When I was invited to attend the Call of Duty: Ghosts Multiplayer Reveal Event in downtown Los Angeles, I was expecting a subdued affair with developers and select press being treated to a carefully curated presentation and hands-on time in a small office space. When I arrived, I was greeted by the site of a mammoth black rooftop tent with an army of black t-shirt-clad promotional models, security, and PR flacks, running around to prepare for the worldwide reveal that was being livestreamed across the Internet. Honestly, I don’t know why I was expecting anything less from a Call of Duty event. After all, few franchises love to celebrate themselves more than Call of Duty, which makes for a particularly rabid fan base. And, after several hours, plenty of dubstep, a brand new song from Eminem, and watching the frenetic, high speed gameplay in action, all the glitz and spectacle becomes understandable.
Gigantic screens flashing Call of Duty statistics informed us via handy infographic that over 25 billion hours of playtime have been sunk into the franchise worldwide, the equivalent of 2.85 million years, which is longer than the entirety of human existence. Let that sink in for just a moment and unlock an existential achievement. Whether you find that statistic profoundly depressing or simply staggering, it’s difficult to deny Call of Duty‘s impact on pop culture. And with 100 million players worldwide (40 million playing each month, 10 million each day) and an ever-increasing e-sports scene, it’s a certifiable phenomenon. Yet, when you’re putting out a new game each year – as Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg said, “November is Call of Duty time” – the challenge of innovation becomes paramount, and with Call of Duty: Ghosts, Infinity Ward is trying to bring the perennial best-seller to the next generation.
So, is it next-gen?
For all its bluster about its new engine, Infinity Ward is putting its money where its mouth is, as the game looks markedly better than previous Call of Duty titles. With that being said, it still doesn’t look particularly groundbreaking, especially when compared to titles coming out in the same year, like Battlefield 4, which is powered by DICE’s Frostbite 3 engine. The textures are still a little washed out, and every now and then characters still sort of move around in that Uncanny Valley sort of way that doesn’t look quite right, but overall, the fluidity of the experience has been greatly improved. From destructible environments to the physics of vaulting over obstacles, the game continues to strive towards realism and immersion, a feat towards which it takes serious steps in Ghosts.
Motion and inertia weighed heavily on Infinity Ward’s mind as they developed Ghosts. To make you feel more in control of your avatar, they added a contextual leaning system, which allows you to aim and peer around corners without holding down a complex button input. The addition of a knee slide, which lets players move seamlessly from running to a prone or crouched position, is another smart call on the dev team’s part, as it lends a sense of momentum and inertia to the run-and-gun gameplay style that was missing. Plus, there’s nothing cooler than vaulting over a barrier, sprinting through hails of gunfire while your team lays down surpressing fire, and kneesliding behind a parked car to flank the enemy that’s pinning down your teammate.
Most impressive of all is the audio design in the game, which has been upgraded to react to ambient events in the environment. Explosions don’t happen in a vacuum; there’s a shockwave and bits and pieces of rubble go flying. During the presentation, a grenade that detonated on the second level of a building not only sent chunks of the wall crumbling below, but sent out a shockwave which rattled the chain link fence behind the player. It may seem inconsequential, but it’s precisely these kinds of details that elevate the level of design beyond your typical shooter fare.
The AI has been vastly improved as well, with its intelligence improving to the point where they can share location-specific intel with you. During the course of one of my multiplayer matches, a teammate and I were fanning out and running across a snowfield towards a cluster of buildings. My human teammate said nothing, but suddenly the in-game AI thought I should know there was a sniper on the second floor, and the radio crackled to life, allowing me to change my course instead of transforming into a fine red mist. All in all, it’s yet another feather in Infinity Ward’s immersion cap, and it makes for a significantly more enjoyable gameplay experience.
What’s all this about customization options?
While much of the hubbub around Call of Duty: Ghost‘s reveal at E3 revolved around Riley, the adorably deadly military dog that accompanies you on several single player campaign missions, the multiplayer event brought us plenty of robust customization options to make each Ghosts account feel like a personalized representation of the player. Rather than its regimented class-based gameplay in previous outings, Ghosts allows players to create a squad with 10 separate slots to let you experiment and play around with different loadouts, class combinations and skillsets. All in all, there are over 20,000 possible combinations and with 30 new weapons, an 80% overhaul from Modern Warfare 3 that includes the exciting new Marksman-class rifles that bridge the gap between sniper and assault rifles, there are more than enough permutations to keep players entertained.
In addition to the new options, there were a few other points of pride from Infinity Ward executive producer Mark Rubin:
– Deathstreaks are gone, so you’ll no longer be rewarded for continual failure. Those of us who have lost more than a few lives to grenades left behind by those with the Martyrdom perk will be pleased to see this feature get phased out.
– There are over 20 new killstreaks, including the ability to call in Riley as a guard dog. As an added bonus, he’ll bark when enemies are nearby, functioning as a makeshift UAV of sorts. It should be noted that Riley is insanely difficult to kill, as I watched that pup take more bullets than Al Pacino at the end of Scarface without breaking a sweat.
