Review: Call Of Duty: Ghosts Is A Mixed Bag Filled With Old Ideas
Ghosts is definitely not the best Call of Duty game ever released, but it certainly hits its fair share of high notes along the way.
- Worth The Time?If you're a fan, you'll probably struggle to find a minute wasted.
- Things LovedOne of the most cinematic and exhilarating campaigns yet in terms of gameplay. Extinction is a brilliant new addition. Small tweaks to the multiplayer make a large impact. Squads rewards those who sink hundreds of hours into every Call of Duty title and offer a new take on Prestige. Lots and lots of content for your buck. Riley is probably the most awesome Call of Duty character ever...
- Things Hated...too bad he's hardly ever used. Narrative is disjointed and just bad. Even though changes are there, they're pretty small. Multiplayer maps a just a bit too big. New multiplayer modes are fun but don't make a dent on the classics. Menus are confusing and overly complicated. Visually unimpressive, even on PC. Performance issues, especially with SLI and CrossFire configurations.
- RecommendationThere really is no room for this here. You're either a fan by now or you aren't, and if you wanted Ghosts you probably already have it.
- Name: Call of Duty:ghosts
- Genre: First-Person Shooter
- Players: 1-2
- Multiplayer: Co-Operative, Online
- Platforms: Xbox 60, PS3 and PC (Later on PS4 and Xbox One)
- Developer: Infinity Ward
- Publisher: Activision
- Price: R629.00 (Console), R449.00 (PC)
- Reviewed On: Xbox 360/ PC
If there is one thing that has been certain for a long time in the gaming industry, it’s that every year we can look forward to a new Call of Duty title in November. And, against everything you see and read on the internet, this is usually a very good thing, as we are treated to a formula so near perfect that even the smallest of tweaks have a profound enough impact to keep us playing for the next 365 days. Black Ops II was easily the best entry the series has seen, leaving Ghosts to fill some pretty big shoes. Does it succeed? In a nutshell, no. Despite retaining the series’ cinematic and exciting pedigree when it comes to campaigns, as well as including a new Extinction mode, Ghosts’ offers nothing profoundly new on the multiplayer side while weaving the most incomprehensible narrative the series has seen yet.
One thing that can be said about Ghosts is that it’s chock full of content. Probably the first stop for many (but not most by a long shot) is the single-player campaign. Call of Duty as a franchise has always taken pride in providing cinematic and explosive single-player campaigns, filled to the brim with climatic gameplay moments that truly make you feel like a badass in the living room. Ghosts is no exception to this rule, and probably provides some of the most standout gameplay moments from the series yet. Aside from the awesome explosion and tension filled moments, such as escaping from a self-destructing oil rig and sliding down the side of a crumbling building, Ghosts ups the stakes a little bit and constantly throws you into new environments. Underwater levels that don’t actually feel on rails and two individual mission that put you outside of Earth’s atmosphere really do shine and change up the pace a little bit, and show that even small environment changes go a long way to make a familiar experience feel that much better. And of course it’s not Call of Duty without putting you in control of some extremely powerful ordinance, with the ability to rain down rockets from outer space being a particularly standout moment. So much for that AC-130 hey?
Ghost really hits its stride when it hands you control of various different vehicles to wreak havoc with as well. Unlike previous iterations, these segments feel a lot less on rails and more in your control, allowing you to roam relatively freely around a confined but spacious battlefield in various different missions using all sorts of tanks and metal birds. One particular mission puts you on the front lines of a tank assault, which quickly turns into something you’d expect to see out of a Twisted Metal title. It’s woefully unrealistic but just too fun for you to take notice, and it’s moments like these that reinforce the idea of a certain type of single-player pedigree the series has come to be known for. Improvements don’t stop there either, with stealth segments feeling less scripted and more open for you to experiment with. And then of course there’s Riley, the German Shepard that has been the forefront of the hype leading up to Ghosts. Let’s just say he’s probably one of the best parts of Ghosts’ campaign, and it’s an absolute joy to have him along for the ride. It’s just a pity he’s only around in less than a handful of missions. And no, I won’t tell you if he dies or not, although he’s probably the only part of Ghosts’ campaign that will evoke any manner of emotion.
