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Hands on: ‘CoD: Ghosts’ multiplayer feels polished, but frantically familiar

Infinity Ward might have perfected Call of Duty’s progression-driven hook in the first Modern Warfare game, but the series earned a reputation for smooth, blazingly fast competitive multiplayer even before then with the earlier World War II-set games. Call of Duty: Ghosts seems to carry the speedy dynamic forward with tweaks to the core experience that focus on upping the fun factor without sacrificing any of the accessibility. The community… well, that’s another story.

Our first hands-on with the multiplayer immediately felt familiar. This is a refined experience, but not a fundamentally different one. There are new modes, updates to the class creation, and some small user interface tweaks, but the moment-to-moment feel is still built around keeping your attention locked firmly in the moment.


Your new objectives. We learned from the initial reveal that Ghosts brings in a number of new multiplayer modes, and two of them were on offer for extensive play. There was actually a third one as well, but it was removed from the playlists early in the day and we were politely asked to avoid talking about it until the formal reveal at Gamescom, so check back with us next week.

The changes are small yet numerous; they add up quickly, and together they go a long way toward speeding up the flow of the play…

“Search and Rescue” flips up “Search and Destroy” gameplay by allowing downed players to spawn back in if a teammate manages to collect dogtags that drop near their body. The rules are otherwise the same: an attacking team attempts to plant and defend a bomb at one of two locations that the other team must defend. Search and Destroy is still in Ghosts too, just to be clear.

Having the possibility of spawning back in makes Search and Rescue a much friendlier option to newer players. The respawns also encourage teams to stick together, which is something they should be doing anyway in Search and Destroy. One strategy that quickly became popular over the course of the sessions involved downing an opposing team member and then camping the dropped tag in the hopes of luring in others. These matches tend to last a bit longer than Search and Destroy typically does, but semi-frequent respawns make for more intense action.

The other new mode, “Cranked,” is an attempt to speed up Team Deathmatch. The pressure to advance and seek out enemy forces becomes palpable as soon as that 30-second countdown timer appears after your first kill in a given spawn. This is not a mode for campers. Thirty seconds is actually a generous amount of time; the key is to not let the clock distract you. In many ways, Cranked feels very much like your standard Team Deathmatch showdown. You’ve just got to make sure to stay active; the opposing team sure will. Campers gonna camp, always. Now they’ll just explode as penance for their camping ways.

Call of Duty Ghosts Multiplayer screenshot Maniac Blindside

Your soldier’s story. Create-a-Class is gone, replaced with Create-a-Soldier. In addition to tailoring loadouts to suit your play style, there’s now the option of customizing the look of your avatar. These purely cosmetic enhancements break into seven categories: gender, head, headgear, uniform, patch, background, and clan tag. The goal of giving players a deeper sense of investment in their soldier seems to have been realized. 

Loadouts were restricted for the reveal, but we did get a peek at the new perk tree. Call of Duty’s passive buffs now break down into seven categories of their own: speed, handling, stealth, awareness, resistance, equipment, and elite. Instead of choosing just one per category, all perks are now assigned a point value, ostensibly based on how useful each one is. You’ve got a pool of points to work with and allocate toward whatever you’d like. Most perks were blocked from view for the reveal, but in the final release you’ll be able to sacrifice things like primary/secondary weapons and grenades in exchange for more points to use. 


Perk up. There are five perks in each of the seven categories – Speed, Handling, Stealth, Awareness, Resistance, Equipment, and Elite – for a total of 35. That’s significantly more than we’ve seen in previous games, so there are obviously some new ones. Many were locked away and hidden from view, but we put together a list of the new ones that we tried or were told about.

  • Takedown – Killing an enemy doesn’t reveal the location of that kill – which normally shows up as a skull icon – to the opposing team. 
  • Fully Loaded – Start each spawn with max ammo for your weapons.
  • Tac Resist – Improved resistance to stun, flash, and EMP grenades.
  • Blast Shield – Improved resistance to explosions.
  • Wiretap – Boosts the effectiveness of your SatComs (Ghosts‘ new ground-based UAV) by drawing power from enemy SatComs.
  • Agility – Movement speed increased.
  • Strong Arm – All grenades can be thrown further and have shorter cook times.
  • On the Go – You’re able to reload while sprinting.
  • Ping – Every kill you score sends out a sonar ping that highlights nearby enemies on your minimap.
  • Deadeye – The most expensive new perk, worth five points. With this one, your weapon damage increases with every kill you score in a single life.
  • Gambler – You receive a randomly chosen perk every time you spawn in.

Contextual mobility. Infinity Ward once again passes on the beloved dolphin dive from Treyarch’s Call of Duty games, but Ghosts gives your soldier some other new moves. Switching from sprint to crouch triggers a short knees slides, for one. You’ll also now automatically lean left and right if you aim down the sights while taking cover near a corner. Vaulting animations are also smoother, especially when you’re using lighter loadouts. Players armed with SMGs suffer almost no movement penalty as they leap past a knee-high obstacle.

