Co-op Comment: Hands-On With Modern Warfare 3′s Spec Ops Mode

Among the various attractions at the CoD XP event was a cluster of game stations set up to demo Modern Warfare 3’s Spec-Ops mode (here’s the Spec Ops trailer.) This co-operative mode was first featured in Modern Warfare 2, where it allowed players to team up and complete various missions that weren’t directly tied in to the campaign.

MW3 Spec Ops will cater to fans of the Black Ops Zombies mode by introducing the “survival” game type. On the survival maps, teams of two will take on wave after wave of unrelenting enemies. However, unlike Zombies, the antagonists in Spec-Ops are living creatures. And it’s the player’s job to make sure they stop living. Gamefront writers Dave Moss and Ross Lincoln sat down to see how many waves of bullet-ridden carnage they could endure.

Dave’s Take

There were attack dogs with bombs strapped to them. What kind of sadistic bastard straps a bomb to a dog? Why would they do that? I would feel guilty for shooting them if they weren’t trying to rip my throat out. But I’m getting ahead of myself. It’s not like vicious suicide dogs just came roaring out of nowhere in the very first wave. No, Spec-Ops mode started innocently enough.

The first few rounds ease you into the gameplay quite nicely. Ross and I started with pistols and we were easily able to dispatch the initial round of shotgun-wielding enemies. As I scooped up a weapon lying next to a corpse I thought “hey these guys are much more useful than dead zombies.” I reloaded the shotgun and used it to fill the vital organs of the wave’s last enemy with copious amounts of lead.

After the first round, we unlocked one of three stations that allow you to purchase weapons and upgrades. The first station allows you to buy guns, the second is for explosives and the third is for killstreak rewards and perks. Players earn points to spend at the station by killing bad guys and completing challenges. A few more waves went by and I decided to see if I had enough money to buy anything good. So I marched merrily over to the upgrade station and picked out a shiny new SCAR assault rifle with a red dot sight.

It’s a good thing I purchased that SCAR because our shotgun-wielding friends were soon replaced by heavily armed military operatives with machine guns and grenades. Suddenly, Ross and I were no longer able to stroll blissfully through the level, murdering at will. We were now reduced to cowering in the room with gun upgrades, each one of us watching a door and keeping an eye on the upgrade station in case we ran out of bullets.

Eventually we had to go outside though. We needed to get to the other upgrade stations to refill grenades and get perks. So we made mad dashes between waves, trying to make it to the upgrade stations to buy gear and then back to a secure room where we knew the entrances. The enemy types were starting to get more diverse. There were attack choppers, guys in juggernaut suits and of course, the dogs.

One of the dogs managed to knock Ross down and I sprinted to revive him. If one player dies in Spec-Ops, it’s game over for both of them. I revived my partner but moments later I was hit by a grenade. Now I was the one bleeding out. Ross quickly saved me and we managed to down a few more bad guys but it was clearly a losing battle. Cut off from the safety of our bullet refill room we were eventually picked apart by the endless horde. After dying, we quickly decided we needed “one last try” at this mode. It was the first of many “last tries.”

It was in our second game that we encountered the kamikaze dogs. In hindsight we should have seen it coming. Our human opponents had already started strapping themselves with C4. It was just a matter of time before the dogs joined in. It’s quite a jarring experience, having to knife a dog and then hearing the beeping of C4 on its canine corpse. On the upside, I managed to take down one of the dogs while he was next to some soldiers and discovered that they are not immune to friendly fire.

Addicting, fast paced and a little nerve wracking, the Spec-Ops survival mode is definitely a good time. Whether or not this game mode can satisfy the hardcore Zombies fans remains to be seen but I can definitely see myself spending vast amounts of time trying to get to that next wave.

Ross’ Take

I’ll preface this with an admission that I am fully capable of getting my ass handed to me when I play Call of Duty. To illustrate, I most frequently play with my 8 year old nephew who is a genius savant at the game, and this avoid too much humiliation. For this reason, I went into our Spec Ops hands-on a little afraid that by comparison to Dave, who really is something of a minor CoD badass, I’d end up looking like a useless Jonah.

As it turns out, while my final scores didn’t compare to Daves (At my best, I came in at just over 50% of his), I found Spec-Ops mode to live up to Activision’s over-repeated CoD slogan “easy to pick up, hard to master”. It helps that despite assertions to the contrary, MW3 doesn’t completely flip the script on the Call of Duty series so much as build off what already works, Spec-Ops mode was immediately familiar and new at the same time.

Dave’s covered most of the details, but I’ll add that what I liked the most about it is how it took the best parts of Zombies and threw in some features that aren’t new, but have been absent from mainstream FPS games for so long it felt new.

Like Zombies, Spec-ops has awesome co-op that forces effective teamwork in order to survive, escalating missions that really do become more challenging and not just annoyingly difficult, and so forth. Better still, the escalating missions in Spec-Ops mode are superior to Zombies. Enemies start out as killable mooks but gradually become more difficult. The awesome suicide dogs are of course the stand out, but I liked how smart the AI seems. Bots actually employ tactics that make sense, such as attempting to corral players into vulnerable spot, distracting them with a light attack on one side only to overwhelm from another, or trying to trick less skillful players (like me) into wasting their resources.

I was also reminded of Perfect Dark’s challenge mode while playing. Fighting increasingly difficult bots in tests of real gaming skill seems to me like an excellent way for the inexperienced CoD player to get the hang of things before testing their mettle against the real killers who duke it out online, and suggests (along with other MW3 features liek Kill Confirm mode) that Activision is trying to broaden the series’ appeal, making it less frustrating for gamers who don’t have 400 hours in a day to practice.

My favorite aspect of the Spec-Ops demo was the arena itself. It was packed with a rich diversity of places to hole up, each of them encouraging different tactics. For instance, the garage with 2 doors where Dave and I spent most of our time. Because of the huge pillar in the middle, it was a terrible place for close quarters combat but because of the way the doors opened, it was a perfect place to dig in and defend against multiple invaders. The garage also has an upper deck and during our third game, I discovered that while I don’t have the best luck fighting on the ground, I was able to be very effective taking out enemies from on high.

Ultimately, I found Spec-Ops mode a fast-paced challenge that was intense and difficult but never frustrating, and I can’t wait to get my, uh, hands on the final version this November.

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