Live from the Call of Duty: Ghosts reveal

Call of Duty Ghosts RevealToday’s reveal of Call of Duty: Ghosts’ multiplayer was announced two weeks ago, and fans of the franchise everywhere have been waiting for this day ever since. While press gathered in the audience at today’s event, thousands of gamers tuned in to the live stream from the comfort of their own homes. As the counter reaches zero we kick off the much-anticipated reveal of Call of Duty: Ghosts with the trailer below:

Just watching that trailer makes it clear just how far this franchise has come. As Eric Hirschberg, Activision CEO, takes the stage to unveil the Infinity Ward-powered title to a passionate group of Call of Duty fans and press, he talks about some of the incredible changes that have happened during the current generation lifespan. Over 100 million people have played Call of Duty, and more people are playing now than ever before. In the early days of gaming you were considered successful if your game cleared a million copies – obviously we are talking about something at an order of magnitude higher than that now. Hirschberg purports that the key ingredient of the Call of Duty franchise is adrenaline-fueled, hair on fire, crazy fun, but in my experience it’s competition. This franchise offers the most complete and evolving competition we’ve seen in any series on any platform, ever.  It turns out that it’s actually fun as well.

[singlepic id=14026 w=320 h=240 float=left]Taking a look at the mechanics of the game, the power of the new engine is very apparent. It’s unsurprisingly beautiful, but it’s the level of quality in the animation that really caught my eye. A great deal of effort has been put into making movement in the game the most natural and fluid game in motion. There is now a “Contextual Leaning” system that lets you lean around corners without adding a button combo. A new “Mantling System” lets you fluidly amble over small bits of cover while still firing your weapon. A new “Knee Slide” animation lets you naturally move from sprinting to crouch or prone while continuing to engage your targets. The new motion animations are all designed to not only give a more natural feel to movement, but also unlocks new gameplay possibilities.

Speaking of possibilities, Call of Duty has always been known for multiplayer customization, but with Ghosts there are more than 20,000 new possibilities.  The new title’s development was focused around three major pillars – your soldier, your world, and taking it anywhere.

The first pillar, your soldier, is about moving away from making faceless and random soldiers, and instead having the player make their own digital badass version of themselves. To hit that objective, the team has spent a great deal of time looking over every aspect of the game. Over 80% of the multiplayer has received a complete makeover, making this the largest retool of multiplayer we’ve seen since the original Call of Duty: Modern Warfare. With over 20,000 possible combinations of how you look and play, unlocks are not just cosmetic or a new weapon. The control over your loadout and customization is unprecedented for the series. In Ghosts you are given a budget for your equipment for perks and weapons. There are more perks than ever before, and over 30 new weapons, but you only have eight points to allocate to them. This means you can pick eight perks that cost just one point, two perks that cost four a piece, or any other combination you can think of.  If you want to cut things back further by removing your equipment and dropping your secondary weapon, you can push your points to 11, but that obviously carries risk.  In practice, it creates subclass specializations beyond the major archetypes.

Of note, the new Create A Class system enables all of this customization, giving you the ability to selected your own head, body, headgear, camo, and much more. This also includes, for the first time, creating a female soldier.

[singlepic id=12450 w=320 h=240 float=right]The second pillar of gameplay is the world itself. Previously when you said “I need to learn the map” it was about learning the layout.  Well, in Call of Duty Ghosts, the world change courtesy of scripted and dynamic map events. In Oil Rig it’s possible to cause a great deal of chaos for the other team by simply detonating explosives in the environment to weak havoc on the superstructure. Octane has a derelict gas station that can be detonated to drop the supports and roof structure on top of your enemies.  Also in Octane, you can use explosives to expose new sniper sightlines.  Learning the map now means figuring out how you can manipulate the landscape to gain the upper hand.

The third pillar for Ghosts is the ability to take the game anywhere. Taking the best aspects of the Elite subscription system, the service is now free and pushes the Call of Duty universe to the second screen.  This means you can now carry your profile, including kills, deaths, time played, favorite maps, friends, enemies, and much more on your smartphone or tablet.  The best part is that your progress, whether that be current gen or next gen, now carries over.  Prestige you earn on your Xbox 360 or PlayStation 3 is now a part of your service jacket for the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One.

The Call of Duty app, now a free benefit to all Call of Duty players, will be more than just your service record.  The application will also allow you to push your loadout into the game, select your next loadout for when you die, allows you to edit your squad before matches, record and share videos with your friends, and manage your clan, all while on the go. With Clan support in Ghosts, you can now create, join, and manage your clan from the game, or from your application. This includes chatting with your clan, or using the new “Rally Up” system that lets you chose your friends for a scrap, and then notify them that you are ready to play so they can find and join you.  Since you are rewarded with both Clan XP as well as in-game XP for any match you play with your Clan, I suspect this app will get a lot of use.

[singlepic id=12452 w=320 h=240 float=right]Clan matches (and for the first time, Clan vs. Clan playlists) are part of the new Clan Wars system. Every two weeks you are paired up against similarly skilled clans via the matchmaking system, and you’ll battle over territories.  As you win and occupy the space you’ll earn clan points. Capturing and holding objectives gets progressively harder as you suddenly become the target for all other clans vying for that space.  After two weeks, the clan with the most points wins the war – all of which can be tracked and managed from within the app.  Since you can build cross-generational clans, it’ll be interesting to see how that plays out in practice.

Also present in the app is a full-featured emblem editor.  While I didn’t get to try this out for myself, a tablet touchscreen busts creativity options wide open.  The application, created by Beachhead Studios, will launch alongside Ghosts.

