Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare preview: hands-on with the multiplayer beta

Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare makes some big changes to the franchise's multiplayer. Our US chums have some thoughts...

The Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare multiplayer beta went live on PS4 this past weekend, and after about 10 hours of play, we’re feeling cautiously optimistic about Infinity Ward’s reimagined shooter. Gameplay is a lot like the original Modern Warfare titles but with some intriguing new updates, and the game has a decidedly more tactical pace and feel than the top mainstream shooters of today.

Movement and traversal is the most notable difference when jumping into the game. There’s a real sense of weight to every move you make, from opening doors to sliding out of a sprint to mounting your gun and peeking around corners. Movement generally feels a little slower than you might expect, but this all feeds into the game’s overall emphasis on strategy over arcade-style action.

This tactical gameplay style, which seems to be tied into the game’s overall focus on realism, is echoed in almost every aspect of what I played in the beta, from the reduced effectiveness of running and gunning to the feel of the various weapons and pieces of equipment. The maps are littered with buildings large and small and objects to use as cover, which has a few significant effects on how games play out. Each level boasts plenty of prime spots for campers to pick off reckless players, so planning your movements and darting from cover to cover with caution is always the best course of action. Running out in the open carelessly will get you killed very quickly.

This new, slower rhythm of gameplay will likely be divisive across the game’s fanbase. Those with an affinity for faster, tighter, more competition-friendly shooters may dislike not being able to rely as heavily on quick reflexes and nimble fingers. Plus, nobody likes campers – even campers don’t like campers.

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But I actually quite enjoyed the game’s support of a more measured approach to combat. Mounting your gun on walls and barricades eliminates recoil, and I liked taking my time entering buildings and moving around corners, as it forced me to use my sense of hearing to get the drop on my opponents (the sound design is so precise this time around that you can hear footsteps on the other side of walls if you pay close enough attention).

More than anything, I liked the fact that, in almost every match I played, the team that worked together won. Playing tactically by yourself is effective in most cases, but you can definitely get out-manoeuvred and stomped out by a more traditional player who darts around and jumps up and down to dodge your shots. But if you and a few of your buddies move together, plan your routes, and cover each others’ asses, you can do some serious damage. It may not be the most spectacular or fast-paced way to play, but it’s definitely a lot of fun if you’re willing to squad up and plan as you go.

Seeing as this was a beta, gameplay unsurprisingly had a few imbalances big and small, and most of them revolved around Infinity Ward being a bit too non-committal about the new tactical-style gameplay. If you do choose to coordinate with friends and play strategically, what’s annoying is that the players who are hopping around and playing a more traditional, rushing CoD style sort of ruin the vibe. They’re not being jerks or anything, and they have every right to play that way. In fact, I bet most of those players feel just as annoyed with their more tactical opponents (and probably accuse them all of being good-for-nothing campers). But the big problem here is that the two styles of play don’t really mesh well on the battlefield. It’s an unharmonious experience at times, and hopefully, Infinity Ward will ultimately smooth out some of these subtle incompatibilities (including the regularity of UAV drones – people were spamming the hell out of them when I played).

One of the most intriguing developments over the weekend revolved around the game’s mini-map… or lack there-of. Initially, the game didn’t feature a mini-map at all, making it the first CoD game since the original Modern Warfare to do so. I actually enjoyed this design choice, but that’s probably because I was buying into the whole tactical shooter thing. It compelled me to be more aware of my surroundings as opposed to staring at the corner of the screen half of the time. It also built a sense of suspense that, again, forced me to be more cautious with how I moved around the map.

Unfortunately (for players like me, at least), players complained on Twitter and other outlets about the lack of a mini-map, and a couple of days into the beta, the devs added the feature presumably in response to the negative feedback. In one sense, the return of the mini-map was nice because it made gameplay feel more like the more recent CoD titles I’m used to. It felt very comfortable. But part of me wishes Infinity Ward had stuck to its guns and made a firmer statement about its aspirations for the game.

The three maps I played were Hackney Yard, Azhir Cave, and Grazna Raid, all of which are solidly designed, though I can’t imagine any will go down as classics for the series (there are also night versions of maps that you play in night vision, which slows gameplay even further). What’s interesting about the map design here is the verticality and abundance of buildings and places to hide/camp. I truly believe that the devs aren’t necessarily catering to campers, but rather trying to change the way people play CoD. This is perhaps an unachievable goal, especially considering fan reactions from the weekend. But I appreciate the ambition.

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On the customization side of things, two of the biggest additions are the Gunsmith feature and the ability to change your loadout mid-match. The latter feels like a godsend if you’re like me and have commitment issues when it comes to equipment and guns, and Gunsmith adds a nice layer of experimentation to the mix. Each gun can have five attachments added to it (e.g. scopes, stocks), with each attachment offering unique strengths and drawbacks.

All of the guns look and sound amazing, and overall, the game looks fantastic. As always, the framerate is silky smooth, and the environments are detailed and designed to look like authentic, real-world locales. Short, immersive intros to the stages look great as well, with some seeing you propel from helicopters onto the battlefield alongside your mates, and others showing you roll into battle in the back of a military truck. A slick-looking presentation overall.

I had a fun playing Modern Warfare over the weekend, although I can’t say I’m completely impressed with my experience. I like the slower, more deliberate flow of combat Infinity Ward seems to be encouraging with this instalment, but I seem to be in the minority, which unfortunately makes the game feel a little disjointed and awkward since most players are trying to play the game more traditionally. Hopefully, we’ll see a more balanced package when the beta returns this weekend, this time for Xbox One and PC in addition to PS4.

The full launch of Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare is slated for 25 October on PC, PS4 and Xbox One.