What we want from Call of Duty: Ghosts
Article by Craig Owens
Since 2007's Modern Warfare, Activision hasn't missed a single annual update to the COD franchise. And it seems the publisher isn't about to let a little thing like a new generation of console hardware slow it down. This week's Xbox One announcement saw Call Of Duty: Ghosts finally break cover, and we happen to think that a new franchise from Infinity Ward is the perfect time to try out some new ideas...
Slow down the multiplayer
Remember Ambush? It was a medium sized map neatly divided by a dirt road, where the shattered remains of a convey provided just enough cover to risk pushing out into the middle of the map. Multiplayer matches in Modern Warfare would start with both teams clashing on this dirt track - tossing grenades over the bombed out tanks, sheltering in the buildings either side of the road, picking off the foolhardy members of the opposition who dared to dash across. But In time, the balance would tip, the frontline would shift and one team would push the other back, until they were bound up tightly in one corner of the map.
That wouldn’t happen now. CoD’s gradual overpowering of Killstreak rewards has made it too easy to punch gaping holes in the other side’s defences with air support, and that, in turn, has led to scrappier team-based games where the ebb-and-flow of battle is much harder to control and predict. The spawns haven’t helped in this respect. Modern Warfare 3 and Black Ops 2 are so anxious to keep battles moving that they seem to actively delight in dropping recently killed players just behind enemy lines. The result is frenetic and fast paced, but it feels messy and haphazard, too - you end up doing circuits of maps like a long distance runner desperately trying to escape an SMG wielding mob. We're not after a mode as deliberate as Battlefield's Rush - COD's more immediate than that - but restoring some of COD4's or Black Ops' slower pace would be nice.
So, what we'd like to see first in multiplayer is less aggressive spawning. Letting teams entrench doesn't have to be a bad thing, especially if one side's superior position has been well-earned. And also, rein in the killstreak rewards, please. Ghosts apparently takes place in a future where an unspecified catastrophe has crippled America's military might, so we’ll scream "ludonarrative dissonance" very loudly if every team has an AC-130 on call.
Open out the maps
When Treyarch announced that the Nuketown 24/7 playlist wasn't a permanent fixture of Black Ops 2's multiplayer offering we were devastated. Not because we like playing Nuketown and its Black Ops 2 incarnation, Nuketown 2025. We just like the idea of all the people who do being digitally ghettoised in single, convenient place. Nuketown and its Call Of Duty 4 cousin Shipment are COD map design at its utter nadir. Cramped, messy and therefore utterly indifferent to the tactical breadth and flexibility that the game's customisation options present you: you really don't want to bring a sniper rifle to those parties.
And yet they're popular! And that's probably why Call Of Duty's maps have shrunk over time: Treyarch and Infinity Ward are catering to those who enjoy smaller maps and the style of play they encourage. That style of play is fine if you've got quick reflexes and like to keep moving, but it leaves out people who like to try and hold down a corner of the map, or those who prefer lying in wait with a long range weapon over a shortlived firefight. A common complaint levelled at Black Ops 2 is that its SMGs are overpowered. Perhaps this is the case, but if its maps were roomier then people would rely on them and their relatively quick ADS-time much less in the first place.
We'd like Ghosts to take cues from COD4's Overgrown and Pipeline: classic maps that gave players room to manoeuvre, plan, and try out different playstyles. The great thing about maps like these is that different parts of the arena can be optimised for different approaches: Pipeline's tunnels were perfect for twitchy shotgun play while snipers could lie in wait outside. So everybody - attention-span lacking run n' gunners and cowardly campers - was happy.
Take some singleplayer risks
Black Ops 2 got away with weird, realtime strategy sections, a branching storyline, and a handful of non-linear levels. So really, Infinity Ward has no excuse not to try something original. They invented Call Of Duty, after all, and now these upstarts are the ones coming up with new ideas? So far, the most revolutionary thing IW has shown is a dog.
Structurally, IW has already confirmed that this is still a linear shooter with a few more open levels. So let's be realistic in our requests. Rather than scripted, Simon-says stealth sections followed by scripted sieges and scripted chase sequences, why not put these supposedly more open stages to good use? In Crysis 2 and 3, Crytek's sandboxy "combat bowls" were a disappointment, but in Call Of Duty they'd be a revelation. The CoD games often hand the player some interesting toys: it'd be fun if we got some say in how we used them.
Our other suggestions are directly inspired by Infinity Ward's own trailer, so they've only got themselves to blame. "We're All We've Got" is the trailer's touchingly earnest tagline, reflecting the idea that in this universe American military might has been reduced so significantly that the team must rely even more on one another. So how about some basic squad mechanics, Infinity Ward? The ability to direct and position team members would be genuinely useful on higher difficulties.
Then, there's this whole "Ghosts" issue. We've already had Black Ops, a series named for covert stealth missions, devolve into all-out war by the end of the second game, but if the trailers claim that "soldiers stand against their enemies, but ghosts haunt them" is going to have any meaning whatsoever, then this game needs improved stealth mechanics. We want to hunt these villains, Infinity Ward, not just crawl after another team member with the word "Follow" hovering above their head.
Tell a better story
Infinity Ward, you better not be pinning all your hopes on the dog. We'll admit it's rather touching to see you gush like judges at Crufts over your new creation, and, to be fair, the dog's actually a pretty good idea. In a series stuffed with gruff, taciturn military men there's nothing like the presence of man's loyal, trusting and fearless best friend to add a bit schmaltzy drama. But still, a lack of dogs is far from previous COD games only problem with story.
The irony of Call Of Duty is that it's pretty good at storytelling - in a scripted rollercoaster sort of way - yet the stories it tells are utter bobbins. Modern Warfare started off as a farfetched but reasonably plausible extrapolation of current day conflict, before morphing into ridiculous Red Dawn-inspired conspiracy for MW2, and devolving into self-involved mythologising for 3. As for Black Ops 2, well, David S. Goyer struggles with third acts when it comes to entirely linear stories, so that didn’t have much of chance.
For Ghosts, we’d really like to see Call Of Duty exercise some restraint. Focus on the team, not some globe-threatening conflict. That said, the hiring of Traffic scribe Stephen Gaghan is a fascinating choice, not least because his more recent work, 2005’s Syriana, was precisely the kind of nuanced breakdown of the complexities and moral grey areas of American foreign policy and comtemporary geopolitics that COD games are, um, not. Ghosts’ premise - that the US wields only a fraction of its former might - provides a perfect excuse to both reduce the scale of the game while also cleverly inverting, and perhaps commenting on, the political status quo today.
And oh yes: please don't kill the dog.