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Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare preview: can laser rifles and stealth mines refresh the CoD formula?

Call of Duty has a laser gun. And a jetpack (okay, okay: jump-pack. Semantics.). And grenades that you don t have to throw. And a cloaking device. And a landmine that cancels sound? Activision toured me through this new futuretech after inviting me to watch more than 30 minutes of Advanced Warfare that wasn t shown at Microsoft s E3 press conference earlier this week. First: a recap on Advanced Warfare if you haven t been following along. It s developed by Sledgehammer Games, a relatively new Activision studio that contributed to Modern Warfare 3. It has the distinction, among Call of Duty games, of being developed over a three-year period. It s set in 2085 in America and other parts of the world, with a focus on (you guessed it) warfare with hovertanks, drones, and high-technology based on Sledgehammer s real-world research and imagination. Its campaign has a single protagonist, it ll be out in November, and Activision is saying absolutely nothing about multiplayer yet. At E3 this week I was shown two campaign levels nearly in their entirety. I walked away impressed by the quality of art, animations, and sound shown in these sections, which represent a significant leap over Modern Warfare 3 that laser rifle I mentioned feels like a Wolfenstein weapon, piercing your ears with an inexplicably fitting, metallic thunk every time you fire. Outside of that, though, what I saw it simply felt like an echo of every other Call of Duty campaign I ve played. The first level Sledgehammer showed me began as a stealth-focused escape mission in the vein of other Call of Duty levels where you and a AI partner slink through an environment undetected, silently executing sentries along the way. Mitchell, the campaign s player character, is sprinting through a Bulgarian forest. There s a helicopter tailing him and his partner, shining a searchlight after them as they bound through high grass and over rocky forest. Eventually they re free to activate the cloaking systems on their exosuits, but cloaking didn t break the rhythm of stealth killing and evasion. I noticed one distracting visual discrepancy, too: the feet of my cloaked teammate didn t bend any grass or shrubbery as he moved through it. Each moment of this introductory section felt like Simon-Says, with the partner character vocalizing each maneuver (at one point, a cloak-cancelling searchlight appears: Seeker. Cloak s useless against it, avoid the beam. Wait for the patrol to pass. ), and you obediently executing. I didn t get to play, so I can t say for sure how much room for experimentation or error this section includes, but nothing indicated that it was much. Sneaking up behind a transport truck at one point, a mine-shaped light flashes on the ground, inviting the player to place a mine there. Why hold the player s hand that much? The gadget itself was interesting: a disc with a handle attached that dampened all sound temporarily in a small radius essentially cloaking all sound in the location and muffling all in-game sounds for the player in the process. But the tool s function here was pretty boring: it simply permitted Mitchell to take out two guards from behind at close range. Halfway through the stage, Mitchell and his partner linked up with two other exosuited soldiers on a cliff overlooking a secret chemical weapons facility held by Advanced Warfare s mysterious and apparent PMC antagonist, Manticore. The group rappelled down, revealing the massive umbrella of optical camouflage that was concealing the weapons factory sitting on the ground from above, the landscape simply looked like a single factory nestled in forest. This was the coolest visual effect in the demo. The foursome made their way quietly into the factory, securing some critical information and destroying the computer systems inside. Mission accomplished! On the exit, the level transitioned from stealth to a free-fire escape sequence, with all the weapons and technology put to use. I like Advanced Warfare s trick of making its grenades programmable rather than discrete, separate items: EMP, frag, impact, and target (the enemy-highlighting x-ray effect shown in the first footage) grenade types can be cycled between freely. At one point the player stepped behind a transparent shield drone that they synced to their exosuit to make it follow them; a portion of the shield would move out of the way whenever Mitchell took a shot. The level culminated in a vehicle sequence that wasn t entirely on-rails, but still amounted to a carnival game-like experience of target shooting while moving full speed in a single direction. Mitchell and his comrades jack an experimental hovertank packed with EMP, cannon, and explosive MG weapons, each of which the player cycles between somewhat meaninglessly to knock out tanks, helicopters, and infantry on the way to an extract. The spectacle is there, but like past Call of Duty games there was no feeling of risk or imminent failure here. The second stage was equally full of well-scripted spectacle: a car chase on San Francisco s Golden Gate Bridge that culminates in the bridge being snapped ever-so cinematically in half. It s a gorgeous setpiece and absolutely in the spirit of previous Call of Duty games, but the familiarity of, say, gripping a police officer s hand as he s dangling over the edge of a bridge dampened the surprise for me. Advanced Warfare s new movement abilities were shown a little bit, with Mitchell and his comrades making exosuit-assisted boost jumps to leap atop 18-wheelers (enemies had the tech too), and the new agility here is welcome, but it s unclear how comprehensively this movement power will be implemented in the rest of the game. Will I be able to side-dash and double-jump my way through Advanced Warfare? That d be welcome. Take it with a grain of salt: I ve only seen about half an hour, but Advanced Warfare s emphasis on futuretech doesn t seem to be breaking Call of Duty s campaign template. We ll have to wait until later this year to find out how the series new setting will change its multiplayer, but for now I m much more interested in Rainbow Six Siege and experimental stuff like Super Hot in the FPS space. Stay up to date with the very latest PC gaming news from E3 2014

