Call Of Duty: Ghosts past-gen multiplayer review (PS3).

The smoothest past-gen online C.O.D. experience and the odyssey of a console F.P.S. enthusiast.

Call Of Duty: Ghosts has been criticized for not bringing meaningful changes to the series at the threshold of next-gen, even for being more conservative and a step back from the previous installment, Black Ops II – which is true. What the critics have failed to remark, probably because they have not spent enough time online on the Playstation Network and Xbox Live, is that from now on the online C.O.D. experience is mostly based on dedicated servers. And that changes almost everything …

Before diving into how Call Of Duty: Ghosts plays online on past-gen consoles, let’s go back in time shall we.

COD4: the dawn of both excitement and frustration

cod4The addictive gameplay of Call Of Duty 4: Modern Warfare has hooked the masses and made it THE REFERENCE for console F.P.S., dethroning almost overnight Halo. For console gamers all this ridiculous amount of fun came at a price. The frustration of having to deal with network connectivity based not on servers, but on hosts.

What does this mean? A central server is responsible for the match making, but online play per se is handled by a player’s console, theoretically chosen for the quality of its network connection.

Example: If in a lobby most of the players are from France, chances are that the host will be the one of them who has the fastest connection with the lower latency.

C.O.D. 4’s networking component was so broken that if the host chose to quit, the match ended. Which basically meant that if the host was getting pwned, he could ruin the fun for everybody. Infinity Ward was supposed to implement host migration, and even advertised the feature but truth is that it never worked.

No servers for an entire console generation

Host migration was eventually implemented from Modern Warfare 2 on, but it didn’t always work. If the host quit in a soft way, a.k.a. NOT by:

  • quitting to dashboard,
  • powering off its console or
  • pulling out the network cable,

but by from the game menu, host migration worked maybe 50% of the time.

The game had to find another player whose connection satisfied the criteria for becoming the host, then transfer the ongoing match’s data and reroute other players to his console. Often the process never came to completion, and everybody was booted back into the lobby.

It took several years before some sort of penalty was introduced for those who quit the game, hosts or not. That was around Black Ops II. If you quit a certain amount of times in a short period of time, you were banned from online play for one hour.

This was a step in the good direction, because ragequitting was largely abused by online troops. When a match wasn’t turning out so well for KDR (Kill/Death Ration) whores, they preferred to quit and preserve their oh so precious stats!

Meanwhile at the Battlefield series…

While frustration was starting to grow as C.O.D. series’ networking wasn’t fixed and servers weren’t introduced for the console versions, the Battlefield series started to build some momentum on consoles, starting with the original Bad Company.

Online play was slower and more tactical (30 fps instead of 60 for C.O.D.) but unlike the static C.O.D. maps, you could destroy the environment and there was a huge advantage: dedicated servers. This meant that servers were rented by EA, running instances of the game’s server component, and players were connected to them based on their geographical location and/or ping – instead of getting connected to another player’s console.

By the time Bad Company 2 was released in March 2010, a lot of console players were so fed up by Modern Warfare 2’s broken/unbalanced/unfair online play and glitches of all kinds, that jumping ship from the series became an attractive option.

To be totally honest I wasn’t hooked up by the BFBC2 beta which ran one month before release in February 2010, sporting the “Port Valdez” map. Some of my Xbox Live friends were excited though, eagerly anticipating the game’s release, announcing their intentions of quitting C.O.D. and its god forsaken host-based online play.

Jumping ship from the Modern Warfare to the Battlefield series

Day and night. That was the difference between playing Modern Warfare 2 online on console, with the full-on host-based connectivity nightmare and the smooth, satisfying Battlefield: Bad Company 2 online experience, implemented seamlessly by dedicated servers. No more host disconnects, failed host migrations, no more feelings of unfairness and injustice a.k.a. no most host advantage.

Gameplay-wise, I quickly adapted and enjoyed the slower paced but more intellectually satisfying tactical gameplay, especially thanks to my comrades with whom we formed a tight squad.

The dream went on for two years and I almost never looked back. I played a little bit and for the sake of variety, Black Ops, which was cool but with the well known connectivity problems it couldn’t distract me away from BFBC2 for too long.

The disappointment of Battlefield 3 on console and my return to the C.O.D. series

At the end of two thrilling years with BFBC2, everything showed that the excitement would continue with Battlefield 3. During the beta for Xbox 360 in September 2011 I played the “Metro” map day and night. A few months after the title was released in late October 2011, it was evident that BF3 was not an enjoyable console experience. With 24 players on console, instead of 64 (!) for PC, there was simply not enough action and fun to keep me going. I’ve had enough of having to cross half the map in order to find some action, or to play half an hour in order to score 10 kills. Undeniably from Battlefield: Bad Company 2 to Battlefield 3, something has been lost.

