Tag Archive: infinity ward


There was a lot of pressure on developer Infinity Ward leading up to this latest Call of Duty. Not only was the studio coming off of what was probably their worst-received game in Ghosts, but this was their first time on the new Call of Duty three-year development cycle—meaning many were expecting the team to pull out all the stops, even more so than usual. This wasn’t necessarily an easy task that could just be solved with more time, however, especially with the fact that Sledgehammer and Treyarch have continued to raise the bar for the series over the past couple of years. Even with taking all that into consideration, it can’t be denied that it seems like Infinity Ward has lost its touch, as Infinite Warfare marks another down year for Call of Duty.

Set off in a distant, yet unspecified time in the future, humanity has become split into two factions. The United Nations Space Alliance, made up of the nations on Earth, looks to peacefully explore and colonize the cosmos. The Settlement Defense Front, a group of radicals who make their home on Mars and look to consolidate the galaxy under an iron fist, was a militant faction within the UNSA that broke away in the early days of space exploration. Our solar system is now split between the two, with a flimsy peace treaty keeping everything in balance. At least, until the SDF declares war and attacks the UNSA in Geneva during Fleet Week. Now, a rag tag group of remaining soldiers must rally around Captain Nick Reyes, bring the fight to the SDF, and turn the tide of this new war back in Earth’s favor.

I understand that a large section of the Call of Duty community will likely jump right into the multiplayer and never leave it when Infinite Warfare drops. But for those who will look to play the campaign, at least once, it will be hard not to come away disappointed. Almost everything about the story itself, and some of the new gameplay revolving around space combat, left a sour taste in my mouth.

Admittedly, some of the space sequences are quite good. There are times where you’ll be floating through the void and have to use an asteroid field to sneak up to a capital ship and infiltrate it, or need to use your grappling hook to work your way to space debris as you’re pinned down with few options due to limited cover—all while enemy soldiers swarm your position in zero-g. There are other times, though, where you’ll be absolutely lost as to where you have to go or what your goal is. In those moments you feel completely helpless, dying for a piece of dialogue, cutscene, or new objective marker to guide you since you could theoretically just float off in any direction aimlessly otherwise.

Then there are the sequences where you pilot a Jackal, Call of Duty’s version of a space snubfighter. You’ll have flares, missiles, machine guns, and other armaments that you can customize your own personal Jackal with. You’ll soar into dogfights and fly around space arenas completely off rails, which can also be great fun at times.

Unfortunately, I grew up on games like Wing Commander, X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter, and the Rogue Squadron series, and while Infinite Warfare gets close to giving me the sort of space flight sim experience I’m always looking for, it never quite lives up to where I needed it to be. Part of that has to do with the fact that the Jackal can turn on a dime, or hover and strafe—almost like a VTOL aircraft—and then switch instantly back into dogfight mode. I understand this was to minimize the learning curve for people and make it feel like it does when you’re running around on foot, but that’s not the experience I want when getting into any sort of airborne vehicle in a game; I want it to feel like I’m flying a damn plane.

In regards to the length of the campaign, a frequent point of contention for Call of Duty titles, if you don’t do any of the optional side missions—which you select by looking at a Mass Effect-esque map and plotting your space course from the bridge of your ship—it’s probably the shortest offering from any Call of Duty yet. You could likely buzz through the experience in about three hours if you pushed it. But you’ll probably want to rush because Infinite Warfare has one of the worst-written narratives I’ve had to suffer through in quite some time.

Sure, it has its moments, but most of the dialogue is throwaway at best—and due to the short length of actual story-driven events, every character’s arc is rushed to an uncomfortable degree. For example, Staff Sergeant Omar is introduced as a hard-edged Marine who is a bit of a Luddite; he hates robots, and is particularly uncomfortable when Ethan, a fully autonomous robot soldier, joins the group. At least, for the first mission you all take together. By the time you’re ready for the next mission, suddenly Omar loves robots! Ethan is his best friend! The player never sees why this change of heart happens, but we’re just expected to swallow this pill that Omar and Ethan worked things out over lunch or something, as if someone whose beliefs are clearly deeply ingrained in them has had a change of heart over a sandwich and a soda.

The weakest aspect for Infinite Warfare’s story, however, is the villain: Rear Admiral Salen Kotch. I don’t know why Call of Duty can’t produce even passable villains anymore, nevermind good ones. Maybe part of it was Kit Harington’s lifeless acting. Or, maybe, the fact that he—like Omar and every other major character in the story that isn’t the player character, Nick Reyes—really doesn’t have any sort of progression or arc. What a coincidence that the co-lead writer for the game, Brian Bloom, was also the actor for the only character that had any depth in the game. The fact of the matter is, I didn’t like or dislike Kotch as a villain—he was just there. Like a painting hung up in a dentist’s office, he felt completely inconsequential to everything going on around me, and that’s the worst thing you could want from your primary antagonist.

