Call of Duty is still one of the most entertaining games available on any console. Complaints of stagnation and lack of innovation may all be true in some regard, but the winning formula that propelled COD to the top of the pile is still there, in spades. No other game gets the thrill of downing an opponent right the way Call of Duty does, and Ghosts' return to more contemporary combat systems feels better suited to play than Black Ops 2's future tech.
Changes have been made, some of them major, a lot of them seemingly minor but no less important. Your minimap is now larger, more rectangular, showing you more of the battlefield. Your K/D ratio and leaderboard placement is now shown in the top right hand corner of the screen, eliminating the need for constant presses of Select/Back (it will also curb the huge frustration of being killed while checking the score).
Movement, too, has been changed for the better. Infinity Ward has talked at length about the new mantling, lean and slide mechanics, and in practice they work exactly as billed. The former enables players to slow the pace down a touch, be more strategic when checking corners. But it's the latter two that add most to the experience, boosting the speed of a game that is already breakneck.
Nowhere is this better demonstrated than in the new Blitz mode, which is a cross between Capture the Flag and the scoring mechanism of American Football (blitz, of course, being a North American Throwball term). Players merely have to touch the 'endzone', a small, non-dynamic circular target on the map, to score a point. Strategy comes from deciding how many players to commit, when to defend, and when to go on all-out offence.
Which is where the aforementioned sliding and climbing comes in. In the three or so games I played of it, players were always sliding into (or vainly towards) the endzone. The new mechanics change your angles of attack, giving you more options when attempting to circumvent the wall of camping death (me).
Blitz itself is a good addition if, at this point, not a great one. It's ideal for players who prefer the idea of a concentrated firefight to engage in, rather than the gunfire-punctuated hide-and-seek that Team Deathmatch can descend into. Those who favour Headquarters and the like will be right at home here.
Older game modes were also employed to show off the newer maps. Fan-favourite Domination was on hand for Chasm, set in and around a destroyed American city. Exposed walkways and destroyed commercial entities (such as a steak restaurant) give rise to many different levels of play, a common theme across Ghosts' maps.
There's always an angle to worry about, a change of direction or height to consider. Chasm balances outside areas with multiple smaller, connected corridors (some mashed together via massive structural damage) to good effect: it never felt like a specific section was a killbox, more that I had the freedom to hunt out the kills myself.
Outside of combat, customisation is king. According to Infinity Ward there are 20,000 different combinations in create a soldier, but it's the class-crafting that has seen the biggest change. Perk types aren't simply gathered into three kinds of complementary groups anymore. Now they're delineated into strict types, which broadly break down into strength, speed, resistance, etc.
It's a system that's designed to enable players to hone, down to the finest detail, exactly how they want their avatar to fight. Sadly, whether it works or not is utterly unknowable until it gets into the wild, where preferred combinations will be worked out in a matter of hours.
What is clear, however, is that if Infinity Ward wanted to get away from Modern Warfare – something senior community manager Tina Palacios alluded to when I interviewed her – then this isn't the way to do it. It's understandable that the firm has to keep to what made it so successful, and it must be said that IW has – with the addition of cross-mode XP gains and Squads, which enables players to take a customised bot-controlled squad into battle - attempted to make substantial changes.
But this is Modern Warfare in all but name. Yes, the story features an America destroyed, and has players fighting an insurgency against a Latin American Federation, but that could easily be the upshot of MW 4's opening, giving everything that went on in the trilogy. (Speaking of openings, Ghost's free-fall, space-station scene-setter is one of the best – and most enjoyably ludicrous – of the entire series. I will say no more, except that it is classic Infinity Ward, and all the better for it.)
But it's not just the aesthetic or the story, it's the gameplay DNA of Modern Warfare that the firm will never escape from. In a way, it's the best problem in the world: a gilded cage of comfortable familiarity, with contempt – as it always is – waiting in the wings for those who've been overexposed. While I was on my way to the event to play Ghosts, a cab driver told me that he "used to love Call of Duty. But now, even though it's still good, I feel like I'm just buying maps." As enjoyable as Ghosts is – and it is very, very good when it hits its stride – I'm not sure this is the game that's going to change his mind. Nor anyone else with the same view, name change or not.