Call of Duty: Modern Warfare – can this game save the series? | Games

A couple of hours and several dozen respawns into the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare beta test and you gradually start to appreciate the changes. The latest title in the multimillion-selling shooter series is being sold as a return to the principles of its near-namesake, 2007’s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. Developer Infinity Ward is promising gritty, contemporary combat on claustrophobic maps with authentic weapons and skills – and absolutely none of the laser guns or wall-running super powers that have blighted later episodes. The beta tests, held over the last two weekends, have been the first chance to experience this premise on public servers. And it has not been disappointing.

In many ways, the new title does feel very similar to the original Modern Warfare trilogy. We get familiar weapons with familiar effects, such as the super versatile M4A1 assault rifle and the strange-looking AUG with its blisteringly rapid fire rate. There is also a return for killstreaks, where players are specifically rewarded for shooting enemies rather than meeting mission objectives, recalling Modern Warfare’s ultra-aggressive roots. Map locations also have a nostalgically grungy and bomb-blasted look. Azhir Cave is a mass of snaking desert tunnels and crumbling villages, while Hackney Yard is all rusted shipping containers, abandoned offices and burned-out police cars.

Hackney Yard level with Union flag garage doors.

Hackney Yard level with Union flag garage doors. Photograph: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

But you soon realise that these maps, though they recall the set design of classic CoD environments, have moved away from the traditional three-lane design. The new locales are filled with blind corners, dead ends, raised walkways and upper storey windows with long sight lines, breaking down the usual rhythms of play. Add in the ability to open and close doors, as well as set down guns on emplacements to create avenues of certain death, and what you get is a slight slowdown – or at least a variation – in pace. Survival now means being much more cautious and aware, especially if you’re not packing a weapon with a really high fire-rate.

This was accentuated at the opening of the beta period last weekend with the removal of the classic Call of Duty mini map. This usually sits in the corner of the screen revealing enemy positions when they fire their guns, but for the opening days of the test, you only got to see the map when someone on your team launched a UAV or a personal radar. During this period, there was even more of an impetus on staying tight in covering positions – in other words, to camp. However, the mini map was turned back on over that weekend due to complaints from players, and it is unclear whether Infinity Ward will have the courage to turn it off again in the final game.

Away from the standard Team Deathmatch and Domination options, the beta also showed us several more tactical modes. The King of the Hill-style Headquarters has teams fighting to take and then control randomly placed HQ points for as long as possible, while Cyber Attack is a race to plant an EMP device near an enemy’s data centre. These encourage a team-focused approach, with individual players using their special abilities (known as field upgrades) to gain positional advantages. Slinging down deployable cover, for example, creates a barrier that’s useful for defending a flag, while munition boxes can be lobbed near bottlenecks to ensure your team mates are well-armed.

Alongside standard multiplayer varieties, the beta also added a range of extra modes. In Realism, you play team-based matches with no HUD information at all, so you don’t know how many bullets you have, what the score is or if you’re hitting anything, which is chaotic but engrossing. In Gunfight, two-person teams meet for a series of encounters on small maps, and there are no respawns. The weapons are changed for each game, or randomly scattered around the map, so one minute you might be fighting with shotguns and the next with sniper rifles; the first to six games wins. At first, the cat-and-mouse feel of the gameplay is tense, as you try to sneak up on your opponents, but then everything explodes into intense gun battles that last mere fractions of a second.

The Ground War map: tall towers and elevated windows make for multiple sniping positions.

The Ground War map: tall towers and elevated windows make for multiple sniping positions. Photograph: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare

For the first weekend, the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare beta didn’t give us any massive revelations. However, the second test added a 64-player Ground War mode, which takes place on a much larger Karst River Quarry map, an industrial hellzone of multi-storey buildings and freight train yards that offers tall vantage points, open spaces, and vehicles such as ATVs, armoured cars and helicopters.

This is an obvious challenge to the space occupied by rival military shooter Battlefield, dividing players into squads of four and allowing members to spawn in on each other’s positions. However, even in this larger space, the mode somehow retains the faster pace and lethality of Call of Duty, especially as the mini map is switched on throughout, with players continually earning UAV recon passes to light up enemy positions. It’s chaotic, furious and genuinely thrilling when you have multiple players fighting together to secure a flag area, but perhaps not as distinct from the rest of the multiplayer modes as it should be.

Those who have grown tired of traditional online shooters might not be tempted back by this beta – we’re still very much in hyper-reactive, twitch-heavy “run and gun” territory here. You’ll no doubt get absolutely annihilated for a good few hours until your reactions reach the level of a Red Bull-chugging 16-year-old.

And yet our forays into this tight, focused re-imagining of the Modern Warfare series have been fun, recalling the density and grit of the series, but with the pace and structure tweaked just enough to give it a different feel. Those who are on the rebound from the inescapable Fortnite and its ilk will find a lot in here that is compelling and exciting. There’s a reason gamers still reminisce about Call of Duty 4, and much of that quality is here, updated and expanded by the studio that started the whole thing.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare is released on PC, PS4 and Xbox One on 25 October.

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