If, somehow, you can look past all this, there are small positives to take away from the campaign. Even with the space setting and combat continuing the general trend of pushing Call of Duty more towards the science fiction realm and making it less relatable to its audience, the game still plays well when its just boots on the ground and you’re running around the beautiful surfaces of far-off worlds. The new futuristic weaponry walk a fine line between the guns of today and how technology might evolve them into the combat tools of tomorrow. You can also fully customize your loadout before each mission, and unlock new items by finding hidden armories around each world you explore. Several other additions—like the aforementioned side missions, and stealth sections—offer up some nice variety when you’re playing, and compliment the ever-present bombastic action sequences we expect from Call of Duty and still receive here in abundance. The side missions, as repetitive as some of them can become, do extend the experience to nearly eight hours if you do all of them. It’s never a good sign, though, when the meat of your single-player mode is found in optional objectives.

There is also replayability in that beating the game unlocks YOLO mode (where, like the acronym suggests, you only live once) and Specialist mode (where your equipment and body can take damage on missions, affecting things like your movement speed or aim stability if you’re not careful). There is also a theme to Infinite Warfare that I, for one, appreciated: a soldier’s duty and the difficulties that arise from it. Of course, like everything else, it loses some of the punch of its potentially powerfully impact because the short narrative ends up seeing you beaten over the head with it in the last hour or so of game time. Maybe that’s Infinite Warfare’s true theme: a lack of tact and storytelling finesse makes potentially good stories suffer.

While this campaign holds the franchise back in some ways, the multiplayer likewise lifts it up. Call of Duty has always been one of my favorite multiplayer experiences out there, and Infinite Warfare at least lives up to the series’ legacy here. Smaller maps lead to faster confrontations and less camping as a whole, really pushing you to take full advantage of the wall running and double jumping mobility afforded to you. Infinity Ward utilized Treyarch’s Pick-10 system this go around, and it lends itself to a much more balanced experience overall. They also built on Treyarch’s Specialists and created Rigs, Call of Duty’s first true class system. Unlike classes in other games, Infinite Warfare still allows players to completely customize the loadout via the aforementioned Pick-10 system. What Rigs do instead is offer three options for Payloads and Traits, abilities that can change the battlefield when they charge up, or passive ones that make you a more effective killing machine.

For example, the Merc Rig has a Payload called Bull Charge, which lets you pull out a Riot Shield and charge at your enemies, delivering instant kills to anyone caught in your path. Or, you could take Steel Dragon into battle, which gives you a powerful beam weapon that can incinerate enemies from afar. With Traits like Man-At-Arms that make this heavy class move faster, or Infusion that boosts your health regeneration speed, you can mix and match to best suit your play style and the mode you’re playing. That’s just one of the six Rigs available, and not even all of the Merc’s options—experimenting in different scenarios adds a whole new level of fun and customization to this year’s multiplayer.

Multiplayer also adds two new modes this year, but I only really enjoyed one of them. Defender is a spin-off of Uplink, but instead of trying to throw a data node through a hoop somewhere on the map, the player holding the node has to run around defenseless for a minute until the node resets, or they are gunned down and the ball can be picked up by someone else. The first team to collectively hold a node for five minutes wins the game. It’s a neat little take on a Guardian-style multiplayer mode, and especially on some of Infinite Warfare’s smaller maps, can be a hectic back-and-forth that pushes your traversal abilities to the max while requiring some epic teamwork to truly succeed.

The other mode, Frontline, is a take on Team Deathmatch, but with each team having a single locked spawn point. Players will have extra armor when they respawn on the map to help counter campers, but unfortunately it still promotes this hated multiplayer tactic far more than any other map or mode has in Call of Duty in a long time. I appreciate trying something new, but this mode left me more frustrated than anything, and feeling like I’d rather just play regular Team Deathmatch.

There are also a couple metagame additions to the multiplayer suite this go around, the first of which is Mission Teams. Players will be able to unlock and choose from one of four different factions that offer extra rewards in a multiplayer match for completing bonus objectives. For instance, the Wolverines are a no-nonsense sort of group that is all about picking enemies off, so lots of kills usually means lots of points with these guys. The Orion group, on the other hand, is more objective based, and rewards you for holding or capturing points. You can switch between the factions at your leisure as you unlock them, since obviously different groups are more effective in different modes—but Mission Teams help keep things interesting by giving you a game within the game.

The other addition is trying to collect salvage. Salvage is a new currency that allows players to unlock amped-up versions of some of their favorite weapons, with each having a different level of rarity. Players can earn salvage via unlock boxes from keys earned in multiplayer, leveling up, or trading in duplicate guns found via these other two methods. As per usual, players can also spend real world cash to buy boxes that might either have the next level of the gun they want or more salvage—and that’s where I take issue with this new system.

It’s one thing to spend real-world money on cosmetic items: calling cards, weapon camos, things like that. It’s another when buying boxes can lead directly to a currency or to a new gun altogether that is definitively better than the one you may be currently using. A perfect example is the first level unlock for the default assault rifle, which offers 20% more ammo; later unlocks include more damage and stability on top of more ammo. Yes, you can grind for salvage. Yes, you don’t have to sink a single penny into Infinite Warfare and still get all the weapons. But buying boxes does offer the chance to potentially speed up the process of acquiring weapons that are statistically better (the salvage shop even assigns a numerical value to the increases you’d get) than those available from the start or via straight leveling up, offering players with those guns clear advantages in gameplay. This is where microtransactions are a negative part of the experience, and for me this is unforgivable.

