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Call of Duty: Ghosts review

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Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

7

Pros

  • Spectacular scenes of mass-destruction
  • Looks fantastic on PC
  • Some good new multiplayer features

Cons

  • Single-player feels like Modern Warfare 4
  • Character customisation is confusing
  • Extinction mode a disappointment

Available on Xbox 360, PS3 (reviewed), PC (reviewed), coming soon to Xbox One and PS4

For all that hipsters and cynics love to mock it, we owe a lot to Call of Duty. It was Call of Duty 2 that set the benchmark for how shooters looked and played in the HD era. It was Call of Duty: Modern Warfare that redefined the FPS as all-action blockbuster, while transforming console multiplayer. So it’s a shame to report that Call of Duty: Ghosts doesn’t set any new benchmarks or redefine anything. When Infinity Ward dropped Modern Warfare to kick off a new series it could have given the franchise a brand new start. Instead we have something that’s less a reboot than a remake, giving us everything we expect from a Call of Duty turned up to eleven, but nothing more.

The premise is interesting, albeit faintly ridiculous. In the near future a new power – The Federation – rises in South America and its influence begins to spread across the world. Federation forces attack a US orbital weapon and turn its weapons of mass destruction against the US, blasting half of the states back into the stone age and putting an end to North American dominance of the region. For ten years the remaining US forces defend what remains of the nation against enemy invasion, aided by an elite group of special forces operatives: the titular ghosts. The single-player campaign charts the story of two brothers as they battle the Federation and team up with the ghosts.

In theory – and in Activision’s PR campaign – this sounds brilliant. You’re not fighting as a member of a well-supported strike team from the world’s largest superpower, but as a guerrilla fighter working behind enemy lines. In practice, though, it’s all still business as usual, with access to the best weapons, air support and high-tech gadgets, and missions covering all the usual infiltrate this, blow-up that, run here and defend this spot tomfoolery.

Oscar-winner Stephen Gaghan might have had a hand in the script, but it’s still the normal mix of sub-Tom Clancy nonsense, and halfway through it seems to drift off target, losing any interest in the personal struggle at the heart of the tale. Once you’re on mission, it’s hard to tell that this isn’t Modern Warfare 4, while the innovations of Black Ops 2 – more open maps, any tactical control – appear to have fallen by the wayside, at least until the next Treyarch game.

Of course, there are some new features. Sadly, the importance of Riley the dog has been overplayed, with the mighty mutt only turning up in certain missions and even then only becoming controllable at a few specific points. Still, the sections with him are fun while they last, giving you a chance to sneak through the grass, creep up on enemies and rip their throats out. On top of this we get a helicopter sequence which is more than just a turret section, and we even get a brief, playable jaunt in space and a whole mission set underwater.

Yet the majority of the game still involved following someone along a linear route from one objective to the next, doing whatever it is you’re being damn well told to do. Federation troops make the odd attempt to outflank you, but otherwise settle on the classic “hide for a minute then pop my head up and fire” routine that’s proved oh so successful for cannon fodder across every Call of Duty game. You’d have to be an utter miseryguts not to find most of it highly entertaining, in a dumb, bombastic kind of way, but if you feel a creeping sense of déjà vu, you’re not alone. In fact, Ghosts might give you double déjà vu, because the sensation is that you had this déjà vu before while playing Modern Warfare 3.

What saves the game is its spectacle. Infinity Ward and Activision seem to have invested heavily in engine tech to make the scenery ripple, tear, shatter, crumble and explode, and no level is complete without something big doing all of these things, often all at once when you’re running-and-gunning through it. When things aren’t getting wrecked, we get sudden floods, dives from waterfalls and myriad other wonders to marvel at. This makes each mission like the climax of a blockbuster action movie, and while the effect is wearying spread out over the running time, it’s a great game to play one mission at a time. You know you’ve seen it all before, but you’ve never seen it quite this big.

The setting has also given Infinity Ward license to create some more interesting locations. Sure, we’ve seen the snowy mountain installation, the jungle and the war-torn city before, but Californian towns crumbling into craters and shark-infested tropical waters are something new. Battlefield 4 might have its share of dazzling sights and big moments, but Ghosts leaves it looking rather grey and bland.

