Call Of Duty: Ghosts Review
Call Of Duty: Ghosts opens with a small town exploding. Laser strikes that rain down from the sky, spitting huge chunks of mud and dirt into the air as they slam into the earth and tear the ground apart. Narrowly surviving the destruction, your control then switches to an astronaut fending off a space station invasion, floating your way through anti-gravity shootouts.
There’s a moment where you genuinely think Ghosts is somehow going to top the epic scale global punch-up that defined Modern Warfare 3. Can this really push on even further than that game did?
The answer becomes clear long before the final showdown rumbles to its oddly anti-climatic conclusion six hours later. It can’t. In fact, that opening is as close as Ghosts ever gets.
Call Of Duty: Ghosts Single-Player – What’s New?
Let’s get the obvious out of the way first. You know what exactly what game Ghosts is.
It’s remarkable how much of Call Of Duty has become second nature over the years – checking secondary weapons at the start of a mission and ditching any pistols, following the man, knifing any guards who have their back turned for an unusually long amount of time, waiting for team-mates to kick down doors you can’t open yourself and so on.
None of that has changed in Ghosts.
It’s classic Call Of Duty through and through, as you dash through each shooting gallery at high speed, picking off targets when they dare to peek around cover, sprinting away from grenades, occasionally grabbing intel, mostly gawping at the destruction around you that you have little to no influence over.
You already know if Ghosts is the kind of game that you like or not and there’s no compelling argument here to change your mind if you’ve decided Call Of Duty isn’t your thing.
There are attempts to mix the traditional gameplay up and Infinity Ward does hit on a few strong ideas through Ghosts.
One mission sees the team infiltrating a base in enemy uniform to hack into the servers. It begins as stealth but switches gears throughout, the climax being when you have to set up defences around a room waiting for the inevitable siege to come through the doors. It ends with the team walking past all the destruction they caused on the way in, a rare moment in the series where you feel responsible for the carnage you caused. It’s brilliant.
There are further ideas dotted throughout Ghosts’ campaign that work well – using Riley as an attack dog is strangely compelling, remote sniping is a nice twist on doing the sniping yourself and the rappelling shootout is novel and interesting.
But there are just as many ideas that don’t work.
There’s a tank-driving level that has shades of ‘The Tanks Squadron’ from Call Of Duty 2 with one key difference. While those tanks had a sense of weight, the tanks in Ghosts nip around as though the drivers have been raised on a diet of Red Bull and Mario Kart, screeching around corners and skidding out of control. It doesn’t feel realistic, or engaging, or fun. It’s odd and strangely out of place.
The underwater level is also a huge misfire. Call Of Duty is at its best when its fast and forcing you into snap judgments about where to take cover when you’re hurt. Underwater, this becomes slowly ascending or descending to floating bits of cover, which is incredibly dull.
One section in particular where you have to swim past three sharks circling each other inside a shipwreck – ‘watch their patterns!’ advises your underwater partner – is a nadir for the series.
Call Of Duty: Ghosts – What’s The Story?
With no true gameplay innovation to speak of, the main change for Call Of Duty: Ghosts campaign is the tone of the story. There’s the usual threat to the USA that needs stopping – step up the Federation, comprised of rebellious South American countries – but the real meat of the story is centred on the special operatives known as the Ghosts. When one of the Ghosts turns rogue, can the remaining members stop him?
The answer isn’t quite as clear-cut as it seems but neither is Infinity Ward’s intentions, thanks to the odd tone through Call Of Duty: Ghosts.
The problem is Ghosts is never quite sure what it wants to be. Whenever it threatens to explode into full-blown OTT action-movie spectacle, Infinity Ward pulls back to focus on the characters at the heart of the story. Those characters are never given a chance to develop beyond military avatars with perfect hair and dead eyes because ultimately, Call Of Duty: Ghosts is a game where you have shootouts in space and stealth-swim past sharks.
The end result is a bizarre mix of military gun-porn and humourless Bond compilation, the chest-thumping patriotism and family honour of the former clashing with the ridiculous sci-fi of the latter. Ghosts isn’t as over-the-top as Modern Warfare 3’s epic globe-trotting warfare and it’s not as personal or emotional as it wants to be either. It’s caught in the middle, leaving it feeling flat compared to previous outings in the series.
It’s not that the campaign in Call Of Duty: Ghosts isn’t enjoyable to play through. It’s well-paced and it’s powered by the slick controls that has made the series so accessible. The guns still feel perfect – the delicate auto-aim, the unique reloading animations, the sound of a fresh magazine being slapped into the gun, everything has been put together with attention and care that’s often lacking in other shooters.
It’s just that Ghosts’ campaign is oddly flat affair, lacking the usual punchy bravado we have come to expect from the series.
Call Of Duty: Ghosts Multiplayer – Best Since Modern Warfare?
Inevitably, it’s multiplayer that is the better half of Call Of Duty: Ghosts and this is Infinity Ward’s strongest outing since the original Modern Warfare transformed console FPS games online.
There’s no dramatic overhaul or change present here but if anything does stand out, it’s the balance that runs through the online modes. Not necessarily the weapons either, as it’s too early to say how the balance of the weapons will play ultimately out – the IA-2 from the Marksman Rifles and Honey Badger from the Assault Rifles were clear favourites in the day we had playing multiplayer – but rather, it’s the delicate balance found in the killstreaks that makes Ghosts enjoyable.
In short, killstreaks have been toned down. Hugely toned down. Infinity Ward saw Modern Warfare 2’s multiplayer distorted through players tailoring their entire playing style around obtaining killstreaks, thanks to the way they dominated the match. The lessons learnt are more apparent here than they were in Modern Warfare 3 – there are very, very few killstreaks you need to be afraid of and they serve almost as bonuses.
There are very few killstreaks that work independently of the player, as almost all killstreaks need an element of human control, which is partially what keeps them in check. Guard dogs follow you around, Sat Com (the UAV replacement) needs to be manually placed on the ground, Vulture follows you around and so on. Support killstreaks are slightly easier to obtain but aren’t quite as effective as Assault killstreaks and Specialist killstreaks, which enable further perks as you rack up kills, also seems well-judged.
It’ll be interesting to see how the community responds to the toned down killstreaks and if they find any imbalance to exploit.
The other significant change is the introduction of a new ‘map’ type. Call Of Duty maps have traditionally been three-route or circular route maps. There’s now a third map type here, which is more organic – Stonehaven (the grassy castle map) and Whiteout (the snowy map). Both are sprawling maps that defy any sort of hazy symmetry so again, it’ll be interesting to see what happens when Ghosts is out in the wild and top players begin pounding those maps on various modes to see if the sprawling, organic design holds up. In the short term at least, Ghosts’ multiplayer benefits by their presence. They do feel different and unusual, and definitely make a change from the norm.
Outside of that, it’s really a series of small enhancements in the online side of Call Of Duty: Ghosts, tinkering with the multiplayer formula rather than risking breaking it.
There’s now a value attributed to each perk, and you can buy a set of perks up to a certain value (which changes depending on your overall set-up). For example, you could have 10 perk points to spend and Ready Up (aiming faster after sprinting) costs 1 point while Stalker (move faster while ADS) costs 3 points. It’s a fair, flexible system.
The dynamic maps aren’t nearly as exciting as Infinity Ward claimed and the destruction doesn’t really add much to the maps. Honestly, outside of the castle gates slamming shut on Stonehaven, you’ll rarely notice it’s there. The slide move is good fun and the customisation is long overdue although perhaps a little too light. But while these features may be disappointing in that they don’t go far enough, Ghosts is still better for their inclusion.
Simply put, Call Of Duty: Ghosts has the best multiplayer that Infinity Ward has put together since the original Modern Warfare. It doesn’t have the energetic innovation that Modern Warfare did, when it redefined online shooters for consoles, but it has honed the formula to perfection while keeping the balance in check.
The only question mark is how the netcode will hold up when Ghosts is out in the wild, given Infinity Ward has changed the matchmaking algorithms and brought in dedicated servers to do the heavy lifting. For what it’s worth, we didn’t notice any obvious issues with lag but in total, there were only 40 people online when we were playing – hardly indicative of day one multiplayer in Ghosts.
One problem that hopefully isn’t indicative of larger troubles under the surface is that the PS4 has the occasional frame-rate stutter in multiplayer. It’s rare – it only happened once every few matches – but it is definitely present and something other players experienced too. It’s not something we’ve seen in any Call Of Duty multiplayer before, so it stood out as particularly odd and unfortunate, given the frame-rate stutter is significant enough to let targets escape to safety or see you killed during the general mayhem of multiplayer.
Call Of Duty: Ghosts – Extinction Mode
Extinction mode is the surprise of the Ghosts package. You might have expected it to be a novelty twist on Treyarch’s zombies mode but if anything, it plays more like Payday. Four players pick from the tank, medic, engineer and weapon specialist classes before taking equipment that can be bought with in-game cash, such as riot shields, incendiary ammo, vulture drones and so on.
You have to take a huge drill to nests to stop aliens from spawning and defend helicopters which are called in to blast the bigger alien barriers. You can activate fire and electric traps around the arenas, use turret guns that are dotted around the town under alien invasion and use upgrade points to enhance your class abilities or upgrade your equipment.
That’s the basics of it. The actual gameplay result is anarchy – whether it’s aliens leaping through flames or munching on your gun turrets or flinging extra-terrestrial goo from a nearby building, there’s a lot of keep track of and a lot to shoot.
The reason Extinction works so well is that while it’s not quite as tactical as zombies mode, it’s far more accessible and much faster. You can jump into Extinction and enjoy it straight away, without worrying about kids shouting at you for opening the wrong door or not knowing how to turn the power back on, or anything else that made you feel unwelcome in zombies. Extinction doesn’t have the same layers that zombies did but that’s why it’s easy to jump in and start playing.
The only disappointment is that there’s just the one map to play, with the DLC roadmap no doubt already sketched out by Activision.
Call Of Duty: Ghosts – Squad Mode
Squads mode is the footnote in the Ghosts package, essentially being a series of players vs. bots matches with different variants such as all players versus bots, one-vs-one with both players having teams of bots and so on. At best, it’s a useful training tool – player bots are simply too accurate and too quick for Squads to replicate the fun and mayhem live matches against other players. Shoot at a bot and it will spin round and snipe you between the eyes.
The squads section of the menu does house the brilliant Safeguard mode, which sees four players teaming up to fend off waves of enemies while upgrading weapons, killstreaks and so on. It’s not quite as fun as Extinction mode but it’s another excellent option for those looking for their online Call Of Duty kicks.
Call Of Duty: Ghosts – Review
And that’s the story of Call Of Duty: Ghosts. It has a flat single-player that fails to engage and Squads mode that feels like an arbitrary for-the-sake-of-another-mode addition.
Yet the brilliant online compensates for this, Infinity Ward taking the Call Of Duty multiplayer template as far as it can go with fresh map design, great new modes and strong balance underpinning it all. The brilliant of Extinction mode only adds to the appeal of the online modes.
But is it enough? That’s the one question that’s difficult to answer in the face of Battlefield 4’s gigantic steps into next-gen and the threat of TitanFall looming large on the horizon. It’s the safest choice of all three but perhaps the most unambitious too. It doesn’t put a foot wrong because nothing in Ghosts is daring to tread in new territory.
It’s just a shame that the single-player in Ghosts – the one element that could have elevated Ghosts above the superfluous single-player in Battlefield 4 and multiplayer-only affair of Titanfall – ends up being the most disappointing aspect here.
Version Tested: PS4. Multiplayer, Extinction and Squads was tested on PSN network against other members of the media.