Following a series of surprisingly thorough leaks, Activision has finally unveiled Modern Warfare 3, the follow-up to one of 2009’s best-selling games and the first release from Infinity Ward since its founding members left along with a huge chunk of the team. There’s very little doubt as to how well a new Call of Duty game is going to sell, but can it live up to the high expectations left by its predecessor despite all the drama surrounding its creation? My first look left this question frustratingly unanswered.

The first thing to note about Modern Warfare 3 is that Activision made the smart and possibly necessary decision that Infinity Ward could not handle the development alone. Instead, the remnants of the studio that created Call of Duty are teaming up with Sledgehammer Games, a new Activision studio started by Dead Space creator Glen Schofield. Sledgehammer was previously said to be working on a third-person Call of Duty title that is presumably on hold while it helps with Modern Warfare 3.

MW 3 picks up shortly following the end of the second game, with the world embroiled in an intense conflict. Once again, players globetrot across continents during the single-player campaign. Exotic locations such as the Himalayas were mentioned, but the focus is on larger scale urban warfare in cities such as New York and London, the two locations shown off during the first demo.

The Manhattan level, titled “Black Tuesday,” starts the player character in a crashed Humvee. As he comes to and climbs out, he looks up at the crumbling New York skyline. Debris from collapsing buildings falls dangerously close. A lone hot dog cart stands in the ruins, looking absurd with its colorful umbrella amidst the dust and wreckage, ready to be used as cover for an inevitable firefight. Infinity Ward enjoyed playing with the idea of fighting on recognizable home turf in Modern Warfare 2, and it’s running with that concept for this game as well.

Infinity Ward isn’t spilling many details on Modern Warfare 3’s plot, but the Russians still seem to be the key bad guys. In “Black Tuesday,” the player has to fight through a sea of enemies to get to Wall Street. He runs and guns alongside characters with names like Sandman and Grinch – the goofy kind of codenames that you’d expect your Call of Duty buddies to be burdened with.