Call of Duty: Ghosts has finally arrived. If I’m not mistaken, this is the 10th main entry into the series, and it touches down with quite a bit of anticipation and excitement, like most Call of Duty titles do. Infinity Ward is back at the helm (I’ve always preferred them over Treyarch) and with the addition of the new Extinction mode, as well as some revamped features, Call of Duty looks ready to take the world by storm again.
After spending three games with Sergeant John “Soap” MacTavish, Infinity Ward has finally decided to give us a brand new setting and story for Ghosts. This time around you play in an entirely different universe, set in the near future. The story places its focus on two brothers, Hash and Logan, who are part of an elite, almost legendary squad of soldiers known as Ghosts. They’re living in a world where a new superpower known as the Federation has emerged. Unfortunately, the game never really puts a face to the Federation, instead choosing to make its main antagonist a former Ghost member who has been turned by the organization.
As you can probably surmise, the two brothers, along with their fellow Ghosts, set out to stop the Federation from taking over the world. That’s about as deep as it goes though, as we don’t really know anything about this new superpower’s motives or intentions. The Federation is a faceless enemy and by not fleshing them out even in the slightest, it makes for a story that carries little dramatic weight.
Like most entires into the genre these days, the story here is paper thin, as are the characters, and everything involved in the campaign really only serves as a backdrop for the bombastic extravaganza that will follow. It’s a shame too, because even though the Modern Warfare games were pretty lacking in the plot department as well, they still presented us with a story that was fun to follow and characters who were easy to like. Here, the whole thing just becomes real hokey, real fast. Everything is so telegraphed and predictable that you’ll find it hard to even care who’s who and what’s what. Neither of the two protagonists, or any of the Ghosts for that matter, really stick out. They’re supposed to be some super-elite unit but trying to distinguish them from any other group of soldiers found in a Call of Duty game is a challenging task. And, as I mentioned before, the Federation and the main antagonist, Rourke, are just as bad.
Admittedly, the beginning of the game gets off to a decent start but around the halfway mark, the story really sinks and from there it goes from passable to complete fail. The fact that you’re thrown into one radically different setting after another doesn’t help either. The story moves fast and whisks you from the bottom of the ocean, to the city of Las Vegas, to driving a tank, to the middle of the jungle and more, all without much explanation to help you fill in the blanks.
Thankfully, the single player campaign in Call of Duty: Ghosts is short. And by short I don’t mean the typical 6-8 hours, which is what most FPS games boast. No, I mean about 5 hours. You could probably stretch it to 6, but that depends on how trigger happy you are. On the regular difficulty setting, I can see most gamers clocking in at around the 5 hour mark.
Due to the short length, the campaign is paced rather well. Only a small handful of areas feel unnecessary or like filler and for the most part, it’s just one huge setpiece after another, offering thrill after thrill. Rarely does the game let up and you won’t find too many moments of peace and quiet, if any at all.
That being said, there’s really nothing new here. It’s your typical Call of Duty roller-coaster campaign. Explosions, vehicle warfare, stealth missions, over-the-top action that would put anything Michael Bay has ever done to shame, unrealistic moments that make zero sense…..you get the point. Infinity Ward has taken the formula that previous games have employed and have followed it to a T.
The “been there, done that” feel that the campaign gives off unfortunately overshadows what would otherwise be exciting moments. That’s not to say the campaign is dull, because it’s not. Both the underwater and the outer space level stand out as highlights that offer a nice change of pace. Additionally, one mission that sees you infiltrating a skyscraper is tense and engaging and was one of my favorites. But even that is something that we’ve seen in countless other first-person shooters.
If there is one thing that most people are going to praise the campaign for it’s the inclusion of your dog Riley. Though he only joins you on a few missions, he’s one of the most enjoyable characters in the game. Whether you’re using him to stealthily scout out areas and gather intel, or aid you in taking out enemies, every time you get a chance to interact with him it’s a real treat. It’s just a shame that he isn’t around very often, because he does make for quite the effective companion.
Despite its familiarity and lack of inventiveness, I wouldn’t say that the campaign ever becomes monotonous or unplayable. It’s Call of Duty, after all. It’s an action-packed, ADHD thrill ride from beginning to end complete with a story that is, for the most part, fairly harmless. As long as you know what you’re getting into, and I think most gamers do by this point, then I don’t think anyone will be terribly offended by what’s on display here.
That being said, it’s clear that the developers are resting on their laurels at this point (in fact, they even ripped one of the cutscenes straight from Modern Warfare 2). Though it has its moments of “ooh” and “awe,” Ghosts‘ campaign is by far the most lazily developed in the franchise and it really does stand as a low point for the series.
Before we move on, now would probably be a good time to make note of the technical aspect of the game. For this review I played the Xbox 360 version and after completing the campaign, as well as spending a good chunk of time online, I have yet to run into any bugs or glitches of any kind. The game ran smoothly throughout and not once did I notice anything worth mentioning.
When it comes to the audio/video however, I can’t say that Call of Duty: Ghosts really stands out. In fact, it doesn’t look nearly as good as some of this generation’s more impressive offerings. It’s not that the game looks bad, but it just feels like it lacks the visual punch that something like Crysis 3, The Last of Us, Tomb Raider, etc. delivered. The audio is rather unremarkable too, with typical FPS music queuing up all the big dramatic setpieces and absolutely dreadful voice actors who grunt, whisper and shout their way through the story. For a release as big as this, I really expected more on the technical side of things and am hoping that the next-gen versions deliver on this front.
