Love it or hate it, you can’t deny the success of the Call of Duty (CoD) franchise. Millions of games sold, billions of hours played, it is easily the top franchise in gaming year after year after year. You can count on seeing the lines around the block at retailers each and every November when a new entry in the series launches and not that there are going to be plenty of gamers calling in sick for a day or two.
Not everyone feels that way though. Regardless of the overall popularity, there are always detractors and non-fans of not only this franchise, but anything popular. In terms of CoD, some people feel that it is ultimately the same game year after year and nothing changes to draw them in; their feelings aren’t without some merit. I can admit that there have been times, especially recently, when I have fallen into that camp. Despite being incredibly impressed with my early glimpses
of Black Ops 2, the final version really left turned me off and made me question whether or not my love affair with the series had run its course. I have dabbled around with the game a bit, but had absolutely zero drive to dedicate even a fraction of the time to it that I spent with Modern Warfare 3
. The experience was feeling old and dated, while other games, like Battlefield 3, were taking virtual warfare to the next level with the same tools and features, but a much closer attention to detail. The series is losing its grip on me and if something didn’t / doesn’t change, it just might lose me completely.
As one of the biggest companies in our industry, Activision is far from “dumb”. They know this. They know about gamers like me who are starting to lose their intereest with the series and that if they are ever going to do something about it, this is the perfect year. This is a big year in gaming with the launch of two new consoles and it would be the perfect time for them to make their move and re-establish their dominance of the FPS-market. That is perhaps why they went back to Infinity Ward for the creation of Call of Duty: Ghosts; the company that really started this phenomenon back in 2007 with the first Modern Warfare. Honestly, you could probably even date the birth of the CoD movement back even further to CoD2 at the launch of the Xbox 360. That was when the world started to take notice of the franchise in terms of its viability as a competitive shooter. Either way, Infinity Ward is easily the master of the CoD-domain and it makes perfect sense for Activision to give them the reins to take the franchise into the next generation .
After meeting with a couple of members from the development team last week in Los Angeles, it is very clear to me that Infinity Ward isn’t taking this responsibility lightly.They know what is at stake and are determined to start off this new generation doing what they do best: setting the gold standard for the multiplayer shooter. Now, I am not going to spend my time reiterating everything that was revealed during the Global Multiplayer Reveal press conference held last week. You have either heard about the various improvements and new modes by now or can check it out in the embedded video below. Instead, I want to share with you everything I learned in my experience actually going hands on with the game. I had access to the multiplayer portion of the game for more than 5 hours and got a chance to sample a very large part of the changes and improvements that were outlined in the video below. So, let’s get into it.
Being a title for the next generation of gaming, Ghosts obviously looks good. Visually, the game looks solid and incredibly detailed. We experienced the game running on the Xbox One architecture, although not the finished version(s). There isn’t a huge graphical leap between the generations, but there is has definitely been a noticeable jump in the finer details.
The sound on the other hand has evolved immensely though, which is something you truly have to hear to appreciate. As Mark Rubin discussed during the presser, sound is a key component of the experience and they have put a heavy focus on enhancing the audio experience to both make it more realistic and to help you tactically in battle. I sort of brushed off the comments given on stage but definitely noticed then changes when I actually got into the game.
In addition to it being easier to recognize the direction which sounds are originating from, there is also a distinct difference in the sounds depending on what is in your proximity. The same gun will sound drastically different in doors versus being out in the wide open; there are also variations based on whether there are carpet or hard-wood floors around you. This makes a trained ear in the world of Ghosts a very valuable asset. You will be able to better pinpoint exactly where that sniper is perched or where you enemy is pinned down. If you don’t have access to a true, surround sound system, be it 5.1 or 7.1, you should probably give serious consideration into picking one up before Ghosts launches.
The biggest improvement that I noticed in the game is the interaction with the environment. I am not talking just about the level-specific “catastrophic” events that alter the layout of each map (as cool as they are, which will be discussed further in the commentary videos coming later this week) but how your character feels within the confines of the map. In the past, the Call of Duty games has sort of paled in comparison to some of their competitors in this area; you simply felt like a figure within a confined box and these objects, not any more. From improved movement options to destructible cover and a cover system, the world is officially an integral part of the fight now. Let’s look at two of the major improvements.
