Developers: Infinity Ward (Single Player), Raven Software (Multiplayer), Neversoft (Extinction), Treyarch (Wii U Port)
Release Date: Novemeber 5th, 2013 (Most versions), November 15th, 2013 (Playstation 4), November 22nd, 2013 (Xbox One)
Available on: Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Nintendo Wii U, PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Reviewer’s note: I played the Playstation 4 version of the game. Some of the other versions may have minor differences.
It’s here again. The yearly release of Call of Duty. With the Modern Warfare trilogy finished up and Treyarch’s next game not due until next year, Infinity Ward got tasked with creating a new brand of games for Call of Duty. Their answer was Call of Duty: Ghosts. But where Black Ops 2 was willing to change the formula and offer new things, it feels like Ghosts is just a rehash of past games and for the first time it feels like the Call of Duty series is stepping backwards instead of forwards.
Call of Duty: Ghosts has four different selectable modes: Singleplayer, Multiplayer, Squads, and Extinction. The Singleplayer campaign takes place in the year 2026. The entirety of South America has allied and now calls themselves The Federation. After hijacking USA’s space superweapon Odin they attack the states and invade, starting an all-out war. You play as Logan Walker, a soldier for the USA who’s asked to join a super elite military squad known as the Ghosts. The Ghosts are apparently some super stealthy elite task force for the states, but they never really do much stealth in the game which is a real shame since that could have been the major change the series could have used. As usual for Call of Duty games, the story isn’t exactly very deep, but Ghosts feels especially flimsy for the series. It feels like this is the first game that lacks even a single likeable or relatable character, maybe besides Riley the dog. When your most likeable character is just a regular military dog that is only in about less of a quarter of the game (something I’ll get to later) then there’s really a problem. This is especially a problem with the antagonist, who kind of just hates the Ghosts for… reasons. This is combined with characters appearing and dropping out of the story at complete random. One Ghost named Kick just shows up half way through the game and is suddenly best friends with everyone like he’s been there the whole time. After a few missions Kick vanishes off-screen between missions and is never seen again. Likewise, on the last level the game suddenly introduces a B-squad of Marines who capture the Federation’s superweapon, a major plot point for the game which seems strange to hand off to a group of characters that weren’t even in the game until the last 30 minutes. I will hand it to the game, the after credits sequence is actually an interesting cliff hanger and makes me interested in the next chapter of the Ghosts series, but up until that point the plot is just a mess.
The basic gameplay hasn’t changed much since the original Modern Warfare at least. You’ll still spend your time gunning every kind of person with the smoothest first person controls available. The series may not have changed much, but this isn’t a bad thing since the game play still holds up really well. It’s tough to describe exactly what it is, but shooting just feels /good/ in Ghosts. There are no major changes to the central gameplay, but there doesn’t really need to be. The only real new things I noticed was that you can now lean around corners, similar to what other FPSes let you do, simply by aiming down your sights near one. That said, leaning isn’t exactly a new or revolutionary feature. The sights have been changed so you can keep your peripheral vision while aiming, which is again a nice little change but not exactly a huge thing. The two biggest additions to this game are Riley the combat dog and the underwater/space segments. Of the two, Riley is the biggest letdown. After being hyped up as an important team member, Riley’s role pretty much boils down to pointing at an enemy and pressing the left bumper to order Riley to kill him. There is pretty much nothing else to Riley, which is a real shame. Probably worse is that he’s in less than a quarter of the game before he vanishes and is pretty much not seen again. The underwater/space segments are a littler better done and are a fun addition, but again they’re only in a small portion of the game. Being able to move in any direction is interesting, and so is having to deal with threats like sharks. While I personally found them to be the most memorable part of the game, there just isn’t enough of them.
Luckily, there are some good situations that pop up in the main gameplay. One section has you fighting in a flooded city and lets you duck under the water to sneak around opponents. Another has you on a train that’s constantly moving, requiring you to adjust your aim accordingly. My favorite was the one real stealth segment in the game, when you’re wounded and left with just a pistol and you have to figure out how to avoid enemies in a forest. For some parts of the game you also take control of a tank or a helicopter. The helicopter segment is a little confusing, they don’t exactly tell you what you’re supposed to be doing during it, but both play just fine and are a good little break from the main action. Of course there’s also your typical turret segment where you’re in the turret of a fast moving jeep or helicopter. These are little more than shooting galleries, but they’re fun enough.
Most people playing Call of Duty are here for the multiplayer though and let’s face it, that’s where the series has shined. Yet again though it just feels like everything is just going backwards from Black Ops 2. The game features some new game modes at least. Blitz is like capture the flag only you just need to walk into the enemy team’s area to score, while Search and Rescue is a variant of Search and Destroy where you can revive your team mates simply by picking up their dog tags. The worst of the bunch is probably Cranked, which is a real shame since it was the one I was most excited for. In this game mode you need to kill someone every 30 seconds or you’ll explode. Everything about the mode feels like it was made for free-for-all but at the last second they made it team based which means good luck finding anyone to kill or employing any kind of basic teamwork. On the flip side, I really enjoyed the new mode Hunted. In this game mode everyone starts with just a pistol with a single clip. Every 10 – 15 seconds a crate drops with 5 random weapons in it, all of which also only have a single clip. This game mode constantly requires you to adapt to new and strange weapons and work with the very little ammo you get, and it’s probably the most fun I had with the multiplayer. I will admit though, I really missed some of Black Ops 2’s silly party modes like Gun Game and One in the Chamber.
