When video game historians look back at this current