Activision

Squad mode will let Call of Duty: Ghosts fans play online without fear of assholes

Squad mode will let Call of Duty: Ghosts fans play online without fear of assholes

Disclosure: Activision paid for airfare and the hotel stay for this trip.

The level of competition in any given Call of Duty game goes up quickly; you won’t be able to compete unless you’re willing to spend an extensive amount of time learning the maps, leveling your character, and simply practicing the game. It can be an unforgiving environment, and that aspect of the game reared its ugly head as I was turned into a bloody smear every few seconds while playing Ghosts against other press at the recent Activision event in Los Angeles.

I enjoy playing Call of Duty, and would love to dive into the online modes in some way, but keeping up online is hard with my schedule, and to be honest, putting up with the environment that’s present in the Call of Duty community can also be trying. Squad mode is hoping to fix that by giving you a group of AI-controlled soldiers that you can customize to fight alongside you, and bring online to serve as your surrogate team while playing against other squads.

“Squad mode has been something that evolved over time. Think of Combat Training, which has been in the game for a while, but it has always been this ‘I’m going to go play this training ground for me to get in there,’” Daniel Suarez, the Vice President of Production, told me during the event. “Every year we’ve had it in the Treyarch games… but I think we’re really seeing it now evolve into what it was almost meant to be.”

Playing dolls with guns

You have ten soldiers in your squad, and it’s your job to customize them with different weapons and loadouts. Then you can take your squad and play next to them against other squads, or team up with friends to take on over AI-controlled squads, or play competitively against other humans on a squad.

Every game mode from online play will be available to be played with squads, and the points you earn in squad modes carries over to multiplayer as well; this is a way to gain experience, unlock items in the game, but the number of human players you encounter is up to you.

“The idea of building my squad, and updating my squad with gear, and different looks, has an appeal that we didn’t have before that I think has a lot of opportunity to it,” Suarez said. “There are going to be different skilled players that maybe don’t want to play MP, they come in and say it’s too hard, and they matchmade against [a pro gamer], so allowing you to find players to play with in a more balance play field? That’s what squads is going to be.”

Instead of going online and playing against players of different skill levels, you’ll be able to pit your squad against a friend’s squad, in a kind of one-on-one war game where your characters will clash, but you’re also both in the game fighting each other. This allows two players who may not do well in the greater community to play a friendly game and test their squads, all while gaining experience and sharpening their claws on each other.

The other nice thing about this setup is that you can enjoy multiplayer without abuse being thrown at you, or dealing with any general asshole-ness of the community. You can jump in a game with a friend and their squad, and get the general experience of a full online match with only the two of you playing against each other.

You can also invite friends to join your squad and fight against other player-created squads that are controlled by the computer. That pro player who would kick your ass up and down the match if he was online? You can now play against his custom designed squad, at a lower difficulty. There is also a four-player co-op mode where you and up to three other players or your custom-designed squad squares off against waves of incoming enemies.

You can even earn experience passively: If another player goes up against your squad while you’re not playing and your squad does well, you’ll earn experience. The ability to play against the squads of our friends at any time is interesting, striving for a squad that will do the best against human players. You can even pick the map and game mode for your squad, so players who challenge you while you’re offline will be given a custom challenge you set up for their benefit.

This is possible due to the large amount of work the team has put into the game’s artificial intelligence. If you give a soldier a sniper rifle, he’s going to act like a sniper. They’ll climb ladders to find elevated positions, they’ll take advantage of killstreaks, and they’ll use every weapon and advantage you give them. The AI-controlled players will even be able to call out targets and give you intel about the battlefield.

“What Squads is going to do is grab the player who plays the single-player game but is intimidated by multiplayer,” Suarez explained, and this may be the mode that has me the most excited about the game so far. Playing online has always been a pain in the ass, as I can't quite get my skills to the point where I can keep up with the broader community, which leads me to become the target of abuse from the other players.

Squad mode will allow players like me to play against each other, or to simply enjoy a game against the AI while unlocking all the fun toys that used to be closed off to players who didn't invest enough time online. Call of Duty has always been interested in courting as many audiences as possible, and this could be a fun bridge between the SP campaign and the sometimes overwhelming online competitive multiplayer.