Another November means another iteration in the Call of Duty franchise. This year’s installment is headed by Infinity Ward, the creators of the popular Call of Duty: Modern Warfare titles. Prior to release, Infinity Ward made sure people knew the Ghosts was a completely new story, made on a brand new engine to enhance every aspect of the game. The question is, with next-gen looming overhead, did they deliver?
The campaign in Ghosts mirrors that of past Call of Duty titles. There’s an attack on America and it’s up to a small group to go against armies to save the world. With Ghosts, Infinity Ward had the chance to effectively start a new story with new characters. The events of the Modern Warfare games had all been wrapped up so starting fresh made sense. Yet, when it comes down to it there is nothing new about the campaign. It’s the same Call of Duty formula that relies on large set pieces and explosions to give the illusion of something grand and spectacular.
Ghosts does a very good job of holding the player’s hand throughout the entirety of the story. You will not need to worry about what you are supposed to do or what your objective is because the AI will constantly tell you what to do. Phrases such as “hop that wall”, “stack up on the door”, “get to the LZ”, and “we need to get to <insert super important mission objective here>” are heard ad nauseam. On the off chance you didn’t hear it the first fourteen times, the AI will make sure to remind you over and over again.
I have been a fan of the Call of Duty single-player campaigns since I first played Modern Warfare. In fact, the sniper mission in the original Modern Warfare is still one of my favorite missions to date. Sadly, Ghosts’ campaign was devoid of any emotion, and as such, gave me zero desire to care about what was happening. I felt like I was only going through the motions to collect as many achievements as I could on Xbox 360. Ghosts’ campaign quickly turned from experiencing a story to straight up existing in a shooting gallery, fending over wave after wave of enemy as they filed out of doors, hallways, helicopters and boats. Shoot a few, reload, advance to a half wall, take cover; rinse and repeat.
One big addition that Infinity Ward promised was the inclusion of Riley the German Shepherd. He promised to add realism and depth to the story. Yet, in reality it Riley is nothing more than a momentary distraction. The first few campaign levels you can order Riley to attack an enemy and even guide him around with a camera mounted on his harness to gather intel. However, after the first couple levels Riley is virtually nonexistent and merely an afterthought.
Graphically – at least on current-gen (and we’re happy to revise when we have access to next-gen) — Ghosts won’t wow you, even after a mandatory hard disc installation. It looks just ok. Actually, it looks like every other Call of Duty game from the past couple years. The game’s audio fared worse; there were several instances where the audio cut in and out completely, as well as a handful of times when there was an enemy/or dialog on my left and the audio came from the other side. A minor issue, but one that certainly became frustrating after a while.
Even with the grand explosions and scenic set pieces the Ghosts campaign has a ‘been there, done that’ feel to it. It’s almost like Infinity Ward used the same storyboard (or, other stuff) from past games and just changed faces and locations. In the end, it’s an uninspiring foray into what could have been a launching pad for future next generation Call of Duty campaigns.
Let’s be honest though, if you are looking at getting Ghosts, chances are you’ll spend the majority of your time in multiplayer. Infinity Ward has introduced a couple new modes to try and change things up. Cranked is a traditional team deathmatch with a twist; when you get a kill, you become ‘cranked’. You have thirty second to get your next kill… or you die. As you chain together kills, you unlock more perks making you faster and stronger. On paper, it’s good in theory and for the most part it’s a chaotic mess of fun. The one drawback to the mode is that its team-based structure doesn’t really fit; it’s far more suited to a free-for-all style of play.
Other modes include Blitz, which is similar to Capture the Flag except there is no need to bring the flag back to your base to score. You simply get into the other teams marker and are transported back to your spawn. It’s a solid mode, but really not that much different than Capture the Flag; it doesn’t really stand out as such. The other new addition is Search and Rescue. This mode combines Search and Destroy with Kill Confirmed. When you die, you drop your dog tags; if your teammates pick up your tags you respawn. However, if the enemy gets your tags, then you are done for that round. This is probably my favorite of the three modes because it promotes teamwork yet it still feels lacking as it’s not a completely new mode, but a combination of two existing modes instead.
The other new mode is Squads. It completely replaces the Spec Ops mode from the past two Infinity Ward Call of Duty titles. In its place Squads allows you to play against bots, and challenge other people’s bot-squads. You can fill your squad with your multiplayer characters. Unlike previous Call of Duty titles you create a character get them to max level 60, and then start a new character. These characters populate your team, and play based on the weapons and perks you have for that loadout. You can also play with friends and still earn XP, though there is a cap on how much you can earn per day. It’s an interesting mode, and certainly fun for those times when you are learning maps, trying out weapons and attachments or just want to goof around.
