Call of Duty: Ghosts Review

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Call of Duty gets a lot of flak for being popular. There’s surely more to it than that, it’s a series that has worked on a slow evolution across multiple titles rather than any huge upgrades, but then that’s how sports games work and how Nintendo has worked for decades. Eschewing the usual multi-year gap between releases, a new CoD game comes out every year in November and every year there’s this argument about whether or not it deserves a high score as it’s basically the same game. Somehow, one side of that argument has won out and we’re not sure it’s the right one.

Yes this is Call of Duty as you’ve known it since Modern Warfare. There’s a short but spectacular single-player campaign, and a multiplayer game based around killstreaks, progression and custom loadouts. All this much is true. But simply saying it’s ‘just another Call of Duty’ is incredibly reductive. Ghosts adds new mechanics in the campaign, a new cast, new weapons, new multiplayer modes and even two whole new sections to the game as fully featured and fleshed out as zombies ever was. For your money, you’re getting an almost ridiculous amount of content, so there’s really no reason to complain.

There’s four main modes in Ghosts, and we’ll cover each in turn. These are Campaign, Multiplayer, Squads and Extinction. Rounding out the package is a smooth menu system, progression that carries on not only between modes but also between console generations (your 360/ps3 progress is carried over if you upgrade to the Xbox One/ PS4 version), a party system is at least more robust than many other console games and various stat-tracking and loadout customisation that can be done via a smart-phone or tablet. Call of Duty gets so much right these days it’s easy to take it for granted, the fact that me and my friends can form up in a party then get put into a game where we’re all highlighted to each other and all on the same team is brilliant. We can easily scroll through the menus and check out a dizzying amount of stats for each other. If we change something in our network that restricts our NAT settings, the game tells us. While Call of Duty might be loud and bombastic, there’s a lot of little details that have been polished to an incredible degree to improve your experience.

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Campaign

The campaign is pretty dumb. This shouldn’t be surprising to anyone who’s played Call of Duty games before, but there’s very little subtlety in the plot or the execution. Instead it feels like there were a lot of dramatic set pieces planned out, and then someone had the poor job of trying to tie them together. Really they performed quite admirably, and there’s at least some likeable characters and a real sense of climax by the end, but it can feel a little jarring when you go from fighting in the woods to swimming under a battleship to where everything goes all Moonraker. That being said, all of these sequences are spectacular and the game is better for it. Ghosts does a lot that I don’t think I’ve ever seen in other games, from the excellent use of Riley – the dog, who can be commanded to attack with a tap of the LB button and actually comes in handy as well as proving to be a lovable character, up to battles in space with clips from guns floating off rather than dropping down. There are plenty of less exciting sections where you’re basically shooting in a corridor, but thankfully these are kept brief and you’re never in one place for too long. Some of the mission retread old ground but in new and interesting ways, like a stealthy assault on a skyscraper in the night and a tank battle that escalates pretty quickly.

One of the things that is starting to bug us in this genre is the number of times in campaign that you’re knocked out. It seems like every level in BF and COD needs some point where you’re blown off your feet or knocked off a bridge or pushed through a window, only to be rescued by a squadmate. We understand they’re trying to show how strong the bond between soldiers is but I’m sure there’s more ways than simply very-nearly blowing people up every ten minutes. Maybe they could share a pack of Polos?

Overall the campaign feels like a frantic rush through a Michael Bay movie, with some cool weapons and set pieces, and a story that might not be smart but at least has coherence and a clear progression. By the end of the game you will care about what happens, maybe in ways you don’t quite expect. There’s a proper villain which is often lacking in these games and over the five or so hours it will take you to play through there’s just enough challenge to keep things interesting. Of course the single player pales in comparison to Bioshock or Half-Life but as far as COD games go we’d put it up there just behind Modern Warfare and the original Call of Duty.

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Multiplayer

Multiplayer is a difficult beast to review because it’s different for everyone. I’ve personally enjoyed it a lot, but then I’m OK at it, I’ve heard of lots of people being immensely frustrated because they’re not so good at it. By now you’ve probably got a good idea of whether you want another Call of Duty game and this won’t change your mind, but if you are interested then this is definitely the best so far.

