Call of Duty: Ghosts Review

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After a year of anticipation and tons of trailers released to promote the hype, November has come and a new heavy hitter has finally dropped; Call of Duty: Ghosts is here. Each year a Call of Duty game is released, either by developer Infinity Ward or Treyarch, making an annualized series that is critically acclaimed and loved by fans the world over. But have the years finally rubbed off on the Call of Duty series and does Ghosts stand any chance of being relevant or fun? The simple answer is yes. Taken on its own account, Ghosts stands as a unique Call of Duty game that attempts not to re-invent the wheel but instead make it run as smoothly as possible. The tried and tested Call of Duty formula returns in full force, creating an experience that controls very well and is very satisfying. If players are hoping for another ‘revolution’ in the FPS genre then they’ll definitely be disappointed. Ghosts is a game that focuses all its efforts on providing the funnest experience in the series yet.

The game’s various modes are the source of different avenues of enjoyment and I’ll cover each section in-depth shortly. First, it’s important to note Ghosts’ general mechanics and gameplay across all modes. Shooting, sprinting, jumping and crouching/going prone are series staples which are implemented as good as ever. The weight and feel of it all might be slightly different but at its core it’s what we’ve come to expect from the series. The prone animation, like last year’s Call of Duty: Black Ops II, shows your character’s gun as they shimmy along the ground, a good feature to keep in to generate authenticity. The new gameplay mechanics added to Ghosts in particular are a knee slide, a contextual lean system and the ability to mantle faster. The knee slide is a very fun mechanic to use, simply by holding the B button while sprinting. It allows you to travel some distance quickly and set yourself up in either a crouching or prone position, depending on whether you held the button afterwards or let it go. It’s very entertaining to use across all modes and can be great fun for video content creators. The contextual lean is smooth and accurate, with an arrow that appears when you’re near a wall that indicates you can lean out simply by pressing the Left Trigger. It’s a good way to maintain cover whilst also firing but you’re not invincible while doing so, therefore it’s not a definitive strategy.

The new vaulting/mantling mechanic, equipped with accompanying animations, shows your character quickly leaping over walls and cover by pressing A, all while maintaining momentum. This really changes up the flow of matches compared to other Call of Duty games where, even with perks to make you climb faster, momentum was lost every time you climbed over something. With these 3 new mechanics combined Ghosts maintains its Call of Duty core gameplay but adds an added layer of fun and tactics to its moment-to-moment gameplay, providing players with new options. You will notice, however, that the game doesn’t feature a voice for the character you play in any mode, which is trademark of Infinity Ward games and some FPS in general. It would have been nice to hear your own character, especially in multiplayer where new contextual dialogue has been implemented. Same goes for the single player, cause we certainly know that at this point that the silent protagonist in FPS game has become somewhat of a cliché, however it never gets in the way of enjoying the game.

SINGLE PLAYER CAMPAIGN

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Speaking of the single player campaign, Ghosts comes equipped with an all new story, setting and characters, no longer connected to either the Modern Warfare or Black Ops universes. This is the first time since the original Call of Duty: Black Ops back in 2010 that we’ve had an original story in Call of Duty and not a sequel, and for the most part the new story holds up well. As usual, the campaign is astounding, expertly executed and is a visual treat from start to finish. The Xbox 360 version pushes the aged hardware to its limits and once again shows how fantastic Call of Duty games can look, with smooth 60 frames per second. Infinity Ward has updated their in-game engine for Ghosts, providing a new visual experience that is a definite step up from the Modern Warfare series. The game looks fantastic and I’d argue it’s one of the best looking games of this console generation.

The story campaign takes us through the endeavors of a military unit known as ‘Ghosts’ where you primarily play as a soldier named Logan Walker as he and his brother earn the title of ‘Ghost’. The story is set primarily in the year 2023 where America has fallen to a large Southern American force known as ‘The Federation’ and it’s up to the remaining crippled American forces to fight back against their supremacy. The scale of the story is large and it begins with an intense intro level that shows America being decimated with missile strikes from space, setting up the events for the rest of the campaign. Despite this large over-arching plot, the game doesn’t try to overwhelm you with the details and instead focuses on the Ghost unit and especially Logan, his brother Hesh and their father Elias Walker. The rest of the Ghost unit consists of hardened soldiers that are always there to show you the way and back you up as you earn your way to becoming one of them. Characters such as Merrick and Keegan will be whom the Walker brothers interact with most, who are interesting enough but perhaps not as endearing as Modern Warfare or Black Ops’ characters. You won’t really find an instantly iconic character such as Simon ‘Ghost’ Riley in this game but you might have a character that fits your fancy. The story tries its best to convey the deeper meaning behind the Ghosts and it does well for the most part however its narrative message might be lost on some. This isn’t necessarily a fault of the writing but rather it depends on the player and how receptive they are to ideals of the story, so how much you care about the Ghosts might be hit and miss.