Not having with BF3 nearly as much fun as I’ve had with BFBC2, I gave Modern Warfare 3 a try. Despite the frustration of host-based networking, I still had a lot more fun than with BF3 so once again, I didn’t look back (at least for a while). I liked the new Pointstreak system since I was never the kind of player who was patient enough to play carefully in order to stack kills – I am more the run-and-gun type of player. I also liked the guns and the maps. Basically everything.

What was next was the excellent Black Ops 2, which was proven to be a bold new COD since Treyarch introduced a wealth of new features and basically revamped the series.

There is a position to feel in the console marketplace with a military arcade/fast-paced FPS running on dedicated servers.

The bottomline of my personal console online F.P.S. odyssey, is that indeed there is a position to feel in the console marketplace with a miltary arcade/fast-paced FPS running on dedicated servers. Enter Call Of Duty: Ghosts.

With the series transitionning to next-gen, it was clear that change was needed for online connectivity. The series couldn’t get over with continuing to use the host-based network shame …er… scheme.

First came the announcement that next-gen consoles would have dedicated servers. Honnestly Activision didn’t have the choice if they wanted to keep up with the competition. The Battlefield and Killzone series ran since always on servers and much advertised Xbox exclusive Titanfall would use them too. The C.O.D. series couldn’t not be left behind.

The question remained if past-gen versions would use them too, or if they would drown in obsolescence. The answer was yes!

The moment that we have anticipated for years.

We, console gamers, have been anticipating for years the moment that we could finally play Call Of Duty on dedicated servers. This moment has come. Is it worth it?

It was obvious from the very first match that yes! It’s the first C.O.D. that plays so smoothly and it’s almost too good to be true.

Transitionning the C.O.D. series on console from hosts to a backend of dedicated servers is a major fucking project, so…

…Everything is not perfect yet

After a lot of perfect matches, came the first host migration and I was like WTF? Mark Rubin from Infinity Ward cleared things up in an interview he gave at Eurogamer.

20131116_155100“From a player’s perspective we’re trying to figure out what the best situation is for you. One thing I talked about was this hybrid system, which is a mix of listen servers and dedicated servers. Let’s say I am in this point here, and there’s a dedicated server not far, because we’ve seeded them throughout the world, basically buying them and putting them in, and then Microsoft has its cloud, which is also all around the world. So we put these servers all around the world so people who are near can be near. But if you’re not, or if you’re in a situation where you live a little farther, sometimes there’s a listen server right near you that’s actually going to be a better experience than going to the dedicated. So, if that’s the case, you’ll hook into the listen server.”

Practically, C.O.D.G. plays smoothly on console for 90% or more of the time, which is a tremendous change from previous installments. You’ll get the occasional host migration or host disconnect, but in general you’ll be more than happy.

That might depend on the mode though. I tried “Hunted”, a new mode where you start with a minimum handgun loadout and fight for access to packages in order to upgrade your weaponry, and the amount of lag was ridiculous making me think it was served by hosts. Whether or not you will have less chances to play on dedicated servers if you chose the less popular modes is something that remains to be seen.

The dedicated servers are not all. Other tweaks to the basic COD formula, starting with a new way that UAV’s work.

SAT COMThere are a few other tweaks to the basic COD formula. One of the most important change is the way that UAV’s work now. Gone is the classic UAV mode where invoking it would give positions of all the enemy players that did not have the Ghost (or equivalent) perk(s). Enter the SAT COM.

Now, in order to achieve a similar effect your team has to have simultaneously online four (4) UAV’s! Here’s how this works.

  • The first SAT COM which goes online shows on the map the enemies that our within your line of sight. Does this mean that if an enemy is hidden in a building he doesn’t show up in this case? Most probably…
  • With  two SAT COM’s online at the same time, a radar starts ping revealing enemy positions.
  • With  three  SAT COM’s online at the same time, the radar ping frequency increases.
  • Finally, for as long as you have four SAT COM’sonline simultaneously, you get advantage of the standard old-school COD UAV effect with a twist: the ennemies are represented by a point AND an arrow indicating the direction which they’re facing!

What does this practically mean?

First of all, this avoids the UAV spam of previous titles – especially Modern Warfare 3.

This way, equipping the “Off The Grid” perk is not mandatory, allowing you to equip some other 3-point perk instead, especially Quickdraw, and play more aggressively.

