Killstreaks have also been revamped, with many of the more unbalancing airborne ones either gone or significantly limited in ability. The radar/UAV, which highlighted where enemies were on the mini-map, is a good example. It’s been replaced with SatCom, a portable radar dish that highlights only a portion of the map. It’s much easier to blow these up since they are ground-based and it’s also only possible to get a full map read if teammates work together to deploy the dishes around the level.
Similarly, some of the new air-based perks are much harder to handle. The Trinity Rocket, for example, is a lot like the Predator drone strike in previous games, except that it launches three missiles. Each successive launch, however, is lower to the ground and therefore harder to control. The Helo Scout killstreak, meanwhile, puts you into a helicopter above the battlefield armed with a sniper rifle. While that’s potentially really nasty, it’s amazingly hard to frame sniper shots from a moving chopper.
Put it all together and it amounts to combat that is much more ground- and skill-based, as opposed to the sprint toward lethal killstreaks of previous games. Usually, the first team that could launch a helicopter would end up the winner; with air killstreaks now reined in, games tend to be more open-ended.
There are also a number of new game modes, with a few of the most notable ones including Cranked, Infected and Hunted. In Cranked, you gain a new random perk for every enemy you kill and you get a speed boost to movement. The downside is you also get a countdown clock – if you don’t score another kill before it runs out, you blow up. It’s a hyper-frantic mode that guarantees there will be no campers, or the players who inevitably prove themselves the bane of Call of Duty games by waiting for opponents to happen by while sitting in one spot.
Infected, meanwhile, has been seen in other shooter games, but it’s no less exciting here. One player starts out as a fast-moving zombie, armed with only the barest of weapons – knives and pistols. Every opponent he or she jumps on is converted to his side until there’s no one left. It’s a fun change-up from the usual team deathmatch and domination modes.
Hunted similarly starts players off with basic weapons and further hinders them with very limited ammo. The only way to keep going is to continually pick up new arms from crates that are randomly dropped around the map. It’s another great mode for players who like to depend on the equalizing force of chance, rather than planning and skill.
If there’s one big downside to this year’s multiplayer tweaks, it’s the relatively glacial pace at which new weapons, attachments, perks and killstreaks are unlocked. Players earn squad points while playing that are then spent on all these items, but they come much too slowly. In one session, I played for two hours and barely unlocked anything new. It’s a big problem that Activision will hopefully fix somehow, perhaps through downloadable patches or a ratcheting up of experience points earned.
Rounding out Ghosts is Extinction, an entirely new co-operative mode that takes the franchise into new territory. Like the popular zombies co-op mode in the Black Ops games, Extinction has up to four players take on escalating waves of aliens. Players choose from four specialized classes – engineer, medic, weapon specialist and tank – and take turns escorting a drill around, which they use to destroy the aliens’ hatching pods.
It’s more enjoyable than zombies since there is considerably more variety, both in terms of the types of enemies and the differentiation in character classes. It’s actually as well done a horde mode as I’ve seen in a game. It also makes you wonder if Call of Duty could some day do a full-on science-fiction horror single-player campaign.
All told, Call of Duty: Ghosts is a strong entry in a series that is now 10 years old. It delivers much of what made its previous incarnations great, yet at the same time adds new efforts that successfully freshen up what should be a relatively long-in-the-tooth formula by now. Ghosts may not reach the new heights that say, the first Modern Warfare did in 2007, but it’s a worthy continuation that’s enough to get one excited about the franchise again.
The only question now is, what’s next – how about Call of Duty: Shark Ops?