Activision and the triumvirate of developers working on Modern Warfare 3 have thus far remained tight-lipped about the multiplayer component.
Today, at a converted warehouse in Los Angeles formerly used to construct the Spruce Goose, Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg dodged irony by revealing the more promising details of what will certainly be the the most-played aspect of the sequel to 2009's Modern Warfare 2.
First up, a raft of minor modifications presented themselves. The removal of the knife lunge, and dive to prone. No more One Man Army, Nukes, or Last Stand. Expressions were bandied about – more gun-on-gun play. Less camping. More of what made the original Modern Warfare arguably the watershed moment in the series so far.
"This is the most balanced multiplayer experience we’ve ever done", stated Robert Bowling – Infinity Ward's Creative Strategist – in a passing moment of giddiness reciprocated by the cheering crowd.
Promising stuff indeed.
But then, it's not changing minor details that push a franchise forward in any meaningful way, as those battle-hardened Black Ops fans know by now. Therefore killstreaks, perks – indeed the total cumulative levelling process has been remodelled and pushed in an entirely new direction.
As reported previously, rewards involving character abilities are no longer solely granted by the acquisition of kills. The completion of objectives as well as dispatching enemies now allows the player to accumulate "point streaks".
Point streaks can be spent modifying rewards allocated to each of the three classes available to the player: Assault, Support and Specialist. These classes (now referred to by the decidedly militaristic designation of "Strike Packages") are comprised of essentially what were used previously as killstreak rewards and, in the case of the Specialist, perks.
An Assault player will utilise the traditional UAV and Care Packages once the requisite point streak total is met. Eventually, they'll have access to an Attack Helicopter, AC130, Juggernaut and even an Osprey Gunner at the point streak limit of 17. For this reason, Assault is perhaps the class that most players will recognise and play well with from the outset; it's really not too far removed from what has been seen in the past.
Support however changes the playing field somewhat. By moving all the support-orientated killstreak rewards to this class, players are limited to assisting teammates with items such as a SAM Turret, Advanced UAV, Stealth Bomber, and at an 18 point streak, Juggernaut Recon and Escort Airdrop.
Whilst this might seem like taking a knife to a gun fight, to balance the field those hard-working support beavers incur no point streak loss upon their soon-to-be-frequent death. Infinity Ward stated that this evens proceedings by allowing all Support players to participate together to assist the Assault and Specialist classes – the more hairy-chested risk-takers who would probably charge a well defended outpost stark naked if there was an achievement and a steak sandwich in it somewhere.
It would appear that the Specialist class is alpha in this barrel-measuring contest. Benefiting solely from perks, three of which are equipped at the outset, this class can go on to equip six simultaneously; advantages such as Sleight of Hand, Extreme Conditioning and Steady Aim, as well as Hardline, Quickdraw, Overkill and Stalker. Infinity Ward freely admit this class is for expert players, and those successful enough to reach eight point streaks will unlock all 15 available perks to choose from. Die, however, and your point streak and perk access will be reset back to the baseline three.
Weapons too are upgraded as the player progresses, with a range of familiar enhancements primarily tailored towards the functional, such as the ability to reduce recoil or change out attachments. It's all part of the "Weapon Proficiency" enhancement system, the upper levels of which – and in particular, how they apply to the more than 40 guns in the game – were sadly unable to be reached in the play time available at the Call of Duty XP event.
Along with the substantial reworking of the reward system, a new Team Deathmatch feature has arrived. "Kill Confirmed" requires players to verify deaths of either teammates or the enemy by retrieving their dog-tags upon death. Once any player checks out, dog-tags hover above their corpse. Capture the enemy tag and the kill is verified. Prevent an enemy from capturing the tag of a fallen friend, and their victory goes uncounted. This requires forward planning, as skilled players actively cut down those attempting to verify kills in what can only be described as a huge bloody mess.
It's a clever addition that fits well to this style of play, and has certainly proved popular thus far at the Call of Duty XP event. Whether or not it becomes a favourite amongst the community depends much on its ability to remain fresh to an increasingly demanding user base.
Substantial changes and interesting additions indeed, although as gameplay testing revealed, there's not a lot to cause the jaw to slacken when it comes to the visual nature of the title. 60 frames per second is the minimum limit, and this is well maintained, however there's no huge improvement from Modern Warfare 2. Certainly a case of refinement, however it'd be easy to slip into a frenzied discussion as to whether or not it's worth Activision's time and money to move this franchise to a new engine before the next console cycle.
From the swarm of COD fans descending on the XP event in the manner of biblical locusts, safe money would indicate any major upgrades aren't necessary to fiscally maintain the series. Nor in any practicable way are they necessary to expand on what is stated on the box.
Once gameplay commences, it's clearly obvious where the strength of the title resides. New maps entitled Arkaden, Dome, Resistance, Village and Underground have clearly benefited from extensive internal testing at Infinity Ward and Sledgehammer. Each are remarkably different, and focus less on the verticality found in Modern Warfare 2 and Black Ops. There's fewer choke points, and fewer areas to snipe hapless gamers from, and each are tailored in such a manner to encourage a faster game style.
Unfortunately, the code on offer was specifically built to offer one game variant on each map, so it wasn't possible to see exactly how well all modes carry across to all maps. The Spec Ops mode too will need to wait until closer to the release of the game to be judged accurately, although the equivalent of a Gears of War-style Horde mode is long overdue in non-Treyarch Call of Duty releases.
Herein lies the rub: what was on display felt in every respect better than Black Ops, and certainly capable of being a more balanced, more tactical and more rounded package than what was offered with Modern Warfare 2. But such weighty assumptions cannot be remotely analysed based on mere hours of gameplay with a handful of caffeine-fuelled, verbally unpredictable and quite possibly rabid fans at a promotional event.
The level of participation demonstrated by the Call of Duty community will dictate the success of Modern Warfare 3's multiplayer in the months following the November 8 release, but for now, things are certainly looking up.