Infinity Ward brought Modern Warfare 2 to New York City last night and educated us a bit about the game's lengthy co-op, ever-changing name, suspiciously inexpensive night vision goggles and more.
The developers of Activision's first-person-shooter fall juggernaut showed their game on the 43rd floor of a midtown Manhattan hotel, with drinks offered, a big screen to play the game, and thunderous surround sound. They played. We watched. We inquired. They answered... mostly.
The naming question came up, first asked by Russ Frushtick of MTV Multiplayer and then later clarified by me. What's with "Call of Duty" returning to the title? Infinity Ward community manager Robert Bowling confirmed to the room that the name is on the standard box of the game (as we've seen) but not on the packaging of the two premium editions. The "Call of Duty" name doesn't appear in the game yet either, Bowling told me, not in the E3 build we were shown and not in the builds that Infinity Ward is working on now. "We still call the game Modern Warfare 2," Bowling told the room. "For our community we're making it clear that it's the sequel to Modern Warfare."
Deeper than the name, we talked about how this new game plays and what's different. To demonstrate, one of the developers played through the snowy Kazakhstan-based Cliffhanger level, the same demoed at E3. It played out as it had in videos that have come out of E3, except we were shown [SPOILER WARNING] more of the climactic snowmobile race, one that included some spectacular moments including a full-speed run down a snowy hill, a huge chasm-crossing jump and the crossing of a frozen pond made perilous by the helicopter overhead firing rockets upon our heroes.[END SPOILER]
The gameplay looked impressive, but when played well, indistinguishable from the first Modern Warfare. It was another roller coaster of quiet, creeping build-up and then thunderous rushes of action, diverse in presentation and surprising in its variety. That description would have fit the description of many levels of Infinity Ward's previous game.
But what was happening in the level we were shown from the new game was different, the IW guys explained. Absent from that level — and from the game — are the infinite enemy spawn points that were criticized in Modern Warfare. Bowling said the new game's enemies have "dynamic AI," meaning that they are designed to act more independently of what the designers map out. He said a player could expect them to be more sensitive to gamer behavior, going beyond the flanking and cover strategies of the enemies in the first game to break their patrol routes, or take to roofs. They're smarter. And they will adapt enough that a Modern Warfare 2 player won't be able to rely on the enemies being in the same places and doing the same things each time they play a level.
While enhanced enemy behavioral intelligence is a familiar promise made by shooter developers, Bowling's colleague, Drew McCoy, did say that this smarter AI was what allowed the designers to ditch those infinite hordes of enemies. Instead of needing to emit a clown-car's worth of enemies to press the player enough to run forward to a new checkpoint, the smarter AI enemies are now supposed to root out a player, which will push them along.
There was, of course, a lot we didn't see. Bowling talked about dogs chasing the player in a forest, about multiple missions in Rio which he's proud to note don't have the developers re-using the same digital terrain in both.
Even more tantalizing was talk of the mysterious Special Ops mode, a batch of co-op missions that will last as long as the game's single-player campaign. Bowling said that the developers didn't think co-op gameplay would work throughout the game's campaign, so they chose to pull sections out, remix them and make some new missions, all tailored for co-op, and dub it Special Ops. Examples Bowling provided were a snowmobile race, a water-based fight alongside Navy SEALS, or a fight against a rush of 50 enemies.
Infinity Ward isn't showing Special Ops yet, but they do sound close to revealing more about that and the series' returning competitive multiplayer.
A few odd and ends: Bowling said that the length of the game's campaign hasn't been locked in yet. He said decisions have not been made yet as to whether to reward players of the first Modern Warfare with unlocks in MW2, but if that was done, the unlocks would not be performance-enhancers. Bowling declined to reveal the make and model of the night vision goggles coming packaged with the $149 Prestige edition of the game, but did say he's used them with the lights turned out in the Infinity Wards studios and did confirm that night vision goggles are banned in Belgium and France — so maybe no Prestige editions for those countries.
The version of the game we were shown yesterday was on the Xbox 360. The game is also slated for PC and PS3. Repeating an inquiry from last week, I asked about whether there would be a Call of Duty brand property or a Modern Warfare for Wii this year — given the million-plus sales of 2008's CoD: World At War on the Wii. An Activision rep in attendance confirmed that there are no plans for MW2 to come to Nintendo's system.
(Call of Duty:) Modern Warfare 2 will be out on November 10.