In terms of mechanics, it feels more like Treyarch’s games thanks to slightly more health and therefore less instant deaths. You are of course cut down if you’re seen, but every now and then you’ll be able to dive into cover which is immensely satisfying. Leaning is a prominent feature and more able players are already using it to great effect, popping their heads out into corridors for sniping or to guards objectives. You accomplish it by simply press the left trigger whenever a little orange arrow turns up near your crosshairs when you’re near the edge of an object. Annoyingly it tends to only work on straight edges, so some geometry doesn’t work with it at all but when you do find a good spot it’s incredibly helpful.

The other new movement is the slide. Replacing the swan dive from previous games, players can now sprint and hold B to do a kneeslide that seems silly but feels so cool when you make it. Sliding drops you down a little bit below where people will usually firing, so you can slide into a guarded room and occasionally take out one or two enemies before they readjust their sights.

The biggest change to multiplayer is the modifications to killstreaks. Assault killstreaks rely far less on air power, instead focusing on ground-based weaponry or buffs that turn you into a killing machine. There seems to have been a philosophy of finding the fun killstreaks and making the most of them, so there’s less fire-and-forget and more that change the gameplay up. Calling a dog up is incredibly useful and entertaining, with their odd superpowers enabling them to run up ladders and dive out of tall buildings to land on their prey. They can be killed easily but if they’re not you can keep one for the whole game, with no time limit – forming a real attachment. Other than dogs there’s airborne missiles, helicopters to snipe from, helicopters to pilot, drones that guard you and even NPCs armed with shields who are surprisingly suicidal and effective. With less air support there’s a great focus on actually fighting other players, with Killstreaks rarely dominating a match.

Every now and then when you kill a player a small glowing briefcase will appear, if you collect this briefcase you’ll be given a challenge, if you complete the challenge you get a care package. There challenges vary from killing two enemies while crouched, to teabagging an enemy after you killed them or using non-killstreak explosives. Some are harder than others but it’s a nice bit of spice to the game that changes things up when you get them. The care packages often just give you killstreak rewards but sometimes have a grim reaper symbol that means you will do something that changes the map. In one map theres a small rocket strike, in another a satellite crashes, in one there’s some fog that gets released and in the smallest map there’s a rocket strike that levels the battlefield, exposing everyone. It’s not quite Battlefield-style levolution but it’s more dynamic then perhaps we’re used to and it’ll be interesting to see what Infinity Ward does with this feature in the DLC.

Overall the multiplayer has kept the best of Call of Duty and added in some fairly major changes that improve the game dramatically. There’s a couple of missteps like occasionally unstable framerates (on 360) and no ping status bars showing how good your connection is, but from launch the game has worked smoothly and progression is always a joy. The new maps are for the most part brilliant, with an emphasis on large spaces with small enclosed buildings spread throughout, giving every playing style something to do. If you want to sit back and snipe, you can, if you want to run and gun, that’s fine too. Until you find yourself in the wrong environment for your loadout, then things get scary really really quickly.

Squads

The squads modes are new to the franchise and focus on the idea of your building up your own squad of characters and then taking them to battle. Your squad is like a set of loadouts that you can customise, and in some of the game modes they fight alongside you, using the weapons and perks that you selected. I’m sure there will eventually be the necessary theorycrafting so we know what the most effective loadout is, but for now it’s fun to experiment and try crazy combinations like shields and semtex or sniper rifles and magnums.In one of the modes in squads you fight with some friends against increasingly tough waves of NPCs, with opportunities to restock or get killstreaks every now and then. It’s compelling and fast, and also irritatingly well-hidden away in the menus so there’s rarely many people playing it.

Eventually Infinity Ward expect people to have fine-tuned your quad and take it up against other teams uploaded by other players. If your squad wins against an enemy you get rewards,so it’s well worth having a play.

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Extinction

The new ‘zombies mode’ is Extinction, a fast-paced wave battle against aliens who are amazingly nimble and come in horde. Infinity Ward have made a real effort here, with full skill-trees and a class system, with you being able to level up through a game by completing certain objectives. The mode is hard as nails and pretty lengthy, but sadly for now there’s only one map so once you’ve beaten it there’s very little incentive to go back. The new alien designs are more interesting to fight against than zombies, particularly once they start becoming incredibly dangerous after twenty minutes or so.

 

Overall, Call of Duty: Ghosts is a huge accomplishment, and a fitting swansong to the current generation. As far as multiplayer shooters go, it’s easily one of the best and the campaign is fun enough to be worth playing. While there are many naysayers, if you enjoy Call of Duty games you owe it to yourself to get this one and see the result of so many years of refining what it is to be a Call of Duty game.

Verdict 9

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