Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s Gunfight Mode Is Bottled Multiplayer Lightning
We went hands-on with the RTX version at Gamescom 2019
Super Jump Magazine was in attendance at Gamescom 2019 to check out a selection of games, including an exclusive preview of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare’s new multiplayer mode, Gunfight. As part of an Nvidia event, we got to play two rounds of Gunfight on the claustrophobic map King (Night), purposefully chosen to show off the ray-traced lighting technology available to PC players with RTX cards.
It’s been a long time since I’ve truly gotten into a Call of Duty game. I’m talking about the virulent prestige-based levels of obsession from the days of Modern Warfare 2. The ever-elusive 25-kill-streak and subsequent nuke. We’re now ten years on from that zeitgeist and the brand has since grown stale. Experiments with celebrities, the far future, and even battle royale have led to varying degrees of success, but nothing has quite captured the spirit of Modern Warfare’s multiplayer modes, dragging me back into the fold. This is most likely why Activision and Infinity Ward have decided to reimagine the iconic Modern Warfare series, complete with a more traditional campaign and multiplayer approach, as well as a few iterative surprises along the way.
You might think that a game like Call of Duty would prefer to go for something bigger and bolder than ever before as the series has started to live in the shadow of other multiplayer titles, but October’s Modern Warfare comprehensively bucks that trend with Gunfight, which is the new game mode I got my hands on during Gamescom. Gunfight is unlike any Call of Duty multiplayer I’ve ever played, and it might just be the adrenaline shot necessary to help the series make a triumphant return.
The maps in Gunfight are tiny, harking back to Modern Warfare’s ‘Shipment’ and Modern Warfare 2’s ‘Rust’, which were most often used for 1-v-1 no scope battles back in the glory days of Call of Duty. For the latest Modern Warfare, Infinity Ward has tried to capture some of that homegrown magic by pitting teams of two players against one another in fast-paced matches with constantly changing weapon load-outs. It feels like something players would come up with themselves given the maps and multiplayer settings, just finessed and polished into an official mode by the development team. In my session, we got to play as either The Allegiance or The Coalition, rival factions thrust into a cage match where every step has to be calculated.
For the first round, I was told not to kill anybody and just to use my time to look around at the ray-tracing effects. I found it strange how difficult this rule was to follow in practice; I dwelled for a moment on how ingrained shooter controls made my pistol track to any moving target regardless of the pacifist nature of this special round. Floodlights illuminated the gleaming metal of a forklift truck, the light beyond casting an eerie glow on the moss green stone floor of the derelict warehouse. I could see where individual bullets had been affected by Nvidia’s lighting tech, and the different parts of my trusty Desert Eagle shone as I moved carefully around the light source, exposing the raw power of RTX. From afar, I could see clusters of dust particles below a ceiling light in a container, surrounded by photogrammetric wooden walls which were covered in realistic muck. It gave the entire map a palpable sense of grit, something that complemented the arresting ambience created by the do or die game mode.
When gameplay started, it was a lot to get used to. My teammate and I lost the first six rounds on the trot. Given that we didn’t speak the same language, communication was limited, and as we were later told, our two opponents were COD aficionados who had played this mode before, not jetlag-frazzled journalists approaching it for the first time. I wouldn’t even consider myself awful at keyboard and mouse shooter games… I’ve played my fair share of Counter-Strike and had years of Call of Duty experience prior to this one, but there was nothing to prepare me for this. Gunfight is quite a bit like Counter-Strike: Global Offensive in some respects. The time to kill is incredibly quick, and once you’re dead, it’s final. Similarly, accuracy and lightning reactions are prioritized over explosive flailing and luck.
The best part about Gunfight is how the maps are designed. It’s such a far cry from previous games in the series, the constraints working in Infinity Ward’s favour. The sheer lack of cover is anxiety-inducing. The seconds at the start of each map which gate your ability to use grenades remain, but the impetus is put on you using this time to move around the map as quickly as possible to outwit your enemies. You either put yourself in the line of sight or huddle up and wait for death. It is brutal, and especially when you’re playing against an aggressive duo, there’s little time to think before you’re full of holes. Rounds can wrap up in less than 20 seconds, and end when a team reaches six wins. I managed a paltry two kills in the first game, and my frankly useless teammate (sorry, I never caught your name) didn’t score a kill across the entire play session.
So when Round 2 started, I knew I had to claw something back. It took ten rounds total until we got our first win. Armed with the M91 LMG, I rejected the programming of previous rounds and bolted straight towards my nemeses, taking one player out before they could even change their weapon. Whilst my teammate dilly-dallied at spawn and inevitably fell, the fatal flash of bullets alerted me to his killer’s position, and I pulled off a headshot from below, claiming the round for The Coalition.
It was exhilarating, and I punched the air with glee. After so long under the thumb, It felt as if I’d actually outwitted them, these clearly semi-pro COD players who were battering us round after round. Sneaking between the tiny spots of cover started to pay off, as our enemies’ apathy started to work in our favour. In the next two rounds, I was a lone wolf, emboldened by my pittance of success and armed with a sniper rifle. I’ve always been the sharpshooter type in online multiplayer, from Hanzo to the Barrett 50. Cal, so the odds started to turn in our favour as early headshots paved the way for a cautious unravelling of their strategy.
I clawed back two more hard-fought wins, and even though we lost our second match 3–6, the pang of defeat was strangely missing. As I stood up and gave the team across from us a hearty ‘good game.’ I couldn’t help but notice the gigantic grin on my face, even in the face of crushing defeat. I believe this is where Infinity Ward has bottled the lightning. It wasn’t a forced smile, it was a reminder that even though I’d been beaten, I didn’t want to give up at any point during my play session. There’s something sticky about its systems that kept me believing that I could potentially hold on to my pride.
In the hours after my session, it started to become clear to me that playing Gunfight felt a lot like trying to figure out a tricky puzzle. By stripping the chaos of Call of Duty away, I started to think more intently about small movements and realised quickly the errors of my own tried and tested playstyle. To that end, I imagine it would be a great training ground for those of you who want to be better at the more gigantic, traditional multiplayer modes.
There’s also a hell of a lot of psychological warfare involved in Gunfight too. I felt myself trying to profile my enemies and warp what I assumed were their expectations with clever movement tech and misdirection — grenades and warning shots. This kind of in-depth tactical gameplay would be pointless in typical Call of Duty multiplayer, which is why it feels so special when the spotlight is on it in the latest Modern Warfare. It’s got the frenetic pace of One in the Chamber with the finality of Search and Destroy, and it’s absolutely going to destroy some friendships and tilt some players when it launches this October.
The final thing to note is how wonderfully watchable it is. Gunfight is deliciously esports and streaming friendly, something I learned as I stood waiting for my next appointment checking out some other duos as they wrapped up their matches. Watching their slack-jawed faces and the diversity of emotions as the rounds crawled to their conclusion cemented my feeling that this was a brave new multiplayer experience destined to make shockwaves in the shooter market. No doubt it’s going to light up Twitch and spawn its own tournaments later in the year. You can experience it for yourself when the reimagined Call of Duty: Modern Warfare launches on the 12th September 2019 for PC, Xbox One and PS4.