Call of Duty Multiplayer Hands-On Impressions

We spend some more time playing Infinity Ward's upcoming World War II shooter.

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We recently attended a press event held for Infinity Ward's World War II-themed first-person shooter, which features climactic battles from the war told from three different perspectives: that of a British Allied soldier, a Russian Allied soldier, and an American Allied soldier. We had a chance to see some of Call of Duty's single-player levels in motion, as well as to try out the game's multiplayer. One of the new single-player levels we watched was the "tank drive" level, a Russian mission in which, after fighting through the battle of Stalingrad and getting promoted to the rank of sergeant, you actually drive through the Russian countryside as part of a squad of BT-7 tanks.

Call of Duty will let you do battle on foot and in vehicles.

The tanks themselves seem fairly easy to control--they're more than a little reminiscent of the intuitively obvious control used for the Sherman and Panzer tanks from Digital Illusions' popular multiplayer shooter Battlefield 1942. Like in that game, you control the tank both from the driver's seat and the cannoneer's seat by driving with the WASD or arrow keys and aiming your turret with your mouse, and like with the basic tanks from the original Battlefield 1942, when firing at targets, you have to slightly compensate for the arc on your tank turret to score a solid hit. In the meantime, you've got a computer-controlled buddy manning the onboard machine guns who will automatically mow down any enemy infantry that are foolish enough to blunder into your path. The tanks don't seem to be constrained by strict physics either, so you can slide them up and down small inclines easily enough. Unfortunately, you won't be able to actually exit your tank and go on foot (and therefore, you won't be able to run out and steal other tanks), but the game's open-ended scripting structure might just let creative mod makers put together some interesting game modes that will eventually give you that sort of freedom, if we're lucky.

We then tried a few rounds of Call of Duty's multiplayer, whose pacing seemed to recall that of Activision's previously published World War II shooter, Day of Defeat. Like in that game, Call of Duty's multiplayer seems to strike a good balance between run-and-gun gameplay and careful, plodding maneuvers that you'll have to use to flush out hidden enemies. The game's hard-hitting sound effects also seem to help create a good sense of tension, especially when you're patrolling a seemingly empty area, and a near-miss shot rings out right next to you, signaling that hidden enemies are nearby. As it turns out, Call of Duty's multiplayer experience will vary depending on which mode you play (including the game's new seek-and-destroy and behind enemy lines modes, which it features in addition to standard deathmatch and team deathmatch).

This is because the game outfits you with a completely different weapon loadout depending on whether you're playing as a British, American, Russian, or German soldier. For instance, in team deathmatch, American soldiers get the widest selection of weapons among the Allies, including the M1A1 carbine, the M1-Garand, the Thompson, the Springfield sniper rifle, and the Browning assault rifle--while the Germans may choose only from the MP40 submachine gun, the heavier MP44, and the scoped and unscoped versions of the KAR98K rifle. Like Day of Defeat, Call of Duty gives you a brief description of each weapon before you choose to equip yourself with it in multiplayer. Weapons are rated by accuracy, damage, and mobility, and generally speaking, heavier automatic weapons seem to do better damage at the cost of accuracy and sometimes mobility.

These differing weapon loadouts seem to make for some interesting combined-arms skirmishes in practice, especially since the game lets you choose only a single primary weapon for your soldier to go with your sidearm and grenades. Like in Day of Defeat, you can walk, run, crawl, or lie prone--these affect your movement speed, line of sight, and accuracy. Each weapon also has an aiming mode that you can access by pressing the right mouse button--this lets you look down the iron sights of your weapon (or use the zoom lens in the case of a sniper rifle). Making the most of both our weapons and tactical options helped us prevail in multiplayer rounds of search and destroy, the game's objective-based multiplayer mode, which resembles the objective modes of such games as Day of Defeat and Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Search and destroy is round-based, similar to Counter-Strike; once you die, you're out of the match until the next round. In the game we played, the American Allied soldiers were required to navigate through the trenches of a countryside installment and plant bombs on German antiair guns. Of course, the German soldiers were required to thwart the Americans in this map. We were also able to spend some time with Call of Duty's behind enemy lines multiplayer mode, which pits Allied and Axis soldiers against each other in a lopsided ratio. Most players will spawn as Axis soldiers, though the few players that spawn as Allies will receive points for continuing to survive. Allied players are actively hunted by Axis players using a GPS-style radar system that tracks their most recent locations. Once an Axis player frags an Allied player, the Axis player becomes an Allied soldier and is then able to start scoring points (while the Allied player becomes an Axis soldier and joins the others in the hunt).

The multiplayer mode's "killcam" feature should prove to be an interesting addition.

Infinity Ward has also added an intriguing, all-new feature to Call of Duty's multiplayer matches: a replay mode that the developer refers to as "killcam." Whenever you get killed by an enemy player in a multiplayer game, you'll have the option to immediately respawn by pressing the "F" key or to sit and watch the killcam replay. The replay switches to spectator mode and follows the viewpoint of the player who shot you down, seven seconds before it happened. As technical officer Jason West explains, killcam was implemented to combat the always-frustrating event of getting shot down by someone you couldn't see--an event that can sometimes seem random, or even unfair. Rather than incredulously tossing your keyboards to the floor in annoyance at getting killed by a seemingly stray bullet, you'll instead be able to watch the killcam and see exactly where your assailant was and how you were taken down. In this way, killcam will also help ferret out snipers who get a little too comfortable in one spot, since downed players will be able to use the killcam to determine their location and go after them. West also expects newer players to use killcam as a learning tool to help them figure out the basics of line-of-sight tactics and effectively using cover.

Call of Duty seems to be coming along extremely well, and fortunately, the game itself will be done soon. It's scheduled for release later this year.

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jakeboudville
jakeboudville

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