Call of Duty: Ghosts

For better or worse, Call of Duty has been a phenomenon during this (Xbox 360/PS3) generation, at least since the original Modern Warfare brought about an online revolution at least. Since then CoD has become a yearly landmark on the videogame release calender. This year’s entry, the Infinity Ward helmed ‘Ghosts’, is also the first to break the latest cross-generational barrier. Does the new hardware mean an old dog can learn a few new tricks, or do the extra consoles cause cutbacks?

In all honesty, this game is hard to argue as anything but a step back from last year’s Black Ops 2. While Black Ops 2 introduced branching storylines, mid-mission player choices, and multiplayer-esque strike force missions, Ghosts plays it safe again with the strictly linear set-piece walkthrough of previous titles. This step backwards denotes all the main drawbacks of Ghosts – namely that it is all too much a by the numbers Call of Duty game, to the point that it often feels like a separate game trying to imitate the success of the franchise rather than a franchise entry itself.

Let’s start with what is usually a secondary selling point for the series – the campaign. The story concerns itself with the titular Ghosts, your run of the mill best-of-the-best special forces team, and their place in the war between North and South America. Whether or not the rest of the world is involved is never made clear, and the usual globe trotting adventures seen previously are this time limited to the Americas. While this had the potential to tell a more confined story – one of a resistance against an invasion of the characters’ homelands or whatnot – it never reaches anything more than ‘we are at war with an enemy’. Even the slightly post-apocalyptic undertones created by the use of a kinetic super weapon against the United States are never truly touched upon. Instead we are left with a world that is decayed, and a military force that is supposed to be underwhelmed, that acts as little more than a background for a run of the mill war story.

As for the gameplay, it’s very much Call of Duty. That is to say it all works very well, albeit nothing has changed. The framerate is solid for the most part (the 360 version holding it perfectly steady while the PS4 version suffered only minor drops at rare intervals – just enough to notice but not enough to have a negative impact). The general feel of the controls just works, as it always has. The problem is not with how the game plays, it comes with how you play the game.

The set-pieces have all the bombast that we’ve come to expect, and the minute to minute action is still satisfying, but there’s always a feeling that we are simply replaying something rather than experiencing something for the first time. Even the most ardent Call of Duty supporters – myself included – must at this point be feeling series fatigue. The lack of meaningful plot, and occasional set piece that is more slog than anything make this one of the weaker entries into the series.

What cool ideas Ghosts does have are underdeveloped. There are a couple of missions where a 3rd dimension is introduced to combat – namely the outer space and underwater sections. These segments allow the player to travel along any plane of motion, adding a whole new depth to combat. Finding cover and being able to flank above and below instead of simply around is a breath of fresh air, and introduces a whole new element to thought and player process, but there are only three short missions that utilise these elements.

Really though, the single player is quickly becoming an afterthought in these games, and may never even be touched by those simply here for the meat of the package – the multiplayer.

Call of Duty can be said to be the game that really caused online multiplayer to become a phenomenon – Halo may have proved it to be possible, but 90% of all online shooters now follow Call of Duty 4’s original example, and Ghosts is no different. While Black Ops 2 had a fantastic points system to class creation, Ghosts simplifies the process by relegating points to perks – the more useful a perk the more points it costs etc – and uses a more old fashioned system for the rest of a loadout; you simply pick weapons and attachments, the number of which varies due to perks rather than points.

When everything gets into action it again has the same feeling that the campaign had: one of fatigue. We’ve been here, we’ve done this, it’s all very good but we’ve spent the last few years doing the same thing. While some would argue that this is a good thing – why fix what isn’t broke after all – something could have been done to make this feel somewhat new, rather than, to exaggerate slightly, a simple reskin.

Even the interesting and honestly fun Extinction game mode is little more than a re-imagining of Treyarch’s zombies, replacing the undead for the extra-terrestrial.

Now, the elephant in the room. Is this game better on the next-gen? Yes and no. There is an upgrade in graphics, that’s a given, and the little details like sniper scopes only zooming the scoped section, leaving the rest of the screen unzoomed, add a lot to the sense of the game. But the framerate drops and game-crashing bugs (which I will admit were rare, but are definitely present) may be a turn-off for some. Honestly, the best way to decide which version to pick up is to pick up the same one as your friends. Ghosts doesn’t gain or lose anything meaningful from the upgrade, but being able to enjoy the biggest parts of the package with friends will be the real selling point.

When all is said and done Call of Duty Ghosts is not a bad game; it’s a fun title that has a few cool ideas, but often times feels like a third party attempt at making a modern military shooter. It’s all very Call of Duty, and it’s up to you to decide whether that’s truly a good or a bad thing.


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