And so therein lies the real problem with single-player: the story is just too darn boring, clichéd and treaded territory that it becomes almost impossible to care about it or its characters. Activision made a big deal about Ghosts’ story, especially after snagging the writer of the critically acclaimed film Traffic. It filled some hearts with hope that this essentially new storyline (and sequel franchise) would be far more riveting than the tale of Modern Warfare, which ultimately culminated in a disappointing and lukewarm ending. Sadly though, Ghosts offers up possibly the worst storyline to feature in a Call of Duty title to date, rehashing themes from previous titles and basically replacing the enemy. Gone are the days where Russia was the bad guy, with a joint venture from Southern America called the Federation now taking their place. By gaining control of a space station called Odin for a few minutes, the Federation managed to launch an attack on the USA that virtually left them open for invasion. Ten years and millions of lives later, the USA is about to lose the war, and the only thing stopping the Federation is, of course, the Ghosts.
Now that might not be entirely accurate, and there’s certainly a lot more fluff underneath the cracks, but all you really need to know is that an army attacks America, they fight back with nothing to lose and eventually all is right in the world again. There’s also a bit of a revenge tale thrown in there with a past Ghost member being brainwashed into joining the Federation and killing off previous squad mates, but as you’d expect that too fails to capture any real emotion from you as the player. And it’s not even the fact that the story is uninspired, but also the fact that it’s wrought with inconstancies. The United States looks like a post-apocalyptic wasteland on all fronts, but somehow the government still manages to organise covert international missions while defending their final standing city. In fact, most of the time you’re not defending your homeland you’ll probably be extremely confused as to what you’re actually doing under the ocean or in a tropical jungle. Thankfully the gameplay is more than enough to keep your attention glued to the screen, but it’s easy to just write off the entire narrative about half-way through. Even worse is the scene after the credits, which suggest that this will be a tale continued in future Infinity Ward titles. Not a good sign.
Thankfully, that’s where most of the criticism stop. Most, not all. Moving onto the more co-operative side of things, Infinity Ward have introduced their take on Treyarch’s extremely popular Zombies mode, named Extinction. It’s easy to make the assumption that this is a simple alien for zombie swap on the surface, but Extinction represents probably the most ambitious and rewarding risk Infinity Ward took with this entire game. You can take on the mode alone (not advisable) or with up to three other friends as you progress through a map in an attempt to destroy various Alien hives while fending off rather awesome looking aliens brought to Earth by the crash of the Odin satellite. It sounds pretty standard, up until you start digging deeper into the belly of the beast. One player is forced to forgo weapons and carry the drill to each Hive site, which after setup needs to be protected from the aliens it attracts. That’s not to say you’re just moving from A to B while shooting things. Not even close.
Along the way you’re able to look in nearby garbage cans and crates for “loot”, in every sense of the word. You could find additional ammo, weapon attachments and money that can be used to purchase more weapons around the map or activate class specific abilities. Each player takes control of a specific class member, each with their own skill tree and abilities. Money can be pooled together during a session based on what the team thinks is best for any given situation, but more interesting is the ability to level up your character in each session, with kills and combat specific challenges allowing you to buff certain statistics and weapons for that session. It’s a type of progression that forces players to experiment with different combinations and styles of the players taking on the horde with them, and it leads to some extremely frantic and memorable encounters that reset after each playthrough. It’s as every bit additive as Zombies has ever been, and in some cases a form of evolution of the idea. There shouldn’t be many that will miss the Infinity Ward trademark co-operative mode Spec Ops, but Extinction is a welcome addition that can definitely move on as a strong staple in future Infinity Ward developed Call of Duty titles.
Sticking with new ideas comes Squads, an all-new albeit confusing solution to the way players can Prestige in Multiplayer. In the past, once you reached the level cap offered online you had the choice of staying put or hitting the reset button, letting the game reclaim all rewards in exchange for one prestige level. This in itself was a purely cosmetic decision, but Squads aims, and succeeds, at changing that by making you actually care about individual soldiers as you level them up, individually. By using points earned from playing online, you’re able to unlock and customise a variety of different soldier presets. Fairly straight forward and a much need step into character customisation for the series, but Infinity Ward takes it a bit further. Each soldier also comes along with a brand new rank, meaning that changing from your Level 30 Mexican grenadier looking squad mate to a more slender and recon-like female soldier effectively resets or changes your current online level. It’s a great way to keep those sinking hundreds and hundreds of hours into online multiplayer entertained, and almost turns Call of Duty into a military simulator.
You’re forced to juggle points earned between upgrades for different squad mates, which doesn’t really come into play until you interact with the exclusive Squads multiplayer modes. Here you can hop online with your other squad members, controlled by AI, and tackle a friend’s own customised squad. Fend off waves of enemies, go head to head in a variety of different multiplayer modes or simply pit two squad against each other in team deathmatch. It’s an effective and addictive way to see how your choices play out when the computer sits behind the wheel, and how your combat choices fair up against another person’s 5 man squad. Granted, not everyone will make use of Squads at all, but those who do will most certainly find something to get them coming back for months to come.
