|The CoD4 multiplayer beta is currently going on in Xbox Live land. Needless to say, it's sucking up a fair chunk of my time|
Well, well...what do we have here? Potential game of the year material? I think so. And I don't say that lightly. CoD4 is just so gorgeously smooth, so polished and so tight - even in its beta stage - that one can't help but ram forceful love down its throat like a demented sex fiend. Much like the Halo 3 beta
in fact, it comes off more like an extended demo than a genuine beta. Trust me...I've served my time in MMO hell to know.
Pssst...ya know what though? I think I actually prefer this to Halo 3. Gasp-gasm!
Thankfully, there's no NDA in effect, so prep yourself for an info splurge. Currently available for the Xbox 360 only (no PC beta has been announced as of yet), the client consists of three maps, four modes, 16 ranks and about a zillion guns. The way the beta (and one presumes, the final game) is setup though, limits your access to all of these things at first. The game has a very cool progression to it you see, where you start off with minimal weaponry and access to just two game-types, but then continually unlock more and more content as you rank up. Its like Battlefield 2's system, taken to extremes, and well, I dig the heck outta it.
|Don't read too much into this bull-shot, I've yet to find a way to actually lean around corners. Anyone else?|
I can only hazard a guess that this setup was implemented to make the game a bit more accessible to newcomers. You begin with little more than simplistic team deathmatch and free for all modes available you see, along with a meager three classes of similar ability. All very easy to understand, all very "pick up 'n' play". With a little time and effort though, you find yourself soon unlocking a sniper class. Then a more extravagant game-mode. Then some sweet new guns. Then some more game-modes perhaps. Then another class. And thus it continues. The game showing you that little bit more each and every time, rather than just throwing you in at the deep-end without a clue what's going on. Which - let's be honest - can often make these online shooters a wee bit daunting to all but the most hardcore.
I bring this aspect of the game up as it, to me, is Call of Duty 4's coolest and most original trait. Yeah, it's just an FPS at the end of the day, and you could argue there's been many more where it came from, but this emphasis on leveling up, gaining ranks and constantly unlocking new content really gives the game a driving force and an original spin. As you progress, these unlocks extend to new gun attachments, new camo colours, and the so called character "perks".
What are perks? Kinda like special abilities. These range from passive upgrades, like extra damage and additional armor, to new load-outs, like C4 packs and an RPG slung over your shoulder.
The more interesting perks are the more inventive ones though, the much-hailed "Last Stand" being a prime example. With it in tow, every time you're taken down, you'll whip your pistol out and be given an extra 10 seconds or so to dish out revenge while you bleed to death on the floor. It's damn hard to use with any major success - as you excrete your own guts out onto the ground beneath you - but that one in every ten times you actually nail the sucker who just dropped you? A genuine classic, air-punching moment of gaming bliss.
|Graphically, CoD4 is amazing, particularly for an online mode. The lighting, framerate and depth of field particularly impress|
Other perks like the radar jammer let you move around the map in secrecy from the enemy's UAV, a valuable tool for the sneaky lone-wolf type, while others, namely the "Deep Impact" perk, go so far as to let you shoot through walls and such. Some might consider such abilities a little too
powerful at times in fact - namely me - but it sure is fun as shit when you're the one doing the legalised wall hacking.
Everyone can equip three such perks at once, and when combined with the wealth of weaponry and gun attachments on offer, CoD4 really does an ace job on the customisation front. There are so many different load-outs and skill combinations on offer, you ultimately end up playing a soldier perfectly tailored to you and your strengths. You're no longer a cloned grunt on the battlefield, identical to each and every one of your team-mates, but a chiseled weapon of destruction whom you've honed to perfection through extensive time and effort. The ability to save five of these customised classes - each for specific maps and occasions - is a pleasing bonus.
