Call of Duty: United Offensive Multiplayer Hands-On Impressions
At QuakeCon 2004, we got the chance to check out the new multiplayer features of United Offensive.
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QuakeCon has become an event for all kinds of multiplayer games, so what better forum for Activision to debut its multiplayer mode for Call of Duty: United Offensive. We covered the single-player portion of the Call of Duty expansion in an earlier preview, but that's not all developer Gray Matter is putting into the game. It is also adding a lot of content to the multiplayer portion, including three new gameplay modes and additional vehicles, weapons, and abilities. The three new multiplayer modes are capture the flag, base assault, and domination. We were able to play two maps on the domination mode, which pits two teams against each other in a competition to capture five flag points on the map.
The first aspect of the domination mode that you'll notice is the addition of player-controlled vehicles. You'll be able to drive or ride in one of two types of vehicles: jeeps or tanks. Jeeps have three seats to accommodate a driver, a passenger, and a gunner for the mounted machine gun in the back of the vehicle. The jeep is similar to those found in other shooters, so its main role is to serve as a mobile firing platform that can move quickly from point to point. Jeeps aren't armored, so they can be destroyed fairly easily, but they are useful in getting to flag points quickly. On the other hand, tanks are armored to withstand gunfire and can overpower enemy positions. We saw a light tank and a heavy tank in the maps we played. The light tank has two seats--one for the driver/gunner and one for the gunner who operates the mounted machine gun on top of the tank's turret. One nice mechanic we saw with the light tanks was that you could hold down the space bar to align the turret with the front of the tank while moving. This helps prevent those times when you lose your bearing when firing on enemies and aren't quite sure where the front of the tank is. The heavy tank only has one seat, and its turret doesn't move. However, it sure packs quite a punch when it fires, and it can take a beating before it goes down. From what we saw, the expansion seems to do a good job of modeling the sound and physics of firing a shell to actually make it feel like you're in a powerful armored vehicle.
Infantry are still going to be very important in the expansion. Only soldiers on foot can capture a flag point. You can't capture one in a vehicle, so you either must dismount before you can capture the point, or you can have supporting infantry do the work for you. There are no classes in United Offensive, but you do get to choose which weapon you start with. Besides the usual rifles, submachine guns, sniper rifles, and assault rifles, you can also get a new deployable machine gun. You can use this weapon to create a machine gun position anywhere on the map. You can't fire while walking around with the gun though, so you'll need support getting to a good position. One important thing to note is that you can't start out with antitank weapons. However, there are panzerfausts and satchel charges lying around the map that you can pick up to use against vehicles.
We also got to see the ranking system in action. When you start a match, you're at the first rank. You can only carry one grenade, and you can't do anything special. As you accumulate points through kills and captures, you'll gain in rank. Higher ranks allow you to carry more grenades, and you can even earn binoculars for spotting enemy positions. Furthermore, you can eventually call in artillery strikes. The rank system rewards players for actively capturing flag points, because you get three points per capture as opposed to only one point for a kill. Now that we have covered the game's new additions, let's take a look at the maps we were able to play.
Cassino and Kursk
Cassino is a small map that takes place in a war-torn town. Buildings have walls blasted away, and rubble litters the street. The US and German spawn locations are connected via a winding road, but there are several alternate routes through the hollow buildings. Each side gets a light tank, but each has limited mobility due to the size of the map and because of various obstacles. Cassino is definitely a map where infantry have the upper hand. Although the tanks can fire into open windows and can kill hiding enemies, they are actually sitting ducks, because panzerfaust- and satchel charge-wielders can sneak up behind them and take them out easily. These weapons also prevent the tanks from camping spawn locations.
The map seemed to offer solid infantry-versus-infantry combat. The open roads and the handfuls of courtyards are a no-man's-land due to snipers in windows. As a result, you never know if you'll catch a bullet in the head if you run out to take a capture point. Moving through buildings can be equally suspenseful, because an enemy can be waiting around any corner. You can also take advantage of the deployable machine gun in this map. There are countless windows and ledges that offer advantageous firing positions. We had a difficult time taking out a couple of enemy machine gunners who had both height and line-of-sight advantages.
Cassino lends itself well to smaller teams because of its size. We played with a maximum of 12 players on the map--though sometimes we played with fewer participants--and we never had a slow moment. The close proximity of the flag points means that they will change hands often. Since a flag point is located near each base, a coordinated assault is necessary to win the map.
We also got to play Kursk, a massive tank battle between the Russians and Germans. Kursk is a much larger map than Cassino, and it's much more open. A big hill separates the two towns, which act as the spawn points for the two sides. There are two roads around the hill where vehicles can pass. Infantry have more freedom of movement, and they better take advantage of it to find cover, because the open terrain makes them very vulnerable to snipers and tank shells.
Kursk is very impressive due to the multiple light and heavy tanks on each side. You'll find columns of vehicles moving up the roads at any given point, making it feel like you are part of an ongoing battle. Tanks will find ideal firing positions and will open up on enemy locations. It's harder for infantry to take out tanks, because the open terrain makes it difficult to sneak up to place satchel charges on them, and the distances make it difficult to locate and fire panzerfausts. Infantry can man antitank turrets at their respective bases, which are devastating to individual tanks. Once again, a coordinated effort is required to overrun a flag point near an enemy base.
The two maps we played were very exciting. Gray Matter promises to release 11 multiplayer maps of different sizes. We can only hope the other maps offer varying play styles, like those we saw for the battles of Cassino and Kursk. Call of Duty: United Offensive is scheduled to ship this fall for the PC.