The spectacle only gets better if you’re playing it on PC. Infinity Ward hasn’t rebuilt its engine, but it has layered an awful lot of graphical wizardry on top, with high-resolution textures, more realistic texture-mapping techniques, enhanced lighting, more realistic water effects and a range of cinematic particle, depth of field, motion blur and distortion effects.

With everything dialled up it looks pretty awesome, though you will need a hefty rig to run it. A Core i5/GeForce GTX 560Ti setup that’s been coping fine with Crysis 3 and Battlefield 4 on High settings struggled to cope with Ghosts without a few compromises here and there. On the PS3 version you lose a lot of detail and a sizable proportion of the dazzling effects, leaving you with a game that looks much like Black Ops 2 and much like Modern Warfare 3 before that. It’s hardly ugly, but once you’ve seen the PC version the current-generation version will look dated, and more so than Battlefield 4.

All in all, then, we have a decent Call of Duty, but not exactly one that breathes new life into the series. Still, the multiplayer changes that, right? Well, yes and no. Ghosts’ multiplayer is an evolution of what we saw in Modern Warfare 3, with a handful of new game modes and a squad system that gives you a slightly different take on online and offline play. There are some excellent maps, so good maps and a couple of forgettable efforts, but like the single-player campaign it’s quite conservative. Perhaps the CoD faithful wouldn’t have it any other way.

Of the new modes, Search and Rescue is really just a variation of Search and Destroy. Blitz is an odd and not particularly satisfying mix of CoD and American Football. Grind is Kill Confirmed, where you need to kill then collect the dog tags before the opposing team can get them, with the added complication that you need to bank your tags. Like Kill Confirmed it’s a great mode that discourages campers and snipers, but nothing exactly new.

Infected is an entertaining mode where survivors battle to avoid becoming zombies, but the highlight is Cranked: a new take on Team Deathmatch where a kill gives you a 30 second speed and damage boost, but you need to kill again before the time limit hits or you explode. We’re still not fully sold on this one - it can result in brilliant, manic matches where everyone is constantly out for blood, but it can also see one or two players dominating the map to the extent that nobody else is having any fun. Yet when it works, it really works.

The new Squad mode pushes CoD’s persistent character features even further, putting you in charge of a group of characters you can unlock, customise and then level up within Squad mode and the other game modes. Level up your characters, assign them perks, and you can take them online to fight with or against other players, or against other players’ squads under AI control. It’s hard to say how this will work out at first, but the robust AI makes this an accessible route in to what is one of the toughest multiplayer games around. In fact, the game even advises you to get some offline practice in on Squad mode before you go online.

Some of the background changes are a little bewildering. Black Ops 2’s Pick 10 system gave you customisable classes that allowed you to play to your strengths, but was well balanced to ensure no setup could dominate. Ghosts’ Perk Points system, where you can choose a set of perks for your characters, is poorly explained and makes Pick 10 seem like a model of clarity. Newbie players might not even know it’s there, giving more experienced players an advantage, and we’re still not sure that we quite understand it. We’re also not 100% sure about some of the kill streaks. Helicopter sweeps are fiendishly effective on some maps – and not in a good way – while the new attack dog is hard to defend against and hugely annoying.

If this all sounds a little downbeat, then rest assured that Ghosts multiplayer is still as compulsive and crowd-pleasing as CoD multiplayer has ever been. It’s faster-paced and more accessible than Battlefield 4, and it works better on the current generation consoles, as a smaller player cap (12 instead of the usual 16) is barely noticeable on the smaller, tighter maps. However, a handful of the maps are surprisingly hard to distinguish from others (is it the one in the WMD-ravaged shopping mall or the one in the WMD-ravaged small town?) and new features that were supposed to radically alter maps mid-match are virtually invisible. There’s nothing here to match Battlefield 4’s semi-destructible environments or levolution features.

