Call of Duty: Ghosts
Developer: Infinity Ward
Genre: First Person Shooter
Release Date: 11/05/2013
The rally cry for Call of Duty to end gets louder and louder every year. However, the profits Activision rakes in also goes up with each new game. There is no earthly reason for them to stop putting out titles, and we’ll keep getting new games until people stop forking over cash for them.
And so, here we are with Ghosts. In many ways, it’s a paint-by-numbers entry in the series that seems to be using a check list when coming up with ideas. However, it’s not entirely bereft of new experiences. The new stuff is just some of the old stuff reworked and shined up until it feels like new again.
Let’s start with the campaign mode. The story here is of a group of elite soldiers knows as “Ghosts”. Like in every CoD since 4, you’ll play as multiple characters throughout the story. However, you’ll spend a grand majority of your time behind the eyes of Logan Walker. He and his brother Hesh look to join the Ghosts while they’re being hunted down by an ex-member turned traitor. In the background of this is a war between the United States and the Federation; a war which saw a giant space weapon destroy several major American cities. So we’ve got the big war that holds the fate of the world compounded by a personal vendetta with one deranged lunatic. Sound familiar?
There are a ton of problems with the story here. For starters, it laughs in the face of things like physics, anatomy, and creative writing 101. You have gunfights in space. Bullet wounds magically heal themselves. I’m not talking about the regenerating health bar that CoD is known for. At one point, your character gets shots point blank by the villain, and five minutes later you’re running around and killing things like it never happened. Said villain must also have a mutant healing factor, because he can shrug off even the most over the top death sequence. As for storytelling, Ghosts fails at every level. The character you control never speaks, and thus it is damned near impossible to form an attachment to him. This isn’t even a case where identity gives way to immersion. The characters in the game refer to Logan by name all the time, and he’s got a decent amount of back story that is revealed as you play. I certainly didn’t feel as if I were the character. I knew I was controlling some guy named Logan. I just had no idea what he was all about. Even when not playing Logan, your character will not say a word. At one point, you even get to control a character that has had lines earlier in the game. This is supposed to be one of the biggest moments in his life, but he is completely silent. It drove me nuts.
The campaign in general is a wash. The villain is uninteresting and falls into more super villain stereotypes than is seemingly possible. He performs grandiose actions supposedly in the name of killing you and your squad, but somehow always seems to leave enough leeway for you to escape. To make things worse, he’s the game’s face for the Federation. The problem here is the he’s a Caucasian man, while the Federation is supposed to be made up of South American forces. They all speak Spanish, except for when he’s around. It’s odd. Beyond him, the level design is the same kind of thing we’ve been doing for years now. Narrow corridors abound, men yell at you to fire, and you’ll get to control a helicopter at some point. A couple of different moments break things up, but not in a particularly good way. The much fussed about dog is barely even in the game after the first hour. Even then, he only shows up during cutscenes and during one annoying escort mission. He’s a non-factor. Add all of this together, plus the tacked on ending to set up the inevitable sequel, and its a big recipe for “who the hell cares?”.
Oh. And can someone please tell these guys that the bits where it shouts “PRESS SQUARE TO PERFORM ACTION” are overdone? They can simply just pop the button on screen and we’d know what to do. We’re not complete idiots.
The campaign can be whatever it wants to be really. The real star of any CoD game is its multiplayer. It’s why people keep on buying and keep on playing. There’s all the old familiar stuff, plus some new.
Let’s star with the old. Players can square off in sixteen player online action in a variety of modes. Returning favorites include Deathmatch, Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, Domination, Hunted, and Infected. You can join up with friends, create clans, gain levels, and all the stuff you’re accustomed to.
For new game modes, there are a few in regular multiplayer. Search and Rescue is a new variant of the classic Search and Destroy. You’re still out to plant a bomb/stop the other guys from planting a bomb, but now you’ll drop dog tags when you die. If an enemy picks them up, you’re eliminated from the round. However, a teammate can pick them up and you’ll respawn. This adds a whole new layer to the mode, and I enjoyed it quite a bit. The other two modes are less interesting. In Blitz, your team scores a point whenever one of you reaches a goal on the other team’s side of the map. It’s like playing Capture the Flat without the flag. It quickly devolves into people running like madmen to the other side. Cranked is mode that sounds great on paper. When you get a kill, you become “cranked”. This gives you extra abilities and doubles the points you earn. However, if you can’t get another kill within thirty seconds, you die instantly. The problem with this mode is that it is structured like Team Deathmatch. That means that teammates will be competing against each other for kills so they don’t die. It’s not very well thought out. Still, at least they’re trying with new modes.
The new Squads mode is basically a reworked version of Combat Training, albeit with an interesting twist. You see, your squad is made up of your online persona and a bunch of AI allies. However, you can use squad points to unlock one of those AI allies. Then you can play as that player and rank up as them instead. This allows you to essentially create multiple online personas without having to create a new PSN account. Squad points you earn can be used on any of these characters, but you’ll have to unlock each weapon separately for each character. The good news is that if you rank up several members of your squad, you’ll do better in squad matches. It isn’t completely fleshed out, but it is definitely a nifty idea.
