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Call of Duty Ghosts: A Review
Phantom of the Opera
It's the largest shooter series on the planet since Medal of Honour and older Battlefield games. Each time one of its games is released millions of people across the globe buy it upon release, and most of the earliest sales figures come from pre-orders alone. It's legacy is as titanic as its inspiration such as DooM, Wolfenstein and Timesplitters. I've not even mentioned it's name yet, but you know what it is.
Call of Duty is sadly the franchise that many love because of the name rather than the gameplay. It's a series that does few things but does them well, but with today's evermore critical audiences and gaming becoming more widespread, this isn't good enough. Even if Infinity Ward and Treyarch said that they hadn't expected the franchise to become this large, they need to move with the times and man up to the responsibilities of becoming a mastermind. They have failed time and time again, but this time it's for real; and so are the Ghosts. A lot of you have probably made your opinions of this title varying from "just another Call of Duty game with a 6 hour campaign and generic multiplayer", but believe me when I say that Ghosts changes everything for the better. It's not revolutionary by any means at all, but it's finally learnt from its competition, because after all, what's in a name?
With a brand new story, setting and cast, we can expect to finally move on from the Modern Warfare series that has managed to drag on for the sake of it, though I will always remember it's climax as one of gaming's greatest. Ghosts isn't likely to turn into a brand new series, but the new additions to single player and multiplayer outside of the campaign such as Squads, Extinction, character customisation and new standard multiplayer modes, we can expect to see these in the game's future, as well as the later games. It could even lead to Treyarch learning too as they only have the Zombies leg to stand on, and even that's starting to decay.
Call of Duty: Ghost's story is a mixed bag, plain and simple. When you pick the title up you're expecting something along the lines of playing as MW2's Ghost character, and when you dive in you're expecting something along the lines of I am Legend. Prepare for your expectations to be vanish immediately as soon as you meet the 'legendary' Ghosts. For the first time in an Infinity Ward CoD game, players take control of Logan, who is part of an entirely American cast. So don't expect the English covert ops, or the Russian sniping missions. The US has been divided once more thanks to a terrorist group known as the Federation, who have taken the government's prized weapon - ODIN - and used it against them. South and North America are now at war, and it's up to the Ghosts to stop the leader of this group, Rourke.
Post-war America looks gorgeous, teeming with wildlife and nature uncontrolled. There's rusting cards covered in freely growing vines, and elk roaming the ruins of once great metropolises like its their former home. If you can think back to Jumanji, chances are you'll have a clear image of what Federation-controlled America looks like. But where things go wrong are not long after the first handful of missions, because this theme goes completely ignored afterwards. It doesn't take long for you to be fighting in the sea, in outer space (those two examples are endless fun) and in factories. The sad part is that it's never covered afterwards: did America recover from this? How will this affect later Call of Duty games? There isn't so much as a subtle nudge toward an answer, likely because - I'm afraid to say - the designers didn't think about it.
The Ghosts are.... problematic. When joining the Ghosts I had this familiar feeling which was identical to when I played Halo 3: ODST. The Orbital Drop Shock Troopers (ODST), much like the Ghosts, are the elite especially in covert operations. The thing is that they weren't portrayed as well as they should have been, and are instead cut 'n' paste personalities you expect from games like Medal of Honour: Modern Warfare. Once again Infinity Ward disappoint because not only did Ghost of MW2 get a very positive reception and cult following, the Ghosts have some very interesting lore behind them such as first and last rites. It's almost amazing how little Infinity Ward does for its cast, because so much effort went into creating their looks and the level design (yes, I am aware there are different teams). If the same effort was put into filling those hollow uniforms as colouring them in, I'm sure the Ghosts would be worth buying this game for alone.
Another sub-plot in the game is the relationship between Logan, his brother Hesh and their father, Elias. But once more this goes completely forgotten later on. Early on Hesh acts like a proper older brother, appreciating the dangers the two are in and uses vital teamwork skills to keep each other alive. Though Elias is a great commander and loves his children, he does little to show it after he reveals one of his biggest secrets to them. I don't understand why there wasn't any room for dialogue of a personal level, not even "you OK, bro?" and "Wilco, dad.... I mean, commander".
"The AI is so sophisticated you could mistake it for an English butler!"
