Reviews November 18, 2013

Call of Duty: Ghosts

post main image

Reviewed by: Kenneth Seward Jr
System: Xbox 360 (Also on PS3, PS4, Xbox One, Wii U, PC)
Genre: FPS
Rated: M
Players: 1-2 (2-12 online)
Cost: $59.99
Release Date: 11/05/2013
Publisher: Activision
Developer: Infinity Ward

I’m a big fan of the Call of Duty series. Yes, I know that means I’m being labeled as something inappropriate by certain gamers. And while most of their complaints come from a random need to dislike something popular, some of the criticism is warranted. Activision’s yearly push with these titles has led to a franchise fatigue even amongst the most diehard fans.

The notion of been-there-done-that is widespread, which is why I was thrilled at the changes made in Black Ops 2. Treyarch did a wonderful job of mixing things up as well as adding some new elements to the formula (firsts for the series in some cases). Arguing about whether or not the game was perfect in all aspects is a waste. The bottom line was that finally, we were seeing the franchise move in a different, yet compelling direction. So when I received my review copy of Call of Duty: Ghosts, my excitement shot through the roof. This was to be a new start for the series, often touted as being what Modern Warfare was to the FPS genre; a shift from historic warfare to more modern conflicts. Basically, Ghosts was to be the next big leap with the series. The “next generation” of Call of Duty was used more than once when describing this game. Unfortunately, I think that that description was only appropriate for the next gen version.*

cod-ghosts-screen

As always, my first step upon playing a CoD title is conquering the campaign. In Ghosts, the story has to do with the United States being in a state of peril. To deter our enemies from attacking us, we launched a series of satellites called ODIN (Orbital Defense Initiative). At a moment’s notice the US could launch giant tungsten rods that would hit a country with the force of a nuclear blast sans the radiation. Of course, someone thought it would be a good idea to forcibly take control of ODIN and launch its payload at the US. This devastating attack successfully knocks us down a few pegs when it comes to being a global power, allowing others to take our place. One such other, made up of South American countries emerges as the Federation. Hell bent on finishing the job they started, they invade what’s left of the US. Lacking the vital resources we once had, our only shot at fighting back hinges on small covert units of elite soldiers called Ghosts.  

The premise was very interesting. The idea of fighting off foreign invaders isn’t new, but combining that with the level of destruction and turmoil seen in Ghosts seemed fresh; like an apocalypse happened but only for one country. This could have been the backdrop of a well-told story. A couple of jabs at the US requesting other countries to dispose of their WMD’s but then builds something like ODIN. Or maybe focusing on how an entire country was made to be the underdog. Instead, what we get is a weak narrative following a group of Ghosts through linear missions across the globe; a generic romp involving slow motion sequences, explosions, and…a dog taking down a helicopter.

cod-ghosts-screen-2

Infinity Ward tried to make an immersive experience tempered with summer blockbuster, action movie moments. There are some great, yet improbable moments like fighting underwater and shootouts in space. Outside of those brief missions, everything is a by the numbers affair. This is made worse by the fact that there is no camaraderie between the Ghosts. No meaningful banter, no heartfelt devolution of past exploits – no reason to really care about them other than the fact that the game tells you that you should. Sure, they’ll yell at you to take cover or run over to help you up after taking a nasty fall. However, these are well established staples of any shooter with AI cooperatives. A perfect example of what I mean can be seen in the canine member of the group. At no point in the campaign do you really get to interact with it outside of telling him to attack someone (and one brief moment where he needs to be carried). The other Ghosts will acknowledge his existence, sometimes going as far as petting him but not your character. I call it “it” because he wasn’t a big part of the overall experience (his name is Riley by the way). He was just another tool used to push certain parts of the story forward. Honestly, at least the dog had the fact that he wasn’t human going for him. Everyone else was just faces in the crowd. Even towards the end of the campaign, when things take a turn for the worse, I really didn’t care about my team. I just wanted to move on to the next battle.

The real offence here isn’t that the story was so generic in nature. It’s the fact that Infinity Ward didn’t include any of the features introduced to the series in Black Ops 2. There are no choices to be made that would affect the story, no special weapons or items hidden in levels – heck, even the controversial RTS styled missions are a no show. The lack of previously introduced gameplay elements is truly telling; I believe that the lack of innovation here is the result of the yearly push. In other words, since Infinity Ward was probably working on Ghosts when Treyarch was finishing Black Ops 2 , they wouldn’t have been privy to the newly added franchise elements. At least, it seems this way based on the campaign. The good news for CoD fans, there is a multiplayer mode!

cod-ghosts-screen-3

Like always, if you didn’t like CoD’s multiplayer offerings before, Ghosts isn’t going to change your mind. For everyone else, I’m pleased to announce that shooting friends online is still as fun as it’s ever been. A lot of this has to do with the way weapons and perks are balanced this time around. Though there are still guns that are technically better than others, for the most part it comes down to your comfort level and experience with a given weapon. You wouldn’t use an assault rifle the same way you’d use a light machine gun; you might not get any kills with the LMG but are able to chain multiple headshots with the rifle. It was great to no longer feel unfairly out-gunned because I wasn’t using a popular weapon.

