I'm not a huge Call of Duty fan. Straight up, I've never prestiged and I couldn't tell you what the most common kill-streaks are beyond the mysterious nonsense that kills me just when I'm getting into my "zone." So when Activision CEO Eric Hirshberg walks out on stage to talk about prestiging with 10 different characters, "Clan Wars," and unlocking items in an order of your choosing, I smile and nod. Just give me and controller and a headset and we'll really see what's been changed.
Call of Duty multiplayer really comes down to only a few things. First, that traditional style of play that made the franchise the top selling shooter in the business. It's fast, it's visceral, and it rewards quality play both in the moment and extended over weeks and months. Second, it's the huge community. From friends lists to millions of players the world over, a game that's low lag in the specific mode you want is literally just the click of a button away. Boom, put those together and you've got a successful Call of Duty game.
And so it was.
Call of Duty: Ghosts, as far as multiplayer goes, is essentially the same game as every previous Call of Duty title since Modern Warfare was originally release. Yes, there are myriad upgrades to virtually all aspects of the game, but in the end it's clear Infinity Ward went to extreme lengths to retain the look and feel of the game that everyone is familiar with. That's fine. That's good. It's still great – hell, it's better than ever. I still have to make this clear right now, if you were expecting Call of Duty: Ghosts to breathe new life into the franchise, to innovate in any meaningful way, well, best check those expectations at the door, friend.
As soon as we sat down, it was immediately apparent who the old pros were and who had never played Call of Duty before. For most of the players there was little difference between playing Call of Duty: Ghosts at Activision's event or logging onto our Xbox 360s at home and playing Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. Unsurprising, in regards to the look and feel and the gameplay experience, but startling in other ways.
When I said Call of Duty: Ghosts is essentially the same as other Call of Dutys, at least in terms of multiplayer, I meant in every regard. In the first game I played, the gamer to the next of me stood up triumphantly at the end of the round and shouted, “That's right, mother****er, this is my house.” Keep in mind, this is a press event and the majority of people there were industry professionals. Through the rest of my playtime, I heard half a dozen bigoted slurs, another few complaints about lag, and countless frustrated exclamations. Call of Duty: Ghosts still plays through host-based matches with all the inherent lag there-in (we even played on LAN with virtually no lag), but more than that it still plays with the same Call of Duty players that can be as dumb and offensive as ever.
That franchise familiarity goes for visual style, too. My time with the game was spent on the Xbox One version of Call of Duty: Ghosts, which meant what we saw was the apex of visuals for the console versions of the game. Without a doubt the game looked great – improved textures, lighting and shadow effects, explosions like wow – but only so much as to say that Call of Duty titles have never been on the cusp of visual presentation. A majority of the improvements that really impressed me were more corrections of issues I'd previously found unfortunate. That said, no complaints is better than some. Just don't go in expecting Metro: Last Light or Crysis 3, okay?
A few graphical upgrades are absolutely worth noting, even if they aren't outrageously impressive. The female character model looks great. I geared up by soldier in armor just as badass as the male models and tore up the field. She isn't extra feminine to appeal to lady players, she isn't overtly sexy to appeal to men, she's just a chick and a soldier and that's the best way, the only way, Infinity Ward should do it. Also, I just have to mention Riley the attack dog, which comes into multiplayer as a kill-streak. He is ridiculously terrifying in-game. Sometimes his animations can be a bit choppy as the AI's brain clicks and turns figuring out a target, but if he's bearing down on you, snarling and leaping, it is perfect.
That ties to my final statement on presentation in general, which is sound quality. Despite being in a room of hundreds of individuals playing different rounds of Call of Duty: Ghosts, the sound quality coming through my headphones was awesome. Gunfire, explosions, character voiceover and yes, growls from Riley all come at you from relatively precise directions, and they're all very high quality. Considering that the gameplay itself isn't particularly realistic, the soundwork in Ghosts truly takes immersion to the next level and deserves a lot of the credit for how great multiplayer can be.
Let's get to my experiences with gameplay though, right? I was able to play through two new modes from Call of Duty: Ghosts which I believe cover the breadth of my experiences. The first was Cranked, which was a team deatchmatch mode where each kill resets a bomb with a 30 second timer on you. Each subsequent kill increases movement speed, reload, and how fast your sights come up. Search and Rescue is like Search and Destroy with a catch. When you die you drop dogtags which an ally can pick up to respawn you, or an enemy can snatch to kill you for good. One mode's frantic nonstop action and the other's a heavily strategic mode that relies heavy on teamwork. A good contrast, no?
Naturally, my favorite was Cranked, which really showed off how smooth and free-flowing movement is on Call of Duty: Ghosts. Jumping over debris and dynamic leans were two features supposedly added in Ghosts, and while I never noticed the lean I did partake in the jumping as often as possible. I thrive on constant motion and having a bomb about to blow folk up keeps them running forward. Make sure to practice your knifing reaction time here. I also want to point out just how great the Xbox One's joysticks and triggers were here. Very tactile and responsive. I don't think I could blame a single death on the controller, which might be a first for me.
Search and Rescue was something else entirely and perhaps not the best mode to show off this early. Winning teams were keyed in on supporting each other and watching the map. Which is to say, this is a great example of how trolls can ruin the experience in Call of Duty: Ghosts as easily as in previous games in the franchise. I can't count the number of times a player ran right by my dog tags or ignored the bomb sites in order to roam the map. My favorite was the last guy on our team who was just looking at the texture of a magazine on the ground for over 30 seconds as the bomb ticked down. They weren't serving beer at the event, so I think he brought his own.
Another new feature in Ghosts that I wanted to touch on are the supposed destructible environments. Not once did I notice any aspect of the environment being destroyed. Perhaps that was due to my lack of attention or perhaps nothing really was happening. The only point I want to make is that these events are heavily strategic and only to be used in very specific circumstances, versus Battlefield 4 where the huge event can play a significant role in how a map needs to be played.
That's about all I really have to say about my experiences with Call of Duty: Ghosts. Gameplay, as I said before, is very similar to other games in the franchise. Quick scope, watch your mini-map, use your kill-streaks, and flank, flank, flank! Aim for the head if you're good, but crotch shots work just as well. Learn the maps and you'll do just fine.
Otherwise, I don't think there's much more need to go in-depth. Most people who are interested in Call of Duty: Ghosts already know whether they want to pick it up or not by now. Gamers who want more of the same, only better, will find exactly what they want. Gamers who want something new and fresh won't get what they want, but as history has shown they'll probably buy the game anyway. All I can really recommend is picking it up for PC or next-gen consoles, because that's where a majority of the improvements are going to come through.
This is Call of Duty, for better or worse. It's fun, still.