"This is the first time we've ever made a direct sequel," responds Infinity Ward's community manager, Robert Bowling, when I ask why the game's title isn't
prefixed with "Call of Duty". And it makes sense Infinity Ward would follow up Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare with a sequel; it was arguably the biggest game of 2007, is still one of the most played multiplayer games on Xbox Live and has a metacritic review rating of 94 out of 100.
This means the huge number of players familiar with CoD4 will be able to walk into Modern Warfare 2 and feel right at home, and it's exactly that feeling of familiarity I got when the extended gameplay demo we were privy to featured my former gameplay self, all grown up and promoted from sergeant to captain.
At Microsoft's pre-show press event, Infinity Ward debuted the world's first running gameplay demo of the game, and I have to admit, from where I was sitting (really high up and far away), I couldn't really tell if the game looked better than the last CoD outings (especially because the demo was situated in the snow) or if it was essentially the same, but sitting in front of the massive TV behind closed doors at Activision's booth (and front row), I can very excitedly tell you now it's looking every bit as good as you'd hope.
Robert tells us the team are using a revamped CoD4 game engine with full high-res streaming
textures, and that the game is moving at 60fps (frames per second), and from what we're looking at we're inclined to agree. Despite our demo beginning in an icy, blizzard-laden environment, there's a massive amount of detail. Soap's facial hair is encrusted with snow and ice, and every time he talks his breath creates visible gusts of cold air - all the while clumps of ice and snow are billowing past your periphery creating an intense sense of danger and the unknown.
Things kick off, as you may have already seen in some gameplay videos, with your character climbing up an icy wall with ice picks. Movement in this instance is entirely up to you with a simple pulling of the left and right triggers respectively for each arm. Typically of an Infinity Ward game, drama takes over at various points of interaction and gameplay, and here it comes in the form of your character missing a pick and sliding down the wall, presumably to an icy demise. Thankfully Soap saves you, and it's back to business as usual.
This particular mission reminded me of the sniper sequence from the first game, where you play the role of Captain Price as a young SAS operative. We were told there are a number of different paths through the immediate environment, with the revelation the game would support small sandbox areas like this, changing the AI engagement dynamic of the first game, which was one of the most complained about aspects. Unfortunately we weren't really able to gleam just how organic the AI would be with this in mind, so we'll have to wait to get our hands on the title for that nugget of info.
A few awesome things were demonstrated in the early portion of this demo. Being that this whole section's play goal is to move in stealth, our demoer picked up a dropped weapon from one of the guards he'd killed only to have Captain MacTavish tell him to put it down lest he gave away their position. He also attached a heartbeat sensor to his weapon, which acts as a mini UAV and is a new addition to the game. Another contextual line of dialogue came when the Captain said he'd take out the next guard, but Robert beat him to it to which he replied "no I won't". And these were just two early examples - the whole demo kept up this awesome level of dynamic speech based exclusively on the way Robert was playing.
This painted a clear picture of linear story mixed with progressive gamer choices. A few scripted moments of play also reared their head, such as Soap having to tackle a guard to the ground and stab him brutally in the neck (by the way, mo-cap, animations and collision detection here are off the hook) as well as the moment where he was captured and radioed to Robert to switch things to "plan B" (where explosives he'd planted just prior to Soap's capture were detonated to create enough commotion to free the Captain and make good your escape). This dramatic moment then allowed for an on-the-fly switch to frenetic action in place of stealth, and leads us to one of the vehicle moments of the game; the much coveted skidoo.
The fast-paced action here kicked things up an extra notch, and amazing things like full occlusion of sound from in front, behind and beside was used to full effect with the player's speed, trees and more all making an impact. Bullets whizzing by, the sound of crashing skidoos and, of course, the snow beneath you all combined to escalate the sequence. There's a strict path to follow, but within said path the player is free to ride and you can freely aim and shoot enemies at will. It's just another example of the game's somewhat linear direction opening up enough for players to breathe a little, and craft their own gameplay style and progressive nature.
Unfortunately that was the extent of our demo, but it was enough to more than whet my appetite, as were some of the responses I got to a few questions I asked once it was over, such as how the civilian/NPC element would add to the game (check the launch trailer to see what I'm talking about). "Innocents die in war and there's always collateral damage," came the casual reply. I also made the suggestion there would have
to be a snow-based multiplayer map after what we'd just seen. "Snow maps are cool," responded Robert with a wry smile. "We're not talking about multiplayer yet," an Activision PR rep added quickly, but too late.
Though I'd have liked to see a lot more, the idea we'll probably see a snow multiplayer map (hopefully replete with zero visibility as was showcased through certain sections of the campaign demo) was a great tidbit of info, as was the tantalising idea new gameplay elements would be introduced with civilian NPCs littering fire-zones and the like. It was also said we'll definitely be playing the game from multiple perspectives once again with SAS, Delta Force and Navy Seals currently confirmed, but as was bluntly thrown at me, no real
info on multiplayer was divulged.
From an Aussie console gaming perspective, I can only hope Infinity Ward follow Treyarch's decision to include P2P options for multiplayer that let you narrow server hunting to deftly local servers for an optimum connection. There was no mention of dedicated server support for the PC, but given the last two Call of Duties support it, it's highly likely we'll see that trend continue for Modern Warfare 2.
It was also revealed Modern Warfare 2 will feature cooperative play, but not through the single-player campaign; there'll actually be standalone missions like the epilogue "Mile High Club" mission from the first game for that feature.
For more on the game, hit up our local AusGamers Modern Warfare 2 game page
. The game will be released worldwide November 10, 2009.