It also adds a more realistic, dynamic feel. When you hear that an enemy SAT COM is online, you can slow down the pace and hide if you want to avoid being detected. If the opponents get simultaneously more than one you must find other ways to circumvent aerial surveillance, eg. by chosing a stealthy class or by launching a “Air Superiority” which takes down aerial support.

Less run-and-gun

Another thing that is different in Call Of Duty: Ghosts, is that you die more easily than in previous COD’s.  This forces you to play more carefully and avoid to run all guns blazing.

I’m not sure if this has been done in order to add a more tactical feel. It possibly is, because this way the Support Strike Package, Ballistic Vests, makes sense. Indeed, if you equip a Ballistic Vest you have extra health and you’re much harder to kill, making it for a short period of time the equivalent of COD4’s Juggernaut perk.

Not necessarily more camping and no more tacinsert!

You might think that this slower pace leads to more camping, but actually in Domination mode I haven’t seen that. The maps are built in such a way that a sniper or a camper will not last long to a particular spot.

The absence of tactical insertion is instrumental in that sense and a bold change, removing what was a standard gameplay option since Modern Warfare 2!

I admit that I’ve been a tacinsert whore in previous COD’s, not from a coward sniper perspective but rather from the clinical “gotta defend Bravo” obsession of a Domination player. Therefore, initially I’ve been unpleasantly surprised of its absence, but after 30+ hours of online play I appreciate the fact it restores balance and rhythm back to the primeval pace of COD4.

Balance, strikechains, perks.

Ghosts is a balanced COD game and its strikechains demonstrate it. First of all we have the return of strike packages, first introduced in MW3. There is the classic Assault package where your kill count resets when you die, the Support package with less deadly rewards but where kills accumulate independently of deaths and the Specialist package initially where players choose Perks instead of pointstreak awards.

  • As it is mentionned above, with the new SAT COM flavor of the classic UAV, there is no more UAV spam which is good because you don’t have to waste perks in order to be stealthy and undetected.
  • What I really enjoy is the return of the classic chopper reward – here called “Battle Hind” – in all its glory. Because there is not much Anti-aircraft equipment (aka the “Panzerfaust” launchers) and EMP abuse, it makes sense again.
  • The  new reward Maniac is extemely fun: obtained from a care package, you become a juggernaut with a Combat Knife and a Throwing Knife and you run faster than the normal players. This is a crazy ride stabbing panicking enemies who try to avoid or shoot you but usually fail, but it only lasts for the couple of minutes since you don’t recover from inflicted damage and you’ll die sooner or later. The best bet in order to avoid a Maniac is to keep him at a safe distance and shoot from afar. If he approaches dangerously C4 and IED’s are a must. Grenade launchers are pretty much useless because he runs and the grenades won’t explode on him on time. The Panzerfaust should do it though.
  • Hardline, a perk that I never really used in any COD until now, is becoming almost mandatory because it makes assists also count for your strikechain. Indeed, actions like securing flag do NOT count any more like they did for Black Ops 2 and Modern Warfare 3, so you will need all the help you can get.

There is not much to be said about Perks. A variation of Black Ops 2’s “Pick 10” system is implemented and works satisfyingly.


The biggest changes that Ghosts brings to the Call Of Duty series concern its engine, and therefore are of structural nature.

Dedicated servers make it without doubt the smoothest Call Of Duty experience on consoles so far, the less frustrating and more fair.

alaskaEven if -networking put aside- it is not a better C.O.D. than its excellent predecessor Black Ops 2, it remains the series’ installment that I would recommend on console.

The biggest problem I see so far, are the maps. A couple of them are excellent (Stonehaven and Whiteout – the latter complete with references to excellent series The Deadliest Catch!) and the vast majority is reasonably fun. That’s not good enough. In order to be hooked up to an online shooter, all or at least most of the maps must be great. This is something that Infinity Ward can and should address with future map packs.

Posted on by panos.agoros in F.P.S, Gaming

About panos.agoros

Music and computers. The same two passions that Panos has ever since he was a kid, have defined the path that he would follow in life. He studied computer science in Paris-France in the early/mid 90's and is an IT engineer, providing since 1999 Mission Critiical support for enterprise environments. He is also known to be a retro hardware scavenger and old computer collector. His love for music pushed him to become actively involved in the scene. From November 1995 until the early 00's he ran Chaotik Webzine, a pioneering music webzine and the first to provide coverage for both the metal & hardcore underground. He is for the last 15 years an editor of Metal Hammer Greece, the biggest music magazine in the country. He rans a small record label and distro, Blastbeat Mailmurder, and is also the vocalist/lyricist of critically and fan acclaimed astrogrind outfit Dephosphorus. In his lost hours he does field recordings and manipulates sound waves for his experimental noise/ambient Kommpound.

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