Infinity Ward appears to be making ch-ch-changes with Call of Duty: Ghosts, its vaguely post-apocalyptic and canine-loving Xbox One debut, but there's such a thing as a bridge too far. That's according to the studio's executive producer Mark Rubin, who explained to OXM at Gamescom that the franchise is, to some extent, the victim of its own success.
Call of Duty has long been a staple of the pro-gaming scene, but Activision has stepped up the focus on tournament gaming in recent years, adding appropriate features such as shoutcasting to Black Ops 2, and hosting a million dollar Call of Duty championship this spring. Under a new agreement, US e-sports outfit Major League Gaming will adopt Ghosts as its exclusive first-person shooter when the latter goes on sale this November.
Coupled with the franchise's existing popularity, this new emphasis on tournament play limits the extent to which Infinity Ward can fiddle with the DNA. Pro gamers like consistency, after all. "I would say it's in between, to be honest," Rubin told OXM. "There is the obvious truth that if this were football, and next year they decided we only want seven players a side and you can use your hands, I don't think people would want to go to many of those games.
"So we can't change too many of the core rules, and the core rules are really simple," he went on. "You're a player, it's in first-person, you have a weapon in your hand and you run around shooting other people." However, Infinity Ward's hands aren't completely tied. "We can play a lot with the outside of how that works, and it's things like character customisation, making the movement through that world better, making the world itself more interesting, adding the new modes, adding the new dynamic maps."
"So there's still I think a lot to do," Rubin insisted. "Anytime we ship a game - and this a non-Call of Duty statement, this is [applicable to] any dev you've ever talked to - is there's always a ton of features they wish they could have gotten to, before they shipped. So I think we'll always be able to bring new and interesting stuff. It's literally that we're just trying to make a better game than we made last time.
"Giving people new content, new ways to play, Squads is a really new way to play that I think people are going to find really interesting, because it's different to anything we've ever tried to do in Call of Duty... I think we're going to continue that trend."
Destructible map props are among the bigger innovations this time round - I've had a chance to experiment with the possibilities, and while the ramifications aren't severe for most players, skilled teams should be able to put them to devastating use. In terms of new modes, Ghosts adds Search & Rescue, Blitz and Cranked, among others - here's a video of some Cranked gameplay featuring myself and a horrifically jet-lagged Aoife, in which we are murdered by dogs.
GTA 5 openly parodies Call of Duty's unwillingness to change dramatically in the shape of the in-game Righteous Slaughter 7, billed as "a first-person shooter like no other (except for Righteous Slaughter 6 which was released 3 months ago)". Infinity Ward's response has been fairly laidback.