The maps are one of the few things I was legitimately impressed with. Several different locales are used, from a space station to a ruined castle. There’s solid variety and decent differentiation in sizes. One challenge with the bigger maps is that since — on current generation consoles, at least — the lobbies are capped at 6 vs 6 there is almost too much room. You can run around for a while and not find anyone to shoot. While some of the bigger maps are perfect for domination, they aren’t always as well suited for Blitz or Cranked. Prior to release there was a lot of talk about new destructible environments in Ghosts. In reality it’s one or two small things that happens the same way every time. Shooting a tree to cross a ravine, it falls in the same place. The overhang on a gas station has a predetermined path when it falls. This is a case of illusion taking the place of substance. If Infinity Ward wasn’t ready to go all in on destructible environments with their new game engine, they may have been better off not including it at all. It looks forced and unfinished in its current state.
Character customization deals with perks, weapon, and equipment loadouts. In Black Ops 2 the perk system was redesigned as the Pick 10 system. You had ten points to spend and perks had different weights and values. It was simple, easy to understand and user friendly. With Ghosts, Infinity Ward took that idea and seems to have attempted to make it more robust and option-heavy. The result is anything but. There are now 35 different perks in in 7 different categories. Choice is good in theory, but the perk system in Ghosts quickly devolves to confusion and uncertainty. A friend said it best when he first loaded up multiplayer and looked at the perk options “What the hell is this?” The list of 35 perks should have been trimmed down, or at least minimized, by upgrading perks to Expert level or something similar when completing challenges using them.
With any first person shooter, it’s all about the weapons in the end. Ghosts has no shortage of weapons or attachments. Primary weapons fall into one of 7 categories; assault rifles, sub machine guns, light machine guns, marksman rifles, sniper rifles, shotguns, and riot shields. On the surface there are a plethora of weapons and a wide assortment of attachments for each category. After playing around with a lot of them and trying out various attachments, I was left underwhelmed. All of the weapons in the assault rifle category largely felt and performed the same way. Differences are very minor and more often than not boil down to whether you want an automatic assault rifle, three round burst, or single shot. The stats amongst each weapon in a given group don’t change much at all; it’s more cosmetic than useful. Some of the weapons have attachments already built into them, allowing you to add more attachments to them since you are allowed to add your own, but you cannot remove attachment that are already present. For instance the Honey Badger assault rifle already has a silencer included, and cannot be removed, though you can stack on other attachments.
One noticeable difference between Ghosts and the last few Call of Duty titles is the decrease in air support kill streaks. In the past few Call of Duty games, it seemed like more and more kill streaks were in the air and players had to be constantly worried about helicopters, AC 130s, predator missiles, and attack drones. Infinity Wards seems to have made a conscious effort to scale back the kill streaks and instead make most of them ground base and easier to counter/destroy. This change certainly cuts down of some of the frustration at not being able to do anything due to so much going on. The kill streak system is again divvied up between three packages based on your play style; Assault, Support or Specialist.
One thing that has been a bane of gamers for what seems like eternity is spawning. Sadly, the spawn system in Ghosts has not been improved at all. I can’t count the times I spawned and took two or three steps only to be shot in the back. On that note, you’ll die very quickly, even in core game modes. I played a lot of Hardcore modes in Modern Warfare 2 and 3 and well as Black Ops and it seems I die just as quickly in this game which leads to more frustration. Another curious omission is there is no longer Theater Mode. For those gamers who want to post cool and amazing clips on Youtube if you don’t have a capture card or similar device then it’s no longer possible, again at least on current-gen.
In Treyarch Call of Duty games, everyone knows to expect a zombie mode. It’s a mode that many players pour hours and hours into, unlocking secrets and finding those elusive Easter eggs. Infinity Ward attempts to take a page from Treyarch and created its own four player mode called Extinction. Out are zombies, and in are aliens. Yes, you read that right: aliens. During this mode you need to work together with up to three other people and destroy alien hives with a drill and make it out alive. It’s an easy mode to pick up and play, it doesn’t have the depth and mystery of Treyarch’s zombie mode though. Also, there is only one map, but one can guess that there will be future DLC maps much like the zombie maps where there is one per DLC.
Obviously, the game looks better on next-gen, but it can’t shake the problems we’ve outlined above.
Infinity Ward promised a lot with this installment of in the franchise. With the start of the next generation of gaming looming only weeks away, this was a chance to reinvent the franchise and breathe some needed life back into it. Instead, Infinity Ward seems content to follow the status quo and churn out basically the same story they have before and offer up little, if any, innovation to build upon. What should have been a huge step forward turned out to be a giant step backwards. I have been a Call of Duty fan for years, but have been disappointed with the last two games now. The adage fool me once shame on you, fool me twice shame on me certainly applies here. I won’t be fooled a third time at this point next year. Thank you for the memories Call of Duty, but unless there are major changes I think our relationship has come to an end.
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