Call of Duty deploys phantom players to mess with cheats

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 implements new ‘hallucination mitigations’ - fake players designed to trick and catch out potential cheaters and hacks in action.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 anticheat hallucinations - a person wearing red and black armor walks down a corridor as the translucent skull-masked face of 'Ghost' appears behind them.

Call of Duty cheats ruin the fun. There’s nothing that makes me want to put the game down and go touch grass quite so immediately as someone in my Modern Warfare 2 or Warzone 2 lobby who’s clearly aimbotting or wallhacking, picking off players with inhuman speed and rocketing up the leaderboard. It’s a blight on all the best FPS games, but Activision’s anti-cheat crew Team Ricochet has a fun new way to deal with them.

“Cheating in videogames such as Call of Duty is big business, and the technology behind cheats is constantly evolving,” Team Ricochet says. In recent times, the team has taken an interesting approach to counteract these troublemakers: rather than immediately booting them out, they’re left in-game but with their experience hindered.

“Allowing cheaters to remain in the game in a mitigated state provides us with intel,” Team Ricochet explains, “while keeping cheaters occupied, in the dark, and unable to harm your in-game experience.” This means they won’t be able to ruin your lobbies, and the developers can continue to gather data about these players and how they are hacking, which can then be analyzed to help improve the ability to reliably detect others using similar tools.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 anticheat - a player and their duplicate 'hallucination' as seen by cheaters in-game.

It seems to be working, too; Team Ricochet reports that “In Modern Warfare 2 we mitigated four players for every one report.” Meaning that the Ricochet detection tools are able to shut down three cheaters before they can negatively impact other players for every one that slips through the net and gets player-reported. However, there are some changes in the works as to exactly how these ‘mitigations’ are implemented.

In the past, a tool called ‘Quicksand’ would deliberately mess with the controls of players detected to be using cheats. This could involve everything from slowing down their movement to actively swapping their controls around. It was very fun, but the team decided “it could be very visually jarring to anyone in the lobby” – if you’ve ever seen a player moving weirdly slowly or in random directions, it was likely a result of Quicksand.

Coming in instead is a new trick: ghosts. No, not that one. These are ‘Hallucinations,’ which “look, move, and interact with the world like a real player,” Ricochet says, “These are not AI but a clone of an active user in the match, mimicking their movement to trick a cheater into believing the character they see is a real-life player.” They’ll also show up with unique data if hackers are using tools such as wallhacks or pop-ups to see an enemy’s name and loadout.

Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2 anticheat - a player sees another through a wall using hacks. and their name and weapon is listed on-screen (image mocked up by Activision).

This is a handy way to confuse players with cheats, who will find themselves shooting at or trying to chase down players that don’t really exist. However, it’s also a fantastic detection tool. “Hallucinations can be hidden and positioned anywhere relative to a suspicious player in the world,” where it will spill the beans on any player whose hacking tools cause them to interact directly with these false combatants.

It’s a great idea – I can’t wait to try and spot players swinging around and shooting at nothing like terrified goons in a Batman-infested mob shop. Hopefully it’ll help further cut back on cheaters and we can all get back to just some fun, good-natured competition once more.

Make sure you’re rocking the best Modern Warfare 2 loadouts and you’ll already have a hand up on your rivals, and complement them with the best Modern Warfare 2 guns to shoot straight to the top of the leaderboards – literally.