Reviewed on: PlayStation 3
Also available on: Xbox 360, PC, Wii U
Reviewed by: Bracken Lee-Rudolph
Call of Duty: Ghosts is the tenth main iteration in the immensely popular franchise. Activision’s much maligned and equally praised first-person shooter series has broken records, hearts and many controllers over its long history, and despite claims of a lack of innovation and progression, Call of Duty always seems to keep itself fresh for its fans. This year, it is Infinity Ward’s turn at playing CoD after Treyarch’s Black Ops 2 in 2012; let’s hope that Ghosts doesn’t fade away like a spirit in the night.
The story, as expected, is unequivocally average after starting with a lot of potential. The title starts with Elias, the protagonist and his brother’s father, recounting a tale of a military force known as the Ghosts, who held off a massive military force against all odds. While the sons are sceptical, their opportunity for scepticism is cut short by tremors, which turn out to be an orbital strike from the space station ODIN – which has been occupied by Federation troops. While the two remaining troopers on the space station do manage to stop ODIN destroying the US entirely, certain cities are still hit, such as San Diego (creating No Man’s Land) and Los Angeles. These scenes are filled with panic, a lack of control, and emotion from the characters that seems somewhat genuine.
Flash forward ten years, and you are informed as to who the Federation are (basically all of South America) and that you (with the United States military, stereotypically) are in a war with them, holding the remains of Los Angeles. The brothers (Logan being the playable one and Hesh the older) are joined by a dog named Riley as they sift through the ruins of Los Angeles, skirting along the massive defensive wall built for protection from the Federation. Up to here, everything is excellent – the atmosphere of the desolate city, the step away from real-world conflicts or environments, and the fact that the characters have already been made more relatable by being known as something other than mindless killing machines. Unfortunately, this scene, 20 minutes into the campaign, is the peak of the narrative.
From there, the title descends into the all-too-familiar, “Trek from point A to point B, smiting any and all who stand in your way” campaign, with linear levels, very little character development, and badly written levels and scenes. Riley is a gimmick in the most blatant way, and the emotional connection that Ghosts tries to strain out of the player to the dog is wholly ineffective. In fact, there are only two real positives in the campaign: It gives you the opportunity to see where the multiplayer maps come from and it allows players to try out a few of the guns to see what they’ll start out with.
Before you enter the multiplayer, however, you are prompted to play Squads. Squads is, in essence, multiplayer with bots, and can be played in a number of ways, both locally and online, such as Players vs. AI, Player vs. Player (with AI) and Wave Defence. These modes are played on the multiplayer mode and serve to acquaint players with the multiplayer gameplay and weapon handling.
Squads also introduces you to the new “Create-A-Soldier” class system. The new customisation system starts you off with one soldier, whose default class setup you can decide for yourself with an additional 2 classes available for use, and more available for purchase when squad points are earned. The soldiers that you create here, complete with their weapon sets and appearances, will make up your squad when anyone plays against it, and will play (or camp) as their weapon sets would be played.
Additional soldiers can be purchased for 3 squad points, from the second to the sixth soldier, after which the seventh to tenth soldiers scale up from 200 to 500 points respectively. Guns, attachments, perks (if not unlocked by default or by level) and killstreaks all need to be purchased with squad points too. Squad points are earned through levelling up, performing field orders and playing well in Squads and Multiplayer, and transfer across the two modes (as well as classes, soldiers unlocked, etc.). While the system is quite confusing at first, it allows for far more personalised customisation of classes, allowing players to use (and unlock) what they want rather than only using what is currently available.
Squads is fantastic for new players who need some acclimatising to the game, as well as for players who feel the need to work on their aim or that are having lag issues in multiplayer. However, playing against the AI, as challenging as they can be, can only be fun for so long, and eventually you’ll want to try out the numerous multiplayer modes on offer.
