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Call of Duty: Ghosts Hands-on Preview – Laying it on the Line

by on September 26, 2013

Call of Duty: Ghosts will be the tenth mainstream console release in the Call of Duty franchise, and could well signal the end of the Modern Warfare / Black Ops annual cycles (although rumours suggest a Modern Warfare 4 isn’t off the table just yet).

Ghosts is developed by Infinity Ward, and is the first major solo release since the controversial studio split in 2010, after which Infinity Ward partnered with Sledgehammer Games for a cooperative development of MW3. Having now had a couple of years to recruit, re-structure and get back on track, Infinity Ward are here to show us what they’re made of. Ghosts has to impress; their reputation is on the line with this one.

Without keeping you in suspense too long, impress it does. Call of Duty: Ghosts may well be the best Call of Duty title we’ve seen in years. In fact, it’s arguably what Modern Warfare 3 should have been.

Before we get you too excited, it’s important to note that Ghosts is very much an iteration. There’s nothing really innovative, and it’s very much an upgrade to Modern Warfare 3, and all of the CODs that came before it. Ghosts is built upon the IW engine that has been gradually improved by Infinity Ward since COD2, and featuring in all three Modern Warfare titles.

The IW 6.0 engine is looking great though, and the graphical quality is clearly a step above current gen. COD fans are certainly going to get the most out of this title by playing it on a next-gen console. The animation system makes tactical slides – essentially an official implementation of “drop-shotting” – look and feel fantastic. The upgraded next-gen version of the MW3 engine also allows for dynamic maps for the first time, but we’ll come back to that later. The sound quality has also been dramatically improved, with the addition of an ADSR reverb system and reactive emitters, which basically means guns will sound different if fired under a tunnel or out in the open, and grenade explosions will sound appropriate if they land next to a mettle fence or sand bags, making for a much more immersive experience.

There are so many tweaks in Ghosts that may sound silly to focus on, but it’s the small things that really make a difference; there are so many small adjustments that just make sense. The scoreboard, for instance, no longer takes up the entire screen, with a smaller translucent scoreboard now displayed up in the top-right. The map has also been tweaked, from the traditional small square to a longer rectangle, offering a better peripheral vision of what’s going on around you. In fact, the whole User Interface has been touched up, offering a better user experience to what we’ve seen in previous carnations.

Then there’re the audio tweaks. Player characters will automatically alert team members of enemy locations on the map, and dropping an opponent feels even better now, thanks to the new kill sound. It’s the small touches like this that make the game all that more gratifying. Much like the original introduction of the hit-marker, letting you know when you’ve successfully hit a target, the kill sound lets you know for sure that you’ve taken someone down. There’s also a contextual lean on the console version now, so if you take cover near a corner you can lean out to fire without needing to press any additional buttons – it’s very intuitive. The mantle climbing (the action of running and jumping over a wall or obstacle, while still remaining in control of your weapon) has even been adapted, so that you can fire from the hip while climbing over cover, providing a great action movie feeling that compliments the game so well.

Field Orders are a welcome addition to multiplayer gameplay. The “First Blood” of a given match and the top player on the scoreboard drop a briefcase icon when killed, which can be picked up by anyone who runs over it. The HUD will then highlight new objectives that will provide additional bonus rewards; anything from “Stab an enemy in the back” to “Get 3 kills without dying”. If you die before completing the objective, you’ll drop the briefcase icon for another player to pick up – unless you can get back to your place of death first. Currently announced rewards are a Care Package, K.E.M Strike and Satellite Crash, which causes a mini-map blackout.

Oh, and there are dogs. Interestingly, dogs seem tougher than humans. They might have only slightly more HP, because it certainly feels like they can take a couple more hits. Dogs are easy to attain via killstreaks, but with each player only being able to call one dog, we won’t see masses of stray dogs running around the map at once. As a nice aside, if you die while having a dog in the field, he’ll attempt to avenge your death, and return to your side when you respawn.

It’s not just small things of course; with the introduction of new game modes, there are definitely a lot of exciting additions.


GAME MODES: Blitz mode is a re-imagining of the traditional Capture The Flag game type. It’s a team deathmatch game mode where both teams have to defend an objective in their base, while also assaulting the enemy’s base simultaneously. The objective is a glowing orange or blue circle on the floor (depending on team colour), in the middle of the spawn area. All you have to do to obtain the objective is step into the circle, and you’ll then be instantaneously teleported back to your own base and gain a capture point for your team. There’s then a 10 second cool-down on the circle objective before it resets and another team member can obtain it. This will prevent a whole team jumping through the circle at the same time, thus ending the map with 5 captures in an instant.

