If you don’t like Call of Duty, nothing you’re going to read here is going to change your mind. Infinity Ward has overhauled the multiplayer experience, taking a knife to anything that didn’t improve it. Along the way the game picked up some exciting new game modes, revamped create-a-class, new squad based co-op and a number of other gameplay mechanics, but it’s still the Call of Duty you either love or loathe. Whatever you think about the modern military shooter genre, Infinity Ward still displays a passion for making this franchise and they’ve put a lot of work into making Call of Duty: Ghosts top their previous endeavors.
For Infinity Ward, the “heart of Call of Duty is fun”, and the multiplayer for Call of Duty: Ghosts attempts to channel that. Part of that fun has always been crafting your perfect soldier, and the new create-a-class and character customization really is the best we’ve seen out of the franchise yet. Expanding on Treyarch’s Pick 10, where you could choose any combination of weapons, perks and attachments. Ghosts takes it a step further by shying away from all perks costing the same number of allocations. Perks are now valued from one to five, meaning you can take a limited number of powerful ones or a bunch of smaller effects. No longer does every perk have to fight for balance with each other; Senior Producer Yale Miller did joke with me that Stopping Power would have been a five.
In addition to the new perk systems, there are plenty of new weapons and new killstreaks to unlock. This includes Riley, the “mo-cap dog / Call of Duty dog”, who you can call in to follow you around. Riley will attack nearby enemies and growl to warn you when someone is nearby. Many changes have been made to address previous imbalances or make the experience better overall. Deathstreaks have been removed, the Support strike package has been reorganized and kill streaks are now less air based. For example, the classic UAV has been replaced by a Sat-Com. The two behave similarly, but Sat-Com is a ground based equipment that you drop on the map. This makes it easier for your opponents to destroy it, rather than previously needing to take up a slot with a missile launcher to shoot them down. It’s a lot of little changes that add up to a better multiplayer.
Along with that comes the new character customization, sporting 20,000 combinations. Before, you had a lot of choice over what your soldier carried into battle, but the avatar itself was not given the same amount of freedom. For Ghosts, you’ll get to outfit your character with various uniforms and other accessories, some of which are unlocked through play, certain pre-orders or by partaking in Clan Wars, a meta-game that has clans fighting over territory. It will not however be driven by microtransactions the developer confirmed to us during interview. You’ll also be able to select a gender for your avatar, which was slyly revealed at the end of the trailer showing that the sniper who just gunned down a team of opponents was a female. For Infinity Ward, this was an inclusion that just “made sense”.
There are also seven new game modes coming to multiplayer, though we only got to see two of them at the reveal. Search and Rescue is a variation of Search and Destroy, where teams either try to plant a bomb or defend the objectives. Much like Counter Strike there are no respawns, making for some thrilling last stands when you’re the sole member left. Search and Rescue changes this slightly, by allowing teammates to save their allies if they can reach their body before the enemy can confirm the kill. This means there is instead some limited ability to respawn. It adds a nice additional dynamic of wanting to stick together, and a tension of whether or not to brave a field of fire to try and save a buddy.
Cranked, the other mode shown, was by far the favorite among everyone playing today. The set-up is not unlike Team Deathmatch, but the twist is that whenever you get a kill you become cranked. While cranked, you’ll run, shoot and reload much faster, giving you a distinct advantage over everyone else. However, you’re on a 30 second timer. Don’t get another kill, or assist, in 30 seconds and you explode. The mode is perfect for anyone that enjoys the frantic run and gun fights and abhors all manner of camping. You’ll also get into these great moments when your timer is running low and you’re desperately searching for a kill, only to be rewarded or ‘cheated’ at the last tense moment. Cranked was especially fun on smaller maps, where the action is already compressed. We’ll be finding out more about other game modes at GamesCom.
There will be 14 maps to play on at launch, which are now covered with dynamic map events. These player controlled set pieces make changes to the environment, most of which are the result of proper application of explosives, and they add an interesting new twist to learning a map. This could be blowing a hole in a wall or causing a gas station to topple over. It’s more scripted than a fully destructible environment, but the goal was to be “not just destruction for destruction’s sake” and that they would enhance the maps and go further in forcing you to adapt to the changing battlefield. With the aforementioned gas station down, it not only kills any poor souls under it when it crashes but it also provides cover coming out of the buildings that wasn’t there before. There’s even an Odin Strike killstreak that will actually destroy the whole level and leaves you fighting in the shattered remains, which has this clever fade to white to disguise the whole map being changed around you.
PC fans will have a few things to enjoy. Dedicated servers have been neither confirmed nor denied, which still isn’t a flat no at least. It was however confirmed that there will be more map adjustments made available to players, and the PC version will have all the bells and whistles that the next-gen console versions have, provided your rig can support it. Leaning has also been finally added to the game, though not quite how you might imagine. Leaning is done contextually, to accommodate controllers, when you’re close enough to a corner and aiming down sights. Your view will automatically edge out without exposing your whole body. It takes a little getting used to, but the system felt very fluid. In fact, animations were part of the overhaul and in addition to leaning, you’ll also be able to vault over objects and even slide.
The last major feature revealed was Squads, though we didn’t get any hands on time with it. You don’t actually create a single soldier in the multiplayer. You unlock and create a whole squad of them, and each one will have their own loadouts. Your squad can then be pitted against other squads in a number of different game modes. The simplest is squad vs squad where you’ll play an opponent one vs one, but AI will control the members of your respective squads. Infinity Ward has promised that the AI will behave even better in Ghosts, with them even mimicking human behaviors like drop shooting. They’ve also been taught to act in accordance to what kind of loadout you give them; if they’ve got a sniper rifle and stealthy perks they’ll hang back or, if given a shotgun and fast perks, they will get aggressive. Other modes include teaming up with friends to take on a fully AI controlled squad. The big selling point for all this management is that your squad is able to earn you xp even while you’re offline by participating in matches and winning.
I’m not the most hardcore Call of Duty fan. I’ve enjoyed the franchise occasionally for the romp that it is, and Call of Duty: Ghosts continues to deliver on that. Cranked is a blast to play, the environment set pieces are fun to deploy and the game is giving even more freedom over dialing in your character just the way you like it. If it isn’t broke, make it better.