In terms of online stability, I played multiplayer in a limited review environment on a live server with the day one patch already in effect (but just before the official worldwide launch). The several hours I put in saw minimal issues in terms of matchmaking, although there were a couple of pockets of lag when we switched out of the regular playlists and into the 18-player Ground War playlist. While everything worked for the most part, the true test of online stability won’t come until the game hits the masses and is stressed far beyond what myself and a few dozen other reviewers could do.

Besides playing multiplayer online, I also played a fair amount of Zombies. I teamed up with three strangers, and was impressed with the fact that even with the wacky new setting of being trapped in an 80s B-movie, this take on Zombies felt just as strong and full of surprises as anything Treyarch had concocted over the years. New Fate and Fortune cards replace the Gobblegum from Black Ops III, and offer arguably better powers and abilities to help you survive the zombie horde. There’s also a new feature where the first time you die in the mode, you’re sent to an arcade where you can try to win your life back by playing classic Activision arcade games. Set the high score, and you’ll rejoin your team—assuming they all survive long enough but don’t beat the round to bring you back to begin with. Either way, it definitely makes dying a little less tiresome than in previous years. The four stereotypical movie characters—nerd, jock, rapper, valley girl—all add some humorous color to the mode. This was definitely a fun cast to play as, although I still think Black Ops III’s noir cast was second to none.

Normally, this is all there is to a Call of Duty game. However, an extra special bonus is included to those of you who jumped on the Legacy edition of the game. We’re not doing a full review of Modern Warfare Remastered, as currently you can only get this bonus through purchasing Infinite Warfare. As it is part of the package, however, I do want to give a few words on it.

It was a shock to my system to play the original Modern Warfare again after not having touched the game in nearly a decade. The new graphics has the game looking beautiful on new systems, and it plays much like how I remember it. It’s like digging up a time capsule—comparing and contrasting it to what we have today—and we can see both how far Call of Duty has come in some regards, and how far it has fallen in others. The campaign is one example of the latter. At the time, Modern Warfare was pushing the envelope for storytelling in FPS games, while in Infinite Warfare, we’re spoon-fed drivel. I do believe the multiplayer of today is better, though. Playing MWR’s competitive suite—which now also includes newer modes like Kill Confirmed, which I love—felt great. Then, unfortunately, campers, the old scorestreaks, and the map design reminded me that as beloved as it was back then, Call of Duty’s multiplayer has truly been pushed to tremendous heights over the past 10 years—and I wouldn’t change that for anything. Still, it was still nice to go back and replay Modern Warfare after so long, and it was definitely a worthwhile bonus.

That pretty much sums up how I feel about Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare in a nutshell. Call of Duty’s multiplayer continues to innovate and improve in ways that fans will absolutely love and adore with this game—minus the microtransaction pay-to-win garbage that’s trying to be snuck in. Meanwhile, this version of Zombies could stand against any other one we’ve seen over the years. The campaign, however, is a low point for the series. From almost the very beginning, it just never grabbed me the way a lot of other stories in the series did, with flat and poorly-written characters that I was left unsympathetic toward. I never felt like I had a stake in this galactic battle of supposedly humongous proportions. All we can hope is that by looking a little harder at its past with Modern Warfare Remastered, maybe Infinity Ward can still save its future as storytellers.

Publisher: Activision • Developer: Infinity Ward • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 11.04.16
7.0
Infinite Warfare is one step forward; two steps back for Call of Duty. The multiplayer is still fun, but suspect microtransactions have left me wary. The campaign also gets more wrong than right with shoddy storytelling overshadowing the usually tight FPS gameplay. At the very least, we got a Zombies experience comparable to what we’ve seen in the past—and Modern Warfare Remastered was a fun stroll down memory lane.
The Good Multiplayer and Zombies are as fun as ever.
The Bad Main narrative feels rushed, and side missions try too hard to expand what may be the shortest CoD campaign yet. Also, there looks like a pay-to-win scam is going on in multiplayer.
The Ugly SAG-AFTRA would be wise not to use this game as an example of how Hollywood talent makes video games better.
Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. A review copy was provided by Activision for the benefit of this review. EGM also took part in a review event that Activision provided room and board for to maximize our time with the game prior to release. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Ghostbusting

Even a billion-dollar franchise like Call of Duty feels pressure sometimes, and this year’s entry, Call of Duty: Ghosts, probably had even more than usual. Fans were concerned about Infinity Ward stepping away from the Modern Warfare series and introducing something new—not to mention rival Battlefield 4 raising the stakes on next-gen with 32-on-32 multiplayer.

Infinity Ward also felt competition from fellow Call of Duty developer Treyarch’s huge success with Black Ops II last year. Even with all this pressure, though, Infinity Ward looked to maintain a steady course and reach their customary peak at the top of the FPS food chain. But sometimes, more change is needed to reach familiar goals—and I couldn’t help but feel that Ghosts doesn’t do enough to keep the formula fresh.

