November 05, 2013
Just as the sun rises in the east and sets in the west, you can always rely on a new Call of Duty game each and every year. Naturally this year is no different. It's Call of Duty time once again, and this year Infinity Ward has brought a dog along for the ride. Call of Duty: Ghosts, like Black Ops II before it, is a shooter that's stuffed to the gills with content. So much content that you probably won't know where to start. All of it involves shooting things with various projectiles, so whichever of the game modes you plump for first, you'll be up to your eyeballs in bullets and explosions in no time, shouting 'hoo-rah' at your TV while dressed in full ghillie gear. Or is that just us?
Let's for the sake of argument start with the campaign. Ghosts is a completely new chapter in the Call of Duty series, moving away from the adventures of Soap, Captain Price et al, and welcoming the all-American Walker family. There's daddy Walker, Elias, and his two sons Hesh and Logan, the latter of whom you play as. What follows is a typically bombastic and relentless assault of set-piece after set-piece, as Infinity Ward puts its foot firmly on the gas pedal and doesn't let up until the final credits roll. It's silly but fun, in the same way that The Expendables is silly but fun.
It's actually one of the more engaging Call of Duty plots we've played through in some time however, mixing things up without losing too much focus on the central narrative surrounding its core protagonists, the Walker family and their German Shepherd, Riley. As a result, the story is slightly more coherent than usual (but only slightly), as Logan and his fellow Ghosts strive to foil the evil unified South American Federation and its insane, unstoppable leader, Rorke. In truth, Riley the dog doesn't factor into the campaign all that much, with the lovable throat-ripping mutt only used in a couple of missions in which you can control him. He does return as a multiplayer killstreak perk though. Good boy.
The rest is standard Call of Duty fare. That is it's pure unadulterated video gaming popcorn, a Hollywood blockbuster that's massively overspent on its explosives budget. It's a campaign packed with memorable moments, whether it's the opening sequence and the ensuing aside in outer space, or a mission stalking silently through dense jungle foliage picking off Federation soldiers one by one, armed only with a motion tracker, silenced pistol and a combat knife. Or the time you abseil down the side of a building, or the bit on a speeding train... Or what about the bit where you're controlling a drone? Or flying a helicopter? Or, or, or... There's loads going on, but we won't spoil the ride for you. It's predictably glossy Call of Duty stuff, yet it still succeeds in eliciting a sense of unbridled joy, even when you're comparing it to sequences you've probably played a dozen times before in previous CoD games. Don't stop to think about the story too much, and you'll enjoy it all the more.
While Call of Duty: Ghosts' campaign is exactly what you'd hope for and expect, multiplayer is that and more, packing in a whole array of new game modes that go above and beyond anything else in any other shooter out there. There really is a ludicrous amount of content crammed into Call of Duty: Ghosts, from the core multiplayer component to Squads, Clan Wars and Extinction. From a gameplay perspective, Call of Duty multiplayer remains by and large unchanged, providing the same intuitive, pick-up-and-play controls and plethora of modes and options that have made it such an all-conquering success over the years, albeit with a few tweaks to the series' winning formula.
Joining the usual array of modes – Team Deathmatch, Domination, Kill Confirmed and what not – Call of Duty: Ghosts welcomes a bunch of brand new game types as well as one or two that have been tweaked a bit. Among these, Hunted, Infected and Blitz prove to generate the most memorable game experiences, offering something that's markedly different from what's gone before. Grind, Cranked and Search & Rescue are arguably less effective, though still enjoyable in their own right, thanks in no small part to Ghosts running at a super-slick 60fps, as per usual.
Hunted's concept is novel, arming you only with a pistol, a flashbang and throwing knives, tasking you with scavenging for more powerful weapons like rifles, shotguns and rocket launchers that only have a few rounds left in the chamber. It's nerve-shredding stuff. Infected too is a nerve-jangling affair, casting one player as a rapid knife-wielding zombie able to turn other players by stabbing them until there's no one left. Blitz is a head-spinning run from your base to the enemy goal, scoring points in the opposition's base portal before the limit is reached or time runs out, while preventing your opponent from scoring in your portal. It's simple, but brilliantly entertaining.
Cranked is one for the more hardcore player who can stay alive for longer than 30 seconds, while Search & Rescue is a twist on Search & Destroy, and as such is very similar in its goals. Grind has you collecting dog tags a la Kill Confirmed, before banking them in the designated bank zones. Ghosts' extensive suite of multiplayer modes offer something for almost everyone who loves a spot of team-based shooty shenanigans.
Ghosts' multiplayer maps are also fantastically well-designed, featuring smart little nooks, high and low ground, choke-points where all-out war can break out and more open areas where being caught outside can be a guaranteed death sentence. However, the dynamic events promised for each multiplayer map are pretty ineffectual, and in some cases barely even noticeable. They can change the shape of a map, which is a neat touch, but if you were hoping for destruction and flexibility in the same vein as Battlefield, you'll be sorely disappointed.
Yet, Call of Duty: Ghosts still does plenty that Battlefield 4 doesn't, like Squads, Clan Wars and Extinction. Squads plays home to Wargame (a training mode in essence) where less confident CoD players can cut their teeth on their own or in co-op against a series of AI bots with some truly testing humanoid behaviour. These bots camp, lay prone to shoot you and do all of the other irritating things that real players do online. If ever there was a way to prepare yourself for the actual online Call of Duty experience, this is it.
Meanwhile, Squad Assault offers competition between your own squads with up to four other players in co-op, comprised of male and female soldiers that you can customise cosmetically, before building their loadout weapons, attachments and perks. Squad v Squad pits rival squads against one another, while Safeguard is Ghosts' 4-player co-op survival mode, tasking you with completing 20 or 40 waves of enemies, or going up against unlimited foes. Throw in Clan Wars, Ghosts' second-screen experience that offers new challenges and online battles every two weeks, in what is a well-thought out, free addition for tablets and phones, and you have what might just be the most comprehensive Call of Duty to date. Every conceivable whim and want is catered for, and then some.
And that's before you even factor the new Extinction mode into the equation, which offers an immensely challenging battle against unrelenting waves of insectoid aliens and their skin-crawling hives. The idea is straightforward. Your co-op team of four (you're best playing with four players, because it's flippin' hard) work together to fight off the alien swarm, as one of you carries and deploys a drill to uproot and destroy each of the hives marked on the map. Like Treyarch's own Call of Duty: Zombies, you can purchase weapons with the cash that you earn from kills, exploring and looting for weapon attachments. Team-based challenges pop up during the drilling of each hive, the completion of which awards a skill point.
Each skill point you earn can be spent on upgrading your class – medic, tank, engineer or assault – and your chosen perks, be they sentry guns, deployable ammo pick-ups, ballistic vests, grenade launchers, chainguns or whatever. The hope is that as you progress, your team will grow stronger and more efficient, able to manage the never-ending onslaught of extra-terrestrial menace from all sides. There are four hive barriers to be destroyed too, which demand you protect your support helicopter gunship from alien projectiles, which is no mean feat when under the duress of alien scum gnawing at your face. Extinction is good fun, and a great addition, though whether it'll do for you what Zombies usually does in Treyarch's CoD efforts is down to personal preference. We like both for different reasons.
In the achievements stakes, Call of Duty: Ghosts is your standard selection, albeit with a good spread across the single-player campaign and Extinction. There are no pesky multiplayer achievements to ruin the party, so you can simply enjoy shooting other players online without having to worry about what's going to pop. The campaign stuff is the kind of thing you'd normally expect, with rewards for completing Veteran difficulty and for pulling off certain tasks, while the secret Extinction achievements encourage repeated play of the mode's single map. A strong, if largely predictable list then.
Another reliably robust Call of Duty entry, Ghosts has a wilfully daft and overblown campaign that is nonetheless entertaining, disposable popcorn while it lasts, and a hefty multiplayer that's still among the best money can buy. Rather than reinventing the wheel, CoD: Ghosts hones and refines what's gone before, but is ultimately Modern Warfare 4 in all but name. Whether you consider that a bad or good thing is probably down to how weary you've grown of the series, although Call of Duty: Ghosts does just about enough to pique our interest once more.
With its new something or other emitters and thingamywotsit technology, Call of Duty: Ghosts sounds fantastically immersive. Voice acting is mostly solid, though the script is sometimes laughable. Guns now sound like they have far more heft this time, which is a big tick in the box. The soundtrack is typical CoD bluster.
CoD: Ghosts doesn't benefit from a new engine, but Infinity Ward has done a damn fine job in beefing up the existing one. Far more than just rounder scopes and responsive fish AI, Ghosts looks the business, even when you take the Xbox One version into account.
You know what you're getting here. That same smooth as silk 60fps shooter with a new knee slide move, contextual cover lean, and a dog. Ghosts doesn't upset the established formula too much, and is still an enjoyably intuitive shooter. Tight, responsive and apparently well-balanced for now (time will tell whether players find online exploits), multiplayer is still among the best in its class.
It could quite easily have been a case of diminishing returns, but Infinity Ward has managed to pull it out of the bag, offering a comprehensive and brilliantly realised array of content. Single-player, multiplayer, Squads and Extinction fail to disappoint. More Extinction maps might have been nice, but we suspect they're being held back as DLC. Supporting only 12 players for MP this time around is a shame too.
Another year, another campaign-focused list. It's hard to complain though. Ghosts' achievement list covers all of the right bases, and even encourages extended play of its new Extinction mode. Be sure to collect all of those campaign Rorke files too for added insight into Ghosts' nutty bandana-sporting villain.
A series in serious danger of outstaying its welcome, Call of Duty is once again a victim of its own success, unable to change the winning formula too much. And yet, Infinity Ward has still managed to craft a first-person shooter that is exciting, engaging and unreservedly fun. Anything less than a complete from-the-ground-up overhaul next time around will do, however. It's time for a change. Until then, Call of Duty: Ghosts pushes all of the right buttons and will please all but the most cynical of fans. Hoo-rah.