By John Gaudiosi
Call of Duty is much more than a video game; it’s a cultural phenomenon.
Nowhere was that more evident than at Raleigh Studios in Playa Vista, Calif., where Activision threw a shindig unlike anything ever done in the game industry. For three days in early September, Call of Duty invaded the 12-acre compound Howard Hughes created, the Spruce Goose. Unlike the world’s largest plane, which failed miserably in flight, Call of Duty has soared to new heights with each successive game.
XP 2011 was all about Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer and Call of Duty Elite, the new premium subscription service that will cost $50 per year. Approximately 8,000 Call of Duty fans from around the world paid $150 per ticket to get hands-on time with five of the game’s 16 multiplayer maps (Dome, Underground, Village, Arkaden and Resistance) and check out new multiplayer modes Kill Confirmed and Team Defender. Activision also offered a dedicated area for the first public hands-on with the new cooperative Spec Ops Survival mode. All ticket proceeds went directly to the Call of Duty Endowment, which helps veterans find employment.
For PC gamers, it’s all about the gameplay -- something that Activision understands. The publisher assigned two development teams to create Modern Warfare 3.
“Nobody here takes anything for granted,” says Eric Hirshberg, CEO of Activision, who provided the opening keynote at XP 2011. “These teams give everything they have to create a game that everyone will love.”
Perhaps because of the competition it’s facing this year with EA’s Battlefield 3, Activision is redefining its multiplayer experience with Modern Warfare 3. Player customization is the theme that runs across multiplayer this year. To begin with, Modern Warfare 3 will support dedicated servers on day one. Players will be able to browse, filter, save and join dedicated servers of their choice. They’ll be able to set up their own server and administer their MW3 dedicated servers with direct control over features such as game rules, setup and ban lists.
“We listened to our fans and we’ve made this multiplayer experience the most balanced of any game,” says Robert Bowling, creative strategist of Infinity Ward. “The game has been redesigned for team play; there’s no more one-man army, no Commando or Last Stand perks, and no more nukes.”
The most fundamental shift in MW3 multiplayer is the new Pointstreak system, which replaces the Killstreak system of previous games. Players will now be rewarded for assisting teammates and capturing bases, in addition to kills. Gamers can customize their play through one of three disciplines: Assault, Support and Specialist. Assault will support players with choppers and tactical strikes, while Support will offer stealth bombers, drones and counter-UAV. Bowling calls Specialist the most challenging individual test of skill ever created for COD. Players are rewarded a new perk with every kill -- up to eight perks. But when they’re killed, they lose all of those perks.
MW3 is locked and loaded with an arsenal of 40 weapons from the real world and military testing grounds. The new weapon progression system allows players to customize guns by leveling up. There are new attachments (e.g., holographic scopes and silencers) as well as proficiencies (e.g., stability and kick). There are also weapons that are specific to each of the three disciplines.
A big part of COD for the 30 million online gamers is private matches. They’ve been significantly enhanced to allow players to create new, customizable game modes in addition to the new modes for private matches and share newly created games modes with friends.
“Some of the new game modes include Infection, where the infected kills enemies to recruit them for the infected team; Drop Zone, where you must hold the drop zone for team points and care packages; and Gun Game, which challenges players to be the first to dominate with every gun,” says Bowling.
There’s a lot more to the multiplayer experience, but not enough room to write about it all. Come Nov. 8, PC gamers will be able to return to the battlefield to experience all that’s new with multiplayer and Spec Ops in Modern Warfare 3.
John Gaudiosi has been covering video games for the past 17 years for media outlets such as The Washington Post, CNET, Wired magazine and CBS.com. He is editor in chief of GamerLive.tv and a game columnist for Reuters and RhMinions.com .