The story it tells is very important but equally important is the way it plays. As I’ve already mentioned, Ghosts continues the signature Call of Duty style whilst adding new mechanics to the fray. Simple tutorials are given to the player as you progress through the initial few levels and any new actions are always indicated by a button on-screen throughout the game. The musical score in the game is effective and definitely epic, changing from subtle dramatic music to more high-octane symphonies. When the action really ramps up, the game does a good job of conveying all of this well through its music, consistent graphics and ease of control. Throughout the campaign you’ll be tasked with a variety of missions and take control of different characters besides Logan; from all-out action to stealth sections, under water battles and even impressive combat in space. Every type of mission, whether you’re controlling an on-foot character or using a vehicle, controls well and it doesn’t take long to get used to the new control scheme you’re given. Luckily both the under-water controls and space controls are the same, so you won’t find yourself getting confused too often. The on-foot missions tend to be the most satisfying but you’re bound to gain some memorable moments from Ghosts’ variety of missions.

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What makes playing the campaign so engaging comes down to not only how much there is to do but also the variety of ways in which you can tackle a level. It’s easy to think that Call of Duty on its surface is a linear experience where you’re funneled from one area to the next, but looking deeper at the details will reveal just how much player agency there is. Like other games in the series, the player is given a lot of room to breathe in shoot-out sections, with the ability to take multiple paths through a level to accomplish the goal. Of course sometimes you’ll be strictly directed for the sake of progressing the level or story, but when the action breaks out in big areas, how you fight your way through the level is up to you. Gone are the days where characters will consistently bark out commands every minute, like in 2009′s Modern Warfare 2, and instead the game doesn’t hold your hand too much and allows you to fight as you please. In fact, Ghosts‘ campaign opens up even more as it goes on, with some levels providing massive areas to move around in such as the space level, a helicopter assault level and a tank assault on a complex. Ghosts’ campaign levels may seem familiar in terms of Call of Duty standards but there’s a ton of surprises in store. Riley, your canine companion, gets his own gameplay sections in the beginning of the game, which lets you sneak past enemies and command Riley to brutally take them down, all by looking through a camera mounted on Riley’s back. When you’re on-foot with Riley in the area, you can command him to take down an enemy simply by indicating with the Left Bumper, but only when he’s available. Sadly, as the campaign goes on you’ll see less and less of Riley, but for when he’s there he’s a joy to either play as or utilize. His fate is something that isn’t expected but won’t leave you with a bad taste in your mouth, so rest assured.

Other things you’ll notice about Ghosts campaign is how there’s no more quotes from famous people during the death screen, which used to be a standard for the Modern Warfare games. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to not have it anymore as the death screen might only be something you see on occasion, depending on how good you are at the game. That said, you might find that you’re dying more often in Ghosts than the recent Call of Duty games, as this game is quite challenging no matter the difficulty mode you select. The AI soldiers are brutal and unrelenting, throwing grenades to flush you out and even in some cases they will knife you down. The difficulty hikes up in some levels and it takes more than a trigger finger to complete a fight. Ghosts aims to challenge you as much as possible but never frustrate, though the ‘Veteran’ difficulty makes its return to test players to their limits. Ghosts is populated by the eye-opening, over the top set pieces that the Call of Duty games have been known for and it really ups the scale of what you’ll see in this game. Certain set pieces come equipped with button prompts and quick time events but none are too fast or strict enough to cause too many deaths, and the checkpoint system is generous enough. The final levels are intense, leading straight up to the final confrontation, which itself was a nice surprise in being similar enough to Call of Duty‘s usual bag guy takedowns but different enough to be memorable. However I should note that the game’s ultimate ending is rather shocking and might divide the opinion of the overall story. It makes sense but it’s something you’ll have to see and judge for yourself. Regardless, Call of Duty: Ghosts campaign is an exciting and challenging ride from start to finish, with enough spectacle and variety to be worth playing.

MULTIPLAYER

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As much as Call of Duty is known for its amazing single player campaigns, it’s known just as much for its robust multiplayer competitive mode. The multiplayer modes in Call of Duty have pushed the series further up in popularity as the years have gone by, allowing players to clock in multiple hours of gameplay time and share content on YouTube. It’s hard to deny how the Call of Duty series has impacted the multiplayer landscape since 2007′s Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, a game which first introduced an experience point progression system to its multiplayer, adding customizable classes and a perk system. All of these features are intact in Ghosts, returning not to revolutionize the series or the FPS genre but to instead evolve the way you play COD in subtle ways.

