Few games can boast the following of Call of Duty. It is a series that has, since the arrival of Modern Warfare’s ultra-addictive multiplayer formula, grown to stratospheric levels of popularity.
Every COD release is a cult happening of sorts. The gradual build up to launch day is filled with stories of midnight openings and round the block queues. When things do finally land and the disc is gobbled up by your console, you can guarantee hours will be lost blasting away friends online.
Call of Duty has become so cult in fact that it now has its own expo, starting this year: CODXP, which saw an aircraft hanger in Los Angeles flooded with fans of the series. Us Pocket-linters being as cool as we are were invited to go along and experience the festivities. What did we find? Read on to find out...
Turning up at CODXP felt a bit like arriving at a festival. All the trademark signs were there; tailbacks, sunburned faces and slightly wobbly members of the public. The difference was these expo-goers weren’t there to camp out and enjoy the music, the majority of them had one thing on their minds; to play Modern Warfare 3’s multiplayer.
The sheer number of people brought together all by one single gaming franchise was, at first, slightly overpowering. The scale of the event demanded no less than Howard Hughes’s very own Spruce Goose's hanger to house the crowds.
When we did arrive at the door we were greeted with the usual American charm and handed a special RFID wristband, which would upload any photos captured of ourselves at various events directly to our Facebook. Check in at the gate to each event and the cameras would know exactly where to send your snaps.
We strapped it on, wandered through the door and were immediately met by a space that felt bigger than the Colosseum but rammed full of consoles, screens and general Call of Duty goodness. The number of machine gun, pistol and rocket sounds combined with a never ending game radio chatter was at first overbearing, but we soon got used to it.
All around the main event hall were machines running Modern Warfare 3 multiplayer, in either spec ops or conventional online form. There were also groups of Xboxes with Black Ops and Modern Warfare 2 loaded in. The queue for the latest version was naturally about three times longer.
First up was a quick keynote from Activision and Infinity Ward, complete with the usual stats jargon and the screening of an awesome fan made video entitled 'Find Makarov: Operation Kingfish'.
After all this excitement, as the weather was so good, we decided to head outside, safe in the knowledge that we would play Modern Warfare later in the afternoon. First on the agenda instead, and one of the main reasons why Activision had rented out such a massive space, was a life-size recreation of MW2’s Scrapyard map, which teams of 16 paintball gun-armed fans were battling it out in.
We immediately made a run for the queue, attempting to dodge what would become a three hour wait just moments later. Pocket-lint, being in relatively good shape, managed to beat most of the COD geeks to it. Soon after, we were ushered into a small military tent, complete with actors in army uniform. A safety briefing was then screamed at us Full Metal Jacket-style and we were let out into the armoury area where we picked up our guns. It was a choice between M4 carbine or M16 paintball rifles, with teams of task force 141 or opposing forces battling it out. Us being slightly evil (naturally), we opted to be the baddies.
The game itself was a seven minute version of domination, which required you to physically hoist a flag in order to capture an area. You could also respawn for the first five minutes, by heading back to a marshal and getting any paint wiped off. The final two minutes however was sudden death and a fight to the death, with the last man standing taking home vital points for the team, should the flag have not been raised.
We should point out that we were totally awesome at the paintball, as both times we played saw us the last left alive. For those who know Scrapyard well, Pocket-lint spent most of the time hiding to the left of the map around the aeroplane fuselage. From there we managed multiple headshots and a particularly satisfying almost point blank blast to the nut sack of some unfortunate opposition. That isn't to say we didn't get blasted to pieces ourselves. We're still sporting rather large bruises to both buttocks, our head and arms. Luckily we evaded any shots to the finger, which anyone who has played paintball will know, are incredibly painful.
The actual paintball itself was a very faithful reproduction of the multiplayer map. As close as you could get, short of handing real life weaponry to sets of COD fans and have them shoot each other to pieces for real. We decided to grab a few fans as they were emerging fresh from scrapyard battle to get their professional opinion.
“Usually in the game you camp a little bit but you can’t do that here” said Jose Lopez, a self confessed COD obsessive who had travelled all the way from Oakland to be at the festival.
“You see it in the game and then you’re out there in real life” added his friend Carlos Gamma.
Following the paintball excitement we then headed out to Burger Town to grab some food. Constructed exactly as the building you defend in the classic Wolverines! level in MW2, it served up all the usual American grub, fries and all.
Left slightly stuffed from our Burger Town experience, it was time for a sit down, so we ventured inside and headed toward a some less physically demanding COD experiences.
First up was a set of photo booths that swapped either the Black Ops or MW3 front covers with a picture or silhouette of yourself. We then spoke to a man who built UAVs and a few US army soldiers who immediately informed us they couldn't talk without the permission of someone in command.
Food digested we headed back outside. Next up was 'The Pit', the second faithful reproduction of a Call of Duty level involving paintball guns. In the queue we came across a gentleman who went by the name of Mat (gamertag Telixion), with fellow COD fans Britney and Tessa. We got to chatting about how Mat and his girlfirend Britney met, turns out over gamer-chat in the original Modern Warfare.
“There was a little glitch type thing where you could climb a window and she was, like, hey that's cool and now we have lived together for like three years,” said Mat.
Amazing to think how a game can bring people together, but the more time we spent at CODXP, the more we realised it was a franchise that spawned multiple relationships and friendships. Everyone, from competitive gamer to casual, pointed to multiplayer and gaming with friends as the main reason they played the game.
Back to The Pit and our attempt at speed running a one-player level from Modern Warfare. In a nutshell, we failed. Badly. Our aim was off and we freaked out slightly when targets popped up. This relative rubbishness led us to follow other gamers around to try and get an idea of what it took to do The Pit properly.
Masters of the shooting range would run and fire at the same time, never missing targets while still keeping up a decent pace. Competition was fierce and plenty of gamers would do multiple runs in order to get their names up on the leaderboards.
Still left on our outside excitement checklist was the Jeep experience and zip line. By this point in the day queues were starting to build up and the backs of our necks getting significantly redder. Undeterred, a sunburned Pocket-linter headed towards the scaffold tower, on top of which was a zip line around as long as a football pitch. Strapped in, we flew down the line faster than Usain Bolt at his best, greeted by an ultimate chaffing via the harness at the end. It was worth it though and made us think what it might be like to zip wire towards a base full of Call of Duty baddies for real.
Last on the outdoor list was the Jeep experience. This involved being blasted around the outskirts of the festival in, well, a Jeep complete with Delta Force actors, burning cars and radio chatter. It was totally frantic and definitely one of our favourites of the day, partly because our driver could sense our fear and subsequently smashed around the course as fast as he possibly could.
The following day we decided to spend most of it indoors due to our now strawberry red faces, but also out of need to get a bit of play time with Modern Warfare 3. Before any of this, however, we decided to check out juggernaut sumo, which saw people battle it out in giant suits similar to the body armour clad enemies in Call of Duty.
While waiting, we witnessed a battle between a man who called himself Android and his friend. It was so awesome and so incredibly violent we decided to have a quick chat. Edward Eckland, the losing juggernaut explained to us just how far his COD addiction goes.
“I play call of duty every day, five or six hours every day. If I'm not working maybe 9 hours”.
While this may seem an incredible amount of time playing a game, you have to understand that CODXP is dominated entirely by the most hardcore of fans. Nearly everyone we spoke to either played professionally or devoted every hour outside of work to its practise.
Our time enjoying the delights of CODXP's real-life gaming reproductions had come to an end and it was now our chance to get some play time with the new game. As you can see from our first look at the new multiplayer, we were definitely impressed. Infinity Ward has given the way the game plays out online a major rethink, making it much easier for beginners. This was a definite plus as the people we were up against at XP were absurdly good.
The end of our day at CODXP was topped off by our very own specially made t-shirt, complete with gamertag stamped on the back. It was then time to head to the main hall where we witnessed a million dollar gaming tournament between the Call of Duty Elite and finally a special gig from Kanye West.
CODXP had just about anything a Call of Duty fan could want; new gameplay, lifesize levels, guns, cars, girls and food. The added bonus of having both the Dropkick Murphys and superstar rapper Kanye West really topped off the festival feeling.
The mix of outdoor and indoor events, combined with gaming and actual real-life experiences meant there was plenty for both the hardcore fan and the gaming beginner. We will say that sun tan lotion is a must in LA and our decision to wear flannel and thick trousers a bad one. Next time round we plan on a full Modern Warfare getup, plus hopefully plenty of new paintball centric events to get involved in following MW3's launch.
Like the look of XP? Sad you couldn't be there? What is your favourite bit?