We had high praise for the graphics and sound design in Call of Duty: Modern Warfare when we saw parts of the single-player campaign earlier this year, so we apologise for repeating ourselves, but these two aspects take everything to another level in the multiplayer portion of the game as well. When we caught up with developer Infinity Ward earlier this week what quickly became clear was how the sense of realism and attention to detail shines through.
After being transported into your designated map in real-time, the very first thing that will surprise and confuse quite a few is the lack of a radar. Treyarch kind of teased the removal of the mini-map by making it less informative in Black Ops 4, and it's definitely an interesting choice. Replacing the oh so enticing and eye-catching radar in the corner with what's basically an upgraded version of Blackout's compass enhances the immersion and makes the screen cleaner. Enemies firing their guns, objectives and other useful details are easy to spot as they pop up on the compass, and it being more centralised means that you won't have to sacrifice those death-tempting milliseconds to look at the corner of the screen - it was a cool change we quickly learned to enjoy as it allowed us to better take in the world around us and increase the value of the UAV killstreak by not only showing enemies but also the layout of the map.
Then you start running and realise that a new engine doesn't just mean more pixels and prettier models. "Realism" is the word of the day in Modern Warfare, and it's clear that the animation team has been working hard over the last few years. Change can be scary, so we're glad to say that it's good in this case. From the way your weapon gets further away from the ideal position the faster you run (MW introduces a third running speed that increases the aim down sight speed) to how you can see and almost feel every kickback from each shot. This is the closest a shooter has come to making a gun feel like the real deal, as every detail, both visual and audible, will make you understand just how lethal they are.
And we haven't even mentioned the incredible customisation options on offer in the Gunsmith menu, which allows you to modify weapons just how you like them using a wide variety of attachments and perks. Ben Garnell, the main brain behind the game's boomsticks, told us that it's even possible to make some fan favourite classics by combining certain attachments, so we can't wait to find some of the cool Easter eggs and great weapons for different playstyles emerge from this extensive system.
The Gunsmith isn't the only thing showing the studio's focus on giving us options. Modern Warfare also introduces the recently revealed 2 vs. 2 Gunfight mode for players wanting a more intimate and intense experience. Some players might have written this off as soon as they heard what it's about, but that would be a mistake. Gunfight is a real friendship-builder with its heavy focus on cooperation and quick adaptability. As you'll have to make do with the somewhat randomised loadout the mode gives you every few rounds, Gunfight forces you to rethink your strategy on the fly, especially if your partner dies, making it a real thrill.
Some say that bigger is always bigger, which is why Infinity Ward also has upped the maximum player count and map size in certain modes. While we only got to try out 10 vs. 10 and 20 vs. 20 Team Deathmatch and Domination modes, we're also told that the developers have been tinkering with more than 100 players and Jack O'Hara, the game's design director, revealed that we'll see higher player numbers and bigger maps sooner rather than later. A comment like that obviously made us ask about the rumoured battle royale mode, but O'Hara could neither confirm or deny such a thing. Update: Activision has now confirmed that the mode with more than a hundred players is an upgraded version of Ground War.
All multiplayer design director Joe Cecot decided to tease was that we'll indeed see more modes post-launch, and he explained that they're staggering their release because they don't want to spread the player-base too thin or overwhelm them at launch. Not that we're complaining when both the map design and pacing felt great both in 2 vs. 2, 6 vs. 6, 10 vs. 10 and 20 vs. 20. Just like Black Ops 4, it doesn't seem like quantity has come at the expense of quality.
Most of the maps we got to play were well-designed and balanced for different playstyles and modes. Those of you longing for remakes of maps from original should lay those hopes to rest right now though, as the developers once again specified that this isn't a remake. That's not to say that we won't get something post-launch because they also said that there's some stuff planned for the nostalgic among us. You don't need to fret either way. Our déjà vu counter went off on several occasions and its clear that the Modern Warfare spirit is still there. Whether it be Gun Runner's train and abandoned warehouses giving us flashbacks to Pipeline, or the many memorable locations in the new Aniyah Palace that feel like what you'd get if Ambush and Showdown had a baby. The focus on three-laned maps seems to have been toned down as well to make room for more natural variety in every arena, with both verticality and multiple ways of outflanking campers (so-called positioned players...).
Overall we noted a plethora of minor improvements and new systems. Changes like being able to lean out of cover; improved bullet-penetration; mounting your weapon on ledges to stabilise your aim; finally being able to interact with doors; the implementation of very realistic night vision goggles; the clock on your arm that reflects the time on your PC or console; and a number of new killstreaks and 'specialist strike packages' made more of a difference than you might think. Top this with the fact that the unification of Campaign, Spec-Ops and Multiplayer means that anything earned in one of the three parts of the game can be used in the other two, and the fact that there's cross-play across all platforms, and you might understand why we're excited for the full release on October 25, if not the beta on September 12.