E3 2011 — Hands On with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3′s Survival Mode

It seems par for the multiplayer course nowadays to bring a long some kind of wave-after-wave survival mode for players to battle through. There’s Zombies mode in Call of Duty: Black Ops; Horde mode in Gears of War 2 and Gears 3; Survival in Halo: Reach and Halo: ODST. The only multiplayer mode on offer in the newly released Red Faction: Armageddon is a survival mode.

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 also packs a survival mode as part of its Spec Ops co-op offering. We got a chance to play the mode this week at E3 and it was surprisingly fun, despite being treading familiar territory. The game features the standards of survival mode – waves of enemies, increasing enemy difficulty and a variety of bad guys along the way. In MW3, the maps are small and tight, which fosters a feeling of constant threat, and the game has borrowed a lot of the features the franchise’s uber-popular Zombies mode to put an interesting spin on Survival for MW3.

Players start Wave 1 with just a pistol and a knife and enemies that go down easy, just like in Zombies. The difference is, rather than fighting zombies, you’re fighting Modern Warfare 3′s stock of enemies, and that includes soldiers of various ilk and weaponry, dogs, helicopters and juggernauts, and each has different tactics that you’re required to employ to beat them.

Here’s some quick information about how Survival works:

  • Maps are small and tight, lending to defensive play rather than tactical movements like in Zombies.
  • Similar to Zombies, money is earned for making kills and going on killstreaks without taking damage.
  • Weapons and equipment are purchased from one of three computer terminals scattered around the map. One handles weapons and ammo, as well as weapon upgrades; another is for equipment like grenades and auto-turrets; and the last handles air support, providing things like air strikes, helicopters and an AI-controlled Delta Force team as back-up.
  • Enemies become both more powerful and more varied as time goes on, requiring more bullets to kill. You’ll also fight helicopters and juggernauts, as well as enemies that die and dispense damaging gas or attempt to suicide bomb you with C4 after they’re killed. Later, dogs with C4 strapped to them become a fixture of the mode.
  • About 30 seconds of time between waves can be used to resupplying, but purchases can be made any time.
  • Teammates can be revived, but will bleed out while on the ground. Some available perks can revive players, also.
  • Survival can be played cooperatively or alone.
  • Spec Ops has an entirely different level progression and leaderboard set from multiplayer, so experience earned in the cooperative modes doesn’t carry over between the two.

Mark Burnham’s Impressions

Apparently, if you’re making a shooter and you don’t have some sort of Horde/Firefight-esque co-op mode in your multiplayer suite, you’re not doing it right. Infinity Ward knows this. Enter: Survival Mode. It’s clearly a borrowed idea from other popular shooters, where you and a buddy team up to battle wave after wave of increasingly difficult enemies. And yet I still really enjoyed it. My brain said “be bored by this, please,” but my heart would not agree. I had fun.

I think I sort of admired how “fake” it is. To give you an idea: it’s too real for zombies, but it has nothing against suicide dogs strapped with C4. That’s just the beginning. As you kill things you rack up points in the form of literal “cha-ching money,” with dollar bill signs (surviving is lucrative!), which adds up right there on the HUD as you play. To refill ammo and upgrade weapons and items, you have to make a mad dash to a laptop somewhere on the map, and buy stuff before the next wave begins. You can buy all kinds of things. Turrets, AK-47 scope upgrades, ammo reffils (which you should do after every wave), and you suddenly have it right there in the map. Fake, but fun.

More fakery: helicopters attack you in waves just like normal enemies, and you shoot them down with a few well placed rifle shots. It’s especially easy at lower levels, but damn is it satisfying to assuredly shoot down a chopper.

After about level 10 (we made it level 14 before the demo ended), things get pretty hectic. To form any sort of coherent strategy, you’ve got to set up mechanical turrets in key points of the map (which you need to buy), and sort of dig yourself in. That’s where it gets really fun. You’re letting the turrets handle some of the heavy lifting, while you deal with those freaking suicide dogs, suicide gas dudes, and also “Juggernauts”–’roided out, humorless swat-lookin guys with no mercy at all. They’re like mini-bosses almost, and they take serious damage before falling. A good strategy is just to run from them, honestly.

Good times. Like I said, it’s not new, but that doesn’t always mean “not fun.”

Phil Hornshaw’s Impressions
What Mark said — there’s a reason these modes are popular, and the great thing about Call of Duty is that it has a lot of resources to leverage toward making a quality Survival mode. Specifically, that’s the baseline of Zombies and all the things that make it work, coupled with the variety of Modern Warfare 3′s enemies and the ways they can be tweaked to add challenge.

I had quite a good time with Survival, actually. I liked everything about it: the currency system rewards you for doing well, the purchase points give you lots of options for combat and everything brings a ton of strategy. It really does mix all the best parts of Zombies with the things that Call of Duty does well, and it requires players to play smart together. Leaderboard tracking from the start gives the players who get into these kinds of modes some real incentives to play and get good. Small maps also seemed to make the experience tougher and more defense-centric, and helped to keep players from having to go hunt down one or two remaining enemies, which gets annoying in larger Survival mode-type games.

If there’s a drawback here — and I didn’t really encounter one — it might be keeping Survival mode fresh over a long period. The thing about Zombies is that the maps are nice and big. Horde mode persists because of large maps that can be played with a full team. With a smaller area, Survival mode is all predicated on the waves being interesting and challenging, but if you just sit in the same corner of the map all the time, how long will that stay fun?

While there’s still novelty in it, Survival mode works really well. Will it have the same staying power and addictive appeal as Zombies mode, though? About that I’m not so sure.

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5 Comments on E3 2011 — Hands On with Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3′s Survival Mode

4Dice

On July 15, 2011 at 5:00 pm

as BRING BACK THE ZOMBIES

funky chicken

On July 20, 2011 at 11:39 pm

I will only get this game if it has zombies

EpicPineapple

On July 30, 2011 at 9:08 am

I’ve been creating a bunch of boats on this cool player-made game I found

The Red Devikl

On August 29, 2011 at 5:16 pm

This better not have just small maps like Rust in MW2, i want some huge ass mpas like in Black Ops such as cracked, jungle, Vila, or WMD. Im not picking this up if it is limited to just 2 player co op either, i wannna be able to get 3 of my friends with me on a big map like WMD that still has alot of room to manuver, but we can hunker down in one of the buildings and make tacical decisions like hey these guys are getting pretty close to wipping our asses here, im gonna take my Barret .50 and im gonna go up that tower there and while you 3hold this bulding down im gonna call in a delta force teem to help you out and then im gonna snipe them from behind as the come in to take you guys out and amush them.

datboifer

On October 26, 2011 at 11:29 am

I hope this game is regular. Multiplayer not just. Online multi. Cussed that well b messed up homie