The record, they tell me, is level 28. We're nowhere close to that when death comes quickly to both of us.
That's the way you die in Modern Warfare 3's Spec Ops Survival Mode: In pairs.
Death can come to the two players one at a time, but typically it's sudden and bunched up. At least that's my experience every time I've played the ever-escalating, increasingly difficult cooperative mode of the soon-to-be released Call of Duty.
I'm playing side-by-side with Infinity Ward creative strategist Robert Bowling, running through the serpentine streets of Paris, gathering up weapons, buying ammo, setting up turrets as we prepare for the waves of enemies.
In Survival mode the game slowly gets increasingly difficult. You start off armed with a pistol each. But you only need to take down a few enemies. By level ten you're facing off against helicopters, body-armored strike teams and attack dogs.
My first experience with Survival mode, over the summer during E3, saw me spending the money I earned quickly on better weapon, and then eventually on perks that called in a team of riot shield police.
This time around, though, I'm being more cautious, more deliberate with my spending. Instead of buying new weapons, I make sure to snatch them off of fallen foes. Bowling warns me that these weapons are almost always nearly out of ammo and that I'll need to purchase reloads. I also make sure to always have an instant revival stocked and body armor, two things that make it easier for me to last longer.
It's obvious, by our second play through, that I'm leaning heavily on Bowling's experience in this new map and his skills in the game.
Paris is a tiny circular map of winding, interconnected streets, balconies, stairs and a few interior locations. Following Bowling's lead and advice we manage to make it to level 13 before first I and then he fall to the barrage of enemies.
By now I can tell I'm probably staying a bit too long in the press room, taking up a bit too much time on the machine. But I manage to finagle a third attempt out of the Infinity folks. Early into the match I set up a turret on a balcony that seems to overlook much of the map. The high spot only has two approaches, both up a set of stairs, it seems easily defensible. And it is. We make it easily to level 10, then to 13. We're powering into the end of level 19 when suddenly I and then Bowling are overwhelmed within seconds of each other. And the match ends.
In the game you have a limited amount of time to find and revive your cooperative buddy, but if you're both taken out at the same time and neither have instant revive abilities, it's game over.
Afterward I ask what the record is for Survival Mode currently. Bowling tells me he thinks it's about level 28.
I can't even imagine.