Call of Duty: Ghosts is the start of a new series within the mega-hit first-person shooter franchise, and it’s the first Call of Duty to land on next-generation consoles. Developed by the studio that started it all, Infinity Ward, Ghosts is a spiritual successor to the Modern Warfare trilogy. Last year’s effort by Treyarch with Black Ops II pushed the series forward in a number of ways, raising the bar for what players expect. Despite a number of new modes and features, Ghosts falls flat in disrupting the FPS landscape like Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare did, and it doesn’t instill excitement back into the annual franchise.
Ghosts’ biggest problem comes from Infinity Ward’s hesitance to take big risks in many aspects, which is a problem that has persistently stuck around following the exodus of nearly half of the studio following Modern Warfare 2. The single player campaign is a generic and derivative romp through a forgettable action movie plot. Having exhausted Russian terrorists, Infinity Ward has chosen that this time the enemy comes from south of the American border. The Latin American countries have banded together to form the Federation, and they’re hell-bent on taking over the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave. The United States crumbles after a massive missile strike on major cities and the ensuing invasion of Federation forces. You play as one of two young adult brothers who join a United States Special Forces military team named the Ghosts, tasked with liberating America. Remember those twists and turns in post-World War II Call of Duty games that actually surprised you a little? Be ready to experience them again in Ghosts, except they’re more obvious and laughable due to lackluster storytelling and inept writing. While filled with moments of ludicrousness, Ghosts’ campaign was never painful to play, a little enjoyable at times, with a few interesting set pieces and vistas to see. Unfortunately, it doesn’t help extinguish a feeling of derivation from past games.
However, millions of people pick up Call of Duty every year for the addicting and twitchy multiplayer. Loadouts are more customizable now, both from a gameplay perspective and an aesthetic one. More possible combinations of weapons, perks, and streak packages to select are possible, with over 20,000 combinations. There is additional flexibility now in how you choose perks and killstreak rewards. You’re allocated a number of spaces to use for perks and killstreaks, where some take up more space and others don’t. The system helps to maintain balance and is reminiscent of Black Ops II’s Pick 10 system. You can now choose whether your character is male or female, with a variety of races to choose from. Pick your background and design emblems that will be shown when others view your profile. The expanded customization options are reflected by the name shifting from “Create a Class” to “Create a Soldier.” The ten soldiers you are able to create can each Prestige, giving multiplayer fiends yet another goal to attain.
While I appreciated the added personalization, I couldn’t help but feel that it’s all to play catch-up to the work Treyarch has done with recent entries. Most of the perks and streaks are the same or variations on past ones for maintaining multiplayer balance. For example, the radar-scanning UAV is replaced by a SATCOM, a briefcase-sized box with a small satellite dish sticking out of it. The SATCOM functions as the UAV did, but it’s much easier for others to destroy. A few new killstreak rewards, such as the guard dog and hovering drone, help with covering your six and adding awareness to the space around you.
Maps are set in different locations and come in all shapes and sizes that will favor certain play styles. Distance shooters will find solace in Stonehaven, a huge field sprinkled with abandoned European castles. On the other side of the spectrum, Sovereign takes place in a small factory with a layout that creates quick, arena-like action. Other maps like Freight fall in between those extremes to offer advantage spots for all weapon types. New dynamic map events change terrain and buildings, adding another shift in strategy players will need to account for. Most of the maps were fun to traverse through, especially with the added powerslide move that more than once slid me into cover and saved my skin.
Shooting in Ghosts feels responsive and powerful. A major element added in how you can aim is called Contextual Lean. When positioned against the edge of a surface, a yellow arrow will prompt you that Contextual Lean will occur when holding down the sight. When I was taking cover, sniping, or playing stealthily, this new feature proved useful in taking shots with minimal exposure to enemies.
The soldiers you create can also be taken into a new category named Squads, which is designed for beginners and is able to feature AI-controlled allies and enemies and thus can be played solo, cooperatively, or multiplayer. In addition, the game types of the normal online multiplayer are featured in Squads in order to allow newcomers to practice in a less skilled and aggressive playing field. Best of all, experience earned in Squad games counts towards your online multiplayer experience, making any time spent in Squads feel less wasted.
The biggest and most creative new addition to Ghosts’ multiplayer is a mode named Extinction. On the surface, it seems somewhat similar to Treyarch’s Zombies: fight off waves of enemies (in this case aliens) with up to 3 other players. Regardless, Extinction is able to differentiate itself from Zombies by having faster paced combat, along with team buffs and abilities not found in competitive multiplayer. Honestly, it’s a lot of fun as the quick-reaction required in fights keeps tension high. It’s an experience that’s closer to Left 4 Dead than Zombies. There are a few different enemy types that attack and take a medley of positions on the battlefield. Extinction features only one locale, causing me to suspect other maps will be available later via DLC.
Graphically, Call of Duty: Ghosts is the best one yet thanks to next-generation hardware, but it’s nothing to write home about. What I noticed that added to its prettier display was better dynamic lighting, higher-fidelity textures, and a higher resolution. Additionally, improvements to the animation and effects are noticeable, though imperfections here and there break the illusion. Shockingly, I found the PlayStation 4 version demonstrated stuttering frame rates during intense moments both in single and multiplayer. Ghosts falls short of being competitive in the presentation department sadly. I sincerely hope greater engine refinement or a completely new engine is developed for future Call of Duty titles, because the seams of the IW Engine are becoming more and more apparent.
As a whole, nothing significant has improved to make for an impressive experience I had with Ghosts, despite changes made here and there. Executive Producer Mark Rubin explained the lack of innovation is because Call of Duty is now a sport, saying, “You can’t change the rules too much you have to sort of live within the boundaries that you created." It’s a strategy that may avoid upsetting a lot of people, which soon will cause Call of Duty to feel more stagnant for players like myself, especially compared to not only other games in franchise, but those in the shooter genre.
THE NEXT-GEN DIFFERENCE
Controllers aside, the most obvious difference between the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 versions of Call of Duty: Ghosts is the graphical fidelity. The contrast is night and day, with the PS3 version looking significantly flatter, fuzzier, and less detailed than PS4 release. The last major difference is a maximum of only 12 players for online multiplayer on the PS3, down from 18 players on the PS4.
Travel accommodations and review copies of Call of Duty: Ghosts were provided by Activision for our review.