Nineteen waves of enemies later, Infinity Ward’s Robert Bowling and I finally went down for good – but not until we ranked up a half dozen times and shot a whole bunch of dudes (and, I hate the dogs) dead.

Modern Warfare 3’s Survival mode is a solid addition to the two-player co-op Spec Ops side of the game. In some respects it’s less impressive than the higher player counts found in similar modes in other games, but fighting off waves of enemies Call of Duty style is inarguably a distinct experience. The Counter-Strike-like economy is a great fit for the gametype, encouraging players to consider larger strategies than simply getting shot as little as possible.

The Survival level Bowling and I played at Gamescom is tiny but interesting. A dual-level plaza takes up half the map, with underpasses offering cover from assault helicopters and small balconies and walkways creating wonderful overlapping firing angles from up high. The other half of the level is a house with two entrances: one opening onto the plaza, the other on the opposite side of the building giving access to the trio of relatively open roads surrounding the house. With only two players, you have to make tough decisions about where to take a stand. More than likely, you’ll do what we did and pick different spots for different waves.
The variety in the waves of incoming enemies is what made the experience work for me. Bowling and I were constantly on the move, our plans rarely surviving contact with the enemy as C4-strapped terrorists forced us to move, or dogs knocked us out of cover, or the inexorable advance of a Juggernaut left us no choice but to fall back. Some waves were nothing but assault helicopters, forcing us to play hide-and-seek as we tried to knock them out of the sky with assault rifles without being shredded by their miniguns.

Wisely spending the cash earned by killing enemies and surviving waves is the difference between a good round and a great one. If you can hold off on buying a weapon until commandos strapped with ACRs show up and outfit yourself with one of their guns for free, putting that money into an airstrike, delta squad reinforcements, or buying back your extra life can mean pulling through a tough wave instead of knuckling under. I bought an early delta squad on a whim, and the purchase paid for itself many times over as my commando buddies lasted through a dozen waves and saved my life a handful of times.

Wave 19 finally did us in. We had just made it through the eighteenth, which as I recall had ACR-toting, armored commandos pinning us down while their suicide C4 allies charged our positions. I’m going to be real honest here: Bowling’s skill with an assault rifle got us through that one. Well, that and a clutch knife by yours truly, but it was mostly Bowling’s quick trigger finger. With both of our self-revives down and no cash to buy them back, we didn’t have anything left in the tank to survive the massive wave of assault rifle grunts and attack dogs that came next.

When all was said and done, we had gained several ranks (which in the live game would unlock new things for purchase during a round, but for demo purposes we had access to everything) and picked up a two-star score on survival mode. Not bad for two badly jet-lagged Americans in Germany.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 launches on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC on November 8.