Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2’s DMZ mode is astonishingly good, free

I spent most of my vacation playing Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2specifically the DMZ version of the popular free-to-play battle royale mode Warzone 2.0. It’s very much in beta – the enemies seem to have had a brain transplant every four or five days or so, and the damn thing crashes hard every few days, taking all my hard-won loot with it. But, at least for me, DMZ is delivering strong emotions on a regular basis. After a long day at the mill of words here on the good ship Polygon, I can count on Season 1’s Al Mazrah map and the many heavily armed factions that populate it for a good while — a pretty good time, actually. And it didn’t cost me a penny.

DMZ is a session-based multiplayer survival game. If that sounds like a niche within a niche, that’s because it is. The only other game remotely similar to it is Escape from Tarkovan extremely technical tactical shooter that puts weapon 3 embarrass. The developers told me that it was designed with the help of former Russian special forces operators. They never proved that bona fides to me, but if that sounds like a hard sell in the year of our lord 2023, you are not alone. I just can’t bring myself to boot it anymore because of… gestures widely towards the world outside your window.

A session-based multiplayer survival game is a player-vs-player-versus-enemy AI playground with a fixed set of really obscure objectives: Visit this realistic landscape full of enemy soldiers, look for the highly skilled players lurking in the shadows, open this strange door to advance your own personal quest lines, and make your way to the exit as inconspicuously as possible.

At the tarkovadvancing these mission lines opens up new vendors and new opportunities to – you guessed it – do it all over again, but moan harder. At the DMZ, success means unlocking weapons and attachments in the usual style of a Call of Duty progression tree. The trick with both tarkov and DMZ however is that anything you bring into a session is at risk if you crash… or if the game crashes. Lose that nice weapon and you’ll be empty-handed for the next challenging run for the challenge.

There is a big difference in complexity, however. For example, tarkov the models bounce and penetrate in a realistic way that would make Raytheon blush. Your arsenal includes an obscure assortment of eccentric NATO and Warsaw Pact small arms and related furnishings such as thermal optics, high-powered armor-piercing rounds, grips, and more. Play a large amount of inventory Tetris while under fire and a complete location-based medical system. It’s not for everyone.

But DMZ removes those barriers for anyone not worried about the muzzle velocity of non-NATO frangible rounds. You have access, more or less, to the full range of weapons from both the full-game and full-price multiplayer modes. modern warfare 2 through what is called a secured slot. If you die and lose that nice light machine gun you love so much, you can get it back in two hours, thank you very much. While you’re waiting, you can come back for another session with a piece of “contraband” – a weapon class that you earn by completing missions, or that you find in-game and take home after a successful session. Did you run out of contraband? You get a random loadout – usually a shotgun and a pistol.

Boats are a great way to avoid the traffic in the DMZ. There is always at least one helicopter on the map as well, and certain missions will require this.
Image: Infinity Ward/Activision

The other innovation DMZ throws in is a kind of lucky ethos with health and armor. The armor system allows you to take a single bullet to the chest or back before your health starts to drop. Some loot boxes will include two- and three-plate ballistic armor carriers. This lets you take two and three rounds respectively before your health takes a hit. But when you die, your plate holder reverts to one. The only way to get a new wielder is to work through the game, under fire, with risk of death, and find another one.

All this contributes to a virtuous cycle of rapidly increasing tension. Instead of walking several hours north to an airfield à la DiaZor fighting for a contested airdrop as in PUBG, you might just hold a few sessions with your friends to get ready for the big push two or (in my circles) three sessions later. After an hour, the adrenaline is really pumping. Even better, that loot persists every time you launch the game. I can self-prep during lunch and then do a high-intensity session with my three-plate vest, my favorite held gun, and a self-resuscitation kit for dinner the next day.

A map showing the player's quests on the left, the game's environment in the center, and a legend on the right.

The game map includes a lot of information. Clockwise in the top left corner you have one of three blue exfil locations – where a helicopter will land to take you out of the session. Along the river you can see a rubber boat, and just east of that boat is a hostage rescue mission – which will spawn another exfil location. Player (1) is northeast of a landmark – the police station – which is full of cash and auto-reanimation kits. In the bottom right corner, the long string of white marks is the train that circles the map. And finally, at the bottom of the image, there’s a shopping cart-shaped buy station where you can pick up a dual-plate carrier, high-end contraband, and more. Personal missions are stacked on the left side of the screen, always there to remind you of your bigger goals. For a guide that covers the basics, try this tutorial on YouTube.
Image: Infinity Ward/Activision via Polygon

This solves a big problem of the modern batch of live-service first-person shooters: time commitment. I don’t need to do a four hour attack à la destiny 2, or commit to an open battle royale session that can last a full hour. I can be in and out in 20 minutes, have a great time, and enjoy that experience the next time I play—it’s just right for a sad parent like me trying to get back to good sleep habits in the new year.

But developer Infinity Ward is also doing some fancy things with the map. Players can see the extraction points as soon as they land. This allows solos, duos, or three-person teams to jump into a session, make a plan to hang out at a certain location, and then move toward that location, ticking boxes on their various personal missions as they go. advance.

There are quests on the map as well and they appeal to different playstyles. Want a killer fight against another team of three armored players? There is a quest for this. Just want to kill a bunch of bad guys and GTFO? Go do a hostage rescue and they’ll fly an entire fourth helicopter just to get you and the friendly AI character out of the session. It’s the only way to go if you ask me.

The rules are designed to respect your time, but also reward playing together in small groups. Progress on personal missions is shared between all party members, meaning that if your friend takes home five flash grenades and you take three more to the helicopter, you’ll both get credit for looting eight. So more players means more ability to move things around in the metagame.

DMZ it’s so dense and thoughtful, and it allows players to move at their own pace. if DMZ If it were a pizza, each slice would be a series of perfect bites. And the crust is good too, i.e. the general set of features that underpins the whole experience.

Look no further than built-in proximity chat, which incorporates voice and text. It’s not as subtle as the Teamspeak plugins used by Dedicated military simulation groups like Shack Tactical (group I’m part of, worth what it’s worth). Camelpoop420 sounds just as loud and squeaky when it’s across the street as it does when it’s right next to you, and the directional audio in these situations is a little hit and miss. But it gets the point across. You can pester, you can tease, you can make people panic as you chase them through the smoke… or you can make friends.

I’ll never forget when, the day before Christmas Eve, my own team of sad parents joined another team of sad parents in a poorly defended LZ yelling — begging, more like — each other not to shoot. “Friendly! Friendly games!” we were panting, not unlike the first few days around DiaZin Chernogorsk, circa 2014. So the six of us climbed into the helicopter, had a good laugh and literally waved to the next team of three waiting their turn. You can even team up with strangers to complete missions, mixing depleted squads and single or double teams into one big, happy armed found family.

In short, DMZ is the most experimental thing the Call of Duty franchise has ever done. in years, and I’m here for that. It successfully combines the tension of a great roguelike with the kind of open-world exploration that makes games like Metal Gear Solid 5: The Phantom Pain and killer 3 so immersive. It leaves room for players to express their creativity and flex their problem-solving muscles, while seamlessly integrating all the bells and whistles that make a modern Call of Duty game a AAA-level experience. And it does so in a way that demonstrates confidence in the player while respecting their time.

Did I mention it’s literally free?