The brand-new alien-fighting Extinction co-op mode also disappoints. In it, one of you carries a drill which must be activated and defended while it obliterates an alien hive, and for the first couple of waves it’s a fun variation on Gears of War’s Horde mode or Halo’s Firefight. Give it time, however, and it drags. There’s not enough variation or interest to keep it fresh, and it’s rarely a good sign when the main feeling we got when our team was knocked out was not annoyance, but relief.

Call of Duty: Ghosts

Overall, CoD: Ghosts is more of the same on the current-gen consoles, and more of the same but prettier on the PC, so it all depends on how much you like ‘the same’. If you’re one of those for whom a new Call of Duty is an annual feast, then this is a solid entry in the series with some dazzling moments. If you’re bored of Call of Duty, then this one won’t rekindle your enthusiasm. Most of all, it leaves us feeling something we never expected to feel: more excited about where Treyarch takes the series than we are about where Infinity Ward is going. After the horrors of CoD3 and World at War, who would ever have anticipated that?

Verdict

We wanted the next phase of Call of Duty, but Ghosts really brings us more of the same old, same old. The premise is interesting but there’s little sign of the promised guerrilla warfare feel, and while the changes to multiplayer are more convincing they don’t necessarily make for a superior game. Ghosts is too polished, too well-paced and too spectacular to be called a disappointment, but it’s stuck in the last generation when it should be helping to define a new one.

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Overall Score

7

Matthew Bunton

June 16, 2013, 8:42 am

I just do not understand the appeal of this series let alone how it is the best selling game.

Edward

September 26, 2013, 11:18 am

Those screenshots make my eyes go all funny... It is me or is there a significant fishbowl effect?

Abdominal_Snowman

October 1, 2013, 4:58 pm

The multiplayer.

boysetsfire8904

October 19, 2013, 4:36 pm

CS:source is literally the same arcade style multiplayer so next answer.....and I completely agree COD blows compared to BF

Dro

October 25, 2013, 7:19 pm

The dog and drone idea sounds really really lame. Multiplayer with an AI dog or drone following you everywhere? Nice try COD, but BF4 is gonna blow you out of the water just like BF3.

daz

October 27, 2013, 5:52 pm

yet here you are reading up on a topic you care nothing for...

FrostBytt683

October 28, 2013, 12:13 am

COD has turned into a joke if you ask me, I used to be a fan back in the good days of Cod 4 but since then it's just dropped in quality, There has been no impressive wow factor in any of the new cod games... Yes they add the odd thing or to to fool their fan base into sticking with the game like dogs and character customization but really all that means is that you will now be fighting bright pink players with kittens on their guns cause lets face it we all know COD fans....Now BF4 On the other hand granted also hasn't changed the game completely but they have added the wow factor with the network sync waves and levalution and the new commander tablet control. and comparing the two game i have to say both have the fluidity but BF4 also brings the graphics where COD is and has been for years lacking, And all gamers like, sorry love dedicated servers and the unbelievable host migration every couple of minutes drives us all crazy which also hinders COD's chance at being a great competitive game. And to all the Cod Fans who read this thinking that I am a BF fan just attacking Cod I'm just saying it's not my fault most people can agree that Cod did this to themselves by taking advice from apple and adding a feature or two and re-releasing the same thing, quick advice save your money get BF4 or if thats not your game wait 5 months for Titanfall. Thank You For Reading, Would Love To Hear Your Opinions, If You Got Any Email Me On FrostBytt683@gmail.com

faaaaq

October 29, 2013, 6:10 pm

You clearly didnt play the BF4 beta. biggest group of whiney little bitches Ive ever seen, and more hackers than a bootleg COD4 server

Vay

November 1, 2013, 2:08 pm

except black ops 2 and MW3 smashed BF3 in every way. graphics, story, and most importantly multiplayer. Battlefield hasn't changed at all through out the series. I agree that it is more realistic but honestly the fan-base is much smaller. and I cant enjoy myself listening to everyone rage on multiplayer in BF3. BF4 isn't much of an upgrade.
sincerely-Vay

Stuart Craighead

November 1, 2013, 9:58 pm

Really.... how can anyone defend this game. in terms of cod it is going to be good in the series but in terms of next gen gaming... well urm