Ghosts utilizes dedicated servers across all platforms, providing stable connections throughout all matches and it rarely suffers from disconnections, at least in the time that I have played. I would like to point out some unfortunate changes to the multiplayer mode that might leave fans wanting, but are still justified. This game has removed the Theater mode that was in the series since Black Ops, a mode that allowed you to view a match’s replay and store clips to upload to YouTube. This is very unfortunate at it was an excellent feature of the previous games, allowing for every player to share content very easily, although the service wasn’t always perfect. This removal might be due to the inclusion of DVR functions on both the PS4 and Xbox One, therefore adding a theater mode might have seemed counter-productive. Also gone is the series standard mode ‘Ground War’ which allows up to 18 players to play a variety of different modes, which is a huge shame especially since Ghosts’ multiplayer maps are much bigger in general, especially Stonehaven. This may or may not be a bad thing, as it does remove some of the overwhelming craziness that some Ground War matches in previous games have gotten up to, but it would have been nice to have the option select it. Finally, the only multiplayer factions this time around are the ‘Ghosts’ and ‘Federation’, which may be due to now having customizable characters, so all that is needed is a side to play on.

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What you’ll notice first about Ghosts when you hop into a multiplayer match is the drastic change in the HUD; the Heads Up Display. Fonts, colors, and design in general have either been augmented or changed completely to accentuate Ghosts’ new style and is a refreshing new look for the series. The map in the top left of the screen is now a wider, rectangular view and it provides a better view of your surroundings. The scoreboard is now assigned the to the top right of the screen as a small list that doesn’t invade the whole screen, and is at first in a minimized state which shows only your Kills, Deaths and Captures. The Kill Feed has also been moved to the top right of the screen, which might take some getting used to if you’ve played Call of Duty for years but it’s still a welcome change. All these changes to the HUD allow for a new way of playing that gives you less clutter and more control as you play. It may seem superficial at first but these subtle changes will definitely change-up how you experience the multiplayer.

Ghosts has now added a ‘Create A Soldier’ system that allows the player to customize their own character’s appearance and you’re given a total of up to 10 soldiers to do this with, which can be unlocked over time. You start off with a few options for your customization of the character’s head, headwear, uniform and background image, but you’ll unlock more as you play and complete challenges. You can select between a male and female character, which is a first for the series. You can also set an emblem patch which appears next to your player card; an emblem that appears in the top left of the in-game screen whenever you perform a specific action. Each soldier you create has several loadouts to choose from and customize as well, giving you a rich amount of customization for every character you make. Everything in the multiplayer can be unlocked through ‘Squad Points’, which are similar to the Tokens in Black Ops II, gained through playing online and leveling up. Squad Points are gained frequently and can be spent freely on anything from a new create a solder slot, to new loadouts, weapons, perks and so on.

Several new weapons and equipment have been added to the game, in the form of the same kinds of things we’ve seen in previous games. The new weapons look cool and are great fun to use, whether you pick classic classes like Assault Rifles or Sniper Rifles, or try your hand at the new hybrid weapon class: ‘Marksman Rifles’. Sniper Rifles now have peripheral vision that is blurred instead of the usual blacked out sides, and their aim assist has been tweaked heavily to change how the ‘quick scoping’ technique works. There’s now 35 different perks to choose from in Ghosts, divided into 7 different categories and weighted with a different value. You have a total of 8 points in your loadout to spare on perks but this can be increased by deleting items from your loadout such as your equipment or secondary weapon. This makes the system similar to Black Ops II’s ‘Pick 10′ system that allowed you to fully customize what you have with you when you play, so you’re not restricted to just 2 weapons and 3 perks. The perks themselves are predominantly perks we’ve seen in previous Call of Duty games, provided to give different players complete choice over how they want to play. It may seem hard to choose given the volume of them but you’re always free to experiment to see what suits your play style.

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‘Strike Packages’ also make a return in this game, bringing back the 3 separate kill streak classes of Assault, Support and Specialist. Assault is the traditional killstreak system which gives you awesome killing power but resets whenever you die, Support gives you tools to help the team and counteract the enemy team’s killstreaks and doesn’t reset when you die, and Specialist gives you perks as you get more kills. Some killstreaks from previous games have returned in new forms, such as the ‘SatCom’ which is a UAV that is placed on the ground and can be destroyed, and others are new and fun to use such as the ‘Guard Dog’ which spawns an AI controlled Riley that barks to alert you of enemies and kills them when near. The kill streak system, like in Modern Warfare 3, is based on both kills and points, so for every action you perform in accordance with the mode’s rules you’ll have a point to your next kill streak. This might all seem like retreaded ground but the variety of customization makes up for it by allowing players to play in their own way.