New Modes:

There are seven new multiplayer modes for Call of Duty: Ghosts.  We got to see a handful of them today.   The first, and what ended up being a crowd favorite, is called “Cranked”.  It’s a Team Death Match variant, but moves far faster.  When you get a kill, you’ll move much faster, reload faster, and take out your targets faster. Unfortunately you also get a 30 second countdown clock – if it hits zero, you explode and die.  You can delay your imminent demise by simply getting another kill, which resets the clock.

The second mode we saw was called Search and Rescue.  Similar to Search and Destroy,  you’ll cut down your foes, but when they die they will drop a pair of dogtags.  If you retrieve it, they are out of the match like they would be in Search and Destroy.  If an enemy player retrieves the dogtag, their fallen comrade will be revived and dropped back into the map.  Suddenly collecting dog tags isn’t just for kill confirmation.

[singlepic id=12923 w=320 h=240 float=left]The third mode is an expansive one – Squads.   Playable in cooperative, solo, or competitive play, Squads mode lets you build up to 10 soldiers that all skill up, gain equipment, and eventually prestige based on how you play them.  Since you can play this solo, this is also the best way to showcase the AI for the game.  Giving an AI player a sniper rifle will change their behavior, and they will begin acting like that class should.  Giving the same AI player an assault rifle would have the charging the front.  The loadout changes the way that squad behaves.  Since you’ll also keep what you unlock when these soldiers prestige, this means another 10 levels of prestige to earn!

Squads extends beyond just a single game mode though.  You can also play Squad vs. Squad to take your crew against another player’s crew.  Wargame pits five members of your squad against the AI, and works in concert with all other game modes.  Safeguard is a modified return of Survival from Modern Warfare 3, putting your squad against waves of enemies using all of the equipment and tools you’ve unlocked along the way. Squad Assault is a six player cooperative play mode against offline AI squads, but you can tackle it solo if you are inclined. Squads looks to have a great deal of flexibility to let new players try out all of the modes without a large barrier to entry.

To go along with the new modes of the game, there is also a new weapon class that bridges the gap between sniper and assault.  This group of weapons, entitled “Marksman”, grants the player weapons that are more midrange sniper class weapons but also feature solid close combat capabilities.

Speaking of snipers (since it’s relevant to my interests), the game now features dual-rendered scopes.  This change lets you keep your target in the glass while you engage your peripheral vision to watch the area around you.

Killstreaks, Strike Packages, and Riley

Since you are spending your points on equipment and perks, Infinity Ward has removed the costs from Killstreaks.  They’ve also eliminated Death Streaks from the game, which earned a resounding round of applause from the mixed crowd.  There are 20 new Killstreaks to earn, including Riley – the SEAL canine that can act as a guard dog.  He’ll growl when enemies are near, and rip the throat out of anyone that threatens you.

[singlepic id=12924 w=320 h=240 float=right]Strike Packages have been retooled, and I’m thankful for it.  Reducing the number of air-based packages and replacing them with ground based variants means that you will no longer have to constantly swat down UAVs and helicopters.  Players can also try to keep their SATCOM ground vehicles safe from the enemy to make them last longer – a new layer of strategy as it increases map awareness without being hands-free.

At preview events it is not often we spend a great deal of time on the audio in the game. Call of Duty: Ghosts, however, places a great deal of emphasis on audio, adding ADSR-based reverb, Locational Battle Chatter (“Hostile taking position in the courtyard”, “Enemies near the fountain!”, etc.), and “Reactive Emitters”.  Reactive Emitters are nodes in the environment that respond when damage occurs nearby, such as car alarms car alarms in response to nearby gunfights, glass shattering behind you when there is a concussive blast, or other environmental reactions to damage. The ADSR-based reverb is an amazing touch to the game, dampening, amplifying, or otherwise modifying the reverb based on your environment. For example, a gunshot inside of a small room with carpet reverberates far differently than it would inside of a steel cargo container. With a good surround sound system, you could easily echolocate your targets based on their sound. The best part is that all of this tech is also benefitting the current gen platforms.

Also announced at this event are two rather large commitments from Activision: E-Sports, and the Call of Duty Endowment.  We won’t get details until later this year, but we did find out that Call of Duty will host another COD Championship at some point in 2014. They also announced that they are now the exclusive FPS for the MLG pro circuit in 2014 as well.

[singlepic id=12925 w=320 h=240 float=left]To support the Call of Duty Endowment, an organization dedicated to helping veterans find work upon their return from Active Duty, you’ll be able to buy Limited Edition Dog Tags alongside Ghosts at launch. These dog tags will cost $4.99 and 100% of the profits go to the Endowment.

While you can read about the Collector’s Edition here, Activision and Infinity Ward did announce that you’ll be able to once again buy a season pass to Call of Duty Ghosts.  This will give you four map packs for a discounted price, but will also give you an exclusive “Team Leader Pack”, granting a special in-game multiplayer skin.  Also, you’ll be able to use this season pass on both current gen and next gen at no additional cost.

It would be easy to dismiss Ghosts as “yet another Call of Duty installment”, but that’d be a mistake. There are a great deal of new features in Ghosts. Here are just a few of the highlights:

  • 7 new game modes
  • 30 new weapons
  • 20,000+ customization options
  • New “Marksman” weapon class
  • All new cooperative mode
  • 60fps locked on all platforms
  • Dynamic map engagements
  • Gameplay-affecting rebuilt audio
  • Cross-generational season pass
  • 80% retooled multiplayer makes for all-new experiences

We will continue our coverage as we march towards the 11-5-13 launch date. Suffice it to say, after getting hands-on with Call of Duty Ghosts, I came away very impressed. While the FPS genre is typically my single-player bit of fun, I can completely see myself playing Ghosts for everything new it is bringing to the table. Well done, Infinity Ward….well done.

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