Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer preview hands-on with the new maps and new modes

If Call of Duty looks like an unstoppable, inevitable juggernaut of success at this point, it’s for one very good reason: Multiplayer. While the series has taken lumps from critics for its short campaigns, its multiplayer action has become a huge, mainstream cultural phenomenon, and if what we’ve seen at the Call of Duty XP event is any indication, Modern Warfare 3’s new modes and maps look poised to continue that trend for some time.

First, the modes…

New mode: Kill Confirmed

Kill Confirmed isn’t that much different from the standard team deathmatch, although there is one important difference: defeated players leave behind dog tags. If you can grab said dog tags, you’ll net an extra 50 points for “confirming” the kill. Conversely, you can also grab a fallen teammate’s tags, and net another 50 for denying confirmation to the opposing team. It might seem like a small bonus, but in fact it poses an additional danger for all but the most reckless players. Grabbing the tags might be a quick score boost, but is it worth risking exposure where a guy was just gunned down? We’re betting some players will also be able to turn tags to their advantage, laying in wait for enemies to storm in blindly and try to grab them.

In any case, those things are fun to grab. Especially if you can manage to gun down an enemy who was just about to snag your dead teammate’s tags, in which case you’ll score both the denial and the confirmation bonus. That dog tags add an element of strategy and risk is just the icing on the cake.

New mode: Spec Ops Survival

We also played Spec Ops Survival, MW3’s answer to Gears of War’s Horde mode (or World at War’s/Black Ops’ Zombies mode, if you want to keep it in the series).Here, one or two players are given full run of one of the six multiplayer maps, and are then tasked with defending the area against ever-tougher waves of enemies. The baddies start as low-end militia armed with crappy weapons, but soon graduate to better-armed soldiers, dogs, attack choppers, suicide soldiers strapped with C4, armored juggernauts, dogs strapped with C4 and more juggernauts.

To fend them off, you’ll start with nothing but a basic pistol. Survive the first wave, however, and you’ll unlock a weapons store, where you can buy new guns or upgrade/refill your existing ones using money you’ve earned by killing enemies. Living through the second wave, meanwhile, unlocks an equipment store with items that range from grenades to sentry turrets that can be carried, moved and placed just about anywhere.

Finally, surviving the third wave unlocks an airstrike store, giving players the chance to buy a cruise missile, an attack chopper or – and these guys came in surprisingly useful – a visit from Delta Squad, who rappel in from a helicopter and will follow you around, watching your back until they’re all dead. After that, the new unlocks stop, but the enemies don’t – and ultimately, we were only able to stay alive until the eleventh wave, when the swarming soldiers and dogs ultimately proved too much to handle.

Until we tasted defeat, though, SOS was absurdly fun, and didn’t seem to suffer at all from allowing only two players – although to be fair, that was partly because the game’s settings made us insanely tough, and death wasn’t instant. Instead, getting gunned down in SOS means you’ll be crawling around and bleeding out for a while, until your partner finds you, in which case they’ll be able to revive you pretty quickly.

Interestingly, Special Ops will be the only multiplayer mode that you’ll be able to level up in during offline play – and any emblems or titles you earn can be carried over into normal multiplayer. If nothing else, this should give newcomers a way to practice and improve a bit before they take their game online.

New maps: Dome, Arkaden, Resistance, Village, Underground

As for the maps we played on, they consisted of Dome, a desert outpost dominated by a large geodesic dome; Arkaden, a ruined German mall designed for Search & Destroy games; Resistance, a slice of urban Paris with beautiful staircases and sloping roads, ideal for domination and Kill Confirmed; Village, a sprawling African shantytown; and Underground, set inside a bomb-ravaged London tube station. The maps are meant to reflect the game’s World War III storyline, and while they have some familiar elements – there’s a cave with a small waterfall in Village, for example, that’s a dead ringer for a similar feature in MW2’s Afghan map – they all felt unique. Especially Underground, whose shattering glass, underground passageways and wrecked trains quickly made it a favorite of the XP crowd.

In spite of all the cool new stuff, however, what we’ve seen of MW3’s multiplayer so far doesn’t seem to be too radical a departure from what we’re used to – although that’s probably a good thing, as far as its fans are concerned. The important thing is that it’s still a lot of fun (or at least, what we played was), and the things we’ve seen so far show the level of polish and promise we’ve come to expect from the series. Assuming it holds up as well after it’s released into the wild as it did during the few controlled hours we played it (and assuming the Call of Duty Elite content is as good as it sounds), Call of Duty fans should have a lot to be excited about this November.

Sep 2, 2011

Mikel Reparaz
After graduating from college in 2000 with a BA in journalism, I worked for five years as a copy editor, page designer and videogame-review columnist at a couple of mid-sized newspapers you've never heard of. My column eventually got me a freelancing gig with GMR magazine, which folded a few months later. I was hired on full-time by GamesRadar in late 2005, and have since been paid actual money to write silly articles about lovable blobs.