Call of Duty: Ghosts marks the end of an era. Call of Duty was released 10 years ago, with Call of Duty 2 the first of the series to appear for the Xbox 360, and 2007′s Modern Warfare starting the Activison/Infinity Ward gaming Juggernaut in earnest. But as the final Call of Duty game to be released during the Xbox 360 and Playstation 3 era, Ghosts is more of a whimper than a bang.
It shows that either the Call of Duty series needs to ditch competing studios releasing games on an annual schedule (Ironically Treyarch actually handled the Wii U version of Ghosts), or I definitely need to take a break from CoD after all these years.
Call of Duty Ghosts: Singleplayer
Traditionally the Infinity Ward developed Modern Warfare series saw you play as a number of different characters within an overarching plot, whereas the two Black Ops titles centred around the exploits of the Mason family.
Oddly after the future warfare of loyal son David Mason in Black Ops 2, it’s just 12 months later than Call of Duty: Ghosts gives us Logan Walker and brother Hesh, fighting to save America in a near future scenario. And just to cram home the family angle, you report into your father as commanding officer, and you get a pet dog as a comrade.
You do get the occasional outing as a faceless extra to allow for some cinematic exploits in space, and one level does see you as Logan’s father Elias Walker, to fill in some back story. Again, it’s a year since we switched between David and Alex Mason on a regular basis…
The basic plot is that the oil-producing nations of South America have formed the ‘Federation’ and for no logical reason seek to invade America, including using orbital super weapons to destroy cities. Meanwhile an elite group of soldiers known as ‘Ghosts’ are fighting on the U.S side.
The previous Modern Warfare games managed to carry B movie plots by being just about silly enough with the actions and dialogue of Captain Price and Soap. Black Ops benefited from probably the best CoD storyline, and the fiction gave just about enough roots for Black Ops 2 to evolve into science fiction. But Ghosts has neither the charm or the paranoid intensity to carry off the drama or emotion.
Ghosts does provide some very good and cinematic moments, particularly in space or in situations such as a rapidly-flooding city. It’s just a shame these feel a little wasted as showpieces when they’re slotted between largely tedious challenges with cardboard characters. Any change in pace from big shootouts basically involves laying down and waiting for enemies to pass.
In fact, one level encourages you to stealth through what feels like an entire jungle, with no payoff in terms of managing to avoid enemies, stealth kills or consistency in what scenery will let you pass and what stops you in your tracks.
It feels like a throwback to the earliest Call of Duty games. Walk forward, left trigger then right trigger, reach a save point, lay down for a bit, then repeat. There’s no campaign branching, or any feeling of impact, and even the post-credits scenes are obvious to the point of insulting.
For the first time in any Call of Duty game, I took the difficult down to Easy after 5 minutes to just get through the story as quickly as possible, and given that almost all of the achievements are straightforward in Easy Mode, I can’t see myself ever going back to it. Particularly when it insists on resetting your weapons after every cut scene, with no way to choose them, and the much-vaunted ‘play as a dog’ reveals that military German Shepherds handle like drunk milk floats. And are about as much use.
Probably the best thing about the single player campaign is that it can be completed in a few hours. And the worst thing is that it clearly tees up a sequel involving at least one of ‘The Walker Boys’ in 24 months time.
Call of Duty: Ghosts Multiplayer
The main draw for any Call of Duty fan tends to be multiplayer, and Ghosts does have some good experiences in store. Notably the maps are much larger and more intricate, which means more scope for flanking and catching out opposition players. There’s a reasonably good mixture of environments available, from typical urban battlegrounds to wide open spaces such as Stonehaven, which features an historic castle and plenty of sniping spots. Speed (on the Xbox 360 version tested) was generally good throughout, with relatively few moments of serious lag.
And you also get the usual range of guns, with the addition of Marksman Rifles to bridge the gap between Assault weaponry and Sniper load outs. Plus the usual selection of Shotguns, SMGs and LMGs, each with a variety of scopes and attachments.
With every Call of Duty game, there are changes to the way you unlock guns, perks and level up your character. Or with Ghosts, characters, as you now have a maximum of 10 squad members which can be selected for use in Multiplayer or utilised in the new Squad mode.
Each character can be customised with a different gender, head, clothing etc, and come with their own selection of customisable load outs, but you can’t change soldiers mid-match, only the load outs for that character.
