LOS ANGELES—This spring, I visited game studio Infinity Ward to learn about its upcoming “reimagining” of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. During the reveal event, the studio’s reps mentioned multiple “pillars” of the upcoming CoD game, set to launch October 25, then focused on the game’s single-player missions.
Shortly after that, someone walked into the room and said, “the rest of this event is indefinitely embargoed,” then took the wraps off of arguably the best thing I’ve seen in a CoD game in years: a two-on-two “Gunfight” versus mode.
That embargo is finally up, following an official Gunfight gameplay reveal on Twitch this morning, so now I can finally tell you about a first-person versus mode that combines the original frantic action of 2007’s CoD4:MW and the utter tension of Counter-Strike. In a gaming landscape forever altered by battle royale modes, Gunfight makes the case that sometimes, less is more.
A more hectic arena
Though Infinity Ward representatives likened this mode to “Street Fighter with guns,” I’d argue that Gunfight plays out more like a cross between NBA Jam and Goldeneye. The reason being, this mode has been built with a mix of cramped, specially designed arenas and wild-card weapon possibilities.
Every match of Gunfight begins with four combatants (two teams of two) spawning on opposite ends of a small, mostly symmetrical arena. (I sampled two of these arenas at the May press event, and a third was unveiled during today’s Infinity Ward livestream.) Each side’s spawn points are static—close enough to require some mad dashing for engagement, but far enough to build a moment of silent, “where might they go” tension.
Each round in these best-of-21 matches sees all soldiers spawning with identical, random loadouts of two weapons—maybe two pistols, maybe one shotgun and one grenade launcher—and marching forward to kill the opposing team. (This random weapon loadout remains static for two rounds before resetting, to clarify.) Weapon damage is comparable to a standard CoD deathmatch, which means it won’t take many shots to down a foe. But in the likely case that at least one soldier on each side remains alive after 40 seconds, the objective changes: a flag appears in the dead center of the map, and at this point, a team can win the round by standing next to the flag for three seconds.
While I’ve seen plenty of cramped, quick-fire deathmatches in my day, something about Gunfight feels different from the most comparable first-person versus mode in recent memory, Halo 5 Guardians‘ “Arena.” That mode is a four-on-four affair, which feels massive compared to Gunfight’s two-on-two fights, and Arena has more spread-out maps and slower deaths; both of these facts emphasize Halo 5‘s suite of superpower maneuvers.
The reveal event’s Gunfight-exclusive maps reminded me more of something halfway between the first Modern Warfare game and the original N64 Goldeneye, in terms of relatively flat maps that emphasize diverging paths. During my gameplay, I frequently rushed through hallways toward blind corners as I communicated with my single teammate to claim what territory we could and thus try to gain some control during each incredibly brief round of combat.
The pacing of each round feels like something from NBA Jam, in terms of rushes across the court, opportunities to react, and a moment to breathe after either nailing a perfect three-pointer or getting wildly dunked on. Part of that fun comes from Gunfight’s clever numerical tweaks, particularly that 40-second flag twist. But I suspect much of the fun factor comes from what Gunfight lacks: any of the series’ bolted-on accoutrements like killstreaks or custom loadouts. Instead, every round sees you and your opponents reacting to identical, random weapons, and nothing more.
If you’re wondering why this multiplayer-centric article about a future CoD game doesn’t mention any other modes, that’s apparently by design. Activision has already confirmed to Ars that there’s more CoD:MW news to come. Are we going to see a crazy battle royale mode as an option after all? What shape will the game’s more “traditional” multiplayer combat take? Co-op challenges? We don’t know, and while we may find out a bunch of stuff during an August 1 Twitch stream, I’m not keen on reporting every little news morsel to come between now and CoD:MW‘s October launch.
But Gunfight is a very, very good move from a publisher notorious for microtransactions, design bloat, and trend chasing. Gunfight eschews all of those negative trends, and assuming Activision doesn’t screw this up somehow, I am happy to take a moment and call it out as a win on the publisher’s part. As part of CoD:MW‘s base retail package, this mode emphasizes pure, high-speed competition in a really exhilarating way. I’d go so far as to say my brief time with this mode has reawakened a long-forgotten nugget of Counter-Strike fandom in my gaming soul. Somehow, Infinity Ward has dehydrated CS‘ “every action matters” philosophy, then injected it into a purer, more concentrated combat experience. I’m thirsty for another hit.