Last night I was shown a pre-recorded presentation in which various developers at Infinity Ward spoke enthusiastically about this year’s upcoming shooter Modern Warfare 2 and the various changes it makes to 2019’s largely successful Modern Warfare soft reboot. I can’t bring you hands-on impressions of the multiplayer, unfortunately (with the lifting of this evening’s embargo there will be plenty of videos featuring multiplayer impressions for you to check out), but I can write about something Infinity Ward repeatedly discussed during its presentation: its fancy new water tech.
We’ve been here before. I remember flying to the US to preview Infinity Ward’s ill-fated Call of Duty: Ghosts, widely considered one of the worst Call of Duty games ever made, and seeing “advanced” fish AI during an underwater level. Of course, the fish had no meaningful bearing on the way Ghosts played. Water in Modern Warfare 2, however, will, Infinity Ward insists.
I was shown pre-alpha gameplay footage of the Amsterdam-set campaign mission Wet Work, which did a good job of showing off Modern Warfare 2’s new water. I’m not aware of all the video games ever to have done water well (the games that spring to mind are The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker and Sea of Thieves), but to be fair to Infinity Ward, Modern Warfare 2’s water looks wonderful. Waves ebb and flow and the Captain Price and co bob about accordingly. There’s a foam simulation. Boats produce a wake. Swimming makes little splashes. You can do stealth takedowns from the water, if you swim quietly towards an enemy who’s standing on a platform above you. Drag them down then Call of Duty stab for the win.
Things get even more impressive when you dive underwater. Water refracts light and gets murkier the deeper you swim, which makes visibility something to content with. The tech wizards at Infinity Ward have simulated how water slows the speed of a bullet, which means you do less damage if you’re shooting someone from underwater or shooting someone who is underwater. There are some restrictions while underwater: you can only shoot pistols and melee (as you emerge you can aim down sights with any weapon, moving with the water to take shots). I can already imagine underwater shenanigans when I get my hands on the game. Why would you swim? Based on the Wet Work gameplay I saw, it’s a useful escape and evasion tactic. It’s also useful for stealth. I suspect it’ll be the same in multiplayer.
Speaking of multiplayer, the new water tech extends to all facets of Modern Warfare 2: campaign, multiplayer and spec ops. You’d expect the new boats (there’s a big armoured patrol boat with a manned turret on the front and back) and amphibious vehicles to work in water, but some killstreaks do, too. Wheelson, one of my favourite killstreaks from 2019 Modern Warfare, can now swim. I am genuinely looking forward to hunting down underwater enemies with everyone’s favourite remote-controlled tank.
Each piece of equipment properly interacts with water, too. The flash bang has buoyancy and rises to the surface. Similarly, the smoke grenade rises to the surface to billow from there. When the proximity mine hits the water it deploys a little floaty so it stays on the surface and becomes a landmine for boats – and even flows with the current. Infinity Ward is trying to make water a fun place to play rather than a sand trap.
The water tech also extends to the new Warzone, dubbed Warzone 2.0 by Activision and due out this year. Mercifully, this is a shared experience with Modern Warfare 2. One of the big issues Warzone ran up against was incorporating elements of subsequent Call of Duty games that were set in different eras and built on different engines. Modern Warfare 2 and the new Warzone gleefully hold hands, which should make for a better back and forth experience. Activision describes the new Warzone as an “extension” of the Modern Warfare 2 universe, with connected gameplay built on one unified COD engine. No-one expects new Modern Warfare 2 guns will break the new Warzone, but will weapons from next year’s Call of Duty – if there is a new Call of Duty next year?
Without hands-on time with Modern Warfare 2, I can’t tell you how it’s shaping up, but my drive-by impressions are that it definitely looks like a Modern Warfare sequel, and as a big fan of 2019’s Modern Warfare (I called on Activision to give Modern Warfare a proper next-gen update and a full-blown second year after the company moved on to Black Ops Cold War), that will probably be enough. Modern Warfare feels fantastic in your hands, with guns that pack a real punch and an attention to detail I don’t think has been bettered by the series since. All that good stuff has reported for duty here, which is what you’d expect from Infinity Ward.