I just wish this customisation extended to the visual side. Being able to kit your guy out with specific uniforms, body armor, goggles, etc would have rounded the whole thing off perfectly, but I guess keeping everyone in stock clothes keeps the crazed on-screen action slightly easier to follow.
Shoot 'em Up
And how about that action? CoD4's other prime boasting point would be how damn solid its gunplay feels actually. The weapons handle splendidly, with a responsiveness and a satisfaction only the best first person shooters can manage. It takes a couple of rounds to get used to its emphasis on iron-sights and keeping a steady aim - with long range shoot-outs nigh-on impossible without some serious skill - but once you master the art of tiny gestures and handling that recoil, you'll promptly find yourself nailing headshots with glorious accuracy each and every time. And man, it's oh so fun.
In terms of modes, the beta offers a pleasing range to suit most tastes. Truth be told, I was a little put off at first, when I stumbled into an insanely fast-paced, over the top, 12-man deathmatch game, and was ready to cast the sucker off as a disappointing Quake clone. Some people like that pap, but not so much me.
|Sound deserves our love too. Rarely has a game done such an ace job of letting you hone in on other players through its audio|
The beauty of CoD4 though is in those aforementioned unlocks. Shortly after you see, I opened up a new "Team Tactical" game-type, which goes way, way more into Tom Clancy territory. With fewer players per game - just 2 or 3 per team in fact - in a far slower and more methodical play-style, such shenanigans prove way more Rainbow Six-like, and right up my alley. I haven't looked back since.
Whether you want insane respawning deathmatch nonsense, arcadey flag-capturing craziness, or these more intimate round-based objective modes then, there's a game-type for you here. There are even Counter-Strike style bomb defusal maps, which probably go down as my fave of the lot.
Notice I haven't mentioned the graphics yet? I think it says a lot about CoD4's sheer playability that the visuals are the last thing on my mind right now. Regardless, it's a bit of a looker. While not quite
as jaw-droppingly stunning as perhaps the single player footage we've seen so far comes off, multiplayer CoD4 still looks super sharp, boasts exquisite detail, and blazes along at a slammin' 60 FPS at all times. Some occasional jaggy shadows prove the single fly in the ointment of what promises to be one of the true lookers of the year.
CoD 'n' Chips
Any downers so far then? Indeed. As good as the levelling up system is, it currently feels way too generous. I hit the beta's 16 rank cap on my very first day, and had unlocked a significant chunk of the game's weapons and upgrades along the way. I hope the XP is toned down big time for the final release, as I can see players blowing their leveling load way too soon as is. We need something to work towards long-term, no?
|I've yet to touch the game's single player mode, but right now? All signs point towards this being one of the year's finest. Bungie have some serious competition in CoD4|
There are more in-depth "achievement"-style challenges to persue on the side - such as 75 kills with a certain weapon, or a specific number of headshots with another - but I can't help but worry that CoD4's a bit too eager to reward the player with new goodies instead of making 'em work a little harder for 'em. I was ranking up multiple times per game at one point.
Also, I have to say, I absolutely loathe that sodding underside M4 grenade launcher with a passion. Dear lord, has this gun ever
worked in a single one of these ruddy war games? One hit kill nonsense requiring zero skill whatsoever, it needs to go. Now. In fact, in my many multi-hour long gaming sessions with the beta thus far, my endless stream of random deaths at the barrel-end of this lamest of lame weapons sticks out like a sore thumb as pretty much the only source of frustration to be found in the game right now. It's flat-out shit.
It'll be interesting to see how these niggles affect the title's longevity when it goes live for real, but in the meantime I can say with major nob rubbing certainty that CoD4'll be enormous on the multiplayer circuit when it hits in early November. I'd love to hear more about these rumored co-op modes next job, as their supposed inclusion in the 360 version via downloadable content could impact which system I eventually buy this puppy for. Particularly as the gamepad controls here are borderline perfect, and about as good as one can find in any game without the word "Halo" in its title.
Buzz me if you're in the beta and we'll get unlocking.