was the option to buy a "Riot Shield Squad" in the air support store, which means you'd be calling down riot shield officers rather than just soldiers.

You will probably need everything you can buy and then some -- the enemies start out with just shotguns (which you can grab off the ground to upgrade your starting pistol), and get harder from there. Guard dogs are back in the mix again and not one but two assault helicopters showed up about five waves in. Later, there are soldiers equipped with C4 that explodes when they die, and after that there are dogs equipped with the same rigs. That's right: Dynamite dogs. And on the very last wave that we made it to, I learned that the Juggernaut, the blast suit-wearing badass from Modern Warfare 2, is back.

Doing well across waves (getting headshots, rocking a solid accuracy rating, and taking less damage) gets you more money to spend on in-match items, and Survival also has two onscreen challenge meters to try and fill. The Rampage challenge, for example, rewards you when you kill a bunch of enemies in a row, both with extra cash and with an actual visual explosion of dollar bills in the game world. When you fill up a meter by pulling off Rampages, the reward goes up. Don't pull off Rampages, and the meter will slowly drain out. I also saw a Kill Streak challenge (where you fill the meter by killing multiple enemies without being damaged), and there are a few others in the mix from round to round.

You can share money with your co-op partner if they need some extra cash, and you can revive them if they happen to fall (fallen players can summon their partners to help by pressing Y). There are at least a few difficulty levels to play with, though it wasn't clear how many. And on one more mysterious note, there was an armor value at the bottom of the screen that started at 100, and fell as I got shot. It's unclear whether that's something just for this mode or if it's a gamewide thing, but the Activision rep didn't provide comment.

Was it fun? It was -- the mechanics of Modern Warfare were familiar, and the incoming enemy soldiers provided a different challenge than what you'd find in the single- or multiplayer modes. Admittedly, the action was a little wackier than what we've seen from Infinity Ward in the past (the explosion of cash on a Rampage definitely takes you out of the military simulation of it all, not to mention the dynamite dogs), but even playing with an Activision employee provided thrills I think that would only be expanded upon by playing with a good friend. And the cash/store balance seemed fun -- every time I felt like I'd gotten used to a certain weapon or piece of equipment purchased, I had earned just enough money to head back to the store and pick up something newer and better.

There's not a ton of innovation in the actual mode itself, but of course it's Horde mode painted with the Modern Warfare brush. As one part of the much larger scheme of Modern Warfare 3, Spec Ops Survival is a good fit.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.