Last year was exceptionally strong for first-person shooters. Yet despite being one of the latest genre releases in the year, Call of Duty 4 towered over its competition. There are so many shooters released these days that it's hard to stick with an online community for more than a few weeks, but even months later, we're still obsessively playing COD4's addictive online mode with no end in sight. So we counted ourselves among the incredibly fortunate when we headed down to developer Infinity Ward's Southern California offices recently to check out the game's first downloadable map pack, which is coming later this spring.
We got a chance to chat with IW community relations manager Robert Bowling--better known to COD4 diehards by his online handle, "fourzerotwo"--about the pending downloadable maps. The first thing he told us was the first thing we wanted to hear about this pack: The Middle Eastern and Russian environments will no longer comprise the entirety of the retail game's lineup. Now that the team has moved on from the single-player campaign (and has time to work up some new art assets), we can expect to see new Call of Duty 4 maps set in entirely new locations separate from the original game.
Well, except one of the maps in this pack. It's called Broadcast and is lifted from the Iraqi campaign "Charlie Don't Surf," in which you assault a television station where the enemy is holed up. Don't think the team just copied and pasted the campaign map into this multiplayer pack, though. It does contain the iconic, cavernous main room with its dozens of computer monitors and TV screens, as well as a big map of the world on the wall. We can tell you from experience that that's a great place for multiplayer firefights, with all those cubicles to duck down behind and all that equipment just waiting to get shot up by you or your opponents. A large-scale multiplayer match concentrated in that room is going to be serious calamity.
But Broadcast has been expanded significantly throughout its incarnation in the campaign. There are multiple routes into and out of that main room. Some routes lead up to the building's second floor, replete with smaller rooms and hallways. The map is mostly indoors, so air strikes and helicopters will be largely ineffectual--except up on the roof, which you can access from the second floor, as well as in the expanded parking lot area outside the main building. On the other side of that parking lot is another new, smaller building that you can hide out in as well.
The second map we played is entirely new, and it's named Creek. But there's a lot more to it than a simple babbling brook. This is a very large-scale outdoor map with a small cluster of houses on one side of it. In the middle, there's a huge ravine circling the perimeter with multiple levels of pathways up its side. Down below, the trail leads along the eponymous creek bed to a waterfall. Elsewhere along the base of the ravine, there's a lengthy and winding cave that cuts underneath the hill then out to the other side. As big as it is, there are a lot of places to go on this map; from prone sniping atop the cliff face to hiding out behind a rock in the tunnel, you never know where an opponent will be attacking you.
Broadcast naturally looks exactly like COD4's campaign, but Infinity Ward's artists have done a nice pass on Creek to give it a distinctive look, with rocky terrain and various sorts of foliage that are more verdant than what you've seen in the previous Russian maps. It all feels a little sunnier and more pleasant than the game's other forested maps, too--at least until you catch a slug between your teeth. Because there's so much underbrush and shrubbery on top of the cliffs here, Bowling pointed out that it's a great map for you to use the sniper's ghillie suit for blending in while going for some sneaky kills.
There will actually be four maps in the final pack, though we can only really tell you about these two. The other two will be Chinatown, which is pretty self-explanatory, and Killhouse, which is a "bonus" map that we didn't get any hard details on (though we were told to think of the single-player campaign's initial training level as a reference). The map pack will be available on the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 in the coming months for an unspecified price. But interestingly, Infinity Ward hasn't decided how the maps will be distributed on the PC, where players are much more expectant of postrelease bonus content being released for free. Realistically, Call of Duty 4's multiplayer is so absurdly good that would have gladly handed over cash for whatever maps the designers could have phoned in--so we're especially glad to see them putting so much time and care into this first release.