Call of Duty Ghosts Multiplayer screenshot Octane Environment

The changing battlefield. Ghosts introduces a number of dynamic events into multiplayer matches. The most obvious are the destructible bits, such as the collapsing gas station that was shown off in the reveal footage. There’s also a new feature called Field Orders. We’re not clear on how they spawn initially, but sometimes you’ll notice that a downed enemy leaves behind a glowing blue suitcase icon. Collect it and a random objective pops up for you to complete, anything from scoring a kill while prone to landing a headshot to taking out two enemies with a scavenged weapon. Complete the objective and you earn yourself a free Care Package.

The action is as familiar as ever, with tight controls and satisfyingly chunky weapons.

Expanded strike packages. Infinity Ward brings back Strike Packages for killstreak rewards from Modern Warfare 3. Structurally they are unchanged; Assault bonuses can only be earned in the space of a single spawn and Support bonuses build up over time, regardless of how much you’re dying. The Specialist package returns as well, but it was locked off for the reveal play.

We got a peek at a few of the new streak rewards. Just like the new perks, read on for a rundown:

  • SatCom – Ghosts’ new take on the UAV is the SatCom. Unlike the aerial support vehicle of previous games, the SatCom is a small object that you place on the ground. It’s roughly the size of a Trophy System and it is similar in function to the UAV, only with a shorter range. It is vulnerable to melee attacks; one knife strike takes out a SatCom. The trick is finding a safe place to tuck it away. This one is available in both the Assault and Support packages.
  • Night Owl – A small, spherical aerial drone that follows you around and automatically seeks out an approaching enemy. Once it gets close enough, it explodes. Close-quarters defense, a low-end Support bonus.
  • MAAWS – You might have spotted this free-fire rocket launcher in action in the Ghosts multiplayer trailer. This one fires a rocket that splits in half, with both projectiles veering off in opposite directions and then converging on your target. The trick to using a MAAWS is its laser emitter; you can “paint” a target and guide the rockets in to their destination, so long as you keep the designator in place. This is one of the mid-range Support package bonuses.
  • Guard Dog – Riley! The Guard Dog is a mid-level Assault package bonus that calls in Ghosts‘ faithful German Shepard to follow you around and attack nearby enemies. He’s vulnerable to enemy fire, but he’ll live on and keep attacking  enemies even if you’re downed. He’ll then seek you out and squad up again once you respawn. Riley also growls whenever enemies approach, so be sure to listen to your fluffy, homicidal puppy friend.
  • Maniac – This high-level Assault package bonus outfits you in an armored juggernaut suit. Unlike the armor in Modern Warfare 3, Maniac speeds you up considerably. There’s a tradeoff, however: as long as you wear the suit, your guns aren’t available. So you basically turn into a speedy, armored, stabby maniac.
  • Satellite Crash – It’s not exactly clear what this one does; it was earned as a Field Orders prize, but there was no description in the loadout menu. Common sense suggests that it bring down any enemy SatComs that might be placed on the battlefield.
  • K.E.M. Orbital Strike – Another Field Orders prize. We know what this one does though. It kills everything. Call in the strike and a bright flash whites out the screen as everything slows down momentarily. Then you get a flood of points from all the kills you score. It’s not the match-ending monstrosity that was Modern Warfare 2‘s Nuke, but it’s definitely not something you want to be on the receiving end of.


A new field of battle. The reveal event offered a look at three of Ghosts‘ maps: Octane, Strikezone, and Whiteout. All three offer elaborate, asymmetrical layouts, but that’s where the similarities cease. The largest of the maps, Whiteout, feels considerably bigger than the maps of the previous games, but that impression may be more tied to a lack of familiarity with the environments. 

Octane is set in a blown-out desert town filled with rubble, wrecked vehicles, and crumbling buildings. There’s a centrally located gas station that can be blown up and collapsed, as well as a number of elevated sniper roosts. Strikezone is the smallest map of the three, with battles unfolding in the halls and courtyards of a small baseball stadium. You can’t get near the field, but there are open spaces in the rubble-filled outdoor spaces that connect to food stand-lined corridors. Whiteout is the obligatory snow map, a sprawling landscape filled with hills, trenches, and buildings.

Using the interface. The Call of Duty user interface is subject to a handful of tweaks in Ghosts. The most immediately noticeable change is a larger on screen minimap; it’s more zoomed out and it offers a wider, rectangular view of the landscape (compared to the square-shaped minimap of previous games). The in-match leaderboard is also slightly different; pressing the Back/Select button still calls up the team listing, but the overlay now appears in the top-right corner instead of blocking the center of the screen, as it used to. Small yet meaningful adjustments for regular COD players.


Overall, Infinity Ward’s first look at Call of Duty: Ghosts‘ multiplayer shows a lot of promise. The action is as familiar as ever, with tight controls and satisfyingly chunky weapons. The changes are small yet numerous; they add up quickly, and together they go a long way toward speeding up the flow of the play and your sense of investment in it. We look forward to seeing more with the coming Gamescom reveals and whatever else follows in the run-up to the November 2013 launch. 

(Images and video © Activision Publishing, Inc. All rights reserved.)

Former Digital Trends Contributor
Previously, Adam worked in the games press as a freelance writer and critic for a range of outlets, including Digital Trends, Joystiq, G4, Official Xbox Magazine, MTV News, and Rolling Stone.

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