Yet this fun doesn’t mean they didn’t switch up some things, and not always in good ways. The first one I noticed off the bat was the removal of Black Ops 2’s pick 10 system, instead going back to the old create a class system past Call of Duty games use. This is a little disappointing because the pick 10 system allowed you to be a lot more creative with the arsenal you brought into battle. The perk system received a minor change as well, now you have 8 slots and each perk takes up between 1 – 5 slots. I’d say for me, the most disappointing is the removal of score streaks in favor of Modern Warfare 3’s strike chains. Now you have three different “classes” to pick from, each of whom have different abilities when they make kills. The assault class gets mostly offensive killstreaks, and have to make all the kills for their item in one life. Support doesn’t need to make the amount of kills in one life, but their items are more focused on replenishing ammo and finding enemies on the map. Finally specialist don’t get any new items to use, but instead get more perks to equip. Each of them work fine, but it feels like a step back when you can only get the special items through kills again. One of the new features to multiplayer is mid game missions. You have a chance to randomly receive a mission that ranges from killing two people while crouched, to teabagging someone after you kill them (also, making teabagging a game mechanic is the worst thing ever, but this is not the time nor place). If you manage to complete this then you’ll be rewarded with the ability to call a care package, which gives you one random killstreak reward. The problem I have with this is that our sniper ends up with a challenge to kill someone while jumping and spends the next minute jumping around like a Mexican jumping bean, aimlessly firing at the enemy lines before pretty much giving them a free kill. It’s not a bad idea, but I just can’t stand watching my team pretty much hand themselves over to the enemy.
There’s a couple other changes to the multiplayer made too. You can now customize your soldier’s appearance, which is nice but ultimately pointless and really limited anyway. CODPoitns has been replaced with “squad points” which you mostly get by winning matches and completing challenges, but there’s no real difference between it and CODpoints. Maps have some minor interactive elements to them, like the ability to close and open specific doors, or shift things around a little. One map, for example, has some doors you can breach and the ability to call mortar strikes that will kill anyone not hiding inside a building. Another map has a constantly degrading floor which changes up the design of the map. These are more outliers though, as the majority of the maps it’s just “a door opens or closes”.
The third game mode available is called Squads, which is broken into four game types. Two of these modes, Squad vs. Squad and Wargame, pits one player and five customizable AI bots against another player and his five bots. The only real difference between the modes is that Squad vs. Squad is always a team deathmatch, while Wargame could be any of the modes. Customizing and naming your squad mates is a little fun, and you can earn some XP and squad points to transfer over to the actual multiplayer, but when your victory is entirely in the hands of if the AI will be smart or not then this isn’t really a thing you’ll be sticking around with for long. Squad Assault has a group of players playing against a random player’s squad. If the squad wins, then the player who owns them will get all the XP they gathered. If not, then the players just get the XP themselves. These three modes are pretty good if you want to learn the map and get some basic strategy down, but they aren’t anything crazy. The last mode is called Safeguard, and is a wave-based survival mode that puts four players trying to survive against waves of enemies. If you’re going into the Squads option, this is likely the reason why. Safeguard is just really fun, and anyone who has fond memories of Modern Warfare 3’s survival mode will feel right at home here. The mode adds killstreaks, which spawn between the rounds, and changes paying for new guns to getting lucky and having those guns drop for you. Working with the other players is essential to survival, and overall it’s probably my favorite multiplayer mode in the game.
The final game mode is Extinction. This mode makes four players team up and drag a drill around to destroy nests of aliens before setting off a nuke and high tailing it out of there. Extinction is unique in that it has it’s own leveling system and actually uses a class base system rather than the usual create a class. Each class has different skills and advantages to the others, and utilizing all four is a must if you want to win. The aliens themselves range from dog-like scouts, to acid spitting scorpions, to the explosive seekers. Every time you kill an alien you’ll get money, which you can spend on new guns or to use one of your classes’ four unique abilities. You also get skill points for killing aliens, which you can use to upgrade your abilities or guns. Each time you go to drill a hive you’ll be given an optional challenge. If you complete this challenge you’ll get bonus cash and skill points. It’s a real shame that it feels like so much work was put into this mode for it to be limited by the fact that it’s pretty much just a single co-op mission. It’s fun a few times through, but it’s not going to last beyond that until they get some new levels in here.
My whole experience with Call of Duty: Ghosts can pretty much be described with the feeling of missed opportunities and steps backwards. Riley and the the space/underwater segments are cool, but not utilized enough. Extinction has a lot of good elements stuffed into a single short level. Squads isn’t a bad idea but they don’t do anything noteworthy with it. The multipalyer feels like it actively took steps backwards and away from actually adding new things to the series. It’s a shame, since the Call of Duty gameplay is still really well done and fun. Hopefully next year’s entry corrects the series’ course and sets it back where it was.