Cranked is possibly the most fast-paced game type ever officially introduced to the Call of Duty franchise. The idea here is simple, kill or be killed. The moment you kill someone, you start a 30 second timer which will only reset if you gain another kill. The objective is simply to keep getting kills to refresh the timer. If you fail to get another kill in the 30 seconds, you’ll explode. This is a fast-paced game mode that’s all about the killing – and it’s great fun.

Search and Rescue replaces Search and Destroy, which was pretty much a carbon copy of more traditional Bomb Defusing game types from the FPS genre. By comparison, Search and Rescue feels like a modern compromise between the two. You can now respawn if a team mate picks up your tag, which will make a huge difference to matches and affect the balance mid-game.


LEVELS & MAPS: Whiteout is a big outdoor map with a snowy weather system. While speaking to Mark Rubin, Executive Producer at Infinity Ward, he informed us that they were trying to do something a bit different here: Whiteout isn’t a traditional COD style map with specific combat areas; it’s larger and much less condensed.

Stonehaven is another one that steps away from the MW comfort zone, with an old British-style castle or fort with plenty of corridors and corners for close-combat warfare, and a vast, verdant, rolling landscape that looks like sniper heaven. Tina Palacios, Infinity Wards’ Senior Community Manager told us that they took heavy influence from Europe with this map, and those influences are evident – it looks like something straight out of the Scottish Highlands. It’s going to be a refreshing difference from all the urban environments we’re so accustomed to.

On the subject of urban levels, Octane is a much smaller map than Whiteout or Stonehaven, based around a desolate Las Vegas. Now devastated by the war, the area around Octane is a dusty forgotten land, reminiscent of something out of Eerie Indiana. With a big petrol station in the centre of the map acting as the main focus of the destructible environment, we envisage this map as a fan-favourite within the Cranked mode community.

Strikeout is set in what looks to have been an old shopping precinct before the war. Most importantly, this is one of the maps featuring the K.E.M strike drop. Whichever team initiates the bomb will completely wipe out the entire map and effectively re-structure the environment to mix up the play style.

Chasm is the third map we played with an urban environment, this time set in and around a high street. This map seems to only be available in the Blitz mode, with capture points on opposite sides of the map, and 3 main lanes to/from each spawn point – it almost feels like a three dimensional MOBA of sorts. Although we did note some imbalance in the placement of the capture points, that shouldn’t be much of an issue since teams switch sides halfway through the game.


CUSTOMISATION: Create-a-Soldier takes player customisation to the next level. There are around 20,000 possible combinations for you to adjust your solider’s appearance. You can change the head and headgear, uniform, patch, background and clan tag. Being able to customise your own patch feels so much more personal than creating an emblem or player card, and Infinity Ward have really hit the nail on the head with this one.  You can save up to 10 custom soldier profiles, and each will have their own Prestige level. There will be 10 Prestige levels in Ghosts, although IW haven’t yet announced how many levels it will take to Prestige.

With the introduction of COD ID, your soldier profiles will carry over with you from current generation to the next generation consoles. This means any unlocks, Prestige levels and character progression stays with you, which is brilliant news for those buying Ghosts on Xbox 360 or PS3 with a plan of later upgrading to Xbox One or PS4.

Probably the most important addition to character customisation, though, is the ability to play as a female soldier. This is the first time in the Call of Duty franchise that we’ve had the ability to play as a woman, and it’s a change that couldn’t have come soon enough. It feels only fitting for the biggest video game franchise to be somewhat leading the way in this area, and hopefully many other games will follow suit. Gender equality is a hot topic in the industry right now, and it’s great to see some companies doing it right.

There are a total of 30 new weapons in COD: Ghosts, with some brand new additions alongside modernisations of older COD weaponry. The IA-2 used by the newly announced Marksman rifle class, for example, feels a lot like the M1 from COD2. There are also brand spanking new snipers for you to get used to, including the L115, which has a description of “Bolt-action. Deadly from the upper-leg up. Ballistic CPU calibrates recoil up to 4 kills”. What’s exciting about sniper rifles in Ghosts, though, is that we’re losing the blackout around the edge of the screen. We’ll now have a blurry peripheral view, letting sniping players know if someone is approaching. This should result in less knife kills on unsuspecting snipers.


SQUADS: Create-a-Squad is the biggest new feature in COD: Ghosts. The third game type, following Single Player Campaign, Multiplayer, and replacing Spec Ops, Create-a-Squad allows you to choose 6 of your 10 soldier profiles to be a part of your squad. There are then several game modes to partake in, to train your squads up via Solo, CO-OP and Competitive gameplay.

