On August 27 at high noon, Infinity Ward and Activision will unleash a free playable multiplayer beta for Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare on Xbox Live Marketplace. Members of the media were given early access to the beta this past week so we could pass along our early thoughts and provide a sneak peek of what you can expect.
As with Halo 3, the COD4 beta is strictly multiplayer via Xbox Live. The beta offers four match types: Team Deathmatch (six to 12 players, 750 score limit, 10 points per kill); Free-For-All (six to 12 players, five points per kill); Team Tactical (two-versus-two or three-versus-three, 500 score limit, 10 points per kill); and Team Objective, which is unlocked when reaching rank Lance Corporal (level six).
Ranks will play a large role in COD4’s multiplayer component, as they’re required to unlock not only the Team Objective match type, but the ability to create a new class (unlocked at Lance Corporal Level Four); play in the advanced modes like Challenges (unlocked at Lance Corporal Level Five), Clan Tag (unlocked at Sergeant II Level 12), and Prestige Mode (unlocked after Commander, Level 55!).
Ranks are also required to obtain the Demolitions and Sniper solider types, which complement the Heavy Gunner, Assault and Spec Ops defaults; and they’re also required simply to match-up with players of similar skill so a person with a 50-plus ranking isn’t mowing down newbies. Interestingly, the beta only allows a player to rank up to Level 11, so Clan Tag and Prestige Mode are off-limits until the full retail version arrives.
A noteworthy feature found in a match’s lobby allows players to vote on whether they want to use the pre-selected map. A total of three votes are required to skip a map; however, should a vote go through, those who voted will not be able to vote again on the next map. Unfortunately, I was unable to get anyone to vote along with me, so all of my games were played in the tight-quartered Vacancy map.
Vacancy looks to be an abandoned one-story office complex for a shipping company, so it offers a little bit of everything in terms of environments: small enclosed rooms, spacious rooms, open outdoor areas and tight outdoor areas that require maneuvering around shipping containers. I found success after getting mauled in my first match and receiving a rank upgrade to Level two. This unlocked the Demolitions solider type and subsequently the shotgun, which wreaked havoc in close-quarter areas. Another level up unlocked the Sniper soldier type, which is perfect for headshots from windows when players ran out in the open.
Vacancy’s design and atmosphere are on-par with recently released BioShock in that there are subtle atmospheric effects, strong lighting effects and extensive (and impactful) use of the entire 5.1 soundstage. Intensity gets ratcheted up a notch when airplanes and helicopters hover above firing at any and everything that moves. Combine all of that with exploding vehicles, blown-out windows and airborne dust particles and smoke, and the Call of Duty immersive gameplay legacy has been faithfully carried forward.
Aside from what you’d expect from a solid first-person shooter and the “true” successor to Call of Duty 2, Infinity Ward has added some subtle but welcome gameplay features. For instance, when you fall in battle, your re-spawn time is spent looking through the eyes of the combatant you killed you in the seconds leading up to your death. This is a great way to get a feel for how the better players are finding success, not to mention a great way to spot sniper spots you may have never even known existed. Another subtle addition is a loud countdown when a match has fewer than 30 seconds left. These loud “clock ticks” make those final moments more stressful than ever to grab a few extra kills.
According to Activision, the Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare Xbox 360 beta is expected to be active for at least a couple weeks, if not more. Additional details should be made available soon. Judging by the several thousand-player deep leaderboards and my experience, Nintendo Wii’s Metroid Prime 3 is going to be in an intense dogfight for gamers’ valuable minutes next week.
— Dan Bradley