Did you know that the total time spent playing Call Of Duty multiplayer is longer than the entirety of human existence? Or that the volume of care packages called in since Modern Warfare 2 would, were they tangible objects, be sufficient to build 15,000 Great Pyramids of Giza?
If you were at the Call Of Duty: Ghosts multiplayer reveal that took place in Los Angeles earlier this week, then you couldn’t help but store these stats to memory; they were part of a repeating carousel of outlandish boasts displayed on the big screen to the awaiting audience before the show kicked off.
But was it self-aggrandisement on Infinity Ward’s part, or a cry for help? The weight resting on the team must be stifling; in a climate where Treyarch’s David Vonderhaar received a deluge of death threats on the back of an update changing a gun’s fire rate by 0.2 of a second, you could have sympathy for Infinity Ward if they froze under the pressure of it all and refrained from tinkering with a winning formula. Not so, says Ghosts’ executive producer, Mark Rubin.
Rubin claims that the upcoming generation of hardware provides a natural page break for the Call Of Duty series; the perfect opportunity to look at multiplayer with a fresh pair of eyes. So to prepare Call Of Duty for its future, Infinity Ward has elected to comb over its past, stripping out and looking at each and every component of the game – no matter how well-established – and challenging how it works. Rubin calls it the biggest sea change to Call Of Duty’s multiplayer since COD 4: Modern Warfare – the title, remember that introduced perks and killstreaks to a generation.
That may well be true, but if it is, it’s not immediately apparent. The slick ‘feel’ of Call of Duty has long been heralded as its trump card, so it’s no surprise all the main elements that make up the experience – movement, control layout, gun recoil – have passed the inspection test with flying colours.
Extended play, however, uncovers a raft of small but substantial tweaks that challenge long-standing preconceptions of how things should work in multiplayer. One of the most impactful is the removal of the airborne UAV radar in favour of a ground-based SATCOM unit. The idea of radars in the sky is so deep-engrained into the COD psyche that no-one ever stopped to wonder why a killstreak so powerful and potentially match-changing should require specialist equipment to take down.
Grounding the radars makes them far easier for the other team to destroy, lessening their importance in the greater scheme of things, but savvy players will soon beat the system. Once we learned the lay of the land we began hunting out secluded spots which naturally saw less footfall. This allowed us to enjoy the SATCOM’s benefits for longer, but was still no guarantee. As a fallback, we found ourselves drawn to perks such as Ping – where registering a kill sends out a small sonar wave that alerts you to the presence of any nearby enemies. It’s an invaluable tool, as emptying a clip into an opposing player does tend to compromise your position somewhat.
Other killstreaks are focused on giving players the confidence to isolate themselves from the pack and move around the map. Riley – Ghosts’ canine cover star – can be summoned after five kills and acts both as a roaming bodyguard and as a scout, as his barks reveal enemy locations. We also found several instances where the Battle Chatter feature proved deceptively useful.
It means that the AI voices of your soldiers now relay information that only your eyes can see to the rest of the squad. Since the cries refer to obvious landmarks on the maps – such as Octane’s gas station, or the main road bisecting Whiteout’s rugged, mountainous terrain – encyclopedic knowledge of the maps isn’t required to benefit from your teammates’ automated cries. With practice, it becomes another layer of sensory feedback which can aid you in your decision-making – as trustworthy as the telltale clunk of a nearby grenade.
Other alterations seek to turn Deathmatches into a series of games within a game. Deceased enemies now drop field orders which, when collected, offer mini-challenges to the player – you may find yourself having to kill three enemies with melee attacks, or two with your secondary weapon. These challenges have to be completed before your next death, and with success bringing sizable XP bonuses and a supply crate, it’s an inspired way to add spice to match types that tend to sag in the middle, and to draw play-it-safe players out of their comfort zone.
Human competitiveness also drives the cleaner HUD design, with the kill/death ratio screen – which previously overlaid the entire display when summoned – now condensed to the top right of the screen, where it can be called up during play with confidence, and provides a running commentary on your ranking relative to your teammates, spurring you on to climb the table.
And then there are those most troublesome of items, the guns. Here, Infinity Ward has attempted to problem-solve by working with the community rather than against it. The new Marksman class acts as a bridge between sniper and assault, providing the lethality of the former with the mobility of the latter – a compromise that may end the quick-scoping war to the satisfaction of both sides of the divide. As for the specialist sniper rifles, you now retain some of your peripheral vision, which makes it easier to line up shots and detect potential ambushes.
The problem with breaking down Call of Duty’s multiplayer into its component parts is that it hasn’t amassed 100 million players by fluke; much of its parts are already the best on the shelf and that’s why Infinity Ward has snapped them straight back in, lending Ghosts its warm, familiar feel.
Instead, Call Of Duty: Ghosts concerns itself with some much-needed housekeeping, removing some of the feature creep that had began to take root, and refreshing multiplayer with a new cast of perks and killstreaks. You’ll probably already know whether you love it or hate it, then. Fortunately for Activision, there’s plenty enough of the former to offset the latter. Time to make some pyramids.