Don't let this bother you because even though the campaign's story is topsy-turvy, the gameplay is stunning. It seems to combine all our favourite elements of previous games like vehicle control, alternate ways of controlling characters and of course covert operations. These aren't particularly new but they make a very simple and often boring experience so much more diverse and dynamic. When you're racing around in tanks; infiltrating top secret scientific research facilities; shooting enemy astronauts in a low gravity map or just filling divers with lead, you want more. In a way I'm glad that the campaign only clocks at approximately seven hours, because I would never have stopped for a lavatory, food or drink break during the entire experience.
If there's one fatal flaw that Call of Duty makes, it's lifespan, but I can see what the problem with longer games is. For starters, not everyone can invest that time into a game, and seven hours of campaign is probably suitable for most working adults. When multiplayer matches are short and sweet there is no need for around 14-20 hours of duck 'n' pop gameplay, or rather, three games in the Modern Warfare series. Too much time means dragging out unnecessary battles which add nothing to the experience. In seven hours, Infinity Ward have given a very satisfying experience both mentally and visually. You can shut your brain off whilst playing the game's campaign, and still be satisfied with its difficulty and intel finding.
Infinity Ward lack in story telling capabilities in this game (in others it's great), but they more than make up for it in visuals. It's quite clear that they wanted to make the campaign an epic visual experience - there's so many large structures, attention to detail in animations and environments, huge areas to cover.... all of which will explode and shatter at your very whim. While this isn't nearly as pretty as Battlefield multiplayer, a quarter of your day drooling at the sight of dusty deserts, enchanting seas and murky jungles is time well spent. Many claim that the developers don't care for the campaign, but when compared to its competition, Call of Duty has made it perfectly understandable that it does want to make the experience memorable. The mission, Into the Deep, is the perfect example of just how much these guys want you to appreciate their work.
Outside of its visuals and achievements (the latter of which are plentiful, keeping achievement hunters occupied for much longer), the campaign doesn't boast a lot. It's still great for Call of Duty standards and is easily the most exciting next to Modern Warfare 3, but the rule I cannot iterate enough is that it's still only Call of Duty.
Where Infinity Ward really wanted to expand upon was the co-op experience. Modern Warfare introduced spec-ops, which were segments of older levels that required players to beat them in a certain time as well as meet special requirements. There were also survival modes within the list of missions, and were fantastic (plus some were exclusive to MP) amongst friends. Despite its popularity it hadn't seen much development nor creativity, but here in Ghosts you can quite easily tell that Infinity Ward not only wanted a game changer but also a truckload of fun.
Squads is easily the feature with the most demand, allowing players to create their own teams offline and online to go into certain survival mode missions, my favourite of all being Extinction. Even though this doesn't sound all that interesting, especially to those who have played games like Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter or even Overlord at a stretch, you have to see to believe just how innovative this feature is. For starters, customisation is something I've wanted to see in Call of Duty games since the first one on the Xbox 360 and not just in the form of weapons. Perking and gearing up only goes so far to making your character unique, whereas in this game we can finally change facial details, armour, headwear and even gender, which makes a pleasant change. Not only can you do this for your own character but for the rest of your squad, and you can change everyone's weapons and perks too. Another grand thing is that you can swap which team member you can play as, so if you die and don't fancy being a sub-machine gunner, you can swap to a Sniper teammate and cover your AI partners.
Infinity Ward have made the AI very intelligent too, much better than any game with survival mode I've seen thus far. In most games it's very easy for the waves to just come right at you without any strategy or planning - it's just like trying to hit a target which slowly proceeds toward you at a shooting range. But here the tension is genuine as enemies are quick and replicate the online experience almost perfectly. You will have to expect run 'n' gunners as well as AI that might just sit in wait, making this a great substitute (but not a pure replication) of the online versus experience.
The all-round best thing about Squads and Extinction mode is the fact that it's not Zombies. By this I mean you're not crammed into tightly packed rooms with little lighting, while you have the undead stumbling towards you in a scripted fashion. In Ghosts the word "random" cannot be emphasised enough, especially in Extinction, where players face off with an alien menace known as the Scorpions. It may sound like a last ditch effort to mimic the World at War survival innovation, but when you play this mode for yourself you'll wonder why this wasn't done any sooner. The AI is so sophisticated you could mistake it for an English butler, as the aliens will leap around and perform all kind of tricks to evade your bullets, all the while making progress toward exterminating your team. As said by the lead designer, this was pretty new for the modified Call of Duty engine and for the franchise in general - nothing has been so mobile or as graceful as the Scorpions in Extinction mode, adding more fluency to the visual appeal of the game. Playing with close friends only adds to the "co-op" feel, where you will need to play your role by providing ammunition, health and even aggro control thanks to the amazing levelling system the game mode offers. At long last the microphone isn't just for muting, as your allies will notify you of when they drop an ammo dump or if they are in need of revival. I think you'll agree it's about time the silent treatment of online gaming was kicked from Call of Duty.
