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Call of Duty: Ghosts multiplayer preview

Monday 21 Oct 2013 12:09 p.m.

Ghosts is the most important Call of Duty release since Modern Warfare.

Not only is it the first in the franchise to be released on next-gen consoles, it's coming out just a few months after Grand Theft Auto V's phenomenal success, breaking many of the sales records Call of Duty won before it.

Publisher Activision doesn't want the massive popularity of their first-person shooter juggernaut to wane, and recently I got my hands on the all-important multiplayer mode of Ghosts to see just how they intend to stay on top.

The multiplayer reveal session started, oddly enough, with a single-player segment. This wasn't disappointing for me at all as it looked fantastic on a huge screen and unlike many critics, I've always enjoyed Call of Duty single-player campaigns.

Call of Duty: Ghosts screenshot

The Ghosts segment previewed took place in space around the International Space Station and its nearby satellite super weapon thingee called "ODIN".  Detractors may call it a silly "on-rails" segment, but these over-the-top, Michael Bay-esque sequences are something Call of Duty fans love.

Some baddies from 'the Federation' break some treaty by assaulting the space station early in the mission, which leads to some really fantastic-looking action. It's not quite on the level of the film Gravity, but it has a similar vibe to it, with a lot of cool zero-gravity effects including blood and explosions.

The ODIN super weapon starts targeting major US cities and after shooting a few baddies you've got to frantically try and stop it to save the world, or at least the most important part of it (North America)... it's a classic, epic Call of Duty set piece.

The Activision representative at the demo said of the single-player campaign that they're trying to get players more emotionally invested in this one. So we'll play as one character throughout the game, rather than jumping around a few of them. The other main characters are closely related to the protagonist - his brother and his dog - to try and make us care about them.

Call of Duty: Ghosts screenshot

It's also going to be different to previous COD games in that the United States is an underdog, not a superpower, in it.

I'm not sure about how all that will play, but the ODIN segment was awesome. Now what about multiplayer?

Unsurprisingly, it's great. COD multiplayer has been the most popular of its type for several years for a very good reason - it has hit on a formula for multiplayer first-person shooter action that the masses like the best. Ghosts has a few new bells and whistles, but essentially retains that COD feel that is sure to keep fans playing it.

Developers Infinity Ward have built a new game engine for Ghosts, one that will take advantage of the power of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. I played the multiplayer preview on PCs that were at Xbox One specs, with Xbox One controllers. Despite the graphics, animations, and physics upgrades, I was much more blown away by how Battlefield 4 next-gen multiplayer looked than Ghosts.

There's definitely big improvements been made Call of Duty multiplayer and it looked far superior to Black Ops II, and aesthetics aren't as important as gameplay, but in terms of that 'wow' factor that is coming from the beauty of a lot of next-gen titles, the preview code I saw of Ghosts wasn't that amazing. But boy, I really do love those Xbox One controllers.

The new mode 'Cranked' is a bit like the Chaos mode of Spec Ops in Modern Warfare 3. It's super fast-paced, high-octane arcade-style shooter fun - probably the exact sort of thing Call of Duty detractors will hate, and fans will adore.

Call of Duty: Ghosts screenshot

In Cranked, after you kill an enemy, a timer is triggered and you will be killed if you don't kill again before the timer reaches zero. You also get an increase in speed, allowing dashing around the map at breakneck pace. It's a lot of fun, although team tactics are completely out the window with this one, at the preview session at least.

The other new mode I played was called 'Blitz'. This mode is very similar to Capture the Flag, except instead of a flag there is a portal that transports you back to your home base while awarding a point to your team. After a player goes through the portal it closes for a short period, to stop a whole team rushing through at once.

Tactics were much more important in this mode as it's crucial for at least two teammates to stay behind and defend the portal. I'm really interested in playing this a bit more to see how it works in a more competitive setting than the preview session, and to experience the thrill of that mad, desperate dash to the portal that'll take my team to victory. Should be pretty cool.

Playing with the new killstreak rewards is always one of my favourite aspects of a new Call of Duty. Despite Ghosts having what looks to be more killstreak options than ever before, the preview session had almost all of them locked off. Like Modern Warfare 3, the rewards are split into three streams - Assault, Support and Specialist.

The killstreak rewards I got to play with included a satcom, which is like a UAV in previous games except instead of being an aircraft, it's a unit placed on the ground that can be destroyed pretty easily. I also used a Night Owl, a bit like a trophy system defence unit from Black Ops II that flies around above you, a MAAWS Launcher which was basically a massive rocket launcher, Maniac, which was a juggernaut with a knife and Guard Dog.

The dog one was the most interesting. It acts as a self defence unit, warning of nearby enemies, attacking ones that get real close and also avenging your death. It's not quite as powerful as that may make it sound, but it does make a cool addition.

Call of Duty: Ghosts screenshot

The perk system is really quite different, with seven categories of perks instead of the classic three-tier system. You are assigned eight points, more if you sacrifice your secondary weapon or equipment, to spend on perks that cost one to five each. Each of the seven categories - Speed, Handling, Stealth, Awareness, Resistance, Equipment and Elite - have five perks apiece, and you can spend your perk points across those however you like.

In the demo I played, only a very small select few perks were available, so I can't comment on them much. But the way you can mix it up more than ever before is exciting and should allow for a lot of variety in play-styles.

Deathstreaks aren't coming back and neither are the much-maligned Second Chance or Martyrdom features that came with them.

Customising your multiplayer character is a feature that should've been part of Call of Duty multiplayer for years but hasn't been. It's nice that you're able to play as a female if you like now too, and hearing female grunts and cries during matches hammered home just what sausage parties the previous games have been.

A really exciting addition to Ghosts that I didn't get to try out is the Squads mode. This is replacing Spec Ops and basically adds bots that learn to replicate specific human play-styles. A lot of exciting prospects come with Squads mode. I'm very keen to take on one of my friends, each of us supported by a team of five bots we've trained ourselves, for example.  It's a lot cooler than a simple 1v1 deathmatch.

I recently played some Battlefield 4 multiplayer and was blown away by it. In a lot of ways, that title is preferable to Ghosts, although I'll definitely be getting both games rather than choosing between them. And in saying that, Battlefield 3 was a better title than both Modern Warfare 3 and Black Ops II in many ways.

But it wasn't as fun.

Call of Duty: Ghosts screenshot

For me and millions of other Call of Duty fans around the world, there is a unique buzz that comes from COD multiplayer that simply cannot be matched by other games. Yes, other titles look prettier, sound cooler, are more realistic, encourage better team tactics play, have more desirable features... but none of them feel like Call of Duty.

Ghosts very definitely feels like Call of Duty. The new engine makes a number of improvements to the game, but doesn't take away from that classic, frenetic fun that has made the franchise so beloved.

With a huge amount of the world's gaming population playing Grand Theft Auto Online, a very impressive new Battlefield game launching before and the hugely exciting Titanfall coming a few months later, the new Call of Duty has some stiff competition.

By focussing tightly on what they do best and improving upon it, however, I'm confident the legions of Call of Duty fans will be finely satiated with Ghosts and that the king of the first-person shooter genre isn't stepping down any time soon.

Call of Duty: Ghosts is scheduled for a New Zealand release on the PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, PC and Wii U on November 5, Xbox One on November 22 and PlayStation 4 on November 29.

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