So, with all of the out of the way now, let’s jump into the real reason that most of you bought the game: the online portion. In Call of Duty: Ghosts you can hop online in three different ways: competitive multiplayer, Squads or Extinction. Since it’s the biggest of the three, let’s tackle competitive multiplayer first.
Like with the campaign, Infinity Ward has stuck with what they know, delivering a solid rehash of what fans have come to expect, with some new additions to boot. XP, ranking up, customization, perks, unlocks, you know the drill by now. It’s all back in Call of Duty: Ghosts and playing online is just as enjoyable as ever. The series has long been a favorite amongst those who opt for online fragfests and with some welcome changes thrown in, I can see this game sitting on top of the online charts for a while.
Perhaps the most intriguing new addition to competitive multiplayer is the incredibly and perhaps too in-depth Create a Soldier feature. Customization has never been so complex in a Call of Duty game and with 20,000 possible configurations, you’re bound to spend a ton of time tweaking and personalizing your online avatar. There are a TON of options here and you can no doubt fit your character to perfectly match your playstyle.
It’s not that we haven’t seen customization in the series before, we’ve just never seen it like this. From faces and clothing to weapons and perks, everything is here to help really make your Call of Duty: Ghosts character your own. It should also be mentioned that in a nice change, instead of having to reach certain levels to unlock weapons, you can now purchase them using something known as Squad points, which are earned from playing the game. Personally, I like being able to unlock whatever I want despite my level and it’s a change to the Call of Duty system that I found very welcome. No level requirements on guns/equipment really helps to create a more even playing field and those who know exactly what type of gear they like can deck out their soldier in no time. Even perks, which do still have level requirements, can be unlocked early by paying a couple of extra Squad points.
Moving away from customization, all of the game modes included here play very well, even if some of them are just variations of one another. You’ll get most of the usual multiplayer modes that the series is known for (Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed, Free For All etc.), but Infinity Ward has also thrown in a few brand new ones for good measure.
Cranked is one of my favorites. In that mode, getting a kill gives you a 30 second boost in speed. If you don’t get a kill within those 30 seconds though, you die. There’s also Grind, which is kind of cool. It’s similar to Kill Confirmed but instead of just collecting the dog tags, you have to deposit them at “banks” located around the map. In total, there’s five new additions and they all offer plenty of fun, despite some of them not feeling completely original. For example, Infected is one of the new modes that I keep coming back to but it’s clearly a rip-off of the Infection mode from the Halo series.
I also want to mention that although there is some degree of level destruction to be found online, it’s not all that impressive. It’s a nice try on Infinity Ward’s part, but it won’t be a game-changer or anything. The maps themselves are great, and each one feels carefully crafted and well executed. The level destruction just doesn’t have much of an impact on the proceedings.
For those who are into Clans, the game offers a pretty hefty amount of features, moreso than previous entires in the franchise. Personally, I’ve never been one for Clans and so, I didn’t spend much time here. That being said, it’s easy to see that Clans are more deeply integrated into the game than ever before and for those who do spend their time in this area, you’ll be pleased with what’s included.
If competitive multiplayer isn’t your thing, then why not check out the new Squad mode? Here you’ll find a great place to practice and hone your skills while playing against bots. You’ll be able to earn XP and progress your online character while engaging in either a Horde-type mode, a training ground or straight up bot matches using either your squad of custom characters or by teaming up with real people. While I can’t see many hardcore gamers spending much time here, those who want to wet their feet first may get some use out of it. In the end though, it’s really nothing more than a glorified training/practice mode, no matter how much the developers try to dress it up.
Finally, there’s Extinction mode, which is Infinity Ward’s take on the Zombies mode found in Treyarch’s entries. Here, you’ll face off against aliens, instead of zombies, with up to three other players. Unlike the zombies, these creatures move pretty fast and they also have the ability to jump, leap and soar through the air, making it a tougher challenge. That aside, the mode is pretty similar to Zombies in that it’s wave-based and as you progress you will earn cash to purchase new weapons and ammo. You will also earn points to upgrade your character. It may not be as comprehensive as the Zombies mode, especially because there’s only one mission included here, but it is still one of the more promising new features and with additional DLC, I could see it becoming a big hit.
So, where does that leave us? Well, it all results in a good, but not great game. Call of Duty: Ghosts has clearly become a bit of a cash cow by this point, but the formula still works well and hasn’t entirely overstayed its welcome just yet. The single player component is your typical Call of Duty fare, despite being the weakest and laziest campaign of the series, but the multiplayer really elevates the game to a new level. Playing Call of Duty: Ghosts online is arguably as enjoyable as just about any other title out there and with three separate ways to engage (Competitive multiplayer, Squads, Extinction), you likely won’t run out of things to do anytime soon.
Call of Duty has always been a series known for its excellent online gaming and Call of Duty: Ghosts is no different. Settling back into the game’s multiplayer world was a real treat. As disappointing as the single player portion was, after a few matches online I felt right at home again, forgetting about the recycled campaign and instead, remembering exactly why Call of Duty is so well-loved.
This review was based on the Xbox 360 version of the game, which we received for review purposes.