Ghosts’ campaign starts when a South American alliance called the Federation hijacks an American space station armed with ODIN, a kinetic bombardment system. Turning their own weapon against them, the Federation thrusts America into a decade-long conflict that instantly flips the global balance of power.

Logan Walker—the son of a former member of a U.S. Special Ops unit designated as “Ghosts”—quickly rises up the ranks along with his brother, Hesh, in a resistance group led by their dad as they help protect the ever-shrinking American border. But the Federation isn’t the only threat Logan and his family needs to deal with; an ex-Ghost named Rorke has allied himself with the Federation for the express purpose of making the lives of his former squadmates a living nightmare.

While Ghosts may tread familiar ground, it’s certainly not a bad experience overall. In fact, its single-player campaign is on par, in many regards, with Black Ops II, and it has the added bonus of not including those broken RTS side missions. Most of the levels impart that big-budget, adrenaline-fueled, action-movie ride players are looking for. It’s just that there are enough blemishes here—and a lack of overall innovation—to make it a good game, not a great one.

The major issue comes with the disconnect between the action and the narrative. Ghosts takes players all over the world and throws them into some insane scenarios that further the parallel between this game and action movies. But, like many action flicks, when the protagonists are placed in cool places like the Antarctic, dense jungles, underwater, or deep space, the narrative starts to come undone. In at least four of the game’s 18 missions, you’ll probably find yourself having flashbacks to college philosophy classes when you ask, “Why am I here?” I don’t know, Plato—but you might as well blow it all to kingdom come while you’re at it!

While the narrative reasoning leaves something to be desired, there’s certainly plenty of gameplay variety this time around. Whether it’s high-speed chases or subterranean subterfuge, Ghosts makes sure there’s never a dull moment. I did take issue with one activity, however—and that was playing as Riley, the German Shepard.

Don’t get me wrong—it’s awesome having Riley as a part of your unit, and it’s a blast issuing him commands. If you’re not good enough in multiplayer to ever earn that new perk, at least you get the satisfaction in single-player of having your pooch bite off a bad guy’s face. It’s nothing short of stupid, though, to have sections where you’re actually playing as the dog himself. Sneaking through the grass and silently taking down enemies isn’t something you need the dog for. Looking through a camera on its back is completely unnecessary, too, and considering that Riley’s only in three of the 18 missions, he’s not all that important, giving his segments a tacked-on feeling. I will say, however, that Riley’s voice actor is probably the second-best in the game after Rorke’s.

Despite these issues, the five-hour campaign still managed to pull me in with some excellent action sequences and enough of a cohesive narrative to make me want to keep going. But even with all its cool moments—unless you miss some Achievements or want to go through on harder difficulty levels—you probably won’t be going back to the campaign again and again. No, it’s the multiplayer that makes Call of Duty stay in our systems for months on end until the next chapter hits store shelves. But while this portion is technically sound—much like the campaign—it does little to make the experience feel fresh again.

Unfortunately, all the “new” multiplayer options in Ghosts are simply mashups of previous game modes, direct ports, or minor rule changes. Most of them are still fun, but I expected more than just a bunch of rehashes. The worst part of the multiplayer, however, is the new UI. The new character customization is a huge bonus this year, but the screen’s a mess, and most players will have to look long and hard at their TVs just to find the simplest of options, such as making the character male or female.

The UI problems continue when setting up your perks. While the few limits of Black Ops II’s Pick Ten system have been thrown out the window, so has the ability to quickly and conveniently make changes to your loadouts between matches. Due to tiny icons and a cluttered menu screen, if you really want to change your guns and perks, you should leave your respective lobby, since it’s going to take some time to really figure everything out.

All that said, the maps are more intricate than ever. Many of the larger areas have a multitude of lanes you can use in order to reach your objectives, providing some interesting variety when you spawn on these new killing fields.

The biggest surprise with Ghosts comes in the co-op mode: Extinction. The idea here is that up to four players have been inserted into the remains of a town that was hit by one of ODIN’s orbital strikes. It seems this strike unearthed something that had been long been buried…something alien. Now, you and your teammates have to get to ground zero, plant a nuke, and get the heck out of Dodge, all while trying to fend off this alien horde.

More focused than Zombies and far more creative than anything Infinity Ward has done with a co-op mode before, Extinction may be my new favorite co-op mode for the franchise. My only concern comes from the lack of replayability. Once you beat this section with your buddies, there’s little to make you come back, but hopefully some more maps and other add-ons come down the line.

When compared to the Call of Duty games that have come before it, Ghosts has a few problems, primarily in regards to innovation and moving the franchise forward. There’s no denying this. There’s also no denying, however, that the game’s still really damn fun to play—and even with the issues I’ve outlined, Infinity Ward has proven they can still hold the line, no matter the pressure.

Developer: Infinity Ward/Raven Software/Neversoft • Publisher: Activision • ESRB: M – Mature • Release Date: 11.5.13
7.5
Narrative issues and a lack of ingenuity in multiplayer plague what could’ve been an all-time great Call of Duty game. As is, Ghosts is still an enjoyable experience and shows that Infinity Ward can still hold the line—but the concept falls short of its true potential.
The Good Gorgeous set pieces with tons of action; the new bad guy is excellent; Extinction mode adds something new to multiplayer.
The Bad Some levels feel tacked on for the sole purpose of lengthening the campaign; multiplayer UI is awful.
The Ugly Riley’s whimpering actually had an effect on me.
Call of Duty: Ghosts is available on Xbox 360, PS3, Wii U, and PC and is a launch title for Xbox One and PS4. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360.

