Call of Duty’s new mode is everything shooters should aim for

My heart races as I sprint to the last available helicopter to escape an increasingly contaminated map. I know the chopper will be sitting there for almost two minutes, and here I am running, alone and vulnerable. I sped halfway across the map in a truck to escape the radiation and now I have to defend my position to escape. I’ve looted a three-plate armor vest, a large backpack, a heavy-duty gas mask, and at least three or four keys to locked areas.

I run to the helicopter, take out some AIs, jump in…then spot a player with their back to me. I raise my sniper rifle and fire a silenced shot: their armor cracks and I realize that in my haste I forgot to load a full clip before opening fire. For the crime of breaking the cardinal rule of first person shooters this player turns i freeze and they murder me. All this booty is lost. And yet I’m ready to do it again.

DMZ started with call of Duty‘s updated Battle Royale, Warzone 2.0. While it uses the same map as the Battle Royale, the objectives are very different. In a Battle Royale, the goal is to be the last survivor; but in the DMZ you’re likely to have more problems the longer you stay on the card. Teams of three are tasked with scouring the map, fending off malicious AI forces, collecting loot, and completing a variety of faction missions, contracts, and the like. It’s a very free-form multiplayer game that modulates between fierce PvP showdowns, gritty PvE firefights, stealth gameplay and open-world quest crawling – often all at once. cod may not be the first feature that performs this type of game, however DMZ is one of the most modern and accessible attempts to date. And I hope other games copy this mode to oblivion because when it’s done so well I can’t get enough of the extraction shooter genre.

DMZ was the first game that broke my 20-year commitment to standard, team-based FPS games. Battle royales while interesting and sometimes funny, couldn’t. Hero shooters (in my case siege) came close, but the foundation of team-based multiplayer was still there. And I definitely logged in for many hours destiny 2, I’m emotionally unable to handle the PvP of this game. I’m also getting tired of having to keep track of RPG stats if I’m really just looking for a test of my reflexes and know-how about weapons and gear.

DMZ preserves the responsiveness of a first-person shooter without having too many stats to remember. And it also allows for emerging moments of exciting FPS gameplay – the kind I’d expect from a really well-crafted single-player campaign, but without the narrative packaging. It’s all live, on site, in the moment. Here one moment, gone the next.

A player faces Al Mazrah in Call of Duty DMZ.

screenshot: Activision / Kotaku

Here is an example. In DMZ there is a train that runs around the map. It’s easy to board, and you’ll likely find some great loot inside. One evening a friend and I jumped up and cleaned out the cars. As we were looking at the map to plan the best route to a mining zone, we heard (and saw on the map) an enemy vehicle driving alongside the wagon. A shootout between two moving vehicles ensued.

Of course I’ve done that in games before. Unknown 2 has perhaps one of the most memorable Train Run ‘n’ Gun scenarios in recent memory. But in Unexplored, I play as Nathan Drake and I know I’m moving through a scripted scenario. In the DMZ, things like this just happen spontaneously, and it’s me (despite playing an operator with a name and a cursory sketch of a fictional identity) who has to be as responsive as possible from start to finish.

At the end of Unknown 2In the turn sequence of , Nathan Drake heroically fires a shot at a propane tank, saving himself and blowing up everything else in the process. The game doesn’t let you, the player, do that; it’s part of the story and Drake gets out every time. But in DMZ it is necessary for you as a player to find those opportunities to save the day. And there’s no script to guide you. You are just as likely to fail as you are to succeed.

I’ll be honest: my boyfriend and I were absolutely ruined by this three person party that was thrown up. My death was caused by someone jumping on the train and stabbing me. There was no way of knowing this would happen. This specific sequence of events will also never happen again. Sure, similar situations can unfold in another round of DMZ, but the fleeting, ephemeral nature of these wild, emerging moments require you to react with timing, make quick decisions, and make the best use of the gear you came with (or found) are all spontaneous. No two deployments are ever the same, even if they have the same goal. And I think that’s why I keep playing DMZ – because it’s always something new.

I might go in with the goal of recovering White Lotus intel (one of the game’s faction quests, no spoilers for the HBO series), but at any time the presence of a ruthless AI or other players could deny me that goal. Do I give it up to take up a random contract? Do I only get good loot and bounce? Am I lucky to have found better gear for a future trip? Or am I trying my best solid snake and trying to reach the goal despite being outstripped and passed?

A player spots another player walking across sand dunes in Call of Duty DMZ.

Observe, engage, let her go? The friend/foe balance is always difficult in DMZ.
screenshot: Activision / Kotaku

This constant tug-of-war over important decisions is electrifying. And unlike a battle royale, which involves showdowns down until the best or luckiest are left, in the DMZ I have to decide whether it’s wiser to extract with what I’ve got or keep going the promise of pushing potentially greater rewards, namely equipment such as bulletproof vests, larger backpacks, better weapons and Keys to Secret Places. And “winning” isn’t just about how well I can aim and shoot. In fact, like a game of dungeons, while there are things you can “win” in DMZ, the concept of “winning” doesn’t really exist. It’s about the emerging story that unfolds from use to extraction. That’s what I’m here for.

Successful DMZ runs could theoretically be completed without firing a single shot. Unlike in Battle Royales and other popular FPS game modes, your weapon is both a piece of defensive equipment and a tool for assassination. Sure, you can hunt down AI and other players – and sometimes I do too – but often the thrill of moving across a map and surviving is worth not firing a single shot until I stop an aggressive charge coming at me got to. And the lessons I learn from repeatedly jumping in, dying with victory sight, or coming out with the skin on my teeth has nothing to do with which weapon is the best.

For sure, Loadouts make a difference. But take my opening example where I tried to shoot an unsuspecting player. I know for a fact that if I ran to them and did a few quick melee attacks, I would have gotten out alive. Well, I know that now, that is. Having DMZ teach such lessons makes it even more compelling, and that lesson is worth more than any piece of loot I could have exfiltrated with. Good performance in the DMZ cannot be reduced to a simple in-game item or key combination. It transcends that style of play into something I imagine is similar to what other people appreciate in sports.

DMZ offers a range of race-against-the-clock scenarios befitting an action movie, all in real-time.
gif: Activision / Kotaku

But for all the fun DMZ has brought me, its environment forces me to practice intense cognitive dissonance. It should come as no surprise that I’m not a fan of the military-industrial complex; still call of Duty is a fantasy about just that – and one to be very proud of Approaching real conflicts and oppressions. (It’s not upstairs Change key details however, in the service of its narrative.) It is also published by a original abominable Pursue. As much as I enjoy this gameplay, I deeply wish it were completely detached from very real and terrifying real-world conflicts. I just want to play a shooter video game while hanging out with friends. I think now is a good time to remember that there is no such thing as ethical consumption in capitalism.

Leaving aside critical perspectives on the DMZ topic (if we can ever really put that aside), this game was a powerful surprise and refreshing twist not only for shooters, but also for open-world games and a variety of other genres that I like have enjoyed over the years. Yes, the bots could be a bit fairer. And maybe spawnpoints need to be adjusted. DMZ is still in the beta phase.

Despite its room to grow, I can’t remember the last time I was really excited to sit down for multiple rounds of a first-person shooter. As an endless story generator that develops random action and survival scenarios, few multiplayer games have captured my time and attention as thoroughly as Warzone 2.0‘s DMZ has.

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