Over the course of Call of Duty’s existence I have taken part in Allied invasions, Russian winters, Black ops in Vietnam and drone warfare on a massive scale. Each campaign carried on the same formula that was eventually honed to a razor’s edge with subsequent installments. Unfortunately with the departure of figureheads Jason West and Vince Zampella, Infinity Ward visibly suffered. I enjoyed Modern Warfare 3 but it was a frankensteins monster compared to the glorious MW1 and MW2. Black Ops seemed like a step in the right direction but even with Black Ops 2 significant additions, the futuristic setting and characters left me feeling tired of the series for the first time in years. With Ghosts Infinity Ward has an opportunity to make amends, they are starting a new series, they have new consoles and a new team ultimately to create the best Call of Duty experience to date. Fortunately for us, Ghosts is one of the best Call Of Duty games since MW2, containing a fantastic single player campaign coupled with great Multiplayer that benefits from a new engine for the first time in over 5 years.
Unlike most people, with each iteration of Call of Duty I look forward to jumping into the Campaign. I rarely dabble in multiplayer with the exception of Call of Duty 2, Black Ops 2 and now Ghosts. I loved the story of Soap and Price and genuinely enjoyed MW2’s campaign and was saddened by the death of Soap in MW3. Black Ops tale of Mason and Woods was a awesome story and the best told in a Call of Duty to this day, cementing Treyarch as the new leader in the two team trade off each year. Ghosts establishes new canon and focuses on a setting in the future much like Black Ops 2 but it is the depiction of the world that varies greatly. In Ghosts, the United States Western coastline and southern border have been decimated by the ODIN rods system; mobile weapons satellite that can fire from space. The Federation, an amalgamation of countries from South America has joined together, hijacking the Odin and subsequently trying to invade the United States. The story takes place ten years after the Odin was fired on the west coast. Aptly dubbed No Mans Land by the soldiers defending it, cities like San diego have been destroyed and a bitter battle has been fought for a decade. With the time seemingly right, the Ghosts come into play, a special forces squad designed to fight larger enemy forces using guerrilla tactics. The US decides to take the fight to the enemy using the titular Ghosts as Logan and his brother Hesh, under the command of their father Elias, help turn the tide in a desperate war.
The Story setup is strong and the characters are generally more fleshed out than typical Call of Duty archetypes. Infinity Ward smartly sticks with Logan as the player character, rather than splitting between multiple protagonists and storyline’s outside of a one or two important scenes. There is still room to grow, writing is decent for the most part but there are some truly cringe worthy moments but they were few and far between. Your Ghost squad mates fill typical Call of Duty spots, Keegan is the bad-ass who rarely speaks with a voice like charcoal, Merrick is the tough commander who leads you into heated fights and Rorke, the villain is tough and nigh impossible to trap and kill. The story isn’t necessarily why the campaign is so strong, it is the set pieces and individual missions that make for one of the best Call of Duty campaigns yet. Each missions highlights a specific environment or gameplay element, making for a varied and downright intense campaign including but not limited to a full underwater level, space battles, stealth sections as Riley and vehicle segments. On top of this, the are many more missions than other campaigns making for a longer and more satisfying experience, it never hits 10 hours, probably sitting around 7 at max but it is a larger offering than the 4 1/2 to 5 hour campaigns we have become so accustomed to.
Visually Ghosts is gorgeous on next-gen systems. The framerate is as smooth as ever and the detail on character models reaches near Crysis 3 levels of fidelity. Levels are dense and incredibly detailed while simple things like rifles look immaculate, even the smudges and fingerprints can be seen on sentry turrets. Animations are great but for the most part are ripped from the original Modern Warfare although the physics engine has seen a large improvement, allowing for bodies to pile up and most objects in the environment react realistically to explosions and gunfire. Levels that involve underwater shootouts, space combat and sneaking through the jungle are specific showcases of what they can do as each is lavishly detailed. Yes, the levels are as linear as ever, bar a few that allow for alternate paths, but that is what Call of Duty is about. Big set pieces, bigger explosions and over the top action is Call of Duty’s bag and Ghosts shows that nobody can do it better.
In the audio department Ghosts is equally impressive, no longer does every rifle sound indiscernible from the last and grenades now create a rippling effect through the environment. If I was to be so bold, Ghosts new audio engine is nearly on par with Battlefield and Visually the disparity has been decimated with Ghosts being able to stand alongside visual standards set by its predecessors. Voice acting is largely good, with a few weak moments in writing being the only detriment. The score is strong and somber, helping highlight a once powerful nation on its knees.
Not only does Ghosts boast new audio and visual engines but the base gameplay has been changed as well. It still feels like call of duty and contains the best moment to moment shooting outside of Halo. To its benefit, gone is the ability to make pinpoint shots with any weapon and shooting feels weightier and more realistic, not that it accounts for ballistics or anything to its competitors extent. Added is a new movement system, including sliding, leaning and better vaulting. This adds to the feeling of having more to do than just point and shoot, it seems like you are more of a character than a gun held by floating hands.
This engine fundamentally changed multiplayer. Those who I played with, even veterans of the series felt they had to get used to the new engine, it feels familiar but requires that players re-acclimate themselves in ways they haven’t had to since Modern Warfare. Multiplayer is challenging and requires more methodical movement which may be a testament to the addition of massive maps such as Stonehaven. Personally this made the game less of the absurdly fast arcade madness and more digestible. In addition it also made it more challenging, the barrier to entry seems to have been upped significantly and I was still running into the frustration of having high level players run around maps with snipers rifles, only to use them like shotguns, quick scoping enemies at absurd speeds. Game modes like ground war, now with 18 players, seem to alleviate this to some extent. New modes like cranked and blitz add familiar albeit insane twists on classic modes. Blitz becoming a sort of capture the flag with no flag, requiring players to dive into the enemies portal to return home and cranked requiring players to score kill after kill to gain perks and bonuses all while ticking down to self destruct. The pick ten system has been re-tooled and for the most part gains an absurd level of complexity. Perks are lined in a massive wall with individual point values assigned to their effectiveness, a player can use five level 1 perks or a level 3 and 2 if they would like. Guns and killstreaks act much in the same way and the ability to customize is at an all time high but the barrier to understanding it all is as well. Adding to the confusion is squads mode, which allows the player to have multiple squads, with multiple customized characters, with multiple loadouts. One could spend hours in the menu’s alone. Squads is interesting, containing a horde mode of its own along with squad on squad fights which pit players one on one with their created squads. The mode is fun but is still bot multiplayer with a friend ultimately, the AI is tough enough but nothing beats duking it out with friends. Character customization has been added as well if there wasn’t enough already, players can finally have female avatars if they so choose and heads, helmets and uniforms can be changed at will.
The addition of Extinction seems to be the biggest departure and subsequent addition outside of the engine changes and new multiplayer modes. Players in groups of 4 are pitted against hordes of alien foes and move through a large map, progressing each time they destroy a set number of hives. Weapons and turrets or benefits can be bought using money gained by killing enemies, similar to Zombies or Counter Strike. Players level up individually within Extinction and gain abilities and loadouts as a result. There is a variety of enemies and to my surprise it played more like Left 4 Dead than Zombies, requiring twitch skill and recognition of dangerous enemy classes rather than an esoteric understanding of maps and strategies. Extinction makes for some of the most fun you can have in a four player co-op experience in a while, sadly it only has a single map, albeit a large map that can take up to an hour to finish a game on.
Ghosts is filled to the brim with content, a full singleplayer, robust mutliplayer with a dozen or more modes, squads with a dedicated horde mode and extinction. All can be played online or with two player splitscreen, as well as taking a splitscreen player online, the possibilities are endless it seems. The amount of mileage one can get depends on the player but one would be hard pressed to find this much content in any other next-gen launch title that is all of equal quality. Ghosts boasts a fantastic single player coupled with awesome co-op modes and a great multiplayer. Call of Duty is still Call of Duty, but Infinity Ward shows that there is still plenty of life in the series yet.
+Tons of content
+Beautiful new audio and visual engines
-Customization overload and complexity
-Some poor writing