Colin Parks

November 2, 2013, 9:50 am

gonna grab on wii u i think not ps4 this time ill get kz

Laughing Harder

November 2, 2013, 11:22 pm

Don't list this crap as a review in Google because it's far from it. And secondly, this shoddy article just looks as if it is interested in the MP aspect, when Call of Duty is known for it's great campaign (And the Ghosts' graphics and gameplay are heck of a lot better according to actual, "trusted", gaming sites then what this "preview" tries to say). If you want a purely MP game, go buy Battlefail. Until then? Give it a rest.

nate

November 3, 2013, 10:00 am

seems to me your a die hard CoD fan and even if they made a total blooper you would swear by it ... i enjoy both games bf4 and CoD series

RJ

November 3, 2013, 3:58 pm

Save your money and not get those games listed.. I have been playing battlefield ever since 1942... After that joke of a game called battlefield 3 they release battlefield 4 which is a bigger joke on top of a joke. Gameplay has changed. Battlefield 4 is just COD with vehicles and destruction. Titanfall is just going to be COD with giant robots unless those former IW employees stray away from the COD formula. Any who, I honestly find Ghosts more interesting than bf4. BF4 pissed me off in beta. I don't need to spend another $100 on an expansion of bf3 for there gimmick Levolution junk. Bf4 doesn't even have team play, sure you have squads and voip, but no one communicates it's just brainless infinite run around useless tanks game.

RJ

November 3, 2013, 3:59 pm

tell me about it as soon as it became open beta from the people who got premium or preordered... There were c4 campers everywhere.

john

November 3, 2013, 7:26 pm

mmm not impressed at all....getting shot from everywhere not knowing who shot me ????????????????.... running around looking up, down, left, right every time I enter a room only to get shot from where I 1st looked...guns feel like no power at all. grenades take ages to do anything !!!! & my god them dogs !!!! you fill em with bullets only to get bitten from 100yds away ??????

xBumblesBouncex

November 4, 2013, 12:00 am

There hasn't been a Call of Duty with a great campaign since the first Modern Warfare in 2007. It's been all about multiplayer ever since. The percentage of people who buy CoD mainly for the campaign experience is very low.

Ray Buckridge

November 4, 2013, 9:55 am

I like complicated maps. It makes you stop and think instead of running around corners looking for a back to shoot.

Jonathan Lovegrove

November 4, 2013, 4:48 pm

played titanfall at eurogamer a few weeks back, i initially thought it'd be a CODfest, but it isn't. far far from it, and incredibly fast paced.

RJ

November 5, 2013, 2:38 am

Then after that I guess I will have hopes for it.

Rueben Abella

November 5, 2013, 5:12 pm

CODG app only works with IOS devices FYI

Disappointed

November 6, 2013, 5:41 am

Not impressed with Ghosts.
1. You get to a point in campaign mode and get caught in an endless loop
2. All the hacks and modified controllers from MW3 work in Ghosts so don't expect a fair game.
3. There are no instruction or tutorials for ghosts
Don't waste your money.

Ghost Sucks

November 6, 2013, 10:00 am

game is horrible pile of crap maps are battle field big game looks like home front and all the guns feel the same the sights for guns are horrible the strike packages are crap as you will have to hide in a corner to get your 15 or 18 kills for the loki there is no set spawns hell played today and died then spawned next to the guy who killed me this game feel like battle field married home front had a baby named mag this is a 2 out of 10 stars worst call of duty ever made and didnt kill zone already have the little drone that follwed you around as kill streak lol fail and p.ps satcom's come on that's a bf thing how low could you possibly sink just stealing others ideas for your shitty game gooooooo back to basic's like worl at war or modern warfare or the first black ops p.s. got this pile of shit at midnite release and only 70 thousand people were online hahahahhahahahahaha looks like ill be going to bf your game sucks

Chris Brighton

November 6, 2013, 5:26 pm

I haven't played it yet but I'm sorry "Single-player feels like Modern Warfare 4". How is that a bad thing?

oD

November 6, 2013, 6:43 pm

Because jackass, there is a such thing called hope that the game wont be the letdown that many people says it is.

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