Call of Duty: Ghosts Devastation pack includes alien kraken and The Predator

The Devastation map pack for Call of Duty: Ghosts will include four multiplayer maps and part two of the increasingly mad Extinction mode. The co-op players vs. NPC aliens aside is set on a "high-tech ghost ship" besieged by a "skyscraper-sized" sea monster and infested with dog-like alien creatures. The trailer also teases the inclusion of the Predator. The actual Predator, from the films. I haven't paid attention to Call of Duty in a while, so it feels like returning to a familiar old house I thought I knew, to find it full of dinosaurs. The shooting will be familiar enough, I'm sure, even with the addition of the "Ripper 2-in-1 SMG/AR", pronounced "Ripper two-in-one Smgaargh". Multiplayer maps include Behemoth, set on the walkways of a vast mining machine, Ruins, set in a Mexican jungle near an erupting volcano, Unearthed, a map "inspired by" Modern Warfare 3's Dome, and Collision, set on a cargo ship that's crashed into a New York bridge. The Predator's a tease. Is he playable in a new mode? Is there a map-specific killstreak that sends him after the enemy team? XBox live players will find out on April 3. PC players will probably get it a month later. It'll cost $15 / 10. Find out more on the Call of Duty site, and get a look at the new maps, and the famous monster, in this trailer.

