We'll be honest - we were expecting to be underwhelmed by Call of Duty: Black Ops' multiplayer mode. After all, when a game like this has proven to be so extraordinarily popular across the globe, why would you risk innovation?
We'll gladly admit; we were wrong. Series substitute dev, Treyarch has clearly poured its heart and soul into the multiplayer mode of Black Ops, introducing a dozen big new features - some huge - and in the process making the stalwart of online FPS feel a little bit fresher than it was before.
Perhaps the most game-changing of all Black Ops' additions (see full Black Ops multiplayer details for the full list) are CoD Points (or 'CD') which can be earned alongside regular XP and spent purchasing basically any traditionally unlocked perk and gun in the game - you no longer have to grind to get the big toys.
You can gain CoD Points through either new Contract challenges or - most excitingly - through gambling your points Poker-style in the four Wager Match types.
The game mode we played is called One in the Chamber, a scenario which has combatants armed with just pistols. As with all Wager games though there's a twist; each player only has one bullet, which is replenished if you hit your man but lost if you miss.
The idea is obviously that players will use their utmost focus and skill to patiently bullseye that perfect shot into their pacing opponent. The reality however - in our brief experience with the mode at least - is that within 30 seconds everyone's shot their lonely bullet into the wall and are now running around the map waving knives around like some sort of Notting Hill Carnival knife fight. This is not necessarily a bad thing of course, as it's genuinely fantastic fun.
The top three players in the game take all the CoD Points and if you're feeling particularly confident you can 'Double Down' on your bet on the pre-game lobby screen.
Other Wager Match types we didn't get to play in our Black Ops hands-on session include Sticks and Stones, in which players are armed with a tomahawk and cross bow and the former 'bankrupts' your target, Gun Game in which a kill levels you up to a new gun, and Sharp Shooter, which has you using Random weapons and perks. All sound like intriguing twists on the CoD formula and seemed to go down well on the playing floor.
As for the vanilla game modes such as Free For All and Team Deathmatch, it's admittedly an initially familiar experience to Modern Warfare 2. Look deeper however and you'll see tweaks everywhere; deathstreaks have been removed (Treyarch says the new Combat Mode AI bots are good enough to help beginners), MW2's annoying 'blood splatter' given the boot and promisingly, maps are now marked into grids, so instead of shouting "He's on the erm... building," you can now deal out orders to head to square A1 or C3. Very useful in team games.
World at War critics will be pleased to hear that Black Ops' weapons feel powerful and explosions sound more dangerous than ever. The crossbow in particular is a lethal piece of kit, though it's going to take plenty of skill to master thanks to its bending projectile arch and wind seemingly blowing your shot off target.
As far as maps go we got to visit Launch, - a giant Russian rocket base in the dusty desert, with lots of close-quarters shooting and stabbing (plus the rocket launches!) - Cracked - an Urban map with plenty of buildings to set up sniping points - and Summit - an open, snowy locale with indoor huts scattered around.