We're hitting the release window for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare, and this week's open beta for PS4 users is the first real chance for players to have a go at it. Unfortunately, while the game adds a ton of new ideas, many of the same old problems persist.
The Need for Speed
Call of Duty Modern Warfare's biggest problem is its tempo. The team at Infinity War have clearly put a lot of time into thinking about how a military shooter should play in 2019, and there's a range of new features in the game, whether that's doors that can be opened and closed, fire mode selection and even night maps with toggleable night-vision goggles.
The time to kill is much faster than previous games, which on the surface a lot of these changes mean that the pace of the game should edge downwards, to fit a lot of the tactical shooter stylings of the game.
But no one has told the Call of Duty community that, and the game is constantly moving at 120 miles an hour, with fast sniper shots or shotgun rushes the norm, while Claymore mines hurt players who enter rooms carefully and campers punish those who don't.
A system in the game allows me to rest my weapon against most cover, bracing myself and reducing the recoil to zero. However, if I ever stop to do that I'm only a few seconds from being shot in the back because the game's tempo is so quick. It's hard to enjoy the game's sublime gunplay and slick movement when you're frequently spawning on top of a live grenade, or in the sights of an enemy.
It's a shame because so many thoughtful details and systems are in place here, but it is still that in motion it feels like the same old Call of Duty, which after over a decade is starting to show its age a little.
Hack the Planet
Many of these issues are reduced in the beta's Cyber Attack game mode, a 6v6 objective-based match that has both teams try to grab a central bomb and take it to the other team's data dump. This is a variant of classic Call of Duty game type Sabotage, albeit with no respawns.
The lack of a mini-map in Modern Warfare's multiplayer modes takes some adjusting to, but it means you're robbed of a lot of information. Playing solo, this makes things tense, especially with a long wait to come back to life. So, you pick through the wide-open maps, heart thumping in your chest, and you hope to get the enemies before they get you.
When a player is downed, they enter a revivable state, meaning that even if you're in a winning position, a smart opponent could rotate around the map and pick up their fallen allies.
The round ends when the EMP bomb has been detonated, or every combatant on the enemy team has died. Then it all starts again, and the first team to win five rounds takes the victory. For me, it best shows off Call of Duty's new direction the best, and it's a shame that this experience isn't matched in other areas.
The night time maps presented in the Beta's NVG playlist are less impressive. The maps are set at night, with everyone given NVG devices. Technically a quick press of the triangle button — or whatever PlayStation want us to call that particular button this week — to toggle off and on NVG goggles, but the pace during a nighttime Team Deathmatch is too fast for you to ever think about this, while snipers stand under bright lines, functionally invisible to your green-hued vision.
What does work
Weapon customization is remarkable, with the Gunsmith customization screen feeling reminiscent of Battlefield 3's gun outfitting screen. However, the attachment system is, for one of the first times in a tactical shooter, actually clear and transparent. Clear pros and cons accompany every attachment choice in the game: the flash guard will conceal your muzzle flash, but it also lowers your aim down sight (ADS) speed.
This is clearly spelled out, and it means you can make solid choices instead of dipping into the almost-mythology that usually accompanies which attachments you should choose in this sort of game.
You unlock new attachments as you snag kills with each individual weapon, and can equip any mixture of them, including weapon-specific perks. This is as much customization as you really get, as instead of the superpowered Overwatch-esque specialists of Black Ops 4, here your soldiers are regular grunts, albeit with access to special deployable equipment like tactical insertions, deployable ballistic shields and even boxes of ammunition to dole out to teammates.
There are also so many cool details that don't fit in discussing the game anywhere else, but really sell the gritty world they're trying to build: the way your character reaches out to their shoulder to call in a UAV with a button press, or the brief vignette that shows you arrive on the scene in a variety of methods.
All in all, this is probably the most accomplished Call of Duty in years. However, it's going to divide a lot of fans of the franchise. Recommending it from this early slice is complex: this isn't the Call of Duty the fanbase deserves, but it's the one it needs right now.
Activision seems on board with making changes, and throughout the four day beta we saw new features and content unlock, with the team finally turning the minimap back on for the last day as the audience went head to head about whether the lack of a minimap was a good or a bad thing (I myself am still on the fence, seeing the merits in both having it and removing it).
However, these small tweaks aren't the problem. For Modern Warfare to work, the game needs to slow down, and at this late stage in development, it's unlikely to happen, so it will remain the same quick-paced arcade game, with several of these ideas going unrecognized.
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