Call of Duty’s popularity can be summarised by Activision’s need to host an event just in the name of multiplayer. Actual humans clamoured from across the globe to get hands-on with a title that, upon first inspection, has nothing spectacularly new to offer. Guns, explosions and fits of rage define every COD since Captain Price hopped out of the Ukrainian undergrowth in a ghilly suit, so what can Infinity Ward offer that hasn’t been done before?
Despite the angst-ridden, in-your-face moans of an Eminem-dominated trailer, the developer is aiming to redefine multiplayer with an enthusiastic sense of strategy. Remember the well-rendered dog that became a Twitter sensation? Although Riley remains exclusive to the single-player section, his identical brethren play a small part in multiplayer’s quest to grab your attention once more.
Players with an affinity for investing a weight-gaining amount of hours into multiplayer will be pleased to see 30 new weapons, 20 extra Kill Streaks and seven new game modes. Only a small portion was available to test at the multiplayer hands-on, but it was more than enough to suggest the developer knows exactly what direction the series is moving in at this transitional time.
Not wanting to be overlooked by the fact this isn’t a Modern Warfare or Black Ops sequel, Infinity Ward aims to keep players interested with all-encompassing alterations that should appeal to the majority.
Surprisingly, the headline-grabbing addition is a cosmetic one. Although long overdue, playable female characters has no mechanical bearing on multiplayer — both sexes control exactly the same. That said, it's good to see it included, and if it convinces more people to play Call of Duty — and other FPS developers to take suit - then it's fine with us.
The team continues to tinker and make adjustments without altering core gameplay. Small changes twist and turn unsinkable foundations that have proved immovable over the years. If you’re a diehard fan of the franchise’s breakneck speed, you’ll be pleased to know this game is the fastest of the lot.
Initially greeted with an underwhelming groan of familiarity, Ghosts’ tweaks aim to produce an increasingly tactical experience. Each of the three maps I played — Strikezone, Octane and Whiteout — ticked all of the COD boxes a million times over, just with greater options to work with.
Series staples such as tight corridors and dangerous walkways litter areas that are overlooked by sniping spots. As usual, sharpshooters are simultaneously given a clear view of the enemy and risk of receiving a swift bullet to the skull. Running and gunning proved more difficult than before as game modes such as Search and Rescue streamline players into the same areas.
Quicker ways to traverse each location also lure you into a false sense of security. Need to collect the bloodied dogtags of a fallen victim? A quick mantle over nearby cover and kneeslide to your target is the quickest way to advance. Sure, a badly timed run may see neck separated from noggin, but increased fluidity produces an action hero feel that is impossible to escape.
Risk and reward is key to Ghosts’ mentality. The shunning of Death Streaks and increased emphasis on Strike Packages ensure you receive less punishment for putting everything on the line. Interactive elements can now be used to gain a huge advantage, meaning environments are finally more than finely-sculpted canvases in which to wage war.
If you’re struggling for cover near Octane’s petrol station, there’s only one thing to do: blast through its obvious explosiveness and witness increased security. Maps can also be altered with ferocious Kill Streaks such as Odin’s Strike, a knee-trembling blast that leaves entire levels rerouted and dancing with fire. Although difficult to execute across a small amount of play, expect traps to become a feature of the series’ future.
Alongside interactive maps, a slightly retuned Perks system promotes pre-planning before each conflict. With eight points to spend on additional firepower (11 if you drop a secondary weapon), Activision has craftily priced every Perk between 1-5. Do you prefer the continuous impact of smaller extras or a one-off megablast to quickly change the entire encounter? Now you can prestige up to 10 individual characters, all of whom will keep their weaponry and equipment alongside the achievement. The answer to this question should be altered on a map-by-map basis.
Considering what lies ahead for Call of Duty, it’s fair to say Ghosts’ next-gen version isn’t the prettiest of ducklings. Battlefield 4’s multiplayer reveal had onlookers gawping in awe at a stunning demonstration of ambition and scale, while Infinity Ward’s new game is wholeheartedly bland and average looking.
Battlefield’s Shanghai section appeared 'properly' next-gen and too powerful to effectively recreate on current tech. Ghosts doesn’t force jaws to the floor like its main competitor. Textures remain grainy when sprinting, maps are doused in forgettable surroundings, and the new engine is nothing more than a polished refurbishment from the current offering. Once characters begin jumping, the illusion is once again broken by bendy models who possess remarkably static torsos.
Aurally, however, playing with a decent pair of headphones does add to the experience. Activision was right to spend presentation time focusing on the sounds of war and has done excellently to define the ricocheting of bullets across many materials. Battle chatter is also impressive, as allies locate hostile forces with accuracy and speed. This provides a sub-current of activity that underpins voice chat; perfect for those who like to concentrate on action and not the exclamation of which orifice your mother took it in last night.
It’s almost ironic that, amongst the effort to nuance tactical decisions throughout multiplayer, 'Cranked' mode left a lasting impression. This is Team Deathmatch’s steroid-loving, Red Bull-guzzling cousin that forces anyone with a kill to secure another score within 30 seconds. Failure to do so will see the player explode into nothingness, a realistion that forces everyone away from camping. Strategy is thrown out the window, but amongst the thoughtful direction added elsewhere, it produces a sense of mindless entertainment that's more than welcome.
Will Call of Duty: Ghosts fall short of the series’ previous sales records? Despite the intention of appealing to more players, it will certainly be crossed off the Christmas list of next-gen adopters who crave high-end experiences. If you didn’t like the multiplayer in previous years, there’s nothing to suggest you’ll like it now. A greater tactical emphasis and slew of progression options doesn’t turn the shooter into anything different, it merely gives you four legs or a ponytail and tells you to get on with the same job. Which, really, is what CoD players want.
Flights and accommodation provided by Activision.