Multiplayer includes some new modes, and a couple of notable absentees. The most notable changes are that Capture the Flag has been replaced with Blitz, and Search and Destroy has been replaced with Search and Rescue, and League Play has been omitted from this year’s release. While the omission of League Play will likely be accounted for by Clan Wars, the two replacement modes are quite big news, if not necessarily good news, considering both Search and Destroy and Capture the Flag are long-standing competitive game modes
Search and Rescue isn’t too drastic a change from Search and Destroy, considering that it takes the same basic formula that SnD used (2 bombs sites, one team attacks, one team defends) and adds a system where a player drops dog tags when they die. In SnD, if a player died in a round, were dead until the next round. In SnR, if a player dies and their tags are collected by a friendly, they respawn immediately; however, if their tags are collected by an enemy, they are eliminated from the round and can only respawn when it ends. This tweak may breathe some fresh life into a game mode often avoided by running players.
Blitz, unfortunately, doesn’t quite hold the same appeal as Capture the Flag did. The concept of Blitz is basic. Each team has a portal in their base which the enemy must try to run through. This portal teleports them back to their base and scores a point for the team. While this game mode certainly promotes a more frenetic attack than Capture the Flag did, it also offers a far less tactical one. In the few Blitz matches I’ve played, two have resulted in players simply sitting at the opposition’s point and walking through the portal when it’s active while the opposition team did the same. There’s a reason Capture the Flag, or some variant, has been around in first-person shooters for so long, and sadly, Blitz is not a suitable replacement for it.
There are a couple of other game modes – namely Cranked and Hunted. Cranked is a variant of Team Deathmatch, clearly designed to ward off campers. When you get a kill in this mode, you become “Cranked”, meaning you have 30 seconds to get another kill or you explode. While Cranked, you move faster and earn double XP. It’s a fun variant to a classic game mode and definitely worth a few rounds of play.
Hunted starts players off with basic equipment – namely, a pistol, throwing knives, and a flashbang. Random crate drops happen periodically throughout the round, dropping stronger weapons with more ammo and the teams have to kill one another to win. This would be quite a fun game mode to play with friends, but hasn’t really gripped the online community, as can be seen in the difficulty finding a match.
Other than that, the multiplayer modes will be familiar to fans of the franchise, and easy to grasp for newcomers. There’s a massive community of locals on the Call of Duty servers, so there are usually South Africans in most modes – meaning you should be able to find lobbies without lag. The matchmaking was quite bad on release, but since the latest patch, I’ve had no issues finding games locally.
The game plays really smoothly, as would be expected of a game running the same engine as its predecessors. The gameplay feels notably heavier than Black Ops 2’s – characters move slower, traversal of objects feels more sluggish (and in this case more realistic) and the weapons handle notably differently. The maps are much larger than they have been in any of the other current-gen Call of Duty titles, which turns out to be a bit of a mixed bag of a lot more space to run and a variety of different gun battles against a ton of space for campers to be hiding and running for miles only to be shot in the back, having not seen an enemy.
Compounding the issues of having the extra space is the slightly broken spawning system, which causes spawns either to happen on opposite ends of the map (especially frustrating in the large maps) or near enemy players. The latter issue can be equally as frustrating for the respawner as it can be for the enemy as either could kill the other, and both could be classified as a spawning problem rather than a battle of skill.
Gun balancing also needs to be worked on, as there is a clear advantage to some weapons which can decimate entire battlefields, while others can barely scratch enemies’ helmets. The sniping is drastically overpowered, as the new scoping system means that quickscoping is now far easier to perform (something that Infinity Ward claimed they had tried to take out of the title), and enemies are now far easier to follow. Additionally, since most of the sniper rifles are lethal “from the knee up”, this gives snipers a distinct – and frustrating – advantage over other players.
However, for all the criticisms I can level against the imbalanced weapons and equipment, the customisation options more than make up for it. There are 32 primary weapons, 8 secondary weapons, 6 Lethals, 6 Tacticals and 35 perks. Keeping in mind that each weapon has between 7 to 17 different options in terms of attachments, the variety in everything from weapons to perks means that a player can tailor their soldiers’ loadouts perfectly to their preferences. This also means that you encounter a far more varied set of play-styles in public lobbies than you would have in previous titles.
