During the last few months, Infinity Ward has teased gamers with short multiplayer trailers of the hotly anticipated Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. But apart from a few points gleaned from the videos (such as customizable killstreaks, riot shields, and being able to bring the rain with an AC-130), there have been few other details on just how the developer was planning to improve on the impressive multiplayer offering of the first Modern Warfare. That changed overnight: Infinity Ward released a ton of new information about online play in Modern Warfare 2 and allowed hands-on sessions for the first time. Greater customization, improved perks, deathstreaks, and new weapons and attachments are just some of the additions, which is all adding up to plenty of reasons for even the most dedicated prestige players to come back and wage war again.
First up, let's check out that awesome AC-130. If you thought calling in a helicopter strike was intense in Modern Warfare, then you'll be blown away by the destructive power of the 55 tons of flying death that is the Lockheed AC-130, which was featured in the Death From Above mission in the first game. You'll need to be a pretty elite player to get the AC-130 (because it requires 11 kills in a row), but once you do, it will be enough to send all your enemies cowering in fear. But even this massive piece of air support is not a confirmed match winner--the AC-130 sticks around for only 30 seconds, you are vulnerable while using it (because your character will be controlling the plane while crouched using a remote laptop), and organized enemies can take it down using RPGs and other antiaircraft weaponry.
The AC-130 is one of the new killstreak bonuses in Modern Warfare 2, a system which has been expanded with the addition of new rewards as well as the ability to choose the order in which you unlock them. While you'll still get the UAV bonus at three kills, a missile strike at five, and chopper support at seven, you'll also get care packages, counter-UAV, sentry guns, and, of course, the AC-130. The Care Package is an interesting addition: you'll gain this after a four kill streak, and when used, it drops a supply crate onto your chosen point in the map. What's inside the Care Package, however, is random. It could be as simple as ammo, or it could be a killstreak reward, allowing you to access the higher bonuses without having to do the tough work of killing your opponents. It's a potential match winner and will allow even novice players the opportunity to use the longer killstreak bonuses (at least if they get lucky with a package). Care Package users need to be careful, though, as enemies can also open the package and steal whatever goodies lie within.
Balancing out the improved killstreaks are new deathstreaks, which are rewards that are conferred onto players if they're killed multiple times in a row. The deathstreaks we saw (which kicked in at three deaths in a row) were copycat and painkiller. Copycat allows you to "steal" your killer's class and loadout (even if you haven't unlocked those weapons), while painkiller gives you a temporary health boost when you first respawn. These bonuses obviously aren't as powerful as killstreaks, but they may be just enough for players who are getting constantly squashed to score a morale-boosting victory now and again.
You can customize which killstreaks and deathstreaks you bring into battle, which is just one part of Modern Warfare 2's improved class creation system. Both primary and secondary weapons can be fitted with attachments and camo, with Infinity Ward reps telling us the list of adds-on has increased significantly (silenced shotgun, anyone?). Players also have a new equipment slot that they can customize. Mapped to the right bumper, this equipment slot allows you to swap out frag grenades and instead choose from a list which includes throwing knives (a one-hit kill), a blast shield, semtex (explosives which stick to an enemy when thrown), tactical insertion (where you can choose your next spawn point), and two others which were locked in the multiplayer build we played.
Adding further to this depth of customization are new call signs that you can attach to your character. These call signs--which will be visible during all multiplayer matches--will act as a signpost to your foes as to how well you've played the game. Call signs (which consist of an emblem and a title) are unlocked depending on your achievements within multiplayer matches. Use the riot shield constantly, for example, and you'll unlock shield-specific call signs.
As for perks, they're back in greater numbers in Modern Warfare 2. Infinity Ward said they took on board community suggestions when revisiting the perk system, resulting in additions, tweaks, and outright omissions. Frag X 3, for example, has bitten the dust, while widespread calls for two attachments on a weapon resulted in the creation of the Bling perk (which, as you can guess, lets you put two attachments on a gun). While we didn't see the final unlocked list of perks, we did manage to spy a few new additions/tweaks to old perks, including Cold-Blooded (makes a player invisible to UAV, sentry guns, thermal imagery, and air support), Scavenger (full resupply of ammo from dead enemies), Commando (increased melee distance), Marathon (which allows you to sprint indefinitely), and Scrambler (the ability to jam every radar). And in a neat addition, if you use a perk enough, it will upgrade to a second level where its abilities are further enhanced. The old perk Sleight of Hand, for example, allowed you to reload more quickly, but if you achieve its upgrade, not only will you be able to reload faster, but the speed at which you look down the sights of your weapon also improves.
When it comes to maps, don't expect your favourites from the first game to make an appearance. Infinity Ward says Modern Warfare 2 will feature all-new maps, although a final number hasn't been confirmed. The old maps were ditched due to gameplay reasons, according to the developer, because some of the new features being added didn't gel well with the size, layout, and design of the old maps.
So with all these additions, how does the game actually play? We tested out the game on three maps--Afghan, Highrise, and Favela--playing a variety of modes, including team deathmatch, domination, and a new mode called demolition. Afghan took place in a desert area that featured a downed plane in the middle of the map that was surrounded by small caves and narrow passes. Highrise was set on top of a group of buildings, with a large central rooftop area acting as an arena for many fierce battles. Favela is set in the slums of Rio de Janeiro and is a maze of tight alleyways, decrepit multistorey houses ideal for camping, and abandoned cars. As you'd expect from Modern Warfare, the pace was furious and lots of fun, especially in the narrow confines of Favela. Demolition is an interesting addition, with one team having to protect two large explosive devices, while the other team has to try to activate them for detonation.
As in the original, you'll get to choose from some premade classes for your first few matches. The premades in Modern Warfare 2 are the grenadier, sniper scout, overwatch, first recon, and riot control. Of these, riot control is bound to be a favourite. With this class, you'll get a riot shield and be able to dual-wield a pair of SMGs from the get-go. The riot shield is an extremely hardy defensive tool, able to soak up a ton of damage before breaking (up to two full magazines with some of the weaker weapons and most of the force of a grenade). Better still, slinging the riot shield onto your back while you have your SMGs out gives you protection from bullets coming in from the rear.
When it comes to looks, Modern Warfare 2 has few peers. The game simply looks great, with plenty of outstanding detail present in the three maps we played (newspapers exploded into tiny pieces when hit by gunfire, pots crumbled realistically, and fire hydrants sprayed gushes of water when damaged).
Despite the mass of information unveiled about the multiplayer side of Modern Warfare 2, there are still plenty of unknowns, with the crew at Infinity Ward keeping some details secret. How prestige levels will work in the game, for example, is still under wraps, although we're told that they will definitely be in Modern Warfare 2 (as well as a higher level cap). And will there be greater streak rewards past 11 kills, and if so, what will they be? We'll have more on Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 soon, so keep it locked to GameSpot.