Squads mode contains the typical Deathmatches and such, but it also houses the new Safeguard mode. Safeguard is basically a reworked survival mode. Up to four players faces increasingly difficult waves on enemies until the humans are all dead or the rounds run out. Of course, you can always play with infinite rounds to really put your skills to the test. The big change here is that you can no longer buy or pick up equipment. Instead, care packages are dropped throughout the map at various intervals. These packages contain killstreaks, perks, and/or weapons. You’ll have to run out in the open to get them, and you’ll have to work with your teammates to decide who really needs the item in question. Weapons get upgraded with use, but enemies might also drop emblems that bump them up a level as well. Again, you’ll have to coordinate. It’s a fun mode, but I’m not sure if it’s really any better than what we already had. It does break up the monotony though.
Finally, we have Extinction. This is basically Infinity Ward’s answer to Treyarch’s zombie mode. You and up to three other people work your way through a map infested with aliens. Your goal is to use a drill to destroy their hives. Killing foes nets you cash that be used to purchase weapons on the ground, as well as traps that can take enemies out for you. Every time you clear a hive, you’ll get a point that can be used to upgrade your character. There are four different classes and a myriad of different boosts and equipment that can be bought, allowing for a good degree of character customization. However, it should be noted that a balanced team is the best way to go by far. There are also optional objectives for each hive that net you an additional point, and the fun part comes in trying to balance the need for the point versus the need for survival. I like the mode enough, but it has one big flaw. There’s only one map, and it’s not a long map at all. Once you’ve beaten it, there’s no reason to go back. I’m sure there will be some new maps added as DLC down the road, but for now there isn’t enough to this mode for my liking.
Visually, there isn’t much to differentiate Ghosts from other CoD games. It still looks good, but it hasn’t really pushed the envelope. Character models are pretty good. The avoid the beefy space marine look that’s become far too popular in exchange for more realistic body shapes. They eyes are still a problem though. They stare into your soul with absolute menace. Seriously. Can’t these guys blink? Things look great from afar, but start to get a bit blurry when you get up close. Again, it’s not bad, but it stays the course the series has been running for years.
Prepare to be yelled at. A lot. Playing the campaign is a like trying to have a conversation during a rock concert. There’s just so much noise going on that yelling is all you can do and still be heard. The voice actors are pretty good at the yelling, but come off wooden when they have to do anything close to normal audio levels. It’s acceptable. Likewise, the music hits all of the notes you’d expect. There’s lots of drums and heavy strings to make sure you understand just how serous this conflict is. Again, it works, but doesn’t excite. The guns are probably the best sounding the series though. They have serious impact, and the boom is often ear-shattering.
The presentation as a whole is just what you’d expected from a CoD game. It’s high production values, but nothing that’s going to redefine the industry. This far into the franchise, it wows less than it might have in years past. It’s consistently solid, nothing more.
In terms of gameplay, not much has changed. The controls work the same, from aiming with the right stick to calling in killstreaks with the right button on the d-pad. The controls are tight and responsive, and I really don’t have a bad thing to say in this department. The biggest change to basic functionality is that your character can perform a running power slide It’s more amusing than anything, but can be useful for diving into cover.
Squad points are the new currency for this game. You’ll need them in order to unlock new weapons, attachments, perks, killstreaks, and other goodies. While you’ll get some for leveling up, there are other ways to earn them. You’ll have a host of “Operations” that you can complete to earn bonus points. These are basically akin to the challenges in previous games. One might task you with calling in a bunch of guard dogs. Another might ask you to reach a certain number of kills with a specific attachment. While you don’t technically need to complete any of these, they make unlocking things go by a whole lot quicker. The best part is that you can unlock any item from the start. You just need enough points.
Also new is the additional of bonus in-game objectives. When you kill an enemy, they might drop a blue briefcase. Pick this up, and you unlock an optional objective. Complete the objective before you die, and you’ll get a free care package. The kicker is that you lose the briefcase if you die, and that someone else can pick it up. These objectives involve getting kills in a certain way. For example, you might be tasked to melee an opponent or kill an enemy with a scavenged gun. Picking these up is a fun risk/reward aspect that gives you one more thing to think about on the field.
If I had one complaint, it’s that none of what this game does improves upon what was done in the superior Black Ops II. The squad points, while interesting, are a lot less free than being able to customize your character with last year’s “Pick 10” system. During the campaign, you don’t get to make any meaningful decisions or even choose your weapon layout. You’re just along for the ride. It’s kind of a big step backwards for the franchise. Sure. This can easily be explained by the fact that CoD is created by different developers that alternate releases, but it’s just sad that one of these developers is pushing forward while the other is hanging back.
Short Attention Span Summary
Call of Duty: Ghosts is basically just another cog in the machine. While it adds a few new things to sweeten the deal, it mostly sticks to series traditions. It even eschews some of the popular additions made in the last game. The campaign is a write off, but the multiplayer is as robust and engaging as ever. If you’re a fan of the series, you’ll probably want to drop the sixty dollars just to keep up with things, though series fatigue is a distinct possibility. Let’s hope the new console generation teaches this old dog some new tricks. While I’m sure the sameness isn’t hurting Activision’s bottom line, it sure it starting to make all of these games blend together.