Blitzkrieg Bop

While the first two of seven new multiplayer modes were revealed last week, Activision saved another one for Gamescom. I checked out Blitz mode and the new map, Chasm, that was revealed during the Xbox One press briefing.

Blitz feels like a twist on Capture the Flag, but instead of grabbing a flag, now the players are the flags. This mode sets up two points on opposite ends of the map, with a simple objective: Any player on your team must get into the opponent’s scoring zone, and vice versa. If a player walks into the zone, they’re teleported back to their base and score a point for their team. This means that, essentially, both teams are on offense and defense at the same time.

An interesting little catch, though, is that the developers are already one step ahead of players and have built in a preventive measure to guard against massive scoring from a team working well together—say, four guys moving in tandem across the map. Once a player enters the scoring zone, a 10-second timer starts before someone else can enter. This gives the opposing team time to regroup, and it could put some folks’ survival skills to the test if they’re waiting out the timer near the zone.

This makes Blitz seem like a potential favorite stomping ground for lone wolves. Since you can only score with one person at a time, staying away from teammates might prove more useful if you can hold your own in a firefight. You’ll still have to work together to see who’s making their way to the base, but sending only one or two guys out a time and having the rest camp out near the base might prove a fruitful strategy.

What was most interesting about my hands-on time at Gamescom, however, was that the new map and mode were kept separate. So, I played Blitz on Octane and Strikezone, but I didn’t get to explore Chasm until I went back to Search & Rescue. This makes me think that Blitz may be limited to small to mid-sized maps.

Chasm’s probably my favorite of the new maps we’ve seen thus far. While it’s not as spread out as Whiteout, it’s got a lot of verticality: You’ll work your way through the rubble of a collapsed building and down through the street into a subway system. Since the map features several layers of small platforms, high ground will be critical depending on the modes you play, and several points are perfect for camping and protecting objective points—in this case, placing bombs for Search & Rescue.

The new audio system for Ghosts really shined on Chasm. During my session, players would shout out targets near cubicles or on railway lines rather steadily. I don’t know if the excess noise at last week’s event prevented the system from working as flawlessly as it should’ve, but I heard everything loud and clear at Gamescom.

So, three down, four to go on the Ghosts multiplayer reveals. As of right now, Search & Rescue remains my personal favorite, but Infinity Ward is certainly capable of topping it with something surprising down the line.

The more things change, the more they stay the same

At this point, everyone has seen the trailer or at least gotten the cliffnotes to everything announced at the Call of Duty: Ghosts multiplayer press conference. If you haven’t though, be sure to Chris’ write-up on all the new multiplayer details.

For the rest of you, though, you probably want to know how a lot of these announcements actually affect the gameplay. Well, we’ve got you covered. I was able to sit down with Ghosts’ multiplayer for about 90 minutes and put the new modes and maps through their paces.

Let’s start with the new modes. Two of seven new modes being added to the game were shown to us, and the first one I saw was Cranked. In this twist on Team Deathmatch, players who get a kill are given a speed boost as reward. The speed boost lasts for 30 seconds, but if you don’t kill anyone else in that time, your character literally explodes. Talk about messing with your K/D ratio.

After playing several matches, I realized a couple of things. The speed boost doesn’t stack, so there are only two speeds—normal and fast—and if you explode, there’s no splash damage that can hurt opponents. So anyone thinking that a suicide bomber strategy might help win the match or salvage that K/D, think again.

Also, 30 seconds is a lot more time than you might think. I saw a lot of people who started running around like a chicken with their heads cut off when their timer began and got mowed down by enemy fire before they even came close to running out of time. Panicking doesn’t help you or your team.

After Cranked, we got to try out Search & Rescue. This is a twist on Search & Destroy and Kill Confirmed–style matches. Kill an opponent, then collect their dog tags to remove them from the match altogether. If an ally grabs the dog tags first, the person will respawn. Since I love both of these modes, I had a lot more fun with Search & Rescue than Cranked. Just like classic Search & Destroy, you don’t have to eliminate the entire enemy team if you are on the offensive, since there are also two points where you can plant a bomb.

Honestly, the modes may be described as “new,” but neither reinvent the wheel. All we’re seeing is some unique little twists being added to classic modes, or modes being combined and passed off as something revolutionary. But, I can’t deny that these modes, especially Search & Rescue, we’re a lot of fun to play.

Aside from these new modes, we also played Domination a couple of times, which remains the same as ever.

We also got to play on three brand new maps: Strikezone, Whiteout, and Octane.

