With quite possibly the worst single-player campaign in the history of the series, the multiplayer segment of Call of Duty: Ghosts has got a lot of work to do. What’s more, in a genre that’s becoming increasingly focused on high-drama human vs human deathmatches rather than emotive solo experiences, Call of Duty is arguably still the king with a big shiny crown to hold on to. Unlike said single-player, the online offerings in Ghosts don’t feel belated by outside influence, it’s clear from the off that this is a COD game through and through.
Does that mean a lack of advancement? Well, yes and no. This is essentially the same COD online experience that you’ve played hundreds of times before: fast paced, tight and unforgiving. As we’ve seen so often, however, this doesn’t mean a stale experience with little new to offer. There are plenty of additions to the regular formula, although there’s a possibility that only a few of these new elements will appeal to those outside of the hardcore COD crowd. For those who are still invested in the heart-pounding action, though, there’s plenty here to get stuck in to.
The sizeable collection of new maps will undoubtedly be the first port of call for veteran players, and as with previous Call of Duty titles there’s a great selection. The 14 maps on offer all have that familiarly well balanced and well designed feel. Choke points and open areas are scattered across the locales, mixed up suitably to create that ‘thrown into the fray’’ feel synonymous with Call of Duty. There seem to be less vantage points for snipers across these maps; the spaces are generally a little tighter than before, making gameplay even more manic.
Ultimately, well engineered levels are a given from Infinity Ward, an ability that has made Call of Duty the online icon it is today. What the previous multiplayer levels have lacked, however, particularly compared with direct rival Battlefield, is a degree of visual flare. Ghosts features some undeniably improved maps in this regard. A scottish castle map, titled Stonehaven, is a particularly attractive setting, even within the heavily aged engine. So too is Prison Break, with a cold cement area contrasting wonderfully with a vibrant jungle-like theme.
Unfortunately, while around half of the maps are genuinely interesting to view, the rest bear strong resemblances to previous Call of Duty maps. Locations like Octane and Freight can easily be linked with places you’ve visited before, and fail to really distinguish themselves. Others are simply dull on the eye, with drab browns and repeating scenery. This, again, is largely due to the wear and tear of a yearly release schedule that can be found in the single-player. On the whole, the more visually interesting maps are the better designed, which perhaps indicates a certain lack of focus on the weaker levels. On the whole, though, this is probably one of the better collections of initial maps to be found in the series.
Most of the recent COD games have featured a completely re-worked armoury and Ghosts is no different. There are a decent selection of weapons to play with, each one handling a little differently to the next. There’s no big change in this area, each weapon can still be customised with sights, underbarrels, paint jobs, reticules and whatever else will help you mow your opponents down. The perks are similarly different, but not enough to interest anyone other than the most die-hard COD fan.
Killstreaks have been heavily tweaked and are therefore a lot less powerful than they have been over the past few years. The more simplified system still allows you to choose your rewards, but there are less to choose from. However, this means each reward is more focused and fits better into the progression of an online game. The new guard dog reward is an especially fantastic addition which sees a German Shepherd, just like Riley, provide protection as you go about your business. Other small tweaks, such as the reduction of ‘game winning’ streak rewards, are great additions to the game.
The only element of Ghosts that’s received a total overhaul is the methods to unlocking all of the in-game goodies. With the well balanced ‘pick 10’ system of Black Ops II out, Infinity Ward have introduced a new system in which almost every option can be unlocked from the beginning of the game. Climbing up the ranks is no longer necessary for unlocking the best combination of kit (even if IW try their best to eliminate imbalance). It’s a sign of the changing times of online FPS games. People’s love for working through the ranks has lessened over time, the focus now is on customisation and making your own personal trooper.
Ironically, while Infinity Ward have adamantly pushed their new ‘create a soldier’ mechanic, there seems to be a reduction of the visual customisation options found in Black Ops II. Fan favourite elements, such as emblem creation, have been removed. You can play as a woman for the first time in the series, but you don’t have much control over her combat gear. Although plus points should be awarded for not having a ‘battle bra’ option. Thankfully these females look like they could actually be in a real life warzone, rather than an episode of Xena.
Varied game modes have long been a key element of the Call of Duty formula; Ghosts comes toting a large supply of decent modes designed to appeal to any FPS player. The all new Cranked mode is essentially Team Deathmatch, but when you pull off a kill you have thirty seconds to get another or else you’ll explode. As you’d expect it’s a fast-paced mode ideal for those who enjoy the more rapid COD moments. Blitz is a spin on capture the flag, where players have to literally run through a target marker to score a point. At the point of writing this mode just doesn’t work, as players haven’t really learned to properly defend their points. There’s a chance, however, that this could be something really interesting moving forward.
The inherited game modes are far superior to the new ones; aside from the classic TDM and free-for-all matches, Kill Confirmed is back and as good as ever. So too is infected, which has received some minor fixes that make it one of the highlights of the Ghosts online experience. There are also some ‘new’ modes that are essentially previous modes with very minor twists, such as Search and Rescue, which is basically the classic Search and Destroy only with the ability to revive your teammates by collecting their dogtags.
Overall, the standard online multiplayer mode in Call of Duty: Ghosts is exactly as you’d expect it to be. Great fun if you can get enough practice in, boring as hell if you can’t keep up with the competition. Modes like Infected and the ‘new’ Hunted provide easier gateways for less experienced players, but Call of Duty is still a land inhabited by serious players determined to win. It seems unfair to judge a game based on its community, but with an online world in which vehement individuals seem to come out of the cracks, it can sometimes be tough to stomach a game of COD with the wrong people.
So what’s on offer outside of the standard competitive modes if possible abuse isn't necessarily your thing? The much-touted Squads mode certainly isn’t going to occupy much of your time. The theory behind Squads is that you’re in charge of a crew of AI troopers in which you pit them against an online opponent and his squad. With no customisation options, there’s very little to connect you with your squad and you’ll care very little about their part in the game. Ultimately, this is just the online mode but with bots instead of humans, which, obviously, is vastly inferior.
Certainly the most unusual new element of Call of Duty: Ghosts is the inclusion of Extinction; a co-op survival mode which will be familiar for anyone who’s played a video game within the last six years. For many, killing aliens has been an inevitability for Call of Duty, but it’s odd to see them placed within such a small section of the game. It feels very tacked on, but that’s not to say this mode isn’t fun, far from it. The mode tasks you and three other players with carrying a giant drill around a large multi-sectioned map, with which you must destroy a collection of Hives whilst defending the drill from various aliens.
Fighting these aliens, but with the COD mechanics, feels a little odd at first, much like that first ever session with Nazi Zombies (if you can remember it). It’s easy to warm to, however, and you’ll be blasting away super strong aliens within a few games. The mode has its own upgrade, class and bonus system that encourages unified teamplay. The gameplay itself is nothing special, but much like Nazi Zombies there’s an odd sense of discovery involved with delving into the mode and working out the best ways to combat the aliens. Unlike Zombies, Extinction does end, but it takes a top team of experienced players to get through all of the hives. Overall, it’s a neat addition to the game that’s great for playing with friends.
Call of Duty: Ghosts provides a stellar online experience, that much is tough to disagree with. The issue here is that there’s not a lot on offer to rope in those who have become bored with the game over the years. The fundamental gameplay has barely changed since COD4, and for a lot of people that’s a great thing. But with sales figures dropping, and public perception worsening, Call of Duty is gagging for a revolution in the multiplayer department. Ghosts is by no means this revolution, it’s simply a confident step forward for the series. It’s not particularly impressive or original, but for Call of Duty fans this is a good addition to the online multiplayer world.