Call of Duty: Ghosts Review
This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360
Although its passing was fairly unheralded, 2013 marked the tenth anniversary of the release of the original Call of Duty. Since then, depending on which platforms you include, the Call of Duty series has seen almost twenty different titles released, with the most recent being Call of Duty: Ghosts, the first to debut on both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Ghosts is set in the near future, one in which the United States is fighting a losing war against its southern neighbours known as The Federation. In this world, the one glimmer of hope that the US possesses is with the titular Ghosts, a team of elite soldiers who perform covert ops against The Federation and their leader, Rorke, who just so happens to be an ex-Ghost himself.
For the first couple of levels, Ghosts feels a little underwhelming, and you could be forgiven for mistaking it as a continuation of last year’s Black Ops II, particularly in terms of colour palette and the general theme of America being overrun, with players fighting through ruined cities. In fact, there are a couple of sequences within a dilapidated Los Angeles that wouldn’t feel out of place in The Last of Us, which is a comparison that I imagine many people wouldn’t expect from a Call of Duty game. Thankfully, once the first couple of levels are out of the way, once Logan – our protagonist – becomes a Ghost proper, the action (and variation on such) begins to open up, and Infinity Ward reminds us once again how adept they are at creating an almost pitch-perfect shooter campaign, even if the story itself ultimately falls a little flat.
As a gameplay experience, Ghosts teases you with variation on the typical Call of Duty experience, before snatching it away and then gradually handing it back piece-by-piece. The game opens with a space sequence, complete with zero-gravity shootouts and an orbital bombardment, before players are returned to Earth with a bump. Later levels feature exploding dams and flooded cities, underwater assaults on boats, and perhaps best of all, a vertical assault on a skyscraper. This last example features some fascinating lighting effects, with coloured bursts of fireworks providing your only illumination as you hunt through offices for your foes. Considering how impressively this level was handled on the Xbox 360, I can’t imagine how good it must look on next-gen.
Despite the plus-points, though, Ghosts as a whole still feels like an incredibly scripted experience, which was particularly noticeable on the aforementioned dam-bursting level. There are particular rooms in which it feels as if the whole world comes to a halt until you step in a certain spot, which then triggers water to flow through doors and windows. Though other instances are perhaps better camouflaged, the whole experience generally feels as if the game is just waiting for you to reach a particular point of a level before triggering more eye-candy to keep you from peeking behind the curtain.
Stylistically, Call of Duty: Ghosts features perhaps the most abstract loading screens seen in a Call of Duty title, and these are most similar to those seen in World at War. Blue and black take up much of the palette, with most objects looking as if they’re comprised of smoke. It makes for an interesting visual effect, and it’s a shame that the narration of said screens, delivered by Brandon Routh (Superman Returns) is so devoid of emotion or urgency and feels largely phoned-in. In-game, visuals are admirable, with a decent range of environments visited throughout the spread of levels, though there is noticeable texture pop-in, and some objects such as grass and leaves tend to wilt under close scrutiny, as their graininess and rough-edges are all too evident.
Though the single-player offers up a fairly solid experience for fans of the genre, it’s the multiplayer mode where the majority of those who play Ghosts will spend their time. As usual, there are plenty of maps and modes to keep players busy, but it seems as if there isn’t much in the vanilla multiplayer offering that hasn’t been seen before in a Call of Duty title. You start by creating a soldier and choosing a persona, with extra offerings available to be unlocked by squad points (earned by ranking up). Similarly to the Battlefield series, Ghosts doesn’t feature levelled unlockables, but instead allows you to pick and choose when and where you unlock certain weapons, so long as you have enough squad points. One addition which is certain to keep players returning to the game is Operations, which are time-sensitive challenges that require players to perform tasks such as reaching a certain number of kills with a particular weapon, or place in a particular rank in a certain game mode x-number of times.
Alongside the basic multiplayer option are the Squads and Extinction modes. Whilst Squads is essentially a selection of multiplayer modes with AI or human teammates, Extinction is an alien-themed variation on the ever-popular Zombies mode from Treyarch’s Call of Duty games, and certainly has the potential to suck players in just as much as Zombies does. In Extinction, players must destroy a series of alien hives with a laser drill, and must ensure that they protect the drill from attacks from an increasingly difficult selection of alien enemies. Similarly to Zombies, Extinction features purchasable weapons mid-level, and provides players with currency for killing aliens. What’s more, players can earn extra bonuses and challenge points, by meeting certain criteria, such as killing aliens with melee attacks before the drill destroys the hive, or by using a particular weapon to kill a number of enemies. Challenge points allow players to earn perks such as larger magazine sizes, more useful turrets, or explosives. While these perks are restricted to the particular session in which they’re earned, players can also increase their rank, which allows them to start the mode with more powerful weaponry and stat bonuses.
Though Call of Duty: Ghosts suffers from the typical FPS problem of an almost criminally short campaign (4 to 6 hours for most players), it also features a wide range of other modes that could easily keep fans busy until the next entry in the series. Single-player features some novel twists on what players have come to expect from an FPS campaign, and whilst the basic multiplayer offering perhaps doesn’t offer as many innovations as long-time players may have hoped for, the inclusion of both Squads and Extinction modes ensures that there is still a decent level of variation for those who want to branch out. The Xbox 360 version isn’t perfect, with visual issues being its main detraction, but if you’re holding out on picking up a next-gen console, Call of Duty: Ghosts on current-gen will be more than enough to satiate your FPS needs.
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