Octane is a medium-sized map based around an abandoned gas station and a western ghost town. As demonstrated in the trailer, this map featured destructible walls and structures. Players can blow apart the supports to the gas station roof, causing it to collapse into new cover, or crush players underneath. While I didn’t see anyone stupid enough to get squished, the few times we did level the station it definitely caused a huge shift in strategy. Terrain morphed and closed off some old paths, while new ones opened up. When we played Cranked on Octane, the disorientation proved deadly—a few players found themselves lined up in enemy crosshairs after not being able to find a way through the rubble.

The next map was Whiteout, and was easily my favorite of the event. It was a massive, open map that afforded players plenty of sniper perches in abandoned vacation cabins, as well as cover through twisting, ice-covered caves. While playing on this map though, I admit to having flashbacks to the White Pass map from Battlefield: Bad Company 2. While the attention to detail here was much higher (as I would hope with next-gen on the horizon), the feeling of sniping from a second floor window overwhelmed my nostalgia factor at times as we played Search & Rescue.

The final map was Strikezone. Easily my least favorite, this was probably the smallest map I can remember in recent history. It seemed comparable in size to Hijacked from Black Ops II, but with even less cover and a square layout overall instead of Hijacked’s elongated corridors.  There is nothing more frustrating than spawning in maps like these, since—with everyone running around in such a confined space—you’ll often pop up right next to an enemy and be dead again before getting your bearings. It also had very little going on in it. While the idea of a firefight breaking out in a stadium hot dog stand sounded fun, it turned out to be anything but.

After exhausting the modes, I attempted to go in-depth with the customization, but we were on an unforgiving rotation that prevented me from truly messing around with the new point-value perk system (where some perks are worth more than others) or really mess with my character.  I was able to cycle through some pre-assigned camo options like arctic, desert, urban, and the classic jungle, and gave my soldier a badass helmet before being whisked into another match. But it was nice to see so many of Ghosts‘ new female character models on the maps. Ultimately, these customization options are more about personal tastes than anything else, since they don’t change things like movement speed or health. It’s just another way of putting a personal stamp on your Call of Duty experience.

I also got to experience the new Field Orders feature, where a blue briefcase will randomly appear on the body of a felled enemy and provide you and your team a Care Package if you complete certain extra objectives, ranging from getting a kill while jumping to performing so many headshots. This was an interesting addition, but not one that most people I played with cared about. I’d often see the briefcase just sitting there, so lonely, waiting for a player to try their hand at its challenge. But no one ever bothered, because there’s so much else going on in a multiplayer match to worry about.

At the end of the day, the new modes and maps were nice, but it’s still the core Call of Duty experience that millions of people have come to love. There was little here to make me think that what we’ve grown accustomed to over the years, besides the next-gen prettiness of it all, will be getting a massive change. Some of the things announced at the press conference, like Clans, weren’t available to me when I wanted to check them out, but the idea of making clan tags more official and rewarding players as a group for doing well on top of individually has a lot of potential.

Overall, if you love Call of Duty, I don’t see anything here that will turn you off to Ghosts. On the other hand, if you’re looking for a true game-changer, what I saw suggests that you’ll probably have to keep looking.

Originally Published: August 30, 2011, on EGMNOW.COM

I had a chance to sit down with Infinity Ward’s Creative Strategist Robert Bowling and talk a bit about the multiplayer strike packages for Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. To check out my full interview with Robert, head to EGMNOW.com or check out EGMi on the iPad and look for Issue 251.5. And for new trailers and more videos from me and the rest of the EGM crew, be sure to check out EGMNOW on Youtube! Multiplayer trailer footage provided by Activision.

Originally Published: August 30, 2011, on EGMNOW.COM

Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 creative strategist Robert Bowling faces one of his biggest challenges—revamping the series’ multiplayer offerings.

RC: One of the key aspects that’s made Call of Duty a smash hit is the multiplayer aspect, and you guys have pulled out all the stops in order to expand on this, including a new killstreak system where the player can choose either an Assault, Support, or Specialist path of upgrades. Tell us about the decision to incorporate specialized killstreaks to fit different players’ styles, and how you hope this may level the battlefield for the more objective-based player.

Robert Bowling: Well, the inspiration for all the different strike packages was looking directly at the feedback we’re getting from the 30 million people playing our game. Looking at the player trends that have been happening as we’ve moved from Call of Duty 4, when we first introduced killstreaks to how the dynamic then changed in Modern Warfare 2—and then how we want that dynamic to change even further in Modern Warfare 3. A lot of it’s going back to the more gun-focused gameplay of Call of Duty 4, but with what we’ve learned from the killstreak system is that, inherently, it’s all focused on getting kills. We’ve got millions and millions of players who all play so differently, but they’re not being rewarded, incentive-wise, for being good at the game in other ways—and that was the big driving factor for introducing custom strike packages, because we wanted to open up how you’re rewarded with killstreak rewards. We want to let you be in control in the type of killstreak rewards you have and give you the tools to be a better objective player and a better team player, rather than always trying to be the best team deathmatch player.

And that carries over through more than just the killstreaks. Capturing objectives, capturing a flag, capturing domination points, and blowing up a bomb site should all add to your rewards. So, regardless of what strike package you have, that now gets you one tick closer to unlocking your next killstreak reward. In addition to that, you can now focus your entire killstreak rewards on things that have nothing to do with getting you more kills—and that was the whole mentality behind giving you tools that allow you focus on things other than killing.

