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Call of Duty: Ghosts review: A dog of a downgrade

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This generation has been quite the journey for first-person shooter titles. Call of Duty, with developer Infinity Ward at the helm, blasted its way in and completely reinvented the FPS genre. We saw titans like Halo being surpassed by this new power; this new franchise that somehow got away with annualising its releases, compelling millions of gamers to drop millions of dollars every single year. Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare tossed aside the cliché World War II setting, and innovated in every possible way. It became a benchmark for many developers aiming to succeed in the shooter genre, ultimately cementing itself as one of the most hard-hitting and inspiring games of all time.

And so here we are: Six years later, six more Call of Duty titles released, and six more opportunities for innovation. After Treyarch’s stellar effort with Call of Duty: Black Ops 2, it is clear that Infinity Ward really have to impress with Call of Duty: Ghosts. It is the first Call of Duty game to take the franchise into the next console generation and, if it succeeds, is likely to secure a healthy future for the series, carrying over the momentum and support from dedicated fans. If it fails, well, Call of Duty will feel the crown sitting firmly upon its head loosen a little, and sense its console reign threatened by some serious next-gen competition.

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Single-Player

Written by Stephen Gaghan, known best for penning Syriana and Traffic, Call of Duty: Ghosts‘ story is not too shabby. The game kicks off with immediate action, as the United States suffers a devastating attack from an enemy that, thankfully, is refreshingly not Russian! The rest of the game has players control Logan Walker, accompanied by his obnoxiously talkative brother Hesh, as they attempt to fight back against the “Federation”.

Compared to previous Call of Duty campaigns, I found Ghosts to be a lot less entertaining. Environments feel a little too familiar, and set-pieces lack the explosive “oomph” of what we are now seeing from other games out there. Dialogue is very cringeworthy at times, and the characters are overall not the most interesting. Captain Price is not going to be replaced that easily, I’m afraid.

Riley, the somewhat infamous Call of Duty dog, is actually a nice addition to the game. While he does not feature quite as much as I thought he would, his animations and interactions are solid and make him an interesting companion. He growls to alert you when enemies are close, and carries out brutal attacks that also make an appearance in the multiplayer. The moments where you are put in control of the canine are fun enough, and offer a nice break from manipulating human and vehicular vessels.

Visually the game looks good. On PC, when the game isn’t repeatedly crashing, you’ll get the usual pleasing aesthetics from an engine that is still plenty capable. On console, you’ll get the same as what you saw in Modern Warfare 3 and Black Ops 2. The current generation platforms have already been pushed to their limits, and so Ghosts is expectedly unimproved there aesthetically. The game still runs at 60 frames per second, and performance was flawless when playing on Xbox 360.

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Multiplayer

Call of Duty’s multiplayer has always provided players with addictive and compelling gameplay. Its pick-up-and-play nature has attracted many casual gamers to the franchise, making it both a platform for entertainment and social interaction.

For the more hardcore players, the millions of veteran CoD guys and gals out there, Call of Duty catered to their needs too. Black Ops 2 introduced “League Play”, which allowed competitive players to battle against one another in brilliantly intense matches. The incredibly useful and fun “Theatre Mode”, which was first featured in the original Black Ops, allowed players to create and share videos with the world. Game modes like “Headquarters” and “Demolition” became the favourites of many, with each new iteration of Call of Duty fine-tuning and improving the rules, aiming for perfection.

When I now come to look at Call of Duty: Ghosts, I get a little confused. I don’t see “League Play”, and I don’t see “Theatre Mode”. These have been stripped out completely. “Headquarters” and “Demolition” have been removed too, and replaced by less impressive game types. “Blitz”, for example, is an absolute mess, forcing players to run into an enemy’s base to score a point. Of course, most players ignore this objective, choosing instead to set up camp and take out easy targets. “Infected” makes its return, and is a laugh with friends. It’s fun, just like the Halo mode it is based on, but not worthy of replacing the other classics.

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“Squads” makes its debut in Ghosts, and will definitely appeal to newcomers looking to familiarise themselves with gameplay mechanics and weapons. However, it feels like Infinity Ward spent a little too much time focusing on the development of this game mode, when they could have instead been improving the modes in which the other 99% of players would be investing their hours.

Overall the multiplayer feels slow. Shotguns and SMGs remain decent in power, but they are completely outshone by assault and sniper rifles. Rushers, using lightweight weapons, are brutally decimated by the careful and the calculated. This makes for a more tactical Call of Duty, which some will like, and others will not. Weapon balance is, as always, something that will require constant tweaking.

While controls remain smooth, the added ability to mantle objects, lean and slide feels a little awkward. The fluidity of movement just does not compare to the likes of Crysis 3 or, for those who have played it, Titanfall. Infinity Ward’s slide gameplay mechanic replaces Treyarch’s “dolphin dive”, which have both attempted, and failed, to discourage players from “dropshotting”. If you don’t want players to suddenly go prone and cheat the system, then remove prone! Nothing honourable has ever been achieved by someone crawling around on their belly.

