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First play: Call of Duty Ghosts multiplayer

By Alex Dale on Thursday 15th Aug 2013 at 8:41 AM UTC

If tweaks to player locomotion make Call of Duty: Ghosts a faster and looser game than its predecessors, then it's been left up to the map layouts to rein the players in again.

While the feel of the multiplayer game will be instantly recognisable to anyone who's played a Call of Duty game before, minor adjustments have been made to eliminate the little snags that interrupted the player's flow. These include more agile mantling - waist-high cover can be vaulted over without missing a beat - and a kickslide move that hastens the transition between running and ducking into cover.

Factor in the new Marksman class - a bridge between the existing sniper and assault classes, allowing players to mix power with mobility - and the fact that you can now peer down a sniper rifle while retaining your peripheral vision, and you've got a game that moves at a more frenetic pace than even the amped-up Black Ops II before it.

But the terrain of the maps does much to restore the balance. Take Whiteout as an example - set in a snowcapped maritime village, Whiteout is a rough, rugged arena, with a landscape strewn with pits and mounds, that serve to slow down sprinting units and force players to think twice before venturing out into open spaces.

Strikezone on the other hand seems at first to be a very conventional 'small' CoD map - with a disused Japanese minor league baseball stadium serving as host, it's packed full of tight interior spaces and right-angled turns, and begins life as a close-quarter combat specialist's paradise.

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But once the stadium caves in under the strain of warfare - one of several player-triggerable dynamic events that exist on each map - the complexion of the battlefield changes completely, with the smouldering pile of debris and uneven shards of cover giving the map a chaotic, unsymmetrical feel more reminiscent of Modern Warfare 1's Crash.

Killstreaks also do their part to 'encourage' players to look before they leap. The decision to transform the UAV into a ground unit proves an inspired one - since it's easier for the opposing team to wipe it out, you find yourself using it in a more tactical manner - seeking out secluded areas of the map before activating it, rather than just spitting it out the moment it's awarded.

Surprisingly (considering how goose-punchingly annoying the attack dogs were in World At War), our favourite of the new killstreaks was none other than Ghosts' canine star and walking meme factory, Riley. Riley serves as a mobile bodyguard, hovering around your location as you play, and although it doesn't take many bullets for the opposition to take him down it's not a given that they'll even get a chance to try, such is Riley's ground speed and the lethality of his melee chomp attack.

Riley's presence is felt even when he's not on the map - you'll think twice before ambushing isolated soldiers unless you're certain for sure that they haven't got a lil woofer guarding their back. And if they do, Riley's warning barks usually mean that they're aware of your presence long before they sprint into your view. (That said, there's something eerily disconcerting about seeing a pile of dead Rileys scattered across the map towards the end of the round. PETA is NOT going to like this).

"The decision to transform the UAV into a ground unit proves an inspired one... you find yourself using it in a more tactical manner."

On the subject of early warning signals, we can see the freshly-announced 'battle chatter' feature proving useful, but since we only had a few hours with the maps - nowhere near long enough to memorise their layouts - our squadron's cries mostly fell on deaf ears. One notable exception came in the dying moments of a Search & Rescue (basically Search & Destroy, except here you can revive teammates by getting to their tags before the enemy) match on the aforementioned Whiteout map.

S&D vets will recognise the scenario well - our squad found itself sprawled out between two detonator locations, unable to stick or twist since we had literally no idea which direction the other team would attack from. By the time one of our team caught sight of them, it'd likely already be too late for us to regroup.

Except battle chatter has other ideas. We received a tip off that enemies were sighted coming down the main road - an instantly recognisable landmark in a map otherwise jam-packed with craggy rocks and claustrophobic cabins - allowing us to prepare for their onslaught with an ambush of our own. And just like that, the round was a crushing win in our favour.

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Great match type, that Search & Rescue - but Cranked received more mixed reviews on the demo floor. Cranked is most certainly not the thinking man's match type - the gimmick is that once you bag a kill, you receive speed and stat boosts, but it also starts a 30 second timer at the bottom of the screen - if you don't score another kill in that time, a bomb in your head or whatever will go off, killing you.

As you can imagine, Cranked plays a lot differently to a regular deathmatch round, with players willingly sprinting around in wide open space as the clock ticks down and players grow ever more desperate. We're not so sure of it as a test of skill, but the sheer mayhem of it all makes it a lot of fun to play and - perhaps more importantly for some - it's an XP goldmine.

Infinity Ward have left nothing untouched in what they're calling the biggest reinvention of Call of Duty multiplayer since Modern Warfare 1, and one of the more appreciable changes is actually one of the smallest - the HUD has been adjusted so, when you tap the back button, the player stats and kill/death ratio appear in a little window in the top right of the screen, allowing you to check it in the middle of play rather than limiting it (in all practicalness) to the killcam screen. It regularly updates your stats during play, informing you of your current ranking amongst your own squad.

We also like the new loadout screen, which borrows heavily from the 'Take Ten' system introduced by Treyarch in last year's Black Ops II. Ghosts' system however offers more flexibility. Killstreaks are now built by allocating a budget of eight 'points' towards your killstreaks - the most powerful ones cost five points - over half your budget - but if you prefer you can go nuts with eight cruddy killstreaks instead. Further killstreak points can be unlocked - up to a maximum of 11 - by sacrificing your secondary weapon or primary weapon attachments.

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While the dynamic maps are a natural evolution of those found in Treyarch's Black Ops series, this is a game that, on the whole, likes to look backwards rather than forwards - one that's more interested in tying up the loose ends of several years of iteration and innovation than one looking to match the uncharted boldness of Battlefield 4's crumbling warscapes.

The prospects and opportunities that the next-gen offer Call of Duty certainly hasn't passed either Activision and Infinity Ward by - but most of their more forward-looking policies take place away from the battlefield, with heavy investment in apps, connectivity and e-sports.

Contrary to popular opinion Call of Duty is a series that's never been afraid of change and Ghosts' multiplayer sees more of it than most; but you do get the sense however that on the battlefield at least, Ghosts represents the final rally-up cry before the charge for next-gen supremacy truly begins.