Load outs are created by selecting your weaponry and choosing perks in a similar point-based fashion to Black Ops 2. There are no ‘pro’ perk unlocks, and the choice of Strike Packages returns from Modern Warfare 3, allowing you to pick Assault, Support and Specialist rewards for kill streaks.
Only perks are unlocked by experience, and for pretty much everything else you’ll be spending squad points. These are used for new weapons, attachments, early access to perks, additional load out slots and unlocking new squad members. Basically everything except some cosmetic bonuses for completing in-game weapon challenges.
The good news is that it allows you to save and purchase your favourite combinations pretty quickly. The bad news is that combined with the idea of leveling up 10 separate characters, it feels like more of a grind than previous games. There’s no real sense of progression that you got from hitting a Prestige button and starting from scratch.
The other change is that Care Packages only appear as the result of completing a Field Order, which is picked up in-game, and gives you a challenge such as killing with a scavenged weapon, completing three melee kills, or childishly ‘humiliating’ your next victim by teabagging them. On some maps, the Care Packages contain environment-changing rewards, such as a chemical strike or earthquake, which permanently alter the map.
In addition to encouraging you to act like a dick by teabagging enemies, Ghosts also gives free reign to players favouring a shotgun and running approach by allowing a ‘quick heal’ perk to be selected, along with making quick scoping an integral part of the experience. I’m no expert, but I don’t think quick scoping has ever been easier, which makes it even more infuriating if you actually enjoying using any other weapons.
One interesting difference is the lack of UAVs, replaced by Sat Com points, which are placed on the ground. One Sat Com allows enemies you spot to appear on the minimap, whilst 2 give a UAV-style sweep. It means Ghost perks are slightly less of a necessity, although there are still plenty of airborne Quadrocopters and Hinds brought out in games.
In addition to the added confusion of sorting out 10 characters and spending squad points across all of them (each character can only be prestiged once, meaning you’ll need to switch to the next to complete all prestiging – for the usual new backgrounds and no achievement), there’s also a new set of modes.
Squad Mode essentially allows you to play bot matches with all your squad, whether or not you’re online. Although it’s interesting and an obvious way to justify the squad idea, it really does feel like a training mode. The one exception is the multi-player Safeguard mode, with up to 4 of you playing survival against waves of enemies. It’s good fun, but the XP and Squad Point rewards don’t give you an incentive to play it over Team Deathmatch.
Essentially, Call of Duty: Ghosts multiplayer feels like more of the same, with bigger maps and a lot more grinding and messing around to set up classes and characters.
Call of Duty: Ghosts Extinction
It used to be simple. Infinity Ward did Spec Ops co-op extras, and Treyarch did Zombie mode. But although this alien-based survival game isn’t identical to battling the undead, it’s pretty similar. Rather than building contraptions, you’re tasked with 1-4 players carrying a drill around to destroy enemy hives, and you can level up whilst earning cash and upgrades during each match.
Zombie mode has always been enjoyable enough, although there are seemingly many people who like and understand it a lot more than I do. But it’s another sign that the two different approaches to Call of Duty have essentially merged at this point. And it also means there are fewer opportunities for just a pair of players to team up for co-op gaming, which was something much appreciated in previous games when you didn’t have a full party hanging around.
Call of Duty: Ghosts Conclusion:
Call of Duty: Ghosts isn’t a bad game. Everything is functionally OK, which isn’t always true of rival games. And there are still laughs to be had if you’ve got a social group that hang out in multiplayer, along with the occasional moment in single player which will make impress you.
But it doesn’t have the plot direction to make single player feel like something you really need to experience. Extinction feels like a take on Zombie mode which Treyarch may well have built (actually developed by Neversoft), and multiplayer feels overcomplicated by changes which don’t add anything for the most part.
If you’ve never played a Call of Duty game before, and don’t expect an engaging storyline, then there’s definitely enjoyment to be had. But the fact that it’s so underwhelming really underlines the need to end two rival development studios competing to release Call of Duty games in alternating years without wanting to look like they’ve learned much. I’d much rather see one great CoD every 24 months than endure the increasingly average every November. Given the choice, I’d pick Treyarch’s Black Ops series over MW3 and Ghosts. But with Activision attributing a comparative drop in initial sales over previous games on the upcoming Playstation 4 and Xbox One, I may well be saying the same again this time next year.
Call of Duty: Ghosts (Xbxo 360 version tested). 7/10