– Immersion is being enhanced in many ways, but one of the most noticeable ones is the addition of dual-render scopes, which grant the player the gift of peripheral vision. When you’re looking through your scope, the zoomed in region will be rendered crystal clear while the events happening on the periphery will be out of focus but still visible. It’s small touches like these that will add up to make a difference between a current gen and truly next gen experience.
– The perk system is now based on points. Players can spend up to 8 points on different perks with varying point totals to mix and match until they have their ideal loadout. You can even ditch your secondary weapon and equipment to get up to 11 points if you’re particularly passionate about perks.
Last, but not least, the multiplayer trailer revealed a smirking female face behind the still-smoking barrel of a sniper rifle. At long last, players can finally create female avatars. It’s a tad bit silly that it’s taken this long to introduce female skins to the game, especially since they added playable dogs first, but better late than never, I suppose. Plus, it was a total blast to deck myself out in arctic camo and pretend to be Metal Gear Solid‘s Sniper Wolf, so at least there’s that.
How are the new modes?
In addition to the classic modes like Team Deathmatch and Domination, Ghosts will add two new multiplayer modes, Cranked and Search & Rescue, to bring its total game types up to seven. If the term “Cranked” immediately conjured visions of Jason Statham as Chev Chelios wreaking bloody havoc and keeping his heart rate up through fits and bursts of batshit crazy violence, you’re on the right track. Cranked is a high speed team deathmatch mode in which players become “Cranked” upon killing an opponent, causing a 30 second timer to appear on your screen. You have thirty seconds to kill another opponent or you will explode and die, simple as that. Cranked takes the already amped up pace of the Call of Duty multiplayer experience and dials it up to eleven, creating a chaotic, fun fragfest geared towards pro players in particular. Casual gamers may find it to be too much of a meat grinder, but I found it to be more of a baptism by fire with the occasional bout of spontaneous combustion.
Search & Rescue, on the other hand, hearkens back to the halcyon days of Counter-Strike, pitting the two teams against each other in tense, objective-based missions, usually involving planting a bomb at one of two sites. The catch is – unlike your standard deathmatch mode – you don’t automatically respawn after dying. Rather, you drop a set of dog tags, which float above your sad, lifeless body until either your teammate grabs them, reviving you in the process, or the enemy grabs them, preventing you from reentering the game until the next round. It drastically slows down the pace in this usually hectic shooter, forcing players to communicate and work together to outsmart the opposing team. If you run and gun, you’re about to win the superlative for “Most Likely to Have an Untimely Death” in the class yearbook. This is a concerted effort to raise the intelligence of the gameplay and encourage players to rely on sound teamwork and tactics rather than spraying bullets like a dropped firehose.
The new Squad Mode is another innovation that seeks to bridge the gap between casual and pro gamers while still affording both parties the luxury of the multiplayer experience. In an interview with Penny Arcade Report, Activision’s vice president of production Daniel Suarez explained the impetus behind the mode: “The idea of building my squad, and updating my squad with gear, and different looks, has an appeal that we didn’t have before that I think has a lot of opportunity to it. There are going to be different skilled players that maybe don’t want to play MP, they come in and say it’s too hard, and they matchmade against [a pro gamer], so allowing you to find players to play with in a more balance play field? That’s what squads is going to be.”
Squad mode will let players build out and customize a squadron of up to 6 characters, who will either be played by real people or computer-controlled A.I., depending on the player’s preference. Then, players can either go head to head with their computer-controlled squads, play against a computer-controlled opponent, or go head to head with squads populated by real members of their own choosing. It’s an exciting move that will hopefully help rope in those players who feel intimidated or put off by the often preposterously high skill levels exhibited by some players immediately after launch.
Yeah, yeah, but what was the overall gameplay experience like?
Playing a new Call of Duty is always a bit like riding a bike. You remember the basic control scheme and how it’s supposed to feel, but there’s a bit of a readjustment period. Playing the game on the Xbox One – at least with an XB1 controller – felt familiar and foreign at the same time. After accidentally tossing a grenade prematurely and blinding myself, I felt right at home – this was the Call of Duty I remembered. My biggest complaint about the experience was that I couldn’t adjust the controller sensitivity, as the options menu was locked out for the purposes of the demo, so it’s a relative drop in the bucket.
Journalists, industry guests and fans sat down at different stations where we were able to play the various game modes, including Search & Rescue and Cranked, in six on six matches. After playing a variety of game modes over the course of a few hours, I can affirm that Cranked is a total blast in the way that only an unmitigated, lead-filled clusterfuck can be, and that you’re going to need some solid backup if you want to stand a fighting chance at Search & Rescue. Did they reinvent the wheel with Call of Duty: Ghosts? No, not quite, but they did a lot more than just slap on a new coat of paint and rotate the tires. Ghosts may not be a game changer as far as the genre is concerned, but it is a changed game, to be certain, and one which first-person shooter fans will be eager to get their hands on come this November.
Are you excited for Call of Duty: Ghosts? What kind of features would you like to see? Let us know in the comments below.