While Call of Duty’s tweaks and modifications do keep the game quite fresh – even to seasoned veterans of the franchise, it’s hard to keep running a game on the same engine and improve it every year. This definitely shows in the textures and environments, where Call of Duty: Ghosts looks extremely dated, with pixelated objects, environments with very little detail and flat character models. Although the animations (particularly the new climbing ones) are still quite smooth and the game runs incredibly well, it is disappointing that Call of Duty: Ghosts looks basically identical to Modern Warfare 3.
There is one other mode I’ve yet to discuss: Extinction. Extinction is a one- to four-player survival mode; Infinity Ward’s answer to the wildly popular Zombies mode from the Treyarch games. The objective of the mode is to destroy alien hives (of which there are 14) and escape. Aliens get more difficult and have higher-tier classes as you progress through the level, and extra weapons and power-ups are available to purchase and/or activate as you progress.
As a response to Zombies, it has a long way to go and lacks the depth and inspiration that made Treyarch’s survival mode so popular. As a game mode unto itself, Extinction is quite fun with friends, achingly boring alone, and add a bit more time value to the title – if not much. That said, it is nice to have a different enemy for a change, and since Infinity Ward’s Spec Ops mode was none too impressive, Extinction is a pleasant progression for their Call of Duty universe.
While not an oft-discussed component of Call of Duty, the audio has always been one of its stronger assets. Ghosts’ sound follows that trend, and is absolutely fantastic. The guns, expectedly, sound realistic and echo cacophonously through the maps in multiplayer and the environments in the campaign. The voice acting is average at best through the campaign, but the multiplayer has characters calling out enemy positions when their players see them, which is a welcome addition. However, the two biggest improvements that I noticed were with the sounds of suppressors and the surround sound.
Suppressors, or silencers, were best described by a clan-mate as sounding like “wet farts” previously. However, gunshots from suppressed weapons now sound far closer to gunshots in reality than before. This also helps with the second major improvement – the surround sound. Call of Duty has always been good with surround sound placement allowing you to track your enemies. However, Ghosts takes this a few steps further and makes the sound placement pinpoint, allowing you to know almost exactly where your enemy is coming from (something that can be enhanced with an in-game perk).
Call of Duty: Ghosts may not look particularly great, but it plays solidly, sounds excellent and has enough content to keep a multiplayer gamer happy for an inordinate amount of time. However, the real hook comes from just how compelling the game is to play. Call of Duty’s biggest asset has always been that it is easy to pick up and play, and just as easy to sink countless hours into – and after nearly 20 hours in the multiplayer already, I’m sure that Ghosts will be constantly in and out of my console until the next iteration of Call of Duty lands.
My final, and one of my biggest gripes with the title at this point is the lack of eSports functionality – something that Black Ops 2 handled excellently with its League Play system, which allowed players who wanted to play competitively to play separately from the public players. While Clan Wars may fill that void when it releases on the 25th of November, it relies on a clan system which is filled with glitches.
The idea is that the entire clan system can be run either in-game or on a mobile app available from Google Play and the App Store, however, both the in-game system and the app are currently barely functional, meaning that players are often confronted with errors when they try to join or manage clans. While these should be fixed in the coming months, they currently have frustratingly little use to the competitive or professional players.
Call of Duty: Ghosts is not at the pinnacle of modern gaming, nor is it even a flawed gem. What Call of Duty: Ghosts is, and what Call of Duty will likely always be, is a complete multiplayer experience with a fair amount of content and some thoroughly addictive gameplay, which more than makes up for its visual and narrative pitfalls.
A new Squads mode for players looking to acclimatise to the multiplayer before diving in and an Extinction mode as a reply to Treyarch’s Zombies mode may not be of a high enough calibre to write home about, but they certainly add substance to the title – something the short and pointless campaign never manages to do. In closing, if you’re looking for a solidly-built, fairly fast-paced multiplayer game, then Ghosts is for you. If you’re looking for a revelatory single-player experience, then you’ll want to look elsewhere.
Lasting Appeal: 9/10