Call of Duty: Ghosts hands on - avenging canine companions in CoD's refocused multiplayer

Rest in peace, Corporal Bitey. When I earned a five-kill killstreak in Call of Duty: Ghost's multiplayer mode, I wasn't expecting you as my reward. Black Ops lets you summon packs of alsatians when you bag enough kills, it's true, but Ghosts lets you summon a canine pal all of your own.

Guard dogs function like mobile melee attacks, capable of downing enemies in a single lunge, and growling when enemies come near – that makes them perfect for defending one of the control points in Domination mode. The map I'm playing on, Whiteout, is a mid-size killing field with a snowy village one side and a half sunk, half-ice encased warship on the other, with an undulating series of snowbanks and tunnels linking the two. It's an immaculate slice of CoD map design, in that it encourages lots of circulating movement around a map composed of three discrete battlezones, and that means it's much harder to guard a control point when you haven't got a furry friend like Corporal Bitey (yes, I named him myself) watching your back. Sadly, dogs aren't as adept at hiding behind cover as humans – as I discover when Corp gives away my position and gets us sniped.

Guard dogs are one part of the transition of killstreaks away from aerial match - matchwinners towards ground-based augmentations and tools. The UAV's been swapped out for the Satcom, for instance, a radar system you manually place and defend, while drones float behind enemy players who probably would have been summoning choppers in Modern Warfare 3. These are smart tweaks, retaining a sense of reward while scaling back the number of matches that end up won from the skies.

Still, Ghosts doesn't reject all the changes that have overwhelmed CoD in recent years. The maps I play on could still be tweaked, but my sense is that spawning tends towards Black Ops 2 and Modern Warfare 3's hyper aggressive, movementencouraging model rather than CoD4's relatively more static battle lines. The notion that Ghosts opts for a fast-pace seems even more convincing when you consider that a new mode, Blitz, is effectively Capture The Flag curtailed. In Blitz, you score simply by running onto a capture point, which then teleports you back to base. It makes reckless banzai charges a valid strategy, and feels like CTF for gamers with minute attention spans.

Despite the post-apocalyptic themes, this isn't CoD stripped down. It's CoD refocused. Ghosts multiplayer hasn't quite abandoned half a decade of increasingly powerful killstreaks and ramped up pacing, but it does seem to have rediscovered its sense that combat should be about the men, and now women, on the ground. And, of course, their faithful hounds.

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