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Hands-on: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 multiplayer

Kevin Kelly

Still playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare? Clear your calendars on November 10. In fact, just throw them away, say goodbye to your friends and family, and stock up on ready-to-eat foods and adult diapers. If Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 manages to usurp the multiplayer throne from its predecessor – which it's expected to do – you're going to need 'em. It's an "evolution" of everything you loved about the first game, running at the same gorgeous 60 frames per second.

The evening was sponsored by Microsoft (no surprise given the Modern Warfare 2 console reveal), and it was strictly multiplayer only. We played games of Domination, Assault, Team Deathmatch, and Capture the Flag on the three maps featured in this demo, for a total of four hours of fragging. Read on for what's new, some images from the event, some brand-new screenshots, and some multiplayer video at the end of the post.

Gallery: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 (LA Multiplayer Event: 09-16-09) | 49 Photos

Infinity Ward turns "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" on its ear, instead following the lesser-known maxim: "If it works like gangbusters, figure out why and expand on that." And expand it has. This game is a lot more customizable than the last iteration. For example, instead of just a call sign, which is now expanded to four characters instead of three, you can chose your own emblem and title. Your emblem starts as a pair of dog tags and moves up to rank patches, and as for your title, our favorite was "Accident Prone" which had a pair of crossed crutches on it. These are unlocked as rewards, and there are seven pages of emblems and twenty-two pages of titles. Where will you see this stuff? For example, if someone shoots down an AC-130, their card will appear onscreen – emblems, titles, and all – so you'll know who to thank.

The multiplayer-enhancing perks are back, but they've brought friends. New perks include "Bling" (two primary weapon attachments at the same time, like a red-dot sight and a silencer), "Scavenger" (get a full ammo replenishment from a dead enemy), and "Hardline" (each Killstreak bonus costs 1 kill less). Plus, perks can now be leveled up, making them even perkier. There's a "Pro" level for each perk, which will extend or improve the chosen skill when you complete a challenge.

Killstreaks get a huge boost as well. In the build we played, if you can make it to 11 kills in a row, you'll be given command of an AC-130 gunship which you'll use to rain down pain on your enemies. New Killstreaks include Counter-UAV (jam the enemy radar), Airdrop (drop a crate nearby with a random Killsteak item in it), Sentry Gun (automated turret awesomeness), Predator Missile (a missile that you guide in via a computer screen), and Pave Low, which is an armored assault chopper that's a lot hardier than the normal chopper.

Gallery: Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 | 5 Photos

Back to the customization: You can customize your Killstreaks, picking what gets triggered after a specified number of kills. Want a Counter UAV after four kills? Slot it in. That's great for anyone good enough to get four kills in a row; however, if you're better at dying four times in a row than you are at killing, "Deathstreaks" are for you. Deathstreaks give players who keep getting hammered a fighting chance. The ones we saw were Copycat, which lets you "steal" the class and loadout of the player who keeps killing you, and Painkiller which gives you a big health boost the next time you spawn.

Almost all of the weapons in the Campaign mode will be available in the Multiplayer modes, and all of your favorites are back (yes, that includes your beloved M4 Carbine). There's a new Launchers category, which includes rocket launchers and the "Thumper" grenade launcher (others were locked), and tons of new weapons like Machine Pistols. With the Akimbo perk, you can dual-wield these and a few other smaller weapons. We asked how many guns were in this game, and we were answered with a very definitive "lots," which we think translates to "more than Modern Warfare 1, thanks for asking."

There's a lot more customization with attachments and paints as well. All of the camo skins are back, with some additions, and attachments, including an under-slung shotgun and a heartbeat sensor for the assault rifle, so you can reenact those creepy moments from Aliens. You can also select a Riot Shield as your main weapon, which protects you from most primary fire. It's wise to crouch while using it though, so you don't get your feet blown off. You can melee attack with the shield (two hits for a kill), although you'll have to switch to a secondary to shoot.

There's also an equipment slot now, which can house a lot more than your normal grenades. You'll now be able to choose things like Semtex, a throwing knife, tactical insertion (a flare that lets you choose where to spawn), or even a Blast Shield, which protects you from explosives and should cut down on the x3 Perk-enabled 'nade fests. The Throwing Knife is a nice addition, giving you a ranged one-hit kill if thrown properly. The good news is that if you miss, you can run over and snag it off the ground and use it again.

The three maps we played were:
  • High-Rise: Centered around a helipad and air-conditioning station between two towers on a skyscraper. You spawn on opposite sides in offices. We had fun recreating the "Schiess Dem Fenster" scene in Die Hard. This is a smaller map, but contains tunnels, rooftop perches, and lots of nooks and crannies. We noticed nice details like pipes that blow steam if you pop a round into them.
  • Favela: A medium-sized map inside a multiple-level ghetto. You can scurry across rooftops, climb from building to building, or use the sidewalks and stairs to get around. Great for Capture the Flag matches; especially with the multiple levels giving you plenty of opportunity to escape, or nail the flag carrier. Sentry Gun perks work great on this map in CTF mode, in effect giving you an extra defender on the flag.
  • Afghan: This is a huge map with an enormous crashed airplane in the middle of a valley in the center. The terrain is rocky with a central cave system that has three points of entry, and multiple low-slung buildings with wide windows that make excellent sniper spots. Domination was the best gametype on this map, since all three target points have multiple access points. Also a great spot to launch Predator Missiles onto the heads of unsuspecting enemies as they flee for the cave.
The coup de grace is the new Game Winning Kill Cam, which gives everyone a slow-motion shot of the kill that won the match. Perfect for gloating, or reminding you how badly you screwed up by not checking your six. You'll also see Accolades at the end of each match, which are mini-rewards based on your performance in the game. For example: Lock'n'Load (most reloads); Lockdown (most time spent in one place); and Defuser (most bombs defused). These appear in the game summary underneath your XP bar.

Testifying to the sensitivity with which Infinity Ward approached the sequel is how, despite all these changes, the game feels both new and familiar at the same time. For example, despite running on the same engine, the graphical advances in Modern Warfare 2 are so varied it looks like a new game: blood spatters appear on your HUD when you're injured, environmental effects are everywhere, and the character animations are far more varied.

It's no secret that we enjoyed the first Modern Warfare along with the rest of the entire gaming world, so we expected this game to look and feel good ... we just didn't think it could possibly live up to the hype. From our first four-hour stint (a drop in the ocean, we know) it certainly seems that way. We'll know for sure when Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2 hits PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 on November 10.

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