Then there is the revamped point system used when picking loadouts. This time around you’re given 12 points to use picking your primary and secondary weapons, lethal and non-lethal grenades, and perks. Attachments and killstreaks no longer use points so you’ll have more to use on afore mentioned items. To balance this, perks will of course range in cost depending on their overall usefulness. At the same time, there are way more perks to choose from. This change makes it easier to create your preferred loadout based on how you like to play. This is a good thing seeing as how there are more than thirty new weapons to get familiar with; it may take some time figuring out what works best for you.

Outside of weapon choices are new match types. Cranked is an insane addition that forces players to stay on the move. After getting a kill, a 30 second timer will start to count down. If you don’t get another kill before the timer hits zero, you explode. To help you in this regard are speed perks, granted every time you kill someone. The matches are often hectic with people disregarding common sense just to avoid their pending explosion. Then there’s the new mode called Blitz, which is an interesting combination of Capture-the-Flag and Domination. Each team must protect a goal point located on their side of the map. All the opposing team has to do is have one of their soldiers run into the goal point to score. To keep things fair, after someone scores a 10 second timer will pop up that prevents anyone else from scoring for that particular team. Blitz can be fun to play but it’s hindered by campers. Understandable, seeing as how the places to score points never moves. Still, it can be frustrating to play when there is an abundance of players pitching tents. In one game, I realized that no one was running for the goals because everyone was waiting to shoot someone trying to score.

cod-ghosts-screen-5

Also among the short list of new editions to the series is the option for  gamers to create their own soldiers. Not only can you pick your physical appearance, but also your character’s gender. There are a lot of combinations to choose from and while I didn’t find it that exciting, the series has certainly been moving in the direction of player customization. Even less exciting was the ability to create multiple soldiers to use in Squad mode. To make a long story short, it’s where you and your AI controlled team is put against other players and their teams. When you’re offline, your squad can be challenged by other players in Squad Assault mode. Regardless of how the match goes, you’ll be rewarded with experience points when you log back in.    

Similar to the campaign, I feel as though Squads is weakly compelling at best. Playing against the computer, no matter how human like, just isn’t as fun as playing against actual humans. There aren’t any special game types when playing against Squads – Team Deathmatch against AI opponents is the bases of play.  Since their playing styles are depending upon what weapons you give them, you cannot train them to behave in a specifically desired manor. So there’s no sense of accomplishment when they beat a rival. Honestly, it seems like a gimmick to keep gamers playing as opposed to something really worth their time. Having all ten of your Squad members hit prestige may sound cool but untimely doesn’t add anything to the game; it’s no different than having one character and prestiging ten times.  

The last addition to note is the all-new 1-4 player cooperative Extinction game mode. Here gamers will need to battle hordes of aliens while completing objectives. The objectives will change over the course of the level; at one point you may be defending a position, the next you are assaulting an alien infestation. There is a class system that helps teammates support one another. Dropping ammo, boosting stats, deploying sentry guns, there’s plenty of ways you can help in fight. Though not entirely unique and as of this writing there is only one map, it is a fun mode that rivals Zombies from previous instalments.

cod-ghosts-screen-4

Call of Duty: Ghosts features a lack luster campaign and time-wasting gimmicks. It does offer at least three fun new multiplayer modes, new customization elements, and other tweaks to the overall formula though. It would take a month to dissect everything that’s changed (for better or worse) and my review is already pretty long. The main thing you should take from this instalment is that in a lot of ways it’s a step backwards for the franchise. With that being said, if you’re a fan of the series you’re going to have a lot of fun regardless.   

Gameplay: 8
The multiplayer components are fun as always. The campaign and the new Squad modes aren’t worth your time though.

Graphics: 7
The map designs are great but visually, Ghosts doesn’t look as good as Black Ops II.

Sound: 8
Guns and explosions sound as they should.

What’s New: 7
There are new features presented here. There are also a lot of features that have been removed.

Replay Value: 8
The multiplayer modes will keep most people playing till the next game.
 
Final Score:

7.6

*This review is of the Xbox 360/PS3 version of the game only. We’ll take an in-depth look at the next gen version and follow up with any noteworthy details (outside of it having better graphics of course).

Update: Click here to see how the next gen version fared.