It’s the sounds of the prisoners that let you know something isn’t right. No matter how hard you struggle, the guards succeed in dragging you into the damp confines of the mysterious prison, where you’re thrown into a room with several others. The first person that approaches you greets you with a swift punch to the neck. Thankfully, despite the spray of blood and reddening of your vision, it doesn’t really hurt. But you don’t have a chance to retaliate because the first blow invited others over and now you’re enduring the onslaught of half a dozen fists, not two. There are no words of warning or explanation as to what’s happening beyond a message welcoming you to Call of Duty: Warzone‘s Gulag.
As your beating continues, you manage to sneak a peek at a few other souls staring out through barred windows. Another poor sap is thrown into The Gulag and your tormentors turn to them instead, allowing you a moment of respite to see what the others are looking at. Below you is a short hallway. Pillars are haphazardly placed throughout the space, with small piles of crumbling rubble scattered in between. It only takes a second to identify the structures as cover, the echo of bullets ricocheting off the tile clueing you into their purpose. Two soldiers are having a shootout below–both egged on by the onlookers who are pelting the duo with rocks.
In a few moments, one falls and the crowd throws out a few more rocks in the form of cheers–another body has been fed to The Gulag. Suddenly, two of your neighbors disappear, only to appear below on opposing sides. The two run at each other and once again the sounds of bullets reverberate through the air. More rocks are thrown and the mob’s horrific welcome has transitioned to yet another newbie who thought they were safe by hiding in the corner, and then another body falls dead down below. This pattern continues until it happens to be your turn.
This is The Gulag, one of four methods of respawning in Call of Duty: Warzone, a free-to-play CoD battle royale game. Getting a chance to respawn in a battle royale game isn’t a brand-new concept for the genre–Apex Legends introduced the idea in February 2019 and Fortnite quickly copied it. But The Gulag might be the best take on a respawn mechanic in a battle royale game yet.
If your first death in Warzone happens early enough in the match, you’re treated to the experience described above. You get a cutscene (which you can skip) where you’re dragged into The Gulag and then thrown into a waiting area. Here, you can mercilessly melee other players (which plenty do with seemingly sick satisfaction) or watch the 1v1 duel going on below, with the option of throwing rocks at the competitors. The Gulag only supports one duel at a time so you have to wait your turn. When it is, you and your opponent face off using identical sets of gear–the winner is respawned back into the match while the loser must wait for their teammates to earn enough in-match cash to buy them out of purgatory.
The Gulag is basically Gunfight, perhaps Modern Warfare’s most adrenaline-pumping mode. It’s fun, fast, and nerve-wracking. Winning is as much about luckily spotting your opponent first as it is skillfully finding good places to hide. It’s a satisfying activity to both watch and play while your teammates are still fighting, as opposed to just spectating your squad after you expire. Plus, it encourages you to drop hot at the start of a match–if you have bad luck and just can’t find a good weapon, you have a chance to respawn yourself if you’re gunned down. You’re not punished for your decision.
But best of all, The Gulag adds a terrifying twist to the battle royale formula. In games like Apex Legends and Fortnite, you know that once a squad is gone, they are gone for good. Without anyone left alive to keep fighting, the squad cannot respawn. Thanks to The Gulag, this is not always necessarily the case in Warzone.
Call Of Duty: Warzone – Battle Royale Trailer
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In Warzone, wiping a squad could mean you’re safe. It could mean you have a chance to relax and go back to looting. It could mean your squad has successfully secured three kills. But it could also mean that all three of the people you just killed are being sent to The Gulag. And perhaps one of them wins. Maybe all three do. And now they’re all parachuting back into the game, with a marker letting them know where they died and where you probably still are.
Because of the threat that The Gulag creates, Warzone has something that no battle royale has, so far, managed to capture: the fear of revenge. Just because you defeat someone in Warzone, it doesn’t mean they’re out for good, so now you don’t just have to worry about a nearby squad hearing your scuffle and moving in to attack, you also have to consider the possibility of the squad you just killed ambushing you in order to reclaim the loot and cash you stole from them.
It’s a delightful wrinkle to the battle royale game formula and one I hope inspires a trend in the genre going forward. Other battle royale games don’t need a Gulag per se, but giving players an additional consideration while they continue to fight and move about the map–like that of retaliation–is a fun prospect.
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