RC: Another new multiplayer aspect is the Spec Ops: Survival Mode. Tell us about what you’ve done with your take on what boils down to Horde mode.

RB: Well, Spec Ops: Survival Mode is really taking the traditional wave-based gameplay and putting the Modern Warfare twist on it. So, we’re bringing in all the stuff that people love from multiplayer—matchmaking, progressive ranking, killstreaks, weapon unlocks, weapon attachment systems, gear and equipment from multiplayer—and bringing all that and putting it into a much different arena in a co-op environment against AI enemies. And the benefit of the infinite-wave thing is that we can constantly be throwing different experiences at the player—so, you’re seeing enemies you’re not seeing anywhere else. You’re seeing kamikaze dogs, kamikaze infantry, chemical agents, juggernauts, juggernauts with riot shields, enemy air support—it’s such a different experience, and what I love about it is that it blurs the lines between what’s a competitive multiplayer experience and co-op multiplayer experience, and it makes experiences that were typically only reserved for that super-hardcore-competitive multiplayer guy accessible to the single-player guy. Now you have the opportunity to call in some awesome chopper gun and to be raining death down from above, or maybe you’re just not a competitive multiplayer guy, so you never got to experience that before, but now you can have that in a much different environment.

RC: Moving to the franchise as a whole, we all know that Sledgehammer and Infinity Ward are working jointly on this title. What difficulties have arisen, if any, from having two different development studios working on the same title?

RB: Early on, it’s all about logistics. So, the biggest challenge was, logistically, how do we have two teams work on such a massive experience? And so we sat down and we made the decision to be a very flat organization—to not divide the game and be like, “OK, we’ll take this, and you do that, and you just do your thing, and we’ll do ours.”. That would’ve never worked. So, what we did was focus on playing off each other’s strengths and weaknesses—and everyone has input on everything in the game. So, we’re really working as one giant team rather than dividing things up among each other. So, we’d be more like, “Your guy is really great at this; he should work with our guy on this aspect” on the same level and build up from that organically. From there, logistically, it was about setting up video-conferencing systems, setting up ways to communicate on the fly, as we would with the guy two offices down from me. And then, from a creative standpoint, sitting down and having open, honest conversations about what direction we want to go. I mean, I knew that going into it, we’re a very passionate team with very core design philosophies, and we knew what we wanted Modern Warfare 3 to be. But it was refreshing to have Sledgehammer come in with such a fresh perspective, because they brought in things and directions that we may never have gone in and brought in experiences we’ve never had before.

RC: Speaking of other experiences, do you guys ever look at other shooters out there for inspiration? Do you ever see a perk or a weapon in another game and go, “That’d be really awesome in our game”?

RB: We take inspiration from everywhere, not only in our own genre. I love when we take inspiration from things outside of our genre. Look at what RPGs are doing, and look at what MMOs are doing—specifically in regards to things like progressive rank and XP and how you reward players. We take inspiration from all that stuff, and it’s important that when you do that, you make sure you only take the core mechanic and make it work for the kind of experience that we’re looking to deliver. But, yeah, that happens all the time, and it’s great when you can do that.

RC: Let’s talk about the single-player—at this point, we’ve all seen the E3 2011 footage of the attack on New York City. Call of Duty historically takes place all over the globe, though. What goes into deciding where the games’ missions take place, and what kind of research do you do? In terms of the plot, why New York City now under attack?

RB: Well, a lot of the story and locations are dictated organically by where the story’s going and how the conflict’s escalating. Modern Warfare 3 is a payoff to this growing momentum of conflict that’s been starting since Call of Duty 4. So, in Modern Warfare 2, the state of the world changed when the invasion of the U.S. happened. That was just the beginning. The attack on Washington, D.C. was just the beginning of the turning of that type of war. And it just organically escalated up the eastern seaboard to New York, which is another major city, because the Russian navy ‘s blockaded New York by this time in Modern Warfare 3, because this is a full-on invasion. This is a military invasion by the Russian army—this isn’t some sub-splinter of a group. This is the Russian nation attacking America, and this will be pulling in other major nations and cities into this conflict, as would actually happen if America were attacked.

So, it’s really looking at how the war’s escalating, and what I love about it this time is that we’re leaving these very traditional conflict areas, and for the first ever in Call of Duty, what we started with at the end of MW2 was pulling it into the heart of these major cities, bringing the conflict to these iconic places, rather than nondescript desert town you’d expect wars to be fought in. Now you’re fighting in Paris, London, and these major cities in Germany and Africa. So, it’s really changed organically and the research that goes into that is painstaking. Because you look at like fighting in London, and we ask ourselves, “Where would we fight in London?” We have to figure out where it would not only make sense for the story, but also where it’s going to be very impactful for the player. So, we’re looking at Canary Wharf in London, and then you go into reference and pull each reference you can and look at Google Maps and get the layouts and the buildings. And then you take that—once you get it as authentic as possible—and you put it through a gameplay filter of “OK, this is authentic, but now how do we make it fun?” Because authentic’s great, but fun is king. And that’s when you start looking at player routes and cover points and sight lines and start crafting it for gameplay.