The map design is frankly diabolical, and downright depressing. On current-gen consoles, now with a maximum of 12 players populating games instead of 18, many maps feel absolutely huge and empty. Conversely, on the smaller maps, chaos ensues all of the time. Classic Call of Duty map design has been totally abandoned, and close-quarter matches ultimately descend into running around shooting people in the back, until you yourself get shot in the back. Too many routes, and too many elevated positions, result in an experience of pure insanity that will frustrate and drive you bonkers.

It’s disappointing to see so much work undone. Infinity Ward have chosen to completely ignore any improvements that Treyarch made with Black Ops 2, and have instead gone off on a random tangent. The game has travelled backwards. This is the follow-up to Black Ops 2? To Modern Warfare 3? Well, it certainly doesn’t feel like it. Is this a result of annualisation? Of starting to develop a game before you’ve even seen the final build of the title it is supposed to follow?

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Of course, it isn’t all bad. This is a AAA title after all, with some of the best developers in the world pouring their hearts and souls into what is their pride and joy. The Call of Duty formula is still entertaining. It’s still fun to rank up with friends, it’s still fun to take enemies out in a shot or three, and it’s still vastly superior to a lot of shooters currently out there.

A tweaked version of the Black Ops 2 “Pick 10” system returns, which makes for a nice amount of class customisation options. In Ghosts players can now finally customise their avatar’s head, outfit, gender, and more. Almost everything is available from the get-go, with the “Squad Points” currency allowing eager gamers to pick exactly what they want to rock, without having to level up for hours first. This is very much appreciated and places everyone on a level playing field.

While removing much-loved gametypes was a definite mistake; Infinity Ward have added a few promising modes. “Hunted” and “Grind” are both okay, but could use a little tweaking. “Cranked” is definitely the most welcome addition. It ruthlessly punishes campers, and empowers those who rush and kill quickly. This is exactly the kind of progress I wanted from Infinity Ward. I wanted them to see a problem, in this case excessive camping (“defensive play”), and fix it.

“Extinction Mode” is good fun too, and evidence that Infinity Ward are wonderfully capable at innovating when they want to be. It’s a similar experience to Treyarch’s “Zombies Mode”, but with a little more substance and more interesting enemies. Players can spend points on various skills which aid you in taking down waves of menacing aliens. For the best experience I’d recommend playing with three friends, as playing with strangers often results in the failure of team challenges and the loss of valuable skill points.

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Overall

The Call of Duty: Ghosts single-player campaign does what it is supposed to. You play as an incorruptible American force; you are loaded with weapons and equipment, and you face an army of inaccurate and grenade-happy bad guys. A glorified weapon tutorial, with a few pretty things to look at during the five hours you’ll spend playing it. Despite having a prestigious writer interweaving the scenes, the single-player is once again vastly overshadowed by the multiplayer component, which itself is not all that impressive.

Infinity Ward have done the bare minimum with the multiplayer. “Extinction” really is the most interesting addition they’ve made, and I hope it is expanded upon further with DLC. Unfortunately, the competitive multiplayer fails to improve upon what we’ve seen before. Not only that, but it takes a trip backwards with more removals than additions. It feels like a downgrade.

Publisher Activision really needs to consider the direction that this franchise is going in, and if it will be able to compete with the likes of Battlefield 4, Titanfall and Destiny. Perhaps the introduction of these capable competitors will be healthy for Call of Duty, and force a well-needed revolution.

Pros

  • The Call of Duty formula still remains entertaining
  • “Extinction” is good fun
  • Class customisation is great, and some new game modes have potential

Cons

  • Multiplayer feels like a downgrade
  • New unimpressive game modes replace the classics
  • Single-player doesn’t do anything different

Final Verdict: 6/10 (Last year’s Black Ops 2 still shows more signs of life than Call of Duty: Ghosts. This franchise is in need of a revival, and fast.)

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A PC review copy of Call of Duty: Ghosts was provided to us by Activision. After repeatedly attempting and failing to get the game to work properly, I purchased the Xbox 360 version myself. I completed the single-player in 5 hours, and have poured just under 11 hours into the multiplayer.

  • http://www.callofdutyview.net/ Dragon

    Good review; seems pretty spot on. Only thing I would disagree on would be the maps – this is one area where I am very happy to see larger more intricate maps and it really has some of the old school COD4 mapping feel to it. Spawns on these larger maps is what boggles my mind. There are still so many bad spawns right behind or in front of other players I can’t even begin to understand how it is possible.

  • enkoo

    After MW3 this is to me the worst CoD. And just maybe* they’re equally bad. I wont even bother to look up ever again a game that has the namemarker from IW.

  • Daniel Lloyd

    I too am staying clear of call of duty from here on until, they can actually bring out a game that is a new one.

  • Ryumoau

    i enjoyed what i’ve played of Ghosts so far, but it felt like a step back from Treyarchs Black Ops series. I’m actually more excited for Treyarchs hopefully next gen exclusive CoD in 2014.