Call Of Duty is the 800-lb gorilla that continues to break sales records year after year. And this year contains some big moments for the series: Infinity Ward’s return to helm the series it helped raise, the creation of a new universe, as well as bridging the series into the next-generation of consoles as we enter the 10-year anniversary since the series debuted.
UDPATE 1/7/2014: Playstation 4 impressions added to review
Editor’s Note: No current-gen consoles were reviewed. However, this review serves as a middle-ground to both current and next-gen due to scalability. Though, we will update this review should we play the game on current and/or next-gen hardware.
South America has formed The Federation and used the United States’ space weaponry against them and destroyed all major cities. An elite team, akin to today’s Marine Force Recon and Army Rangers, are the Ghosts. They are elusive and described to be almost supernatural with how they move and adapt. During cutscenes when the game describes them, almost drives the point home a little too hard.
As you’d expect, you play through the eyes of multiple perspectives, some of them die a horrible death. But the one you’ll play the most with, is Logan. He’s a silent protagonist who is in the military, alongside his brother Hesh, and their dad, Elias. A family who is conveniently the centerpiece of everything that is going on in the world.
Throughout the campaign you’ll infiltrate enemy bases, swim international waters evading sharks, use your dog Riley to stealth through areas and gain information not otherwise attainable, and shoot, many, many men. The dog, Riley, for all its focus, is underutilized and utterly forgotten for most of the campaign. For as much of a roller-coaster / action movie feel the Call of Duty games get, nearly every mission ends with something exploding, followed by the ghosts running for the extraction point for pickup. It’s rather exhausting to be honest, and uninspired as each and every time, the camera slows down as you take a leap of faith. But you always make it. Fortunately the five to six hour campaign doesn’t take much time padding out anything it doesn’t have to.
Having Steven Gaghan onboard for the writer, seems to go unnoticed as the game’s dialogue comes off flat, and character development is told through flashbacks as if to give the player a reason to further hate the antagonist. A very forced exposition for characters, and all of them are two-dimensional and terribly boring characters, that only in the final moments become interesting, but ultimately forgettable. The story in Black Ops II wasn’t perfect, but it had style, humor, and better pacing that made sense.
Easily now, the number one longevity mode for the series is the multiplayer. With Infinity Ward back in the driver’s seat, the Pick 10 system from Black Ops II is out, Strike Packages return from Modern Warfare 3, and the all-new Create-A-Soldier system is in.
Rather than having one soldier with up to 10 loadouts, you can now you have up to 10 characters with 6 loadouts and are only able to prestige each of them once. And I don’t really see the point of having multiple, different looking characters to use. I ended up just using one character and not bothering to using my Squad Points (the game’s currency for unlocking items) to have multiple soldiers. There was really nothing wrong with the way it was, and feels like it was changed just for the sake of change. I love the ability to create my own soldier, but having multiples, each with their own level makes little sense.
So what else is new to Ghosts? As far as weapons go, Ghosts adds a new Marksman class weapons that serve as middle ground to SMGs and Assault Rifles. All weapons are rooted on weaponry that can be found now. You’ll also find around 20 new killstreaks. New modes like Infected is similar to Halo’s Infected, Grind takes Kill Confirmed and you have to deposit tags at a receptacle, or my favorite, Cranked which requires constant kills in order to keep living or you explode. Other modes like Hunted, Blitz, and Search and Rescue round out the rest.
There are 14 maps (15 if you count the pre-order bonus map, Freefall). Most of the maps feel, and actually are much larger this time, working to accomodate the larger player count for PC and next-generation consoles (which is 18 opposed to the 12 found on current-generation). While you play, you’ll find holographic and luminescent cyan briefcases. These are your field orders, giving you a specific objective to earn a killstreak or one of the map-altering weapons that deform the level for the duration of the game.
Equipping a perk is tied to your soldier’s level and have been categorized among: Speed, Handling, Stealth, Awareness, Resistance, Equipment, and Elite. If all of this sounds complex, it’s because it is, for honestly no good reason and the game does a bad job at explaining anything to up-front.
Multiplayer – Squads
This mode isn’t much of a mode, but it is the best pairing of training with bots online and offline. Squads is about allowing you to work with computer controlled players in matches without feeling the pressure of a game full of people better than you. When bots are in matches with you, they exhibit erratic AI behavior, such as mantling objects at weird angles or heights, running against walls endlessly, or even standing still for too long, allowing you to get a headshot. At other times, the unpredictable AI can be a crack-shot with any weapon and take you down before you can see them, inexplicably.
Perhaps this is an exact replica of the multiplayer you’ll experience. It’s a nice diversion away from hate speech and annoyance you’ll find with a room full of actual people, but it is far from real competition.
Multiplayer – Extinction
New to the series, and replacing the Spec Ops mode, is Extinction. Marrying the similarities of Treyarch’s Zombies mode with Left 4 Dead, this has you drilling alien pods to destroy the invasion of extraterrestrials who have come to a small Midwestern town in the heart of America.
The leveling is different from Squads and traditional Multiplayer. You have a separate evolution here, allowing you to upgrade your character with certain abilities via four classes given to you that specialize in engineering, medicine, and straight up assault. The aliens feature animalistic behavior, and will swarm you from all sides, so any money earned from kills should be used to help the team or put up defenses such as electric fences that will zap aliens dead once they make contact.
Extinction is better than it has any right to be. It’s an utterly ridiculous premise (no more than zombies in Treyarch’s series), but one that is entirely fun and tense, whether solo or online. The only drawback is that at the time of release, the mode is limited to one, albeit large map.
As far as fidelity goes, on PC the game looks really good when the settings are cranked up. That being said, the visual fidelity still feels dated and drab. Colors are muted and lack vibrancy where you’d expect it, even in the middle of downtown where lights on skyscrapers are everywhere, simply lack a visual punch. This is a post-apocalypse of sorts, but it doesn’t need to feel like someone didn’t turn up the saturation.
After playing the retail version of the game, and after some patches, the Playstation 4 version of the game is on par with max settings as PC. There were no framerate drops or difference in level loading (unless you have an SSD on your PC or PS4). It seems to be easier to find other players through matchmaking. The DualShock 4 controller doesn’t have any specific actions that make this version stand out over the others, but is a very solid shooter for the newly released platform.
Sound design is fantastic this time around, where weapon sounds have a proper crunch and punch in the ear cavity as you’ll want it to. Some sound effects are recycled from past games, as they are just inherent to the game. Gone are the five-second metal riffs each time you level up. Ghosts excels at the sound of explosions, gunfire, and even ancillary dialogue and tips from human controlled players in multiplayer, giving you descriptive text of where players were last seen.
Infinity Ward’s effort is underwhelming and remarkably average. Call of Duty: Ghosts is far from a bad game, but it isn’t great or living up to the expectations of what should be a next-generation game. In fact, Ghosts plays it very safe, with predictable story arcs and a by-the-numbers design that is evident of a series losing stamina, and the pressure of bi-annual releases from alternating developers.
A Steam code for the game was provided by PR for review purposes