Activision's presentation of the Multiplayer Call of Duty: Ghosts exemplifies the company's relations with the entire brand.
CEO Eric Hirshberg knows exactly how he needs to push Call of Duty. Videos show fans around the globe playing CoD, stimulating the euphoria over the biggest online multiplayer franchise on the market.
A new Eminem track celebrates the Multiplayer World Premiere trailer, and the rapper himself appears in a video message with his greetings to the community. With a brand this big, it's unsurprising that everything has been planned down to the very last second.
Activision is aware of the unique position of the franchise. We all know exactly how they got there, and how they'll do everything in order not to lose this position. Battlefields have changed, times have shifted, but there's been minimal changes to the core gameplay, which has has remained virtually the same. Call of Duty: Ghosts attempts to move the series forward... even if it's just a little.
Activision attached special importance to a new mode at the presentation in Los Angeles: Cranked. In principle, it's Team Deathmatch, but with a small difference. Every time you kill someone your movements - including reloads and climbing - become faster. But additionally, a 30-second countdown will appear. Don't score a kill in that time frame, and you explode. Succeed, and the countdown resets, and you speed up once more.
It is by far the fastest mode that has ever existed in the Call of Duty series. Not only that, but the countdown escalates our panic, pushing us to dash around the map looking for that needed kill. It feels akin to the Gun Game from previous versions. It's a dramatic inclusion to the franchise, and will bring no pleasure to those that'd prefer to camp.
Since there is a tradition of the franchise to integrate new killstreaks with every iteration, there are also new rewards in Call of Duty: Ghosts. The most significant of all is the dog, which has become a mascot for internet jokes since its reveal. As such, it's appearance in the presentation is met with sarcastic cheers.
The dog accompanied us on the map and attacks enemies when they come too close to us. The four-legged support is unlocked after only a few kills; it's no surprise then he's easy to kill. In this early, playable version of the game the dog still looked lost and moved awkwardly through rough terrain. With four-legged design work, Infinity Ward still have a lot to do.
As a special feature, new dynamic maps have been announced. That means during matches, events can be activated that change not only the map's appearance, but influence the game in session. Unfortunately in the few rounds we played we didn't see anything of this promising feature. "You have to know the map really well", said Marc Rubin, executive producer at Infinity Ward, during the presentation. And he's right.
None of those players in L.A knew how to activate these events, and so how big a difference they make is still an unknown, except the gas station; that was shown in the multiplayer trailer.
This is positioned to explode in virtually every game. The result is a tactical cover in the middle of the map. After such a short playing time it's not yet clear how useful this new feature is. We cannot imagine that anyone will voluntarily stand next to the gas station, if you know what could happen to you. This feature could degenerate into a cute little gimmick.
The controls have got two important upgrades in Call of Duty: Ghosts. Press the Crouch button while running and you'll carry out a stylish slide. (Activision calls that Tactical Slide). By doing this we overwhelm opponents when dashing from cover unexpectedly, or if we need to quickly seek shelter in dangerous situations. If we hold the Crouch button, we switch seamlessly from sliding to crawling.
Moreover, the action shooter finally gets a lean-mechanism. For example, if we are right next to a door, we only need to aim and move a bit in the corresponding direction. We can peak through the door and shoot even without revealing our entire body. This feature has been implemented in an elegant way into the game, but needs a lot of practice.
These two innovations are examples of the changes in gameplay with Call of Duty: Ghosts, and as a result gameplay feels more fluid. We can now jump obstacles which makes the gameplay much faster. And the time in which we are defenseless after being killed has been extremely shortened. It makes the game less realistic though, but it all feels well connected and makes for a very pleasant experience.
Acoustically there also have been slight improvements. This is noticeable especially with a much better use of reverb effects. Shots now sound very different depending on the space you are in and that makes it easier for us to locate opponents. The main feature in multiplayer is the intense voice of the team members. These give some impressive detailed hints about what is happening around them.
For example, they will tell us that an opponent's just come through a canyon or through a back entrance, or they're running in an open field. That may sound silly, but it makes for extremely good perception of the in-game action.
Graphically, the title makes the expected steps forward, but it is a good deal away of the high-end visuals that they actually proclaimed to have. And this is despite having a new engine. Just to clarify, Call of Duty: Ghosts is not an ugly game - it's the opposite, and actually quite pretty. But that's down to colour and effects, rather than masses of detail. And it'd be stupid to say the game suffers quality wise because of it.
Even if Call of Duty: Ghosts is clearly different from its predecessor, as it is common in the franchise, it still feels little different from what we've sampled. The feeling is very similar on the whole. But Ghosts also offers the same ingredients that made the previous games great, and adds in enough new material to keep the players happy. Multiplayer is definitely fun and makes you want to play more. It looks as if Activision is doing everything right.