Reinstall: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare

Reinstall invites you to join us in revisiting classics of PC gaming days gone by. This week, editor Sam Roberts returns to the fury of Call of Duty 4's singleplayer campaign. With Titanfall jettisoning the idea of a traditional single-player mode and Battlefield 4 s campaign inducing widespread sighs, this has become a disposable bolt on to most of today s big shooters. Titanfall is able to create much of the drama of a single-player game in the midst of its impressive systems, but it s worth remembering that the old Infinity Ward were really good at making campaigns, too. But it might be that Titanfall s lack of a true single-player mode is a sign of the times: COD s rigid campaign formula has been exhausted. Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare was its peak. The single-player is, in levels without a significant story beat, a slog to get through today. Perhaps this is because its ideas have been mercilessly recycled in the last seven years by both copycat action developers and Call Of Duty s own teams not really successfully expanding on that formula (full disclosure: I haven t played Ghosts doggy campaign, though I ve completed all of them prior to that). How many times have we seen that moment when your character gets knocked to his feet by a blast and his vision blurred, before you re picked up by an NPC and finally handed back control of the game? It s in the first mission of COD4 as the tanker is bombarded by MiGs. Every variation of this and many other scripted set pieces borrowed from Modern Warfare, and it s not COD4 s fault that people ripped that off. It just turned out to be pervasively influential. I think the lack of self-expression offered by its linear structure is a bit too cloying by today s standards. There is some extraordinary visual design in Modern Warfare s real-world environments, but wander too far out of the intended path and you always find dead spots in detail or convenient fences and barbed wire. I forgot you don t have the power to open doors in Call Of Duty you have to wait for the NPCs to do it for you. The lack of interactivity reduces the value of replaying a COD campaign, admittedly, which is probably part of the reason it s become a disposable aside in multiplayer-heavy FPSs generally. COD4 s success hinges on the quality of replaying those scripted moments, and they are still pretty decent even when you know Infinity Ward s tricks. The storyline isn t particularly entertaining, but it s a lot sharper than the increasingly ludicrous sequels are, and benefits from not overdosing on silly. Individual moments still excel and highlight the developers narrative chops. You know the ones I mean. When the pilot rescue goes awry during Shock and Awe and your player character is consumed by a surprise nuclear blast, you crawl through the rubble for a minute before your character dies alone in a horrific blast zone. Having played that twice before, I thought the impact would wear off. It doesn t. Yes, you re basically just crawling in a straight line out of a helicopter, but struggling through this blood red wasteland is a scripted moment of real design merit. The sound effects of your character s death are a bit more disturbing than I remember, too. Then there s the level everyone talked about in 2007. Breathlessly sneaking through the irradiated landscape of Pripyat in All Ghillied Up demonstrates the real craft of a linear story-driven FPS; it remains Modern Warfare s strongest level, and has a nice arc that begins with stealth encounters before escalating into a brilliant last stand. The abandoned backdrop is strikingly beautiful. Playing it today, I m reminded that DayZ has thrown up a number of equally dramatic scenarios as Ghillied through its systems at random, while also allowing scope for personality and freeform set pieces. Ghillied is just following a guy down a linear path, as impressively paced and scripted as it is. You can t repeat it and have a different experience that s a problem with replaying any Call Of Duty title. But even without the feeling of newness that it had in 2007, you can see why other developers tried to emulate Infinity Ward s storytelling sensibilities. I realise I sound a bit down in revisiting Call Of Duty 4 s story mode there s a reason for that. Before replaying the game, I considered the idea that the single-player part of an FPS might be becoming a lost art, but I actually think it s just this very specific type of linear shooter that s becoming irrelevant. And that might not be a bad thing. COD4 s memorable tutorial of running through a fake cargo ship of pop-up wooden enemies isn t far off what playing a COD campaign actually feels like today. When you know the beats inside and out, there s not a great capacity for surprise. It s part of the reason why Titanfall only has a story mode functioning as a multiplayer framework, in my opinion. After Call Of Duty 4, I m not sure this type of single-player experience ever really improved in pacing or storytelling. It had a finite lifespan that has perhaps reached its end with the failure of Medal Of Honor, the broad apathy towards Battlefield 4 s campaign and COD s dog-related sagas. Modern Warfare s impact was all in the multiplayer, of course. After many yearly Call Of Duty sequels it s hard to recall or appreciate how refreshing Modern Warfare s progression-based multiplayer was Titanfall is getting a similar response now, in that it reworked a genre we maybe didn t realise needed a rethink in the first place. Maybe COD4 s campaign is just a relic, then but it s still a fun one.

Call of Duty: Ghosts system requirements released officially, 64 bit OS required

Nvidia put out some unofficial Call of Duty: Ghosts system specs a couple of weeks back suggesting that Infinity Ward's peppy manshooter would require a 64 bit OS, and they were right. The Call Of Duty site now has the official specs, which adjusts the 50GB install to a 40GB one (lets face it, 30GB of that is hi-res dog), but retains the 6GB RAM requirement. Watch Dogs, another game designed to span the gap between current and 'next-gen' console hardware, needs similar tech. We can expect system requirements to quickly jump up when we start seeing ports of games that target the PS4 and Xbone exclusively next year. Will the similarity of the new console hardware to PC architecture make for smoother ports? I can only hope. Meanwhile, get yer Call of Duty: Ghosts system requirements right here. OS: Windows 7 64-Bit / Windows 8 64-Bit CPU: Intel® Core™ 2 Duo E8200 2.66 GHZ / AMD Phenom™ X3 8750 2.4 GHZ or better Memory: 6 GB RAM Hard Disk Space: 40 GB Video: NVIDIA® GeForce® GTS 450 / ATI® Radeon™ HD 5870 or better Sound: DirectX compatible sound card DirectX®: DirectX® 11 Internet: Broadband Internet connection for Steam and Online Multiplayer.

