Review: Call of Duty: Ghosts
The premise of Call of Duty: Ghosts is a lot like that of 24 Season 6; the calamity isn’t prevented, the nuke goes off, and a load of people are blown up, although in the case of Ghosts it’s technically a giant space laser used to fry California. Think the Hammer of Dawn but bigger and you’re halfway there. Infinity Ward’s latest game combines a grim future with familiar gameplay, and takes the series in an interesting, if slightly confused, new direction.
The first ten minutes of Call of Duty: Ghosts includes several of the best moments in the entire campaign. Whilst the running, shooting, and general gameplay all feels familiar, there’s some insane new destruction effects, and the opening sequence shows these off properly. Buildings fall apart in astounding detail, and watching the landscape crumble to the ground is incredible. Witnessing ‘The Event’ first hand is exhilarating, and after only five minutes of running through burning and collapsing buildings you’ll find yourself relocated to space for no reason other than because it’s completely awesome, and can enjoy blasting enemies in zero gravity.
But the game can’t retain this pace, and quickly turns into your typical Call of Duty outing. Little has changed, yet I’ve often found that the strength of the series is in providing new scenarios and settings, whilst keeping the familiar mechanics. There are gameplay alterations, but fairly few of them. You can control some seriously heavy firepower, including a remote-controlled turret Walter White himself would be proud of, and a drone that obliterates tanks, planes and anything else that stands in your way. At times you’re not just killing your enemies, but slaughtering them on mass.
You can also control Riley, a dog with a camera strapped to his back. The inclusion of an animal companion seems like a bit of an uninspired choice, and watching Riley maul soldiers to death is actually a little disturbing. In the first few levels there’s a strong emphasis on using him to stealthily take down enemies, and using him tactically in combat, but he’s largely absent in the second half of the game. He just kind of disappears, and isn’t as prominent as I thought he would be.
Anyway, the idea of a dog character presumably opened up some sort of animal floodgate, and you’ll encounter deer, wolves, sharks and other animals too. Unfortunately for Infinity Ward, Naughty Dog had a similar idea with The Last of Us, and nothing in Ghosts comes close to the poignant moment Joel and Ellie spy a tower of giraffes walking across the University campus.
In fact, the greatest weakness I felt with Call of Duty: Ghosts is its lack of a compelling world. Things are pretty screwed up, and the game’s strong intro goes some way towards explaining this, but after the first few missions the story gets lost. The main focus becomes the Ghost’s attempt to take down a one-dimensional villainous organisation known as ‘The Federation’, and stop a man named Rorke, who was once a Ghost but became evil after being forced to eat some exotic plants (err). The wreckage of California is left behind, and replaced with military bases, oil rigs, secret labs, and other less inspiring locations. Meanwhile the hunt for this man becomes the game’s sole focus and your single objective. There’s no suggestion of what comes next for humanity, and the game shifts thematically once you enter it’s second half. This creates a sense of disconnect between the main components holding the story together. Combine this with a melodramatic father and son subplot with plenty of Deus Ex Machina, and you’ve got an overall narrative that is weaker than both previous Call of Duty games and other media with a similar premiss.
It’s not deep, it’s not meaningful, but shooting people is still pretty fun. Thanks to the new engine this feels better than ever. There is however an overemphasis on stealth, which would work if it wasn’t for the incredibly linear nature of the game, and aside from a couple of occasions sneaking past the enemy is as simple as following your teammates and doing what you’re told. The game does open up in the final four missions, although not perhaps in the way I was expecting. Much of what the game teaches the player in the first half of the game (how to be a dog and how to hide in bushesis forgotten, although it’s still nice to have the training wheels finally come off.
Because Call of Duty: Ghosts present such familiar gameplay, it’s pretty much down to the level design to ensure that the game still has a degree of originality, and provides at least a few new experiences. I personally felt last year’s Black Ops II to be a particularly strong entry in the series, and one that avoided the one or two bland levels that pad out some of the other games. Whilst all the levels in Ghosts are fun, there isn’t enough variety. When the game tries to do something different, it usually succeeds, but this is the exception. Far too many levels feature an uninspired grey and green colour pallet, and many different environments feel similar to each other.
Whilst several of the previous games in the series have been guilty of placing all the best levels at the beginning, Ghosts saves some for the end, although there’s now a dip in the middle of the campaign. I particularly liked the new space and underwater sections where you can move your character on an additional axis. Not only does this allow for new gameplay, but it’s also a creative and interesting setting. It would have been cool if the entire game was set in space.
As well as a six hour campaign, you’ve got several multiplayer options to help ensure the game remains value for money, including the rather strange Extinction mode, in which you fight off waves of aliens. This seems to be Infinity Ward’s own take on Zombies, but the result is fairly underwhelming and lacks atmosphere and tension. You’ve also got the game’s typical online mode, which personally I’ve never really been a fan of. I’m certainly no expert on the subject, but from what I can tell Ghosts seems to provide more of the same multiplayer experience the series is known for. Having said that, the reduced player count on the current generation consoles may be a kick in the teeth for some, especially considering that many of the game’s maps are completely massive and presumably designed for larger scale battles.
Call of Duty: Ghosts treads familiar ground, and maybe dangerously. It’s almost impossible to say something definitive about these games when people seem to love and hate them at the same time, but here’s what I thought. Call of Duty: Ghosts is pretty good. I personally felt it didn’t have as much imagination and variety as Black Ops II, but you don’t have to trek around France for ages like in Modern Warfare 3. The story is uninspired, but shooting things is still fun. It’s not the best Call of Duty game, it’s not the worst.