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Modern Warfare 3's multiplayer beta seemed like a warm welcome back, riddled with anxiety

A very, very familiar time

Captain Price under a red light in Call Of Duty Modern Warfare 3.
Image credit: Activision

Having dipped into some deathmatches in Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare 3's beta over the weekend, I have come to the conclusion that - surprise! - it's more Call Of Duty! But the biggest surprise? How familiar it felt. So, it might be a bit odd that MW3 is wholly unsurprising for being more COD and simultaneously, a surprise for being more COD. Really, I think it comes down to developer Sledgehammer's decision to mash some of COD's previous triumphs with some of its finest maps.

Despite COD extending its hand with a warm welcome back, I can't help but feel it's one trembled with nerves. MW3's beta suckered me in with its nostalgia hits but there's definitely an air of it being a stopgap as devs figure out where it should turn next.

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I say, "COD's previous triumphs", but the truth is more Sledgehammer reverting a lot of the changes MW2 made to its predecessor, Modern Warfare. MW kept things relatively basic when it came to the nitty gritty of unlocking silly little sights for weapons and had this lovely flow to movement. MW2 slowed things down, removed slide-cancelling (inputs that reset your sprint), and complicated the act of levelling. Red dots wouldn't even show on the minimap when folks fired their weapons, so you couldn't flick your eyes to the corner of your screen and seek out the action. In many ways, MW2 disrupted COD's rhythm.

What was clear from MW3's multiplayer beta - mainly a mixture of team deathmatches and a couple of other modes - was how it felt like MW in the hands. Movement was snappy and the process of unlocking silly little attachments didn't require the brainpower of a calculus professor and a spreadsheet to keep track. Gunplay was vintage COD, each weapon quickly occupying the "binned off" or the "this is the GOAT" sections of my brain from just a few taps of the trigger. Yep, MW3 very much seems to keep the personality of the guns alive.

Extra punch has been added to all the little arcadey noises that pop from headshots or body blows or when yellow EXP numbers flash up on screen, too. It might seem like a nothing addition, but it actually helped make the moment to moment carnage of COD feel more satisfying. MW3 might not be making sweeping changes to multiplayer, but it's on track to recapture fans in its renewed feedback loop.

Aiming at an enemy having secured a UAV during the MW3 beta.
A look at the gunsmith during MW3's beta.
A look at the menu screen during MW3's beta.
Aiming at an enemy on Rust during MW3's beta.
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun/Activision

Maybe one of the more sweeping changes I didn't really get time to toy around with was its perk system. Gone are power-ups you'd mix and match to like, reduce the sound of your footsteps or prevent yourself from appearing when a UAV looms overhead. Instead, these powers are tied to pieces of gear like boots and gloves, of which, you can equip four in total. To be honest, I'd need to wait on the full game to figure out if these bits of gear actually make a difference, or if they're just a reskinned version of the typical perks thing.

Perhaps the most obvious change was the map pool, which exclusively zero'd in on old COD favourites. While I'm fully aware Sledgehammer are preying on nostalgia here, I have to admit it felt great to whizz around all-timer maps like Favela and Skidrow. Some of my fondest COD memories were made on those shabby rooftops and concrete floors with my mates after school. And they still - through the mysterious power of excellent map design - make for matches that ebb and flow nicely.

So yeah, I genuinely had fun with MW3's multiplayer beta. It was nice to revisit old haunts and partake of some classic FPS action. Yet, I can't shake the sense that MW3 is COD on the backfoot, a stopgap reliant on cozy familiarity while anxiety swims under its surface. For now, I'd say I'm eager to get more time with MW3 and see how it's tweaked other modes like Zombies and Warzone. I just can't stop thinking: where does COD go from here? Does it even know where it wants to go?

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