Call of Duty: Ghosts screenshot analysis: special forces, jungles, random armchairs and frightened fish

Call of Duty “has almost ruined a generation of shooter players,” says Tripwire Interactive

Tripwire President John Gibson holds an M1 Garand inside the team's studio, one of the guns carried by the Americans in Rising Storm. Earlier this month I visited Killing Floor and Red Orchestra 2 creator Tripwire Interactive to play Rising Storm, the upcoming standalone expansion to RO2 (look for a preview on Monday). After the demo, Tripwire President John Gibson and I got talking about the state of first-person shooters, and Gibson laid out a detailed criticism about the way Call of Duty "takes individual skill out of the equation." Gibson also expressed frustration over how difficult it had been trying to design a mode for Red Orchestra 2 that appealed to Call of Duty players. PCG: How do you feel about the state of FPSes? John Gibson, President: I think that single-player shooters are getting better. I think they’re finally coming out from under the shadow of the Hollywood movie, overblown “I’m on a rail” linear shooter. I’m talking about Call of Duty-style shooters. In the late ‘90s, you had the original Deus Ex, which was an RPG-shooter. And those kind of games almost took an eight year hiatus. And I’m so excited to see them coming back with interesting gameplay. Like the Fallout games, even though their shooting mechanics could really use some improvement, just mixing a really cool story, but not a linear story, one that you create yourself. The melding of RPG elements and shooter elements has been great. I’ve seen this reflected in a lot of the reviews, it’s like, “Okay guys, we’re tired of this on-rails experience.” On the flip side, I’m really discouraged by the current state of multiplayer shooters. I think that, and I hate to mention names, because it sounds like ‘I’m just jealous of their success,’ but I’m really, I feel like Call of Duty has almost ruined a generation of FPS players. I know that’s a bold statement, but I won’t just throw stones without backing it up. When I was developing Action Mode , I got a group of people that I know that are pretty hardcore Call of Duty players. And my goal was to create something that was accessible enough for them to enjoy the game—not turn it into Call of Duty, but try to make something that I thought was casual enough but with the Red Orchestra gameplay style that they would enjoy. And we iterated on it a lot. And just listening to all the niggling, pedantic things that they would complain about, that made them not want to play the game, I just thought, “I give up. Call of Duty has ruined this whole generation of gamers.” Red Orchestra 2. Gibson says he's "discouraged" by the state of multiplayer shooters on PC. What did they complain about? Gibson: It’s the gameplay mechanics that they become used to. The way that players instantly accelerate when they move, they don’t build up speed. “The weapons really don’t have a lot of power” . They’re all very weak. The way they handle... They’re like: “I hate Red Orchestra, I can’t play it.” Well, why? “Because the guy doesn’t move like he does in Call of Duty. Call of Duty has great movement.” Why is it great? “Because it just is, I just like the way it works.” So you don’t like the momentum system in Red Orchestra? “Yeah, it sucks, it’s clunky, it’s terrible.” Well, why? “It’s just because I’m used to this.” I make it sound like there was a combative conversation, probably because I get a little emotional when I think about it. But it was really a calm discussion of, “What don’t you like?” and “It doesn’t feel like Call of Duty.” Almost every element boiled down to “it doesn’t feel like Call of Duty.” And really, watching some of these guys play... one of the things that Call of Duty does, and it’s smart business, to a degree, is they compress the skill gap. And the way you compress the skill gap as a designer is you add a whole bunch of randomness. A whole bunch of weaponry that doesn’t require any skill to get kills. Random spawns, massive cone fire on your weapons. Lots of devices that can get kills with zero skill at all, and you know, it’s kind of smart to compress your skill gap to a degree. You don’t want the elite players to destroy the new players so bad that new players can never get into the game and enjoy it. I’m looking at you, Dota. Sorry. "If there’s no fear, there’s no tension, the victory is shallow. We want there to be some fear." But the skill gap is so compressed, that it’s like a slot machine. You might as well just sit down at a slot machine and have a thing that pops up an says “I got a kill!” They’ve taken individual skill out of the equation so much. So you see these guys—I see it all the time, they come in to play Red Orchestra, and they’re like “This game’s just too hardcore. I’m awesome at Call of Duty, so there’s something wrong with your game. Because I’m not successful at playing this game, so it must suck. I’m not the problem, it’s your game.” And sometimes