And then, of course, comes the real meat on the bones of Call of Duty: Ghosts, Online Multiplayer. Every year we see some small new innovations and changes that are added to the near perfect formula that has been crafted over the years, and every year it’s either a hit or miss. With Black Ops 2 the introduction of a new way to build classes using 10 points that could be spread literally in any way really opened up weapon customisation for the first time, and allowed players to truly play the way they wanted, unhindered. Ghosts keeps this in mind while also incorporating a few older ideas into the mix as well, such as Strike Packages that were last seen in Modern Warfare 3. Creating a class still allows you to customise each weapon slot as you see fit, with a finite amount of slots being made available. All weapons and gadgets are open from the start, the only decision being whether to wait for them to unlock via ranking up or purchase them with points earned online. Probably the most interesting, and only real, change comes in terms of perks. In the past, you could choose up to three perks which were all split into classes. Instead, Ghosts pools all of these together and weights them based on what they offer, giving you a finite amount to mess with. So now, instead of having to pick three different perks that all play out different, you could group together up to 5 lesser perks that suite your play style, or stick to three from the same vein of play. It’s an interesting system that just adds to the customisation from Black Ops 2, but that’s really where most of the multiplayer changes end.
There’s of course new Killstreaks to mess around with and new weapons to come to terms with, and I’m almost certain the additional time it takes to stab someone, coupled with the new hip slide mechanic, will be something for hardcore fans to come to grips with in the near future. One thing that doesn’t particularly stand out in a good light in terms of Multiplayer is the new maps. While they are grand in scope and quite varied in detail, most of them feel a bit too big for the frantic nature of Call of Duty’s gameplay, and it was rather common to see the same complaint online. This could just be something for players to get used to, and each map does have its fair share of hotspots, but it just felt as if running around aimlessly was all too frequent and getting from one end of a map to another just took a bit too long. A small gripe considering some of the more dynamic changes maps undergo, with the possibility of them changing completely half-way through a match and putting everyone on a bit of a different footing.
Some of the new games modes introduced with Ghosts offer up some fun, but fail to really make a dent on the classics which have already taken on the majority of players. Cranked is probably one of the best new additions, granting players extra speed when they score a kill, but also limiting their life to 30 seconds. This countdown is refreshed with each kill, putting a more chaotic spin on team deathmatch as players are now forced to look out for their lives as well as the rest of the team’s. Kill Confirmed has you picking up dog tags of opponents you’ve killed in order to secure points, and Blitz mode feels something like an amalgamation of American Football and shooting, and players race to opposite ends of the maps to score points by entering a certain goal marker. It’s filled with some extremely awesome moments as you balance attack with defence, and really puts a unique spin on the tried and tested Capture the Flag. These new modes are novelties and good distraction, but fail to have enough of a grab to encourage the majority of players to engage in them.
On the more technical side of things, Ghosts is a letdown. The engine is now showing its age more and more, and despite Infinity Ward wanting to secure 60 FPS (which is still an incredible awesome design tradeoff) there needs to come a time where the engine is overhauled or drastically tweaked. Having foliage not move when you make contact and having some really nasty texture pop in really isn’t acceptable by today’s standards, even more so when your game already isn’t the best looking title on the shelves. That said, Ghosts still has some gorgeous backdrops, especially in the single-player campaign, and a few neat details here and there make a world of difference in some cases. On PC however, particularly if you’re running a SLI or CrossFire setup, you’re going to have a bad time. Not only have modders found a way to bypass the supposed 6 GB RAM requirement, the game runs poorly on high-end hardware, and with dual-GPU configurations it forces users to switch to single card mode because of some insane flickering bugs. This all could be addressed in the upcoming patch, but right now it’s pretty difficult to get Ghosts, which is not that hardware demanding, running smoothly on a decent PC.
Again I ask myself, is Call of Duty: Ghosts the best one yet? No, but it’s not the worst either. It almost seems like every good aspect Ghost brings to the table is bogged down by something equally bad right next to it. A cinematic campaign brought down by an incredibly dull and uninteresting story. Some small visual improvements hampered by performance issues and aging in some regards. A more finely tuned multiplayer experience that brings nothing really new to the table. These are just some of the examples of how Ghost contradicts itself, which is disappointing considering that Infinity Ward’s most ambitious efforts are the ones that shine. Extinction and Squads are fantastic additions that take old ideas but make them completely new, to the point where you’ll struggle to find old influences. Quite frankly, that’s what this series is in dire need of moving forward. Hold onto the roots, but do something completely new with them. Because to be entirely honest, it’s feeling more stagnant now than it ever has.