As I said at the start, Modern Warfare is at it’s most distinctive when being small, quiet and subtle, rather than big and loud. It’s a theme that carries over to the multiplayer. One of my most anticipated features of this new Modern Warfare was the return of Spec Ops, the excellent cooperative mode which debuted in Modern Warfare 2. Sadly, Infinity Ward has decided to go big with this mode, and it comes off worse for it.
Specifically, Spec Ops lets four players join together to embark upon four Operations that take place in large-scale, open environments. You have a laundry list of objectives to complete, and move from point to point hacking terminals, assassinating key figures in the enemy army, and so on. Notionally, these levels can be completed stealthily. But with four players, someone is going to raise the alarm, and once you do, you need to fend off increasingly powerful waves of enemies while moving objective to objective.
Spec Ops has some interesting ideas. For example, some waves will launch a wall of smoke grenades at you before attacking, while others arrive in helicopters that can be shot down. Compared to the campaign, however, the whole experience feels roughly bolted together. The maps have a very pre-fab look to them, like someone cobbled together a bunch of Unity assets. Worse, the balancing can be horrific. In one mission we ended up being attacked by three juggernauts – heavily armoured enemies with health bars longer than the Great Wall of China – within minutes of starting. It’s also buggy. I’ve had several missions completely fail to start for no discernible reason.
Sadly, Spec Ops is a bit of a mess. The general multiplayer, on the other hand, is pretty darned good. Perhaps the biggest general change is to the feel of the game, which has a palpable sense of weight and solidity. Weapons no longer have that pop-gun feel which has dogged Call of Duty for years. Even small pistols are loud and lethal, while grenades and explosive ordnance are positively thunderous. Infinity Ward has clearly taken a hard look at Dice in terms of how it does sound-design and – I hate this word – gunfeel. At the same time, it hasn’t lost that nippy, reactive quality that Call of Duty always excelled at. It’s a tricky balancing act that Infinity Ward pulls off with apparent ease.
Beyond these general improvements, Modern Warfare’s multiplayer is notable in two specific areas. The first of these is Ground War, a large-scale 64 multiplayer mode that’s basically Call of Duty’s version of Battlefield’s conquest. There are multiple control points around the map that your team need to capture and hold in order to win. It’s basically a big, chaotic battle that mixes Battlefield-style combined arms combat with Call of Duty’s killstreaks, and I have to say it’s really enjoyable. It can be a little daunting to get into, but after a couple of rounds I found myself able to cope.
Ground War is undoubtedly well made, but it isn’t all that innovative. More interesting is Gunfight. This is a tiny, lightning-paced mode where four players split into teams of two compete in elimination rounds that last just 40 seconds. If the round ends without a winner being crowned, the remaining players must hold a control point at the centre of the map to win. First team to win six rounds takes home the match.
There are two elements that make Gunfight so brilliant. First up are the maps, which are tiny, condense arenas designed specifically for four players, but they’re also topographically complex enough to let you hide, flank, and outmanoeuvre your opponents. The second, and most important, mechanic is that the playing field is completely level. There are no player loadouts in Gunfight. Instead, everyone gets the same randomised set of weapons and equipment. So you might find yourself fighting with a just a pistol and some throwing knives, or a shotgun and a rocket launcher. The loadout also changes every two or three rounds as well, meaning that players can’t rely on luck of the draw to give them a weapon they’re proficient in.
Gunfight is pure, arena shooter fun, all about your raw FPS skills and ability to adapt to an ever-changing situation. The only problem I have with it is there is literally nowhere to hide, and you feel really guilty if you have a bad round at the expense of some other random player. On the flip side, I once held my own for three rounds in a 2v1 scenario after my teammate dropped out, which felt incredible.
April 12 2021 | 14:00