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Infinity Ward take a break, and its time for Treyarch to take their turn at the wheel of the CoD juggernaut. Responsible for the not-well received Call of Duty 3, here's hoping that they can match the visceral enjoyment that was CoD4 in the potentially over-done arena of the Second World War.
If you've played CoD4 online then you will feel pretty much at home with this version too - in fact multiplayer wise at least, the game feels very, very familiar. OK, so the weapons are clearly different and some other changes have been made as well, which I will get onto later, but the perks and weapons mods have just been 're-skinned' to fit a WW2 environment (with some rather out-of-place mods like suppressors on machine guns that will have authenticity buffs squirming). Whether this 'sameness' will be a good or bad thing remains to be seen: after all 'if it aint broke' and all that; but it's possible that there won't be enough difference between the two games to maintain a significant online player-base which is what has kept CoD4 so vibrant for so long.
The three beta maps give a flavour of the single player game's environments of the Pacific and the Russian front. Roundhouse is set in a mangled train depot, with lots of places for cover, some good sniping positions and also the ability to play tanks. Castle (my personal favourite) places you in a Japanese fortress where much of the action seems to take place around and inside one of the central buildings. Finally, Makin is a fishing village with lots of walkways between huts and overgrown paths around the edges. These maps play pretty well, with a variety of playing styles available, although my fairly unskilled method of haring around with a machine gun had varying degrees of success (especially since most players had levelled up significantly before I got a chance to play, resulting in them having far superior weapons to me - well, that's my excuse anyway).
My two CoD playing offspring were split down the middle on preference for CoD4 or CoD5.
The tanks on Roundhouse seemed a little hard to take down - requiring 3 or 4 hits with the bazooka or some other explosive device, but it looked like they might be fun (though I don't fancy taking the role as the machine gunner on top as that position is a sniper's wet dream). This level unfortunately suffers from a map bug that allows a player to sink into the floor at one spot, making them invulnerable and leading to much cursing. It's the sort of bug that should be easy to rectify though so here's hoping it's squashed by the time of release.
I found that some weapons seemed overpowered, and some underpowered: bolt action rifles should have a considerably longer range that basic machine guns and should be able to take out an opponent with one carefully placed shot - but on several occasions there was time for someone with a machine to turn and kill me with a quick spray of bullets. Indeed the slow reload time of these weapons restricts their usefulness considerably - most enemies having passed back into cover before you can get a second shot off.
The perks for kill-steaks have been retained, though modified slightly to match the period. UAV is replaced by a spotter plane and air strike gives way to an artillery barrage - both having more or less the same effect (though the barrage seems to go on a bit long). Watching the post-death kill cam after being killed in the barrage is rather odd as the shell that kills you always seems to land right on top of you as if guided to you position. The final perk is one that has caused some consternation - and that is the ability to release a vicious pack of dogs after 7 kills. It certainly seems to be one of those marmite issues and I'm not sure yet which way I'll go. The bad side is that you have no idea where they're coming from, they seem way overpowered (get attacked by two at once and your almost certainly dead meat) and on some occasions just seemed to keep coming over and over again making them really tedious. However they are relatively easy to kill if you don't panic, you get points for dispatching them and they are able to hunt down the most 'camped in' sniper. You can also use the mayhem they create to get a few kills yourself as you can follow them as they make a bee-line towards the enemy, giving you the chance to rack up a few kills as the murderous canines distract them.
It's another thing that... can put off newcomers to the game.
It may be because of the lack of players taking part in the beta, but balancing of teams seemed to be a bit problematic. On several occasions there was a team of level 30-40 players up against a team who were all in single figures, making for a rather one-sided game. It's another thing that, along with your relative weakness (due to perks and buffs) when you first start playing, that can put off newcomers to the game.
My two CoD playing offspring were split down the middle on preference for CoD4 or CoD5. The youngest (who also plays the most and is far better at it than me) prefers this new version, whereas my eldest (who incidentally is also a better player than me!) opts for 4, mainly due to the balancing issues. Sort those out and he may well be swayed.
If you enjoyed CoD4's multiplayer, then you're almost certainly going to like CoD5's. It's a shame that the developers weren't able to push the boundaries a bit more - they were able to give us rather grisly images of dismemberment as a result of shotgun or explosion, but why can't the environment be just a tiny bit destructible? OK, the artillery barrage can't flatten the map as it would in real-life, but some destruction and flying scenery would be nice. We also still have the issue of no host migration - if the host drops out then its end of game.
Due for a mid November release it's unlikely that any significant changes will be made between now and then. However here's hoping that player feedback during the beta will be taken into consideration and some balancing carried out in due time.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
Our columnists each focus on a particular perspective and fall into one of the following types of gamers: