I was lucky enough to attend Activision's inaugural Call of Duty XP event over the Labor Day weekend. Call of Duty fans had to pony up $150 for a ticket to attend the multiday celebration, but I'm not going to make a call as to whether or not the event was worth the money. To the 7,000 or so Call of Duty fans who did pay, the experience of meeting fellow Call of Duty fans from around the world, watching skilled Call of Duty teams compete for a $400,000 grand prize, and being among the first to play Modern Warfare 3's multiplayer mode (not to mention taking home a voucher code good for a copy of the Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Hardened Edition on launch day) were more than enough to warrant the steep cost of entry. And besides, attendees could feel good about the fact that Activision donated the proceeds to charity.
There were additional bonuses waiting for attendees within and outside the event's location at the enormous hangars that were the birthplace of Howard Hughes' Spruce Goose. A recreation of Modern Warfare's scrapyard level let attendees experience a true first person shooter experience, albeit with paintballs, and Burgertown was there to serve up grub to those who spent so much time defending it on the virtual battlefield. There was also a museum housing concept art and memorabilia from the series' history which made for some interesting browsing between the other activities. There were additional activities, but their connections to Call of Duty were somewhat tenuous, such as a zipline ride and sumo suit wrestling. As a final bonus, Activision brought in the Dropkick Murphys and Kanye West to close off the event's two evenings, ensuring that those who prefer rock and those who prefer hip-hop were all satisfied.
Considering the crowd on hand, Activision revealed their new Call of Duty Elite service at XP to its exact target audience. Elite will set you back $50 a year, but since it includes all of the maps and DLC that will be released over the next nine months it probably amounts to a no-brainer to the game's core audience. Then again, if you're in that demographic you should be picking up the Modern Warfare 3 Hardened Edition since it comes with the game, a year of Elite, and a few other extras for $100. In addition to the DLC, the service is part fan club, part social network, with an added bonus for clan players as they can earn experience and level up the clan itself as a whole as a part of Elite. On the fan club side, you get Call of Duty Elite TV which includes original Call of Duty related programming. All of those commercials for Black Ops featuring celebrities weren't just for show, quite a few celebrities are Call of Duty fans and are apparently lining up to provide content for Elite TV. Other fan club features such as prize giveaways and profile skins round out that side of the coin. On the other, you get the ability to form and join groups based on interests or location and upload and share your in-game video captures. Your account will also be accessible outside the game through the internet and smart phone apps as well ' you'll even be able to tweak your weapon loadouts from your phone. I'm also willing to bet that Elite members will get first shot at tickets when another XP event for next year is inevitably announced. If that all sounds great to you, you'll probably love the service, but if not you can still join a clan (although it won't be able to level up) and enjoy the same level of stat tracking that you did in the past.
The event's atmosphere and activities were enjoyable, but the real star of the show was the hands-on gameplay, especially since Activision chose the event to reveal Modern Warfare 3's new Kill Confirmed mode. This mode resembles Team Deathmatch, but there's one very major difference: in Kill Confirmed, points aren't awarded for a kill. When a player is killed in this mode, dogtags appear above the fallen soldier and in order to get credit for the kill someone on the other team must grab the dogtags. If the fallen soldier's comrades grab the tags first, then the points are forfeit as if the kill never happened. I wasn't too sure what to think of the mode when it was revealed at the pre-event press conference, and in truth was probably more on the skeptical side than anything else. That all changed when I was able to sit down and start playing the game's mode, though.
Playing Kill Confirmed is not a simple matter of walking up to each of your kills and tagging them to collect your points. Instead, Kill Confirmed adds a whole new element of strategy to the game that you just don't get with straight Team Deathmatch. Players need to work together to make sure that an area is clear before trying to grab a tag or they'll add their own tags to the pile. Smart players will resist the urge to grab a tag lying in the open, instead using it as bait to attract a careless enemy looking to reclaim the tag. All of the Kill Confirmed matches that I played were on a new map named Village that was set in a tropical shanty town. This map seemed to be conceived with Kill Confirmed in mind because it fit the mode perfectly. The map was centered on the town but also included some of the jungle around it, adding multiple ways to get into and around the town as well as some high ground overlooking the paths and town. This map was perfect for setting up ambushes, but the alternate paths also made careless ambushers ripe for an ambush themselves. The more I played Kill Confirmed, the more I liked it, and I'm definitely looking to spend some serious time with the mode in November.