Joystiq hands-on: Call of Duty 4 multiplayer


We've already had a first look at Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, and we've seen the multiplayer video that was pre-alpha, but this was the first chance for us to snatch up the controller and get our hands dirty in the actual game. Sure, it's a beta build, but the first thing we can say is yes ... it does look that good.

The second thing we can say is yes ... it does look that good, and then some. Activision had an event at a trendy bar / club in Los Angeles yesterday, and we were among one of the first groups to get our game on outside of Infinity Ward. Despite some major router issues on their end that delayed things by a couple of hours, the game still managed to blow us away thoroughly.

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So, once we were finally let loose into the dark bowels of Cinespace, we found a mixture of LCD screens set up on camoflauge netting, and gaming kiosks provided by Microsoft, with all the multiplayer action happening on the Xbox 360. The stations also featured the Tritton AX360 5.1 headsets, and after playing with one for an hour or so, it's definitely on our "want" list, right behind CoD4. That's probably a credit to how good the sound is in this game, like the other entries in the CoD series, and the "tink, tink, tink" of a grenade hitting the ground behind you is pretty fear-inducing.

We were given an extremely brief presentation of the game, probably because the Infinity Crew team was about ready to smash open every router with their bare hands, and dumped quickly into the multiplayer. Walking around slowly didn't seem to work for us that well, and we were very happy once we figured out how to sprint (push the left thumbstick in). That got us out of the line of fire a lot faster.

After a few seconds to orient ourselves, we found that the controls aren't that different from previous CoD games, although there are a few new functions, because you know ... it's modern warfare. Special options in the game are linked to your ability to play. For instance, if you get a streak of three kills in a row, you're given the radar option. Click right on the directional pad, and you launch a UVA that allows you and your teammates to see where the enemy is on the radar screen for about 30 seconds. It's a great help, since they normally only show up on radar when they fire ... unless they've equipped themselves with silencers.

There's this sort of back and forth throughout Call of Duty 4, and it adds a lot to what would normally be a regular ol' shoot 'em up deathmatch. For instance, if you get a streak of five, you can call in an airstrike anywhere on the map. However, if you don't have the radar turned on already, it'll be a manner of guesswork or waiting on the enemy to fire before you know where to drop the bombs. If you manage a seven kill streak, a friendly chopper drops in and starts blowing the bejeezus out of enemy troops on the ground. It'll even hover low and blow the hell out of people inside buildings ... and we can say that from experience on the "getting killed" end of things.

If you're on the other side of an enemy airstrike, the best thing to do is head indoors and wait it out. Alternatively, if they've launched a UVA for radar coverage, stay on the move until it's down. They only see you on the radar every time it sweeps across the screen, so you might get lucky and slip through a gap in the coverage. If there's a chopper hovering around, team up and down that sucker by pouring on the firepower. Seriously, the chopper will quickly become your worst enemy.

Then there' the Perk system. Perks are extremely cool. You can slot up to three of them, and most of them (Infinity Ward says there will be "around 20" in the final game) are passive. The ones we saw used were Extreme Conditioning, which lets you sprint longer, Deep Impact, which gives your bullets better penetration power, and Sonic Boom, which adds damage to explosive weapons. However, our favorite was Last Stand. Get popped by the enemy, and fall to the ground, but are still able to shoot with your sidearm ... giving you the chance to deal out some retribution kills, which are worth double the points. It's sneaky and nasty, and we love it.

Fans of stealth will love the perks system as well, because there are plenty of options that will let you sneak around unseen, including a cool Eavesdrop perk that allows you to hear what the enemy is saying to each other when you're near them. Unlike Halo 2, CoD4 doesn't have a proximity voice chat that allows you to hear the enemy when closeby. Load up the Eavesdrop perk, however, and relay the information to your teammates. There's a ton of different combinations, and players will be experimenting with them ad nauseum. Check out some of the others on the CoD4 site.

Experience points also factor into the multiplayer, and you earn battlefield promotions as you rack up points. We went from Private to Sergeant during an hour or so of gaming, and each step unlocks different types of weapons, grenades, challenges, and more. An XP bar lives at the bottom of your screen during each match, so you can follow along WoW-style and see how far you'll have to go to earn your stripes.

We played an outdoor level with plenty of rooftops to snipe from, an indoor level that made rounding corners an exercise in steeling your nerves, and a small village level where choppers had a heyday picking us off the ground like ants. There were plenty of opportunities to check out the "shooting through walls" feature, which we put to nice use when someone was hiding behind a thin piece of sheetmetal and taking potshots at us. Just open up full bore on the metal because it's apparently only good for stopping a thin breeze. You could also shoot through plaster floors and walls easily, although it's usually guesswork on your part trying to figure out if the enemy is on the other side. Unless of course you're using radar.

Call of Duty 4
is quickly shaping up to be yet another in the massive onslaught of wallet-denters this holiday season. With a public beta coming "Very, very soon ... I can't even tell you guys how close it is", you need to check out this game and feel the perks.

This article was originally published on Joystiq.