Yesterday's Microsoft Press Conference showcased, for the first time, a live gameplay demo for the hotly anticipated Modern Warfare 2. Today, we went behind closed doors with Activision and Infinity Ward to get a more complete, more in-depth look at the demo. We got a great look at the impressive ice-climbing animations, the speedy snowmobile escape, and everything in between. While yesterday's demo cut away significant stretches of action with screens stating "In the interest of time..." and "Things do not always go as planned," our demo showed us exactly how it all went awry and how that snowmobile chase really ended.
First off, we'll flesh out some detail from the dramatic ice-climbing intro. Playing as a character named Roach, our demo driver shimmed around a frozen outcrop behind his team leader, Soap MacTavish. Soap leapt onto the sheer icy wall with stunningly realistic animation, and his weight swung around precariously. Roach's two ice axes are mapped to the left and right triggers. You have to hold the trigger in to swing the axe and keep it stuck in the ice. If you support your weight on one axe for too long, however, that realistic cracking in the ice will become a realistic breaking of the ice, and you'll fall to your death. When Roach makes the dramatic leap across a small chasm, you'll have to pull both triggers to stick both your axes in if you hope to survive.
Once Soap helps Roach to safety, you'll whip out the Silenced ACR with heartbeat sensor. This nasty little fellow shows enemy heartbeats on a flip-out radar window, which is a necessity in the whiteout conditions in which Roach and Soap were immersed. The whiteout is created by falling snow, clouds of white mist, and drifts blowing across the ground. This multilayered effect was compounded by the frost that gathered on Roach's goggles, slowly encroaching on his field of vision and making environmental conditions seem even harsher.
Roach and Soap dispatched a few guard patrols with little trouble, even switching to a cross-handed knife and sidearm combo for one encounter. Roach picked up an enemy weapon at one point and was promptly cautioned by Soap that unsuppressed enemy weapons would attract a lot of attention. Eventually, Soap went off to take the high ground, leaving Roach to navigate the base and airfield alone. Stealth was the order of the day, and the heartbeat sensor came on as Roach made his way across the airfield, ducking in and out of the various structures. The area was much more open and less linear than many of the levels in Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Infinity Ward, in fact, explained that its revamped Modern Warfare 2 engine features streaming textures that allow for bigger, more detailed environments.
After getting caught out in the open and gunned down once (oops!), Roach respawned, planted some C4, and headed over to rendezvous with Soap. Roach silently killed many enemies as he stealthily maneuvered between buildings and darted across roads. The unseen Soap even pitched in with a few expertly timed headshots. The two rendezvoused outside of a large hangar, inside of which we could see welders repairing a fighter jet. Once inside, Soap covered their escape while Roach downloaded some mission critical data from a computer in a back office. Roach then received a muttered message from Soap cautioning him to stay low. As Roach rounded the corner, there was Soap standing on the work floor of an open hangar with about 12 enemies surrounding him. As he lifted his arms, he told Soap to "go to Plan B." And we all know what Plan B is...
BOOM goes the C4! And down go the distracted guards as Roach and Soap let their bullets fly. Up until now, the level had featured predominantly stealth action. Now it was a full-on firefight as the two blasted their way out onto the tarmac, frantically trying to maneuver away from their swarming enemies. Gunfire filled the air and enemy soldiers fell in droves, but they just kept coming. Using the MiG aircraft as cover (and as explosive distractions), the two managed to escape the airfield by sliding down an icy slope. But enemy forces were hot on their tail, and the two had to spin around to gun down their pursuers, especially the ones who came flying over the ridge on snowmobiles.
Like in the Microsoft Press Conference demo, Soap and Roach each mounted a snowmobile and took off racing. In addition to dodging trees and taking their rides over sweet jumps, there were plenty of enemies waiting to be gunned down with what appeared to be a semiautomatic sidearm. And then there were the attack helicopters. The chase was exciting on the big screen at the press conference, but in our smaller session, there was an even more intense sense of speed and excitement as trees whipped by and enemy snowmobilers flew onto the screen from unexpected angles. The two fled onto a large frozen lake, then shot up a frozen river through a canyon and out on to a hilltop. Soap's exclamations (and the dials on our own snowmobile) let Roach know that they were running on fumes and that their ride would soon come to an abrupt end. Cresting the hill, we saw a long slope laid out before Roach; much like a long ski jump but dotted with potentially deadly trees. Roach and Soap raced down the slope at their fastest speeds yet and our demo driver clenched with focus as he narrowly avoid tree after tree. At the end of the long slope was, predictably (and awesomely), a wide chasm that our heroes sailed over, arriving on the other side just as their evacuation chopper touched down. Safe, it seems, for now.
The full demo was even more compelling than the press conference demo because it painted the full picture of one of the early levels of the game (titled "Cliffhanger;" an earlier level we spotted was titled "Oil Rig"). The level went seamlessly from a stealth section to a frantic shootout to a dramatic vehicular escape all across a broad, open level (except for the chase bit), and it felt exciting every step of the way. Modern Warfare 2 is a direct sequel to Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare and is clearly looking to step it up in terms of dramatic campaign levels. Those hungry for more Modern Warfare 2 should be sure to check out GameSpot's stage show live from E3, where we'll be sitting down again with Infinity Ward and delving even deeper into this exciting shooter.