It's an odd feeling, the COD effect. The need to shoot, kill, win, and shoot again grows, takes hold, gets under your skin. You're so busy chasing that high, the drip-fed sense of accomplishment that comes from maintaining a killstreak, that you're unlikely to stop and admire the little things. The dust clouds that blossom as the earth cracks open after an almighty quake, the debris floating haphazardly around a ransacked space station corridor, your guard dog's ears as they twitch upon catching the sound of nearby gunfire. The real ghosts of the latest Call of Duty title are the artful little touches that most players will pass past completely as they hurtle headfirst into their next firefight.
Not that there's much time to spend standing around admiring the scenery. Any modern Call of Duty title lives or dies on the strength of its multiplayer gameplay, and Ghosts represents the biggest shake-up to Infinity Ward's modus operandi since the original Modern Warfare. That's not to say any of the individual changes are all that radical. Ghosts may establish a new COD universe, but it's held together by the same subtle enhancements that the franchise has come to be known for.
Skip to page three for our thoughts on whether the Xbox One version is worth shelling out for.
Several classic MP modes return, including Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed and Domination, joined by new additions like Grind, Cranked, Hunted, Search and Rescue and Blitz. Some of the new modes are more memorable than others. Hunted, a sort of Battle Royale style party game where weapon pick-ups are randomised, starts out with promise but quickly devolves into a lot of tedious and tepid running around. Cranked sounds great in theory - a mode where players must kill every 30 seconds or face insta-death themselves - but it simply isn't all that fun when you're going up against more experienced players. Blitz, on the other hand, is an enjoyable contrast to modes that revolve around running and gunning - a streamlined and greatly intensified version of Capture the Flag.
The new maps are a strong bunch overall. Our standout favourite is British-based Stonehaven, with its sprawling, uneven countryside complete with castle ruins and crashing ocean waves. The frozen tundra of Whiteout crams in a mixture of sniping spots, wide open spaces and assault routes. Freight is among the most claustrophobic of the smaller maps, and perfect for an all-out fire fight, with its abandoned train cars, dilapidated industrial warehouses and shipping containers stacked to create a maze of walkways and vantage points. The game's impressive sound design, which adjusts the timbre and reverb of atmospheric noise in accordance with your surroundings, gives you a greater sense of place as you sprint and slide from A to B. When a bullet sings past your head, you can all but feel how close you came to biting the dust.
All fall down
Prior to the game's launch, Infinity Ward made much of Ghosts' new dynamic maps, COD's answer to Battlefield 4's impressive "Levolution" features. Truthfully, the system here doesn't add much to the experience, except for in maps like Tremor when it becomes little more than an irritation as a poorly-timed quake causes you to miss that crucial shot. There's simply too much else going on, too many other things requiring your immediate attention to really spare a thought for what are essentially miniature scripted sequences, and there's not much glory to be gained from waiting around to trap an opponent, rather than just shooting him. This could change as experienced players learn location layouts and how to use them to their advantage, but at this stage it's hard to picture the dynamic elements catching on, particularly within the professional circuit.
The character customisation system has received a dramatic overhaul. As with Black Ops 2's Pick Ten system, you can equip as many Perks, guns and the like as you have points for, which grants far greater versatility when creating builds than the old slots-based system. Players can now create up to ten soldiers' load-outs to suit a range of playstyles. There are also Squad Points, which are earned through play and can be spent to unlock weapons, additional soldiers, cosmetic customisations and weapon attachments. Any piece of equipment can be unlocked at any time, regardless of your rank, provided you've got the SP to cover it.
In short, every facet of Ghosts' multiplayer feels like it's been modified specifically to allow greater player freedom, and, as a whole, the experience is much more flexible and empowering to players old and new. There's nothing surprising or ground-breaking here, but that's pretty much par for the course with Call of Duty by now - it's as revelatory as saying "oh yeah, and it has guns in it."