With megalithic preorders already in the bag, and a fan-base, in legion, following Infinity Ward’s each word, waiting with baited breath, there’s no doubt that this is one of the biggest dates in the annual gaming calendar. As the release of the next generation of consoles grows ever more imminent, overshadowing much else of what is happening in the gaming world, Call of Duty: Ghosts seems reluctant to budge from its spot in the limelight.
With well over a billion hours logged by players at the time of writing, Black Ops II can’t be described as anything less than a gargantuan success, and for each of those committed players, Infinity Ward can be sure of another notch for Ghosts, the series’ fanbase being one of the most frenzied and committed amongst the online community.
So with all these people turning up and tuning in to relieve stress on such a mass scale, is there likely to be a surge of euphoric revelry upon release, or a heaving sigh of widespread disappointment? Well, predictably, perhaps, I’d be likely to stake a fair sum on the former.
With each new iteration, the kinks seem to become more and more faint, and player niggles assessed and remedied year by year, and having played Ghosts’ multiplayer, the online aspect of Call of Duty really is nearing its perfect form.
The range of guns has been refreshed and expanded, taking into account the new contextual elements and timeframe, providing us with further depths of experimentation to plumb and plenty of room for debate, though it’s anyone’s guess what the community’s favourite firearm will prove to be, though I’m sure the Honey Badger, an assault rifle with integrated silencer, will prove a popular chunk of metal for many. The new marksman class of guns also opens up the floor for a slightly rebalanced online environment. With its sights set on precision and lethality, these masters of the mid-long range could turn people’s playing styles on their head, a perfect island, as it is, in the gulf between the single-fire assault rifle and the sniper class.
A great motivation force for the developers at Infinity Ward to include such a class of guns is evident once you’ve had a fair chance to romp around the new set of maps that come with Ghosts. Linear paths are traded off in favour of criss-crossing networks of overlapping tunnels, corridors, crawlspaces, ravines and gutters, all in place to offer a more immersive and creative online experience and all perfect settings for positioning yourself behind cover and delivering death-a-plenty. The many possible permutations of your route through each map create a more tactical experience, with certain vantage points being better suited to certain game modes. The hugely increased sense of verticality is a much needed shot of adrenaline and entirely refreshes the online experience, giving the maps a greater sense of scale and allowing for more diverse styles of play.
Maps such as the lush ‘Prison Break’, which juxtaposes sprawling jungle and diving ravines with high-security concrete and guard towers, and ‘Whiteout’, which paints a battlefield amidst a bleak arctic settlement, both provide excellent combinations of stealth and mayhem, battle in the latter often concentrating in the tunnels which penetrate its snow capped peaks. ‘Stonehaven’ harks back to the open maps of Call of Duty 2, rolling out a large open terrain, perfect for snipers, which gives rise to heart-in-mouth, kamikaze sprints in and out of cover, never quite knowing whose crosshair is centred over your skull.
New game modes such as Blitz, which sees two teams charging to the other’s base to dive through a portal, scoring a point and teleporting them back to their own base, which they must defend; and Hunted, where each player spawns with only a pistol and limited ammunition, acquiring guns on the fly, really help to break up the relentlessness of standard Team Deathmatch and Domination fare. Kill Confirmed makes an appearance, alongside another new ‘party’ style mode called Infected, where all players begin as humans and the game randomly selects one to be a zombie, armed with knives and faster, unlimited movement. Gradually players become infected until there is only the one last man standing.
Vital to the series since Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare has been the perks system, and this has gone through various metamorphoses since its inception. Here it is more complex but offers a far greater range of customisation, allowing you to string together your loadout’s perks by point-value rather than by type. This means you can really specialise and get those killstreaks coming in.
A word on the killstreak packages: the SATCOM system works rather more intuitively and fluidly than the old UAV, rewarding team cooperation to maintain a steady stream of recon intelligence. The guard dog is a potent ally and a lethal adversary, so you’d better hope it’s you who has one on side. Best of all however, at least in terms of fun, is the Maniac, which when activated replaces your weapons with a pair of knives, gives you a juggernaut suit, boosts your movement speed and sends you on a monstrous killing spree to make even the likes of Fred West quake in their boots.
Beyond standard online multiplayer, Ghosts has diversified further than ever before, offering a whole new character creation system, where persistent characters can be created and then developed, acting as customisable avatars in online matches and Squads games. This expands on the unlockable gun skins and will allow even more obsessive play for those nutters who spent their time unlocking diamond skins for each of their guns in Black Ops II.
Another channel through which one might unlock special edition skins and aesthetic features for your soldier is through engaging with the Clan Wars function included in the Call of Duty smartphone/tablet app developed by Beachhead. This operates as a meta game, allowing you to join a clan of other players and regardless of whether you play together in-game with them, your stats and victories will count towards your clan’s progress, organised in fortnightly tournaments wherein certain objectives must be fulfilled, such as winning in given game modes on given maps. This adds an interesting new layer to the game and may lend some direction to people not in competitive clans but who might benefit from some further structure to their game other than kill, die, respawn, repeat. The app also promises to offer real-time stats available at your fingertips and the ability to customise your loadout on-the-fly, as well as showing a map of the level you’re playing when in-game.
Squads is a new set of modes which expands upon ideas previously seen in Spec Ops and Survival modes. You can elect to play with real players as your team, or use your own customised soldiers to make up your squad numbers. These soldiers, even if controlled by AI (which has been vastly improved to the point of seeming vaguely almost nearly sort of human), rank up and collect experience as you play with them. You can also establish your squad and take them against other players’ squads online, the other player not even needing to be actively playing – their squad battling and levelling up on their own the more they take to the field. Wargame pits the player and five squaddies against AI opponents in a manner comparable to multiplayer, whilst a personal favourite, Safeguard, sets a team of up to four human players up in a survival-esque challenge, fending off wave after wave of increasingly tough enemy soldiers.
As if these features weren’t comprehensive enough in their own right, Infinity Ward have really gone the extra mile and treated us to something brand new. Drawing clear inspiration from the Zombies mode present in Treyarch’s instalments, this is a wave-based survival mode where the zombies are replaced with alien invaders from the 4th dimension. In an interview with executive producer at Infinity Ward, Mark Rubin, we ascertained that there is an alternate-universe story at play here, which ties into the main story of the game where ‘the rods from ODIN have struck and have created a giant crater and unleashed something that’s been buried’, ODIN being the kinetic super weapon, the ‘Orbital Defence Initiative’.
With character progression from game to game and class-based specialisation possible, this will be a great time-sink and one for the friends to come around and enjoy, and I’ve no doubt many a frustrated evening will be spend honing the perfect array of specialisations amongst your squad of four. Rubin also strongly hinted at DLC content for this mode in the not too distant future, ‘if you were taking a good guess, it would be silly for us not to make DLC content’.
In terms of value for money, Infinity Ward have gone all out with Ghosts, and there’s little reason to doubt that it’ll keep players coming back for years to come. The frantic multiplayer of games before has been retained, but more alternatives added for when this becomes all too much of a grind. Plenty to plunge your tac-knife into here, innumerable hours to be spent and innumerable arguments with other halves to be caused, you’ve a lot to answer for, Call of Duty, but hell if we don’t keep coming back.
Read our Call of Duty: Ghosts single player campaign review here