"At long last the microphone isn't just for muting!"
Standard versus multiplayer is unfortunately just that: standard. Despite new maps, kill-streaks, weapons, perks and other things to keep you busy there isn't anything that makes this a totally new or thrilling experience. In fact, dare I say it just feels more boring than previous titles, even more so than the Call of Duty début on the Xbox 360. Character customisation is great but extremely limited at lower levels, so early into the game you can expect to get your backside kicked repeatedly by those with much stronger gear and knowledge of maps, and it takes a good 14+ levels in before you can start feeling comfortable with this new environment. The old modes return such as Standard, Hardcore and now Clan versus Clan, but nothing new has been added as of yet. Perhaps when future patches are released (as the game was just yesterday), there might be more advancements in modes.
My favourite thing is the character objectives you can get throughout the maps. Field Orders are special requirements for kills that grant you bonus experience and Squad Points for character customisation. Picking these up and getting them randomly gives more incentive not to rush and die because if you're killed, you lose the field orders and must find another one again. Similar to the Operations, which are tasks your character can complete for more experience points, which have carried on since Modern Warfare. These Operations just require you to get so many kills or assists with a certain weapon or killstreak, or rank a certain place in a particular mode, so nothing new here then. It's still something to work toward and I like goals in a multiplayer mode where deathmatch is almost always first priority.
The final thing to mention is dynamic maps and to be perfectly honest I was expecting so much more than what was offered. The whole idea of dynamic maps is that they can be destroyed (albeit not wholly) to open up new areas and block off others. What we're given is maps that rarely have a single dynamic moment within. Very few times have I seen people so much as trying to interact with the environments, and when I do find something that can be destroyed, it can't until a certain time in the match. It pains me to say it but this is once again a feature I was overly excited by; I wasn't expecting much, but I wasn't expecting the dynamic maps to be what the title suggests: Ghosts.
You look like you've just seen a Ghost
The visuals haven't changed much since Modern Warfare 3 and the explosions haven't changed much since the Playstation 1. Environments look great but the character models outside of the Playstation 4 and Xbox One are muddy and are thinner than Twiglets in multiplayer modes, whereas in the campaign they're beefy giants. The guns don't look much better either and are hardly an improvement from previous titles in the game. This is why people call the Call of Duty games mere map-packs, and after looking at the graphics of this product, I can't say I blame them.
But the audio is where everything picks up, and guns sound terrific. Gunfire couldn't be any sharper and adding a suppressor to most of them adds an auditory kick that Ghost's firearms lacks in physical feel. There are times in the campaign where I kept certain guns despite low ammo or a less favourable scope because they sounded so nice - that is the power of music. And no, this game doesn't have much of a soundtrack.
Grabbed by the Ghoulies
After everything that I've said about this game I'm betting that you've made your opinions. That you may want to see another review just in case you're ready to buy, or few enough changes have been made to warrant it worthy of your wallet. Sadly, I can't recommend this game. There's not much wrong with it, it's just that for £40 you're only getting the same as you always have - a six hour campaign with some new multiplayer maps and a co-op survival mode. Don't let the excitement of a new release fool you, because both Black Ops 2 and Modern Warfare 3 are just as popular and haven't changed much. I don't mean to tease you, this is just how I feel. I paid mostly for the excitement of having a new multiplayer game, and that didn't last much longer than the campaign.
This is an example of buying a name in its truest form. I knew what to expect, but all it turned out to be was more of the same. I have no problems with the same, but it does become repetitive, and it's been like this for nearly a decade. Infinity Ward have made some great advancements with this title, but sadly they don't stick. I suppose this is just one rough stepping stone to the next great adventure. I can't wait to see what they have in store for the franchise, and I'm sure, neither can you.
If you're on the fence about this game or are just curious, don't bother with it. If you're a die-hard Call of Duty fan, this is your first priority on the wish list. I can't articulate it any more than that.
Please let me know your thoughts in the comments below! I thank you for reading and wish you all a pleasant day.