In multiplayer, a tweak of the rules can change everything. Any FPS fan who’s run a custom server can tell you as much: edit some timers, toggle sudden death, and you’ve got an utterly different game on your hands.
Call of Duty’s Gunfight mode, first introduced last year by Infinity Ward, has that same feel—of a homebrew list of settings that produced an unexpected result. The title is a bit of a misnomer, really, since the guns are the least interesting part. They’re fixed, everyone issued with a new random weapon kit every couple of rounds. The defining characteristic is actually the tiny player count—just two teams of two.
In Modern Warfare you were often playing Gunfight on maps meant for 12, the likes of Shipment and Rust becoming cavernous as you traversed them in the hunt for elusive opponents. Thanks to permadeath, another rule tweak, the tension is comparable to CS-inspired modes like Search and Destroy or Cyber Attack. But with so few players occupying the map, the silence is palpable, and audio comes into its own. Nearby footsteps, the telltale sound of a cartridge slotting into its chamber—these are the noises that colour in the gaps of your minimap and let teams pounce on opponents. With no armour, and little chance of recovering from an unseen attack, surprise is the name of the game. In fact that should be the name of the mode: Surprisefight.
There was no guarantee Gunfight would return this year. Each COD studio tends to favour its own creations, and the mode was a product of Infinity Ward’s determination to make Modern Warfare a relatively quiet and intimate affair, a la the campaign’s signature Clean House mission. Cold War’s developer Treyarch, by contrast, has traditionally liked to go loud in everything it does. Yet here we are, just a month after launch, looking at a new take on the mode. Arriving in the same update as Warzone integration, it risks being overshadowed by the parachutes descending on Rebirth Island. But that would be a shame, since Treyarch has done its stablemates at Infinity Ward proud.
Cold War’s Gunfight launches with four new maps, one of which, U-Bahn, appears to be repurposed from the East Berlin segment of the singleplayer campaign. But even that has been heavily redesigned with ample cover and interlocking lanes, the sort of setup that lends itself to sneak attacks and double bluffs. When positioning is a match decider, convincing your enemy you’re somewhere else is, well, the name of the game. SomewhereElsefight?
U-Bahn is often downvoted in favour of Game Show, however—a map styled like the set of a twisted television show that plays on Black Ops’ history. ‘What do the numbers mean?’ reads a garish pink sign lit by exposed, Hollywood bulbs. It’s the perfect backdrop for Gunfight, since TV sets are all backdrop—filled with cubbyholes built to hide cameras that, it turns out, could just as well conceal a big bloke with an LMG.
My personal favourite is KGB. Judging from the title, I expected it to include elements of Cold War’s outdoor Moscow map, or the Lubyanka Building from the campaign. But it’s actually a lavishly furnished indoor office. There are long sightlines down the centre, comparable to Gulag or Docks, which often lead to immediate shootouts after spawning. I prefer to duck into the side rooms and up the stairs to the luxuriously carpeted mezzanine, where the verticality makes for unpredictable clashes. Best of all are KGB’s china vases, which seem to smash when players knock into them. They’re not only a handy audio aid, but add to the transgressive thrill of shooting up a beautiful and historic building.
I’m pleased to say that the rules, the thing that won Gunfight its fans in the first place, remain the same. The health bars feel different, though perhaps only because Cold War makes them regularly visible. It’s more apparent when one player deals damage and their partner finishes off the target, lending the mode an encouraging tag-team vibe. On the whole, though, this is the same Gunfight that Infinity Ward developed, and shows every sign of becoming a welcome series regular. It’s just a shame it’s too late to change the name.