Other good stuff Infinity Ward mentioned during its presentation: dolphin diving from previous Call of Duty games makes an appearance – IW says it’s a solid escape mechanic and fun traversal manoeuvre. (Yes, you can dive through windows.) The idea here is the player will have a choice to make when the shit hits the fan: slide so you can keep your gun up, or hit the deck to quickly get out of gunfire.
There’s a new ledge hang move that lets you peek and shoot with pistols. You can jump onto a helicopter, hold on, then pull yourself up into the enemy onboard. You can now mantle and ledge hang out of your parachute. Platforming appears to be a bigger deal with Modern Warfare 2, which lets you hoist yourself up and grab again. This should fuel exploration.
In vehicles you can now lean out of windows to shoot, even as the driver, and mantle up onto the roof. Attacking vehicles, you can blow the bloody doors off and even blow out tyres, affecting the driver’s ability to steer. (You can repair damaged vehicles to get back on the road.) Here’s a cool detail: all vehicles have husks now, which means once destroyed a vehicle becomes a physics object that stays in the world rather than disappears.
Modern Warfare 2 maps come in two forms: large, exploratory battle maps, and 6v6 traditional core maps. As someone who found it difficult to detect danger in Modern Warfare’s cluttered multiplayer maps, I am encouraged by Infinity Ward’s description of its 6v6 maps, which are “trending towards a little bit smaller, a little bit tighter, a little bit cleaner reads, a little bit less climbey because it contrasts well with having so much of that in the big maps”.
As for modes, the likes of Team Deathmatch, Domination and Ground War return. Knockout replaces Gunfight – it’s 6v6 with one life and revives. There are just three positions the bag you need to grab can spawn in, with a win condition of eliminating all enemy players or holding the bag as the minute-long timer ends.
The new Prisoner Rescue mode brings breaching and sieging gameplay to Modern Warfare. To win you need to save a group of prisoners by carrying them to an extraction point, or kill the defending team. Someone at IW is a fan of Rainbow Six Siege, I reckon.
Infinity Ward’s presentation was intentionally vague, so there’s a lot I don’t know about Modern Warfare 2. The developer teased “more to come” on many new features. There’s talk that AI will play a big role in not only Modern Warfare 2 but Warzone 2.0, with an impressive ratio of 300 AI soldiers to every 100 real players. There’s new squadmate positioning and enemy patterns to NPCs, and even civilian movement to contend with. The AI dynamically reacts to your choices, Infinity Ward says, but I haven’t seen any of this in action yet.
There’s no getting away from the fact Modern Warfare 2 is being revealed – and will no doubt release – during a very real and very modern war. Russia’s horrifying invasion of Ukraine isn’t going anywhere any time soon, and within that context Activision is releasing a war video game that aims to be as realistic as possible. I’ve always considered Call of Duty multiplayer to be essentially a video game version of paint ball and enjoyed it as such, but when your campaign looks and sounds a lot like the footage coming out of Ukraine as I’m typing this now, Call of Duty makes for uncomfortable viewing.
“We’re telling fictional stories, it’s fictional everything, but it is inspired by real-world military events that shape the world we live in,” Infinity Ward boss Patrick Kelly said during the presentation, barely scratching the surface of this debate.
“This is a sensitive one for me, because with the events going on in the world, the war in Ukraine, it’s important to me we be sensitive on this one.”
Four months from Modern Warfare 2’s release, it looks like it’s in good shape, but it’s hard to make any definitive statements. I’m looking forward to it, as I have with previous games in the series ever since I fell in love with Sledgehammer’s Call of Duty: WW2. I like the look of the new water tech and the implications it has for gameplay. I’ll wet my beak, for sure.