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TVG takes you through a new level and a new game mode of the most anticipated game of the year...
By now, like most fans of Modern Warfare, we've watched the breathtaking "cliffhanger" sequence quite a few times. Even so, that didn't stop us having to pick our jaws up off the ground, yet again, when we were shown it for our final preview of Modern Warfare 2, before its release next month. Sat in front of an extravagantly big widescreen TV with surround sound, every inch of the scene felt exactly like watching a blockbuster film and the latest level shown to us was no different.
Our new protagonist, Gary Anderson, has been sent to a favela (a shanty town slum) in Rio along with his commanding officer "Soap" Mctavish, now sporting a hard-man Mohawk, to "secure" an arms dealer for vital information. Infinity Ward seems to realise that every moment with a controller held in your hand should be enjoyable, and that includes build-up sequences where you're not playing. They manage this by pouring detail over every moment, much in the same way a talented film director does to keep one scene flowing on to the next. As we watched our car meander through the infamous Rio rush hour, our attention was drawn one way or another by touches like the hula doll dancing on the dashboard of the car, or the Statue of Christ looming in the background over the slum.
Just as we were getting settled in admiring the astounding scenery, Soap howls "get down" through the radio, as the target makes the team, and fires on the cars. As Anderson ducks down below the dashboard for cover, flecks of blood spray across the car. With a quick glance up, through the blood on his face, Anderson sees the driver slumped against the steering wheel and the target running into crowded square.
Without hesitation, the team jump out of the cars to chase down the target on foot through the labyrinth of shacks and stalls up towards to peak of the hills and the iconic Christ the Redeemer statue overlooking Rio. The sequence seamlessly moves into gameplay as our Infinity Ward rep takes over the controls. With panicked civilians crowding the area, Soap warns the team not to harm any of the "civs", so a quick burst of gunfire into the air disperses them fairly effectively, just in time for the approaching attackers to come into sight.
Just from watching, the style of gameplay and AI look reassuringly similar to the original. However, the new setting and objective give the sequel a fresh angle here. Enemies will still hear your gunfire and flank you every chance they get and they will still hide behind doors, windows or around corners. However, put that AI in a setting where you can't stop moving and there's a corner or a window every three feet and the effect puts even those watching on the edges of their seats. Meanwhile, there are still deft touches here and there adding that extra layer of class such as dogs leaping at you from behind fences, civilians fleeing from their homes and Soap barking a constant stream of directions through the radio.
Without spoiling too much, the scene reaches a dramatic conclusion and we were, yet again, utterly amazed. Finally, having whetted our appetites, we got a chance to go hands-on with the new Spec-Ops mode of the game. For anyone not familiar with this new mode, it adds a welcome third dimension the Modern Warfare experience. Using levels and settings from the single player campaign, up to two players (online or splitscreen) can take on up to 23 new missions on three difficulty settings. These range from simple "eliminate 50 combatants" style missions to a slalom style event using the snowmobiles. There are also new enemies in this mode, not seen in the campaign, such as juggernauts which wear bomb disposal armour and can withstand massive amounts of punishment - a huge departure from the realism of the campaign. The events are timed, and are put onto a scoreboard - however Infinity Ward couldn't confirm at the time whether there would be online support for this.
Jumping in, the new mode is a completely different experience from both the campaign and the traditional multiplayer. Without the direction and drama that the campaign flourishes in, this mode takes on much more of an arcade feel. Set in the Rio level, myself and another game journalist took to eliminating the required quota of bad guys with in the set time. Eager to get a feel for the game, we both set off in opposite directions scavenging for weapons and were promptly punished. We were pushed back to the starting point by enemy fire, before being blown to pieces by some cleverly placed grenades. Clearly, at our skill level at least, this mode demanded cooperation and before we knew it we were making our way around the level by alternately running out of cover and laying down covering fire. Though, at this point I feel I should make an apology for repeatedly directing said covering-fire as well as a few misplaced grenades in the direction of my team mate. Fortunately, on one of the numerous occasions when I did take him out, he could crawl to cover while firing his sidearm and be revived, if I could reach him in time.
In between unintentionally sabotaging my team mate, it seemed as though the AI, in this mode at least, has taken a step up since the already-impressive original. Very rarely after firing at me, would an enemy stay in the same position. Often, I'd charge in and pepper a room with bullets before realising there was no one there anymore. I'd then turn around and see a little head pop out from around the corner and have to make a cowardly retreat as he'd open fire on me. In this mode, we also both got our hands-on dual wield side arms. In this case, dual desert eagles (a phrase that's bound to put a smile on most gamers' faces) were dropped by an enemy and I immediately pounced on them. As they can't be brought up to the character's face for precision, they didn't meet the task at hand, which required speed and accuracy which I suspect will be the same in the multiplayer. That said, they do bring some welcome variety into the game, giving players the option to play in their own style, in this mode at least.
This freedom was even more evident in another Spec-Ops mission which we were briefly taken through by Infinity Ward. In another elimination set this time in a remote pine forest, there was a cabin in the centre with a tantalisingly large number of different guns - closer to the amount you would expect to see in traditional FPS games, among which included a sawn-off shotgun and a .50 cal sniper rifle.
At the end of this event, I was truly disappointed it was over. Frankly, November 10 can't come soon enough. From what we have seen so far, Infinity Ward has kept all the ingredients that made the original great while still taking them forward enough to make it feel like a new game. Before this event, it was difficult to see how Modern Warfare 2 could live up to its stellar expectations, but now it seems entirely possible that it will.
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