In “Wargame” mode you can play solo offline multiplayer with 5 of your squad members assisting you as AI bots, fighting against a team of six AI enemies, which can be made up of a friend’s offline squad – or you can team up with friends to form a squad, for pop-in quick-action co-op.

You can take your squad online to battle against a friend and his squad. Squad vs Squad is a Competitive game mode, essentially two-player battles assisted by soldier AIs. If you replace those AI soldiers with online friends you can enter Squad Assault mode, which pits you against other squads across the globe in the ultimate competitive game mode, which will be extremely popular with clans. You can customise your squad’s load-out via the new Call of Duty mobile app, too. So even if you’re not in game, you can get involved with Squad Assault and make sure your soldiers are up to the task.

Safeguard is the final Squad game mode, which is a 4 player co-op game type offering waves of enemies. This is essentially an upgrade of MW3’s Survival Mode, offering the much requested larger co-op team of 4, as opposed to the limited 2 in MW2. Perks and Killstreaks will be available in Safeguard too, making it a more of an all-round experience than Survival Mode was.


KILLSTREAKS: Satcom replaces UAV this time around. Traditionally UAV has been an air-based drone that has been a distraction from ground combat, and Infinity Ward have stressed that they want to keep combat on the ground as much as possible. So Satcom units will be a stationary ground item, but that won’t be the only change. If your team places a single Satcom, you’ll see blips on your map for enemies that you and your team encounter, and visible contact will trigger these blips. Your team will need to place two Satcoms down to see actual radar sweeps displaying enemies who aren’t using a perk to cloak themselves. 3 Satcoms deployed will give you an extra fast UAV. It’ll take 4 Satcom units to earn the “Advanced UAV” style directional arrow enemy radar blips.

There’s also a new perk called “Wiretap” which will enable you personally to take advantage of any Satcoms placed by your enemy, meaning if your team have a single Satcom down and your enemy have two, you’ll be at Stage 3, seeing fast UAV sweeps on your radar. This only affects your radar, and not your entire team’s. A very cool perk, currently worth only 2 points in the perk system, we expect that one will be tweaked or made more expensive after launch.

Another change to air-support killstreaks is the Stealth Bomber, which has been completely removed. This again emphasises Infinity Ward’s dedication to ground combat and, in effect, greater balance. Death Streaks are also gone. For better or worse, a lot of people felt these were over-powered. This is a case of the developers taking on-board fan feedback, and it’ll be interesting to see the community’s reaction.

There is, however, a new introduction to Ghosts that is technically an air-support feature, although not directly killstreak related. K.E.M Strike may be the most exciting new feature introduce to Call of Duty since dogs! Using a K.E.M Strike completely levels the map. We’re talking total devastation here – the map will be roughly the same layout, but everything will look post-apocalyptic. Buildings will be destroyed, creating whole new paths and removing vantage points. These dynamic environments, or “Levolutions” if you like, are absolutely fantastic. Every map has a player-triggered, or map-changing, event


PERKS: Rather than gradually unlocking more perks as you progress through the game, COD: Ghosts has more of a free-for-all policy, allowing you to purchase the perks you like, when you like. You’ll have a limited number of points to spend, and you’ll have to be economical about which perks you want to take into battle with you at any given time.

The perks are now in six categories: Speed, Handling, Stealth, Awareness, Resistance, Equipment and Elite. A lot of perks are making a comeback. There are, however, a few changes and additions to the list…

One interesting new addition is the Deadeye perk. The more consecutive kills you get, the more bullet damage you do. This one will be great for snipers, because after 2 or 3 kills you’ll basically be shooting one-hit-kills. A single bullet from your sniper to anywhere on the enemy body will take them down, “Insta-gib” style.

Typically, when a player dies they’re marked by a skull on the mini-map to their team mates – this helps you know where the action is, so you can get involved. The Takedown perk will prevent your enemies showing up as a skull when you kill them, so you can kill people without their team mates running to your location. This will probably be quite handy for campers and snipers.

VERDICT: Call of Duty: Ghosts is looking to have the most cinematic story to date, with set pieces straight out of Hollywood. One of the earlier missions takes place on the Orbital Defence Initiative (ODIN) and is, for all intents and purposes, Call of Duty in space. How can you get any bigger than that?

With the stacks of tweaks and improvements to the much-loved multiplayer game, and the addition of Squads, COD: Ghosts is going to keep fans entertained for even longer than usual. This year’s release is the best version of COD we’ve had in about 4 years. Whether you buy this on November 5th or at launch with your next-gen console of choice, Call of Duty: Ghosts is going to be the ultimate must-have on every system this winter.