RC: From a technology standpoint, you guys have been working with the IW engine for a while now. Was there anything you were able to add into MW3 that you weren’t able to do before but now can because of the familiarity you have with the tech?

RB: Definitely. The big focus with moving into these new environments and these much bigger cities is that the length and the scale of the levels in the single-player that you’re fighting in now are so much bigger than we’ve ever done before. So, a lot of that on the back end required a lot of tech work—and, thanks to the fact that we’ve been building steppingstones. In Modern Warfare 2, we made a good leap from Call of Duty 4 in terms of just visual graphics with our streaming technology that allowed us to make that leap. And in Modern Warfare 3, we’ve done even more work with that now that we’ve mastered that streaming technology and found other ways that we can enhance what we’re streaming in, when we’re streaming it, and how we can optimize that to get to that scale, to get to that size, and still maintain that super-smooth 60 frames per second with tight controls, which is what sells the Call of Duty franchise. That’s what sells—the tight gunplay. And, at the end of the day, that’s what matters most.

RC: It wouldn’t be a first-person military shooter without plenty of weapons. So, what kinds of new goodies can players look forward to in Modern Warfare 3?

RB: Well, we’ve added a lot of really cool weapons. A ton of weapons overall, especially in multiplayer. There’s stuff that isn’t even out yet, and that’s the great thing of being at the scale that we’re at now, where we’ll actually have weapons manufacturers contact us and be like, “Hey, we have this new prototype that’ll be out in the field in a few years, but we think it would be great for your game,” and we can go look at it, or they’ll bring it to us, nd we’ll check it out. One of my favorites is the XM25 grenade launcher, which is something only Delta operators are using in the field right now. It’s a grenade launcher that “lasers” a target—like, say, someone’s behind a concrete barrier or in a doorway or window or something, and you can laser that barrier, and it’ll calculate the distance, program it into the explosive round, and when you fire it, the round is programmed to explode one meter past that distance. So, you can actually shoot it through the window, and not until after it gets through the window will it explode and take out anyone who’s hiding behind it. That’s something Delta operators are using now, and that’s something we’re going to have in multiplayer and single-player, but we balanced them very differently between the two, because single-player’s all about having fun, while multiplayer’s about having fun but having to be balanced with everything else in the game.

RC: You mentioned Delta operators before. How closely do you work with military personnel in order to give an authentic feel to the game’s combat?

RB: We work very closely when it comes to being authentic in terms of the gear that you’re using and the weapons and they operate and how they look. But, more importantly than anything, is that fun always comes first. So we do want to be as authentic and as real as possible, but we will pull back from that realism in order to be more fun and to make it actually enjoyable to have all that stuff. So we’ll sit with them from a story standpoint and say, “Hey, here’s a scenario we’re cooking up for the story. How would you approach that?” A good example is talking to our active military guys who work with Delta and saying like, “Scenario: Russian sub in a New York harbor. You are responsible for disabling the sub. What would you do?” And then we’d say what we were thinking and our gut reaction to the situation. “Plant a charge here and blow a breach in.” And then they come in and say, “Oh, no—you wouldn’t do that. You’d be afraid of disabling this, and that would force it to come above. And then you could breach it from above without having to be underwater.” And that directly influences the gameplay—like in the E3 trailer, when the SEALs assault the sub.

RC: Call of Duty seems to come across as a “guy’s guy” kind of game. But you have a surprisingly strong female audience as well. What would you attribute that to? And do you ever see Call of Duty including female soldiers as protagonists or allowing players to chose female characters in multiplayer?

RB: I’d attribute it to the fact that we’re extremely accessible to every type of playstyle. We have females in our community that are amazing at the game in every aspect, but then you also notice trends between female gamers and male gamers. Female gamers are typically more focused on teamplay and that support role and not being self-focused or lone-wolfing. They also communicate better in terms of garnering Dom points and capturing objectives. So, I think the fact that we—especially with Modern Warfare 3—cater to different playstyles and reward them has even greater appeal now to all types of audiences.

As for female protagonists, I think anything’s possible in the future. We’ve had some female characters in the past—we had a chopper gunner pilot in Call of Duty 4 who was female. So, I think anything’s possible. We really let the story dictate the characters for us, and so far, we’ve had female roles in there at different points.

RC: Finally, the controversy over violent videogames reemerged after the recent terror attack in Oslo, Norway; the perpetrator of these attacks claimed that he “trained” with Call of Duty. This has led to the franchise being pulled from some store shelves in Norway. How do you guys respond to something like that, and do you see it affecting the series either in the long- or short-term?

RB: We don’t see it affecting us from a creative standpoint, because we’re creating a fictional game with a fictional storyline that takes place completely outside of any real-world scenarios. The universe that our games live in is very unique in that sense. But our focus has always been—and will always be—on making games that are meant for entertainment, that are meant for the right audience, and making sure that we’re following and respecting all the rating guidelines that are out there and making sure that everyone can make an informed decision and that they know what the content of the game is well before purchase. We want to make sure that we’re respecting that, and that we’re open and transparent about that.