The team at Infinity Ward has been making high-caliber World War II games for many years now, dating back to when the group worked for 2015. From Medal of Honor: Allied Assault and on to the first two Call of Duty titles, Infinity Ward had WWII nailed. So when IW announced that Call of Duty 4 would tackle Modern Warfare, I was a little concerned. Why the hell would IW ditch the era it had mastered to tread where few had fared well?
One intrepid IGN editor traveled to the birthplace of mankind, Encino, California, to experience the upcoming Call of Duty 4 Xbox 360 multiplayer beta firsthand. Only by playing in IW's modern war setting could I possibly understand the decision to abandon World War II. Alongside me were Will Tuttle (who takes up desk space for TeamXbox), and Gerald Villoria and Bryn Williams of GameSpy fame (two editors for the price of one!). Five minutes into the online experience and it was clear why a modern setting was the only option for IW. Modern Warfare offers far more fun toys than stodgy old World War II. Bigger guns, bigger explosions, and a far deeper multiplayer were just a few of the perks earned by switching settings.
Four hours, three fire alarms, and many deaths later, the four of us exited Infinity Ward in agreement: Call of Duty 4 kicks some serious ass.
Let's get the beta details out of the way. The beta is exclusive to Xbox 360, so don't hold your breath for it on PS3 or PC. The game, though, is expected sometime this fall releasing on all three systems simultaneously. The beta doesn't have an official launch date, but expect it sooner rather than later (after all, we just played it, so it can't be far off). The beta will be ongoing and will last "as long as possible" according to Infinity Ward. There is a level cap for your experience (20) which will be raised gradually as the beta progresses. And though we begin with three maps and a limited number of perks and weapons, these too may increase as the beta rolls on. Nothing you unlock carries over to the retail version of COD4. Once you buy the box copy, you'll have to start all over again, to make it fair for everyone else.
COD4 multiplayer is split into Player and Ranked matches. To really enjoy multiplayer, you'll need to gain ranks by earning experience points (for killing opponents and winning games). And that can only be done in ranked matches. Fortunately, COD4 features a Halo-like party system where you can gather your friends and travel together through ranked play. So while you don't have the option to customize a match when it's ranked, you can still hang with your pals. I had the three previously mentioned editors in my party -- I didn't know how to shake them.
Experience points are the key and will likely drive people to play COD4 into the wee hours of the morning and beyond. In most games, killing an opponent earns 10 XP, which will only bump your XP bar a smidge. Killing someone in a Team Objective game, where there are no respawns, earns 50 points. You also get a couple points for assists and for using some of your tactical air support units. As you gain levels (each one signified by a different military rank) you unlock new features, customizations, perks, and even game modes.
Infinity Ward wanted to create a multiplayer game anyone could get into. So rather than throwing everyone to the wolves, COD4 makes you earn the right to experience some of the more challenging aspects. At level one, you'll be forced to pick from a small group of premade classes. The classes determine your starting main weapon, pistol, special grenades, and perks. Once you hit level 4 (a task that shouldn't take you too long), you'll open up the ability to create your own classes -- that's when COD4 truly blossoms into a special multiplayer experience.
Just to be clear, you don't earn experience for any particular class. All of the XP earned ranks you up as a player. The class is more of a definition of your role. And you can change your class in game anytime you are respawning. So never think of the class system as being in any way limiting. It's not trying to force you to always be the sniper or the demolitions guy. It's meant to broaden your creativity and allow you to define the online experience that best suits your play style.
Creating a class is quick and easy. But as a Private at level 4, you will have very limited choices. As you play, you'll open up new perks, weapons, and attachments forcing you to modify your class regularly as you search for the perfect selections to make you an effective killer.