Call of Duty is back in a new guise – Ghosts. How does it live up to the franchises legacy and does it improve on the patchy Black Ops II? Ryan Clayton has the answers…
The arrival of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare in 2007 changed the way we look at first person shooters. To this day, developers still take ideas from it and put them into their own games; whether it’s campaign structure, controls, set pieces or multiplayer features. Infinity Ward continued the Modern Warfare series up to Modern Warfare 3 much to many a gamer’s distaste, as lots complain about the series refusal to change or innovate from the formula that put the original Modern Warfare high on the ratings board. With these complaints in mind, developer Infinity Ward have come to a point where they are finished with the Modern Warfare story and have chosen to branch of into a new sub-brand – Ghosts. The Ghosts brand has allowed Infinity Ward to take a few risks in both the campaign and multiplayer portions of their latest game.
The campaign differs from the other games in the series, by providing an interesting backdrop for the action. A crippled America tries to defend itself from invading Federation forces, after a devastating ODIN strike is delivered from a hijacked American satellite. You pick up the gun ten years later as Logan Walker – a freedom fighter who, along with his brother, was witness to the original attack in LA. The desolate landscapes of a ruined USA is an interesting place to fight, verticality is played with a lot more, as crumbled buildings and craters fill the streets. The tone is almost post apocalyptic, as cities are reclaimed by nature, it’s a visual treat – in a similar vein to The Last Of Us (without the mushroom zombies of course). The destroyed America setting has allowed Infinity Ward to get creative with their level design and take a few turns away from the full volume, Michael Bay explosion-fest reputation the past few COD games have earned. The Ghosts are a stealth unit and they act like they should, stealth becomes a big part of most missions in the campaign and it’s surprising how quiet the first few levels of the game are, as well as a later few levels being heavily geared towards a stealth approach. A few standout missions include an infiltration into an enemy facility while wearing disguises, as well as being left on your own in a jungle with nothing but a pistol and a motion sensor to sneak through with; as you try to find your lost squad. There’s lots of variety here, as you jump from a tank battle to a zero gravity, space shoot-out; Infinity Ward know how to take the player on one hell of a ride, as they cover just about every setting you could fight in.
Visually the game looks as expected, very much the same as Modern Warfare 3, however tweaks to the game engine have allowed for an improved lighting system as well as much more detailed character models. The game gets by on the strength of the post-invasion aesthetic but it’s still noticeable that certain effects such as smoke trails or explosions look outdated – the next-gen version is where we’ll see the game at it’s best. Despite only having a small visual upgrade, Ghosts has much improved its audio design. Guns sound heavy and punchy, accompanied by small sound details such as shell casings hitting the floor; these are not just for aesthetic value either, as sound becomes important for detecting enemies – especially in multiplayer. Despite the core improvements, the biggest presentation failure comes with the game’s story. The attempt to create a ‘human narrative’ falls flat on its face because the dialogue is so, so bad. Even when your character is related to two of the others, there is still a disconnect between them. Awkward dialogue spoken from your squad leading father fails to resonate, as he says he’s worried about your safety but then goes on to send you out into enemy territory – points out a disconnect between Infinity Ward wanting to send you out on an action backed adventure and what the characters might feel. When the dialogue in Ghosts is ignored, the campaign is the best in the series since the original Modern Warfare. It takes a few risks by placing a surprising amount of emphasis on stealth, as well as having a variation on the typical war setting, by turning America into a broken country. The game also has an excellent ending which comes as a surprise, as well as a chilling post-credits scene.
Despite the strong campaign entry from Ghosts, most people will jump straight into the multiplayer, which is also very good. A lot of base features of multiplayer have been tweaked and re-worked in Ghosts; most noticeably the class and unlock system. From the start you will be asked to ‘create a soldier’ which includes the soldier’s custom appearance as well as loadouts. Infinity Ward have struck a balance between Treyarch’s open-ended class system from Black Ops 2 and the traditional loadout rules of the Modern Warfare series. You spend ‘squad points’ to by guns and equipment, as well as perks. Each soldier you create has 6 loadout slots that you can customise, however you can also create up to ten soldiers. This new system gives players an unprecedented amount of depth to create their own custom load outs, conforming to dozens of playstyles. Combined with a robust challenge and ranking system, the multiplayer portion of COD: Ghosts give you a lot to do. However, despite the big additions to the customisation systems, in-game, you will start to see similarities between Ghosts and the other Call of Duty games. Ghosts retains the fast paced gameplay COD is known for and the best part about it, is that the maps are a big improvement over what has come from the games post COD 4.
The original Modern Warfare’s maps were great and Ghosts does a good job of providing maps that direct the flow of combat well. Choke points and sight line are smartly placed for snipers but equally there is always a possible flanking maneuver for quick SMG toting player to catch them off guard. The maps also have a good amount of variety in size, although unfortunately, the larger maps sometimes suffer from the player count being lowered on the current gen consoles, to twelve players instead of eighteen. The new gamemodes are a great addition and a welcome stay; Blitz, Cranked and Hunted change the pace of the traditional deathmatch play. Blitz is a twist on the capture the flag gamemode, but instead of a flag that needs to be delivered back and forth, there is a portal at the enemy team’s base that scores a point and teleports you back to your spawn – speeding up the pace of the match and eliminating the frustration of the impossible flag capturing task. The only let down about Ghost’s multiplayer offering is the lack of hardcore gamemodes. There is only an insulting three gamemodes in the hardcore playlist! As well as the glaring omission of hardcore playlists, the gamemode ‘search and destroy’ has been ruined by the inclusion of respawns. Re-branded ‘search and rescue’ when a team-mate dies and you retrieve their dog tag, they respawn. This removes the high tension and risk sensation that the gamemode used to offer.
The final offer within the COD: Ghosts package is ‘Extinction’ mode, which tasks players to progress through a multi-zoned level destroying alien hives. A drill is placed at each hive you come across and players must defend it from attacking aliens until the job is done, eventually progressing on to a different part of the map. There’s a distinct comparison to be made to Left 4 Dead, since the levels are structured in a similar way. However, in Ghosts, extinction mode is a fun distraction, rather than something to become dedicated to.
Call of Duty: Ghosts takes steps in some new directions with its campaign; although not every level is perfect, there is a lot of variety. The multiplayer is where fans of the series are going to spend hundreds of hours mastering the great maps and perfecting their custom loadouts. There may not be enough change or re-invention for new players to warrant a purchase, but if Ghosts proves anything, it’s that Call of Duty is still a quality shooter.
– Ryan Clayton @Dutchanator