Modern Warfare 2 Multiplayer Hands-On Impressions: No Buzzkills

Activision gave us our first taste of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2's multiplayer modes tonight at an event in Hollywood, California, featuring a fully playable—but still beta—version of the impending holiday blockbuster.

Modern Warfare 2 developer Infinity Ward brought with them three maps, five preset classes, and dozens of new improvements that make the sequel to Call of Duty 4 feel, well, even more modern than its predecessor. The addition of new perks, new killstreak and deathstreak bonuses, and the new Callsign unlockables ensure that players of the previous game will have hundreds of hours worth of reasons to reinvest in multiplayer. The blistering intensity of the game's multiplayer component, more frenetic than ever, will guarantee they'll have fun doing it.

First, let's talk about the location, location, location of Modern Warfare 2's multiplayer beta.

We spent most of our time on the Highrise map, a level that takes place on the rooftop of a building and two adjoining offices—the spawn location of flags and the players who long to capture them. It's a chokepoint-filled map, with both sides meeting in the middle for the majority of firefights, a handful of service tunnels cutting beneath the area where the action takes place. There's a sweet spot right in the center of Highrise, offering protective walls on all sides with two entry points that look to be easily guarded. One team we went up against took advantage of this spot to great effect, whether by luck or strategy, putting a hurt on my team of Army Rangers.

With its mirrored map layout and dozens of little nooks and crannies in which to hide oneself, we foresee Highrise becoming very popular, very quickly amongst the Modern Warfare 2 community.

Modern Warfare 2 Multiplayer Hands-On Impressions: No Buzzkills

Favela, a sun-bleached brick village full of brightly colored posters and billboards, looks like it could be set in Rio de Janiero. It was the map we spent the second most time with and my personal favorite. Plenty of winding alleyways, staircases and multi-tiered roofs on which to hide made the map more exciting, less predictable than Highrise. Grabbing the flag in the center of the map, then sprinting back to base with an escort was exhilarating. On Highrise, we were more concerned about being sniped from the back. On Favela, it was who might be around the next corner that was cause for concern.

Finally, we spent a little time in the map Afghan, a dusty desert location that featured a downed aircraft or two (or more) and some scary drop-offs. The edges of those sheer drops made for prime sniping real estate, though, giving the player full view of the map. Afghan also has a few lived-in caves that offer a bit of shelter from the open air layout of the rest of the map, but our time with it was brief.

The two predetermined classes I found myself leaning toward were the Riot Control class—armed with the riot shield as the primary weapon and dual-wielding a pair of sub machine guns as the secondary—and First Recon, which loaded me out with a FAMAS burst fire gun and a fairly massive hand cannon. I had less luck with the Grenadier, the Sniper Scout and the Overwatch classes. They just didn't jibe with my playing style, which is to generally be a pest.

Playing as a Riot Control class offered an exciting new gameplay tactic—being a distraction. There's a Challenge reward for doing so, one called Crowd Control, that one can receive for being a bullet sponge while sporting the Blast Shield. What's not as much fun is when an enemy takes you out by shooting your shins and feet into oblivion, an area unprotected by the shield while standing and running.

Plus, as Riot Control, you dual-wield right away.

We didn't get much of an opportunity to muck with the Create A Class option, but did quickly customize a pair of classes with what was already unlocked. I'm not sure if this is good news or bad, but Infinity Ward is being extremely generous with the load out options. The developer has broken the "rule" that secondary weapon means pistol. Players can choose an assault rifle for their primary weapon, a rocket launcher for their secondary. Or a machine pistol. Or a shotgun. Whatever. Expect chaos.

Players can also deck their custom class out with accessories—like suppressors for assault rifles, sniper rifles and shotguns—as well as special grenades, like the Tactical Insertion flare that lets the player choose his spawn location or familiar flashbang grenades.

Modern Warfare 2 Multiplayer Hands-On Impressions: No Buzzkills

Better players than me got to take advantage of some of the new Killstreak rewards. Most of what we saw tonight—UAV, AC-130 gunship, sentry guns, Predator missiles—we'd heard mention of before or had seen in Call of Duty 4. But what's nice about the Killstreak after the UAV, known as the Care Package, is its randomness. You may get ammo. You may get to step into the AC-130 and rain death on your enemies. It's designed to give the player who might not ever have an 11-kill long streak a chance to experience doing so. (But watch out, because anyone can grab your Care Package after it's been airdropped.)

Equally an experience is actually shooting down an AC-130 gunship. It, like the UAV, can be a nuisance to your enemies, and they have an option to take them both down.

On the flip side of Killstreaks are Deathstreaks. They don't reward the better player, they help to level the playing field for the less skilled player. Two were shown tonight. Copycat lets the player on the losing end of a streak inherit his killer's class and weapons load out—even if the player receiving the Deathstreak bonus hasn't yet unlocked those guns—for one life only. The other is Painkiller. It's much simpler, offering the less skilled player a short period of increased health.

Our three hours with Modern Warfare 2's multiplayer mode was both delightful and a little exhausting. There's just so much happening on-screen, all the time, a constant barrage of Challenges, kills, streaks, explosions and blood-spattered camera effects. Is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Modern Warfare 2 keeps the intensity redlined throughout the match. But it somehow manages not to be abrasive, even with all that flaming death happening around you.

Based on the tiny shred of what was unlocked in our demo of the next Call of Duty, there's a deep well of weapons, accessories and unlockable bonus attributes that players will enjoy for a long time. The gameplay appears to be tighter than ever, the feature set more expansive than ever—even the Perks get perked. Modern Warfare 2 appears to be delivering a multiplayer experience beyond our expectations, an experience I look forward to enjoying again when the game ships on November 10th.