Youtubers, Eminem, and the US Marines: The CoD: Ghosts reveal showed a franchise moving forward

Youtubers, Eminem, and the US Marines: The CoD: Ghosts reveal showed a franchise moving forward

Disclosure: Activision paid for airfare and a hotel room for this event.

The Call of Duty franchise loves to celebrate its own place in popular culture.

The Activision event to reveal the details of multiplayer in Call of Duty: Ghosts began with a long reel that highlighted all the times the name “Call of Duty” has been spoken in mainstream television shows, cut with scenes from fans lined up to buy the game, or cheering at lavish events such as this one.

There was a short scene that came from the concert Activision held with Eminem. The rapper also recorded a video message for fans of the game, since his new single debuted on the game’s trailer.

The crowd itself was evidence that Activision was looking towards the future while celebrating the past. I bumped into friends who worked on many different websites and magazines, but Youtube personalities, professional players, and the military were also on hand to mingle, play the game, and celebrate aspects of shooting people in the head with virtual guns.

“He has over a million subscribers,” a friend whispered in my ear as a nondescript gentleman walked past. Those of us who write online treat Youtubers with the same wary fear that print greeted us with a decade or so ago.

I’ll admit to not understanding Let’s Play videos or Youtube stars, but PR doesn’t need to understand them. Once someone has enough pull with enough players, they’re invited inside this world, filled with catered lunches and drink tickets. While Nintendo may have stepped into a mess when they attacked personalities who play Nintendo games online, Activision just shrugged and started to invite them along for the ride. This was an audience they wanted to reach.

The focus on competitive play

A selection of top-level players joined up with Marines to play an exhibition match of Ghosts, with professional Caster Benson and Machinima’s Fwiz commentating. Call of Duty: Ghosts played at this level is fast, and it was hard to keep up with everything that was going on, especially with the main screen moving from showing the point of view of many different players, switching between them every few minutes.

It would have been madness to do this at an event even a year ago, but now? Call of Duty is a spectator sport, and competitive gaming brings an epic amount of eyeballs and enthusiasm. Activision wants to be at the top of that game as well.

Other changes have been made as well. The trailer showed a female soldier, and I was later told that this decision was just a matter of resources; they finally decided it was time to spend those finite resources on a female model, especially since the influence of women gamers was growing at both the casual and competitive levels. Some people said it was about time, others mocked the decision as opportunism, or they made fun remarks that stated the old engine couldn’t have handled the new model.

The team may be damned if they do, damned if they don’t when it comes to adding female soldiers, but now they’re in, and they’re unlikely to go anywhere. The trick is to satisfy the game’s already massive fan base while making the game as welcoming and broadly appealing as possible for new players, and this was a step in that direction.

The presentation went on to destroy some of that goodwill with a goofy presentation about the mountable camera that will come with the Prestige version of the game. You can strap the camera to your head to create your own first-person videos, and of course this led to a film of two men who use it to look at naked ladies and get uncomfortable around naked men. If women see you wearing the camera in an elevator, according to this video they will give you their phone number.

It was an awkward, unfunny way to sell what was actually a cool add-on to the package, but everything was back on track when it was announced that everyone at the event would be given the Prestige edition of the game free of charge when it was released. Free stuff always gets the crowd on your side.

Evolving, standing still, and finding the heart

I don’t want to run down all the changes made to the multiplayer portion of the game, although I’m enthusiastic about the casual-friendly squad mode, and most of the things being changed or expanded seemed smart. A new class of guns? Great! A weighted system for perks and equipment that allows you to ditch your secondary weapon to free up a few more points to spend on perks? Sounds good! New game modes? Excellent!

I played “Cranked,” a game mode that put a 30 second counter on your character after you made a kill. If you didn’t kill another player in those 30 seconds, you explode.

The new movement animations worked well, allowing you to vault over railings and boxes, or to slide into cover from a run. The entire experience felt smooth and confident, although my kill-death ratio was abysmal, even against other press. I also learned that Call of Duty players are just as repugnant in person, and I quickly began wishing I could mute people in real life. Maybe with a baseball bat.

One of my favorite new parts of the game is the AI system that shares intel with you, even if the human player stays silent. I was running across an open street, vulnerable from above, when I heard my communications crackle. “Two snipers on the second floor, get down!” I looked above me and saw two enemy soldiers in a blown out building across the way, and slid into a door in front of me as their shots pinged off the cement where I was a moment ago.

The human player had stayed silent, but the computer thought that was information I should have, and it saved my ass. “They’re coming in the back!” I heard during another firefight, and knew to turn around and direct my fire in that direction, earning myself an assist. Think of it this way: You can now mute everyone in a multiplayer game, and you’ll still get valuable information about what’s going on around the battlefield. It’s a smart, useful feature that adds significant value to multiplayer.

The entire event was fun, and well put together. Call of Duty: Ghosts looks and plays amazingly well; the heart of Call of Duty multiplayer gaming has always been the solid mechanics and shooting that’s tight and focused. Nothing else feels like it.

Infinity Ward and Treyarch take turns adding or taking away different aspects of the experience, but that core focus on satisfying game play is always left untouched. While it may sometimes seem like Call of Duty releases are filled with a mess of modes and options, the reality is that the franchise is trying to appeal to as many audiences as possible. Each release points a shotgun at a wall, knowing that at least some of the pellets will hit first-person shooter fans.

Some of us play the single-player campaign and will never go online. Others will settle in clan matches, or the new squad modes. Activision is playing something of a dirty game by packing each release with so many options and features that nearly anything else on the market feels shallow in comparison, especially at the $60 price point.

If you want to compete with Call of Duty, you need to have the time and money to reach all those different audiences, and to do it better than the teams who live and breathe military shooters, and have done so for release after release.

After the tidal forces of EA have all but broken themselves on the rocks of Activision’s beach, who is left to compete in the first-person arena?

This was Activision’s message for their reveal: We’re here, we are first-person shooting in the mass market, we’re adapting, and we’re not going anywhere. The news from the event dominated gaming news outlets and blogs, with every aspect of the reveal pored over and dissected. The Call of Duty franchise still sits at the apex of both gaming and popular culture, and everyone involved with the series is running as fast as they can to stay in that static position: The top.