as designers, it is our game. Sometimes we screw up, sometimes we design something that’s not accesible enough, they can’t figure it out, we didn’t give them enough information to figure out where to go... but more often than not, it’s because Call of Duty compressed their skill gap so much that these guys never needed to get good at a shooter. They never needed to get good at their twitch skills with a mouse. Players like Elliot and I, back in the Quake and Unreal days, you know, we had to get good at aiming. These guys don’t have to anymore. The skill gap is so compressed that like, “The game makes me feel that I’m awesome.” These guys, when I actually watch them play, they’re actually very poor FPS players. And I don’t think it’s because they’re incapable of getting good, I think it’s because they never had to get good. They get enough kills in Call of Duty to feel like they’re awesome, but they never really had to develop their FPS skills beyond that. And it’s a shame because when you do that, when you create a shooter like that, you’re very limited on the amount of depth that you can give the game. It’s all gotta be very surface level, like I’m sitting there eating cotton candy and I never get any meat and potatoes. And it’s frustrating for me as a designer to see players come in and they’re literally like “In Call of Duty it takes 0.15 seconds to go into ironsights. In RO2 it takes 0.17 seconds to go into ironsights. I hate this.” Gibson fires an MP40 during an audio recording session for Red Orchestra 2 in the Nevada desert. Gibson is frustrated by the way that Call of Duty has "taken individual skill out of the equation" for many modern FPS players. Do you think it’s a matter of patience? Have these players lost their sense of patience? Gibson:I think that’s part of it. The game is kind of spoonfeeding them, and making them feel great when they’re not. And like I said, that’s smart business, and I don’t blame Infinity Ward for wanting to do that. They’re selling millions of games and they have lots of people enjoying it, but I think there’s a depth of enjoyment there that a lot of these players are missing out on. And when you try to get them to branch out, their knee-jerk reaction is “The training wheels have come off, I’m gonna fall!” And I hate to see that. It’s this weird dichotomy between, you know, single-player is getting much more depth, and players are just eating it up. They’re loving that. They’re buying these FPS-RPG single-player games like crazy. But multiplayer, “Ooh, don’t take my training wheels off.” I hate that. So we’re trying... we’re giving a little bit of training wheels, but we’re going to take them off occasionally in the shooters that we’re making, and hopefully we’ll get some of those people to branch out. I think for me though, I wouldn’t say I’ve completely given up on all of those players, but I’m not gonna try to make a game that tries to be Call of Duty at the expense of having fun gameplay that actually has depth. Elliot Cannon, Rising Storm Lead Designer: Or creating a game that feels like you might be in a war, and you might die? "One of the things that Call of Duty does, and it’s smart business, to a degree, is they compress the skill gap." Gibson: Yeah. That’s one of the things that we do in our games, and it’s fear. When you play... I know there are modes in Left 4 Dead that are more hardcore, but when you play Left 4 Dead, and I’m really friends with Valve, so I hope they don’t get mad at me, but you do get spikes of adrenaline. But eventually that wears off because you figure out, well, as long as we stick together we’re never gonna die. In Killing Floor, when the Fleshpound shows up, you could be screwed. Half your team is probably gonna die. Your heart rate goes up, you’re freaking out, like “I can actually lose this shooter.” And if there’s no fear, there’s no tension, the victory is shallow. We want there to be some fear. What do you consider your tools for expressing fear? Gibson: Vulnerability is a big part of it, lethality. The ability to lose. There has to be... it’s kind of like, you know, if you’re gambling. If you go to the penny slots, you’re like, “Okay, yeah, whatever, I lost a penny.” But you go to the Roulette table, you throw down a thousand bucks, and you spin the wheel—you’re nervous at that point. So, having the players have to take risks. Risk versus reward. They risk more, but the reward is greater. There’s more depth, there’s a bit more of a learning curve, but when you get that kill at long range with that bolt-action rifle, while the artillery’s flying around your head, and mortar shells are falling and guys are Banzai-charging you in the face, and your guy’s shaking, but you still kill him anyway. That’s an experience. You had some risk there, but you got a bigger reward. The kill wasn’t just handed to you. It wasn’t like “I called in the helicopter and it flew into the level and mowed down half the enemy team while I wasn’t even doing anything.” Check back on Monday for an exclusive hands-on with Rising Storm.