Several new game modes have been added to Ghosts alongside returning ones such as Team Deathmatch, Kill Confirmed and Domination. Blitz is a new spin on Capture The Flag which involves a team running to the enemy’s ‘portal’ in order to enter it and gain a point, and you’re then teleported back to your own base. This mode is frantic and tactical, taking a decent balance of good offense and defense to accomplish. Cranked is a new spin on Team Deathmatch,where getting a kill starts a timer of 30 seconds on you, urging you to get another kill or else you’ll explode. Becoming ‘cranked’ makes your character faster and more agile, making it easier to get more kills, however this mode might be too based on luck and staying alive so it might not be for everyone. Regardless it’s an intense mode that always keeps you active and moving. Search & Rescue is a mix of Search & Destroy and Kill Confirmed, where a fallen player will drop a dog tag that can be retrieved by team mates to revive them or retrieved by an enemy player to deny their respawn. Hunted is also a new mode, which starts the player off with only a pistol and throwing knives, dropping care packages around the map containing weapons that can be picked up. This mode, alongside the return of Infected, provide much more varied fun from your typical objective based modes. Players who pre-ordered the game will have the ‘Ghosts Moshpit’ mode that cycles through different game types and includes the ‘Free Fall’ pre-order bonus map.

The Free Fall map itself is quite exciting. This map is set on a falling piece of a building, wedged between two buildings as it slowly descends down both. The map frequently shifts and shudders as is gradually falls between the two buildings, making it a very engaging experience every time. Even though it never changes up how the map looks, it’s still a very interesting idea that adds to map variety and it would be great to see more maps like this in the upcoming DLC. During multiplayer matches you can pick up ‘Field Orders’ which are fun little commands given to you to perform a task in the match, such as killing an enemy while prone or getting a knife kill. Each field order completed will provide you with a small reward, sometimes including a care package. If you’re lucky enough, and playing on the map Strikezone, you’ll get a care package for the ‘K.E.M’ strike, a devastating killstreak which is like the Nuke and M.O.A.B of previous Call of Duty games. This killstreak doesn’t just kill the entire enemy team, it completely transforms the map and its surroundings to a post-disaster wasteland, which is very impressive to see. This actually changes up how you play the map and it’s a fun bit of variety added to the already big suite of multiplayer features.

The wealth of choice in Ghosts may seem overwhelming, especially for new players, but it presents an interesting change in the meta game for Call of Duty. Ghosts doesn’t try to force you into playing in its own way but instead it takes features of several Call of Duty games to provide a way for you to play however you want, which is quite different to previous games. The variety of maps, immense choice of customization, plethora of modes and concise HUD all make Call of Duty: Ghosts‘ multiplayer an interesting mix of classic and new that is bound to be hours of fun for all types of players.

SQUADS

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New to Call of Duty is a mode called ‘Squads’, a separate mode to competitive multiplayer that allows you to use your created soldiers to fight across several different game types and modes. When you play locally or in a private match, everything is unlocked, from weapons to soldier customization. This helps with figuring out what you like best and is a good way to preview what you’ll get to use in multiplayer, or just use in Squads itself. It’s a fantastic way for new players to get used to the maps and gameplay of Ghosts without having to worry about the, at times, harsh competitive aspect.

Squads is divided into 4 different sub modes: Squad Assault, Squad vs Squad, Wargame and Safegaurd. Squad Assault is a mode where up to 6 players can fight together as a Squad to fight off against an AI squad, or you and your squad can challenge a friend’s AI controlled squad. You can customize the loadouts and appearance of each of your squad members, and set what the name, game type and map of your ‘Squad HQ’ is, so players who challenge your Squad will play that. Squad vs Squad puts you on a team with your AI Squad against another player and their AI Squad to face-off in different multiplayer game modes. Wargame is a mode like Black Ops II’s combat training, which pairs you up with other players and AI online to play multiplayer modes and maps, giving you a way to practice playing the online. Finally, Safeguard is an evolved version of Modern Warfare 3′s ‘Spec Ops Survival’ mode, and is divided into: Safeguard (20 waves), Safeguard Extended (40 waves) and Safeguard Infinite (unlimited waves). This mode is a way for up to 4 players to survive against waves of increasingly hard enemies, with constant supply drops appearing in-between rounds that provide new weapons, perks and killstreaks. Each of these modes are incredibly fun and provide an exciting and sometimes challenging alternative to competitive multiplayer.

