The start of a new console generation is the perfect time to lay out the foundations for how you want your franchise to grow. To show off all the things that you can only do with the improved specs of the machines and to really innovate with your game. So has Call of Duty: Ghosts shown this? In short, no.
The problem with CoD has always been that it seems reluctant to innovate since Modern Warfare. Yes we’ve had small improvements, and Black Ops 2‘s Pick 10 system was one of the best, but it often seems like they are adding new features for the sake of it, rather than because they think it will improve the game. Yet again we saw evidence of this at Gamescom.
The studio have decided against creating a new engine for the next-generation, rather deciding to upgrade parts of the existing one. One the face of it it seems like a smart decision, after all it has proven to be one of the most reliable engines on current gen consoles. The problem becomes apparent soon after you see the game though. We saw it running, and played some multi-player, on Xbox One and while the graphical changes were noticable, it wasn’t a huge leap forward.
Again you can see this elsewhere. The game handles exactly as you would expect it to but the changes to movement have been relatively minor. Your character can now mantle objects a la Battlefield 3 and they’ve introduced a “contextual leaning” system. It’s the name they’ve given to the ability for your character to peer round walls. We wonder how well this will work with the fast paced nature of the multi-player – more of this in a moment.
Whilst we were waiting in the queue for the hands on, Activision had created a series of rooms that would show you some demos of the game in action. One of these included the mission where you infiltrate a skyscraper by breaking through the windows. Once you’ve completed your objective, you and your companion have to run to escape but here we have one of CoD‘s peculiarities. Instead of turning a corner in a natural manner, your companion runs forward, stops for half a second to make a 90 degrees left turn and then runs on again. It’s as if the characters can only run in linear sequences. Once we noticed this we realized that it’s happened in every CoD game but it becomes so much more noticeable on next-gen. The worst thing was that people were laughing at this. The stern faced CoD machine has become laughable.
Instead of looking at these problems, Infinity Ward have decided to change the way your character looks around corners and the audio system. Whilst it is true that the sounds now become more dynamic to the environment that you’re in we wonder how much this will impact the player. The changes are meant to make the world more immersive for the player, but if your character can only run in straight lines then no manner of realistic gunshots will immerse the player in the world.
Now we move on to the multi-player, surely the reason that most people play the game. Two new games modes have been added, Cranked and Blitz. In Cranked, once you kill an enemy you gain faster movement, reload and melee skills – but only for 30 seconds. If you don’t get a kill in that time then you explode. Exactly the environment in which the contextual leaning system will come to the fore? Blitz is even more anachronistic with both teams defending a magic portal. If you enter the portal you cross to the other side of the map and gain a point for your team, though the enemy can do the same to score against you.
Our hands-on featured a game of Blitz and we have to say we can’t see it becoming as popular as the current game modes. Yes CoD has always been over-the-top with it’s game modes but you could at least see how it fitted in with a realistic setting. Cranked and Blitz seem like they have forgotten what they’ve done before and just added two modes that they liked the sound of, no matter how they fitted into the game as a whole. Another case of innovation for innovation sake?
Speaking of needless changes, Treyarch’s Pick 10 system is back. Well in a manner of speaking it is anyway. Infinity Ward have taken the concept and applied their own spin to it, and by that we mean that they’ve made it far too confusing. Instead of each weapon, attachment and perk costing one point, each item has it’s own cost. Attachment cost nothing and perks can costs between one and three points, with a total of eight to spend. Unless you go without attachment in which case you can have 11 point to spend. No, we don’t understand how it adds up either but we do know they’ve confused what was a wonderfully simple system. Oh and all weapons attachment and perks are there from the start but you have to buy them as you did in Modern Warfare 3.
With all this comes the promise of real-time destruction. Finally we can use the environment as a weapon, or to get us some advantage. Unfortunately these points are static within the map – a petrol station that can be destoyed, a wall that can be blown up – rather than the real-time destruction that we had been hoping for. Infinity Ward also promise that there will be one point on each map in which you can drastically alter the landscape, forcing everyone to adapt as they go. It must be said we didn’t see any evidence of this, but if it comes through then it might just be enough to justify having it in there.
There is, however, a light at the end of the tunnel. Also included in multi-player is Squads mode. You have 10 soldiers in your squad and each can be customized to a far greater extent than ever before including having female soldiers. Each soldier can be prestiged individually, meaning you still have your 10 prestige limit. What is novel though is that you can then play with your squad either online against another person and their squad, or offline against AI bots controlling the squad. Infinity Ward have promised that these bots will play like real players, though it remains to be seen if this will be in the same way as Forza.
The addition of Squads means that you can avoid having to play against the obscenity ridden community online, but still get to enjoy all the game modes. Or you could simply use it as a way to level up before you jump into the main fight, with the mode contributing towards your stats. Finally then we do have an innovation that we can enjoy.
It may seem harsh to criticize a game that plays exactly like you expect it to, but we had a deep wish that Infinity Ward would come out with something that would surprise us and give us a reason why we must play their game again. Unfortunately it seems a case of tinkering with systems and additions that are there for the sake of it. This is CoD and you will know exactly how it plays before you even get the game. For some, it may be a comfort that the next-gen will have something you can get straight into without having to learn new rules. For us it’s an opportunity missed, a chance for Infinity Ward to show us what the next-gen can really do that they just haven’t grasped. It will be a huge game, and it will sell millions, we just wanted more of a risk.