The sun rises, tides fall, babies cry, another Call of Duty game confirmed

Activision's efforts to forcibly insert Call of Duty releases into the yearly rhythm planet Earth continue today. There's some pretty dry biz news floating around this morning so let's enshrine key details in haiku form to keep things lively. More CoD is mentioned, In ActiBlizz earnings call, Bear shits in the woods. Shocking, I know. Gamespot report that Activision CFO Dennis Durkin's future-sense has become clouded by the onrushing next-gen apocalypse. "There is increased volatility this year due to the ongoing console transition, which makes predicting the future more challenging than during normal years in the cycle," he opined, clawed hand hovering over a glowing ball of demonic energy. "For Call of Duty, consistent with our past practices," he managed, gasping, "we are planning for the mainline release in Q4 to be down versus 2012." And with that he tore his hand away, and was spared the wrath of the artifact. It's Modern Warfare's turn this year, according to the bi-annual Modern Warfare/Black Ops one-two punch that Activision has favoured in recent times. I'm sure it will be a perfectly adequate arcade manshooter. What would you like to see them change about the series?

TED talk outlines how action games help your brain

How's your brain? Is it full of thoughts of the weekend and exciting upcoming things like DINNER and CHRISTMAS? Good, you might be pleased to know that thanks to action games like Call of Duty, your brain is probably better at juggling multiple thoughts of dinner and Christmas better than the average non-gamer brain. It's also good at tracking happy and sad children as they bounce around a circular playground, and is better at picking grey objects from a grey background. We can thank Gears of War for that. Cognitive researcher Daphne Bavelier can do a much better job of explaining it all than I, so I'll give up the stage to her TED performance, which you'll find embedded below. You can find plenty more talks on all sorts of topics on the TED site. For a more amusing turn, TED has been perfectly parodied by The Onion as well.

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 video shows eight minutes of multiplayer blasting

Black Ops 2's future setting moves its gruff warrior sorts into a world that's used to drone warfare, but hasn't invented awesome laser cannons yet. That lets Treyarch weave a pleasantly paranoid plot in the single player campaign without jeopardising the great golden goose that is CoD's multiplayer mode. I imagine Call of Duty devs are quietly terrified of messing around with that world-winning formula too much, which is why the eight minutes of multiplayer scooped by IGN look so darn familiar. The appearance of a little robot 5:44 in livens things up a little, though. What do you think? Has Black Ops 2's new setting, zombie campaign mode, polished up PC version and open character design system convinced you to give it a try when it comes out in November?

Call of Duty: Black Ops zombie co-op campaign teased by trailer

Call of Duty: Black Ops 2 is getting an expanded co-op mode called "Tranzit" that'll send four survivors on a zombie road trip across the US. As one of those survivors you'll get to bus from place to place, mounting heroic stands against the zombie army at each location. IGN mention "buildables" that con be constructed to furnish you with new weapons, or open up extra areas, which are probably full of more zombies. The latest Black Ops 2 zombies trailer shows a fuel stop, a diner, a farmhouse reminiscent of Left 4 Dead's Blood Harvest finale, a power station and a town center blighted by lava pools. Zombies AND lava? It's the doompocalypse alright. You'll find the video stamped into the page below. Parts of the video show a tiny snippet of someone shooting zombies of the roof of the bus in first person, suggesting that we'll have to defend against legions of zombie marathon runners as the bust travels between locations. As well as "Tranzit" there will be a versus mode that will put two four-player teams into the zombie apocalypse and encourage them to compete for zombie kills without killing each other. There will be a more traditional survival zombie mode for fans of Treyarch's previous efforts. Treyarch could probably spin zombies into a separate release if they wanted to. It's been a fan favourite since its cheeky first appearance in World at War. Is the zombie mode your favourite part of Treyarch's CoD games, or just a fun distraction?

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