Better movement / interaction: Momentum can now make a huge difference between life or death. Players can now use the physical momentum of their characters to give them a distinct, tactical advantage in battle. For example, let’s consider things like fences or ledges that you require you to climb over them in order to proceed. In the past, the action of mounting over an object like this has made you a sitting duck. Not any more. While you still put yourself at risk in choosing to climb over an object from a standing position, just as it would in real life, you can do so at the peak of a full sprint and maintain your ability to defend yourself. It is a very cool feeling to be able to vault over an obstacle and fire off a few rounds in full defensive mode during an intense battle. The same feeling stems from the new knee slide maneuver that has been added to your arsenal.
Just like the vaulting option, your momentum can also be used to assist you in taking cover. You can now slide into a kneeling position or cover by choosing to crouch at the peak of your sprint. This not only helps you come to a quick stop at your desired location but also makes you a little more difficult to hit. You may have noticed in the multiplayer reveal trailer a clip where the player slide across a doorway in a crouched position and took out a few enemies, similar to something you would see in an action movie. That wasn’t just fluff and flair; that is totally doable in the game and something that feels incredibly natural once you get the hang of it.
Improved cover / contextual leaning: Cover has never been one of CoD’s strong points in the past. You were simply able to stand behind and object for a moment of relief from gunfire but had to step out into the open if you wanted to fire back. Now the game will recognize your location and maneuver your character around corners and cover in a strategic manner. When you are standing at the corner of an environmental object, pressing the left trigger and aiming down your sights will lean your character out into a firing position. This means that the bulk of your body will remain in cover and you will have a better chance at surviving the exchange.
This worked pretty well in the unfinished build that I played and I really hope that it is improved in the game’s final form. It works really well when you are standing at the corner of a building or doorway but doesn’t seem to trigger as effectively when hiding behind smaller objects. Players can deactivate this feature in the options menu if they desire, but I am not sure why anyone would want to; much like the vaulting and sliding, it becomes a natural and effective part of combat.
Content-wise, you can expect a lot of new things to fill out the Ghosts experience. there are a ton of new guns, kill streaks, maps, and even a vastly improved perk system in the game. The perk system is a lot more balanced this time as perks fall into one of 8 categories with a value of one to five. Players are allowed 8-points worth of perks to be equipped at any given time; this could be eight separate, 1-point perks, four 2-point perks, or any other combination that adds up to 8. While you couldn’t do it in this build, the final version will allow you to forfeit your secondary weapons(s) for three extra perk points to fill out as you desire. This works well because people can no longer simply outfit their character with the strongest perks to get an advantage on the battlefield. You have to experiment and find a nice balance of perks that compliment your preferred playing style.
While there are a ton of new modes headed to the game, we only experienced two of them and they were both incredibly fun. The first mode, Cranked, is based off of the Jason Statham movie Crank. This is a free-for-all deathmatch that ensues at an absolutely hectic pace. When you kill someone, two things happen. First off, you get a major increase in speed across the board. Your movement and even your reload times are sped up dramatically. At the same time, you will see a stopwatch appear that gives you 30 seconds to rack up another kill. If you get one, the clock resets to 30, if you don’t, you will explode. Plus, each subsequent kill that you rack up in succession leads to even more speed boosts. It gets frantic and crazy and is the ultimate in non-team, competitive play.
The other mode, Search and Rescue, is the evolution of the now-classic Kill Confirmed. This team-based mode isn’t just about collecting your enemy’s dog tags any more, now you have to get your teammates too and it is for more than just points. Picking up a downed enemy’s tags will remove them from the game until the next round. The same thing goes for the tags of your teammates, should the enemy collect them before you do. If you can nab them first, then they will respawn during the current round to continue the fight. Much like Cranked, battles here become fast and frantic, as players race for any tags found lying on the field. This mode can be combined with other game modes such as capture the flag or team games with planting bombs or recovering intel to add a new level of excitement and strategy.
All things said, despite filling my entire day with hands-on time with the game, I only got to experience a very small fraction of the ghosts experience. there is a ton more coming down the line as we slowly approach the game’s November launch. Our gameplay sessions spanned three new maps, which I will be covering separately in a trio of commentary videos early next week, because each was very unique and we have to discuss the new “catastrophic events” that highlight each one. I stated earlier that Black Ops 2 sort of turned me off of the franchise but it appears as if that is only going to be a temporary setback. I am now firmly looking forward to Ghosts and think that I will have no problem getting completely sucked into the world again when the community goes live.
All accommodations for this trip, including airfair, hotel, and food were provided by Activision. In conjunction with the Gaming Nexus ethics policy, attending this event means that I am ineligible to review the final product upon its retail release.