The AI controlled bots in the Squads and Safeguard waves are surprisingly aggressive, behaving almost like real players. They move quickly, take cover and even knee slide around, emulating an online experience as best as possible. The AI bots might surprise you in various ways, as they either support you in Squads matches or attempt to kill you in Safeguard matches. The game’s AI in general is very well designed and it’s the primary source of Ghosts’ level of challenge, especially in a new surprise mode added to Ghosts.

EXTINCTION

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Extinction is a mode that is unlocked by completing the single player campaign and is a 1-4 player co-op survival mode, similar to the zombies modes in Treyarch games. In this new surprise mode, you face-off against a vicious alien threat in a large map that can be accessed more as you play. Currently ‘Chapter 1′ is unlocked, with a level entitled ‘Point on Contact’, which might suggest that this game has either unlockable chapters or episodic chapters which will available through DLC. The intro to the mode starts with a soldier dropping you off from a helicopter and giving instructions, implying that there might actually be a non-canon plot to this mode.

In this mode, players can choose from 1 of 4 classes: Weapon Specialist, Engineer, Tank and Medic, each with their own individual latent abilities. You’re given a choice of a starting pistol and 4 different support options assigned to the directional pad, including the ability to use a turret, use the IMS killstreak or drop ammo boxes. The gameplay consists of using drills to destroy ‘hives’, allowing you to progress to the next area, all the while fighting off the alien horde. The aliens themselves are nothing like zombies, as they move fast, climb on walls and approach from above. As you play, you’ll encounter different alien types such as ‘Scorpions’ which are aliens with tails that shoot acidic substances at you. It takes a full team of players working together to survive in this mode and you’ll find it absurdly difficult to play this mode on your own.

As you play you earn points that can be spent in a menu to level up your weapon or abilities, and you earn money to purchase your support options or purchase weapons that are found in the level. Scattered around the level are various hidden weapons, items and things to interact with including propane tanks that can be shot to explode, and traps to set such as electric fences. It will take a combination of all of these things, as well as great teamwork, to do well in this mode, since Extinction is much more unforgiving due to the alien threat. That said, it’s excellent fun and an interesting alternative to the other feature rich modes in Call of Duty: Ghosts

VERDICT

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Call of Duty has come a long way in its 10 years of FPS action. It’s defined a generation of not only shooters but also multiplayer modes and even changed standards of single player campaigns. The success and fanbase of COD are always under heavy scrutiny from critics, pop culture enthusiasts and players alike, since a series that fights its way to the number 1 spot will hardly be above reproach. But for all of the expectations of the series and many willing it would ‘die’ and go away, it still manages to stay afloat every year with a new title that sells amazingly and gains favorable reviews. Perhaps Ghosts isn’t so lucky this year, arriving at a time when gaming is shifting into the next generation and many have grown tired of the formula despite its evolutions and dedicated fanbase. Ghosts currently sits at a 74 average metascore on Metacritic, due to the very mixed reviews from around the world. Some praise it for its subtle and apparent tweaks and changes but others condemn it for its lack of progress or innovation, suffice to say that the FPS giant has fallen from favor in the public eye. A metascore of above 70 isn’t bad of course but it marks the first time that a game in the series has failed to meet the overwhelming praise of the previous games, which is something you can take however you like it. Some might even say that in terms of being at the number 1 spot of popularity and sales, COD might be on its way out due to gamers losing interest and having been outsold by GTAV. This doesn’t mean that the series will ‘die’ but rather it’ll enjoy a success on the level of other games, no longer monopolizing the top spot.

Despite all this, I personally believe that none of this gets in the way of what Call of Duty: Ghosts delivers, and that’s good clean fun. The single player campaign is a lengthy, varied roller coast ride of over-the-top spectacle and precise challenge, giving the player a consistent level of choice. The multiplayer is another step forward for the series in player customization, with enough weapons, modes and features to keep players coming back for more, for hours on end. Squads is an exciting new mode that provides an alternative way to play and gain training for the game’s multiplayer, or just spend hours trying to survive against waves of enemies. Extinction is a surprise additional mode that presents an all new enemy to tackle in COD’s system, which is very challenging and very rewarding of team play. Essential, Ghosts is an incredibly fun action shooter that balances gameplay and presentation at a high standard. Its story might not rub off well on everyone and its competitive multiplayer is indeed the same type of instant-action that the series is known for, but players looking for this exact experience will certainly not be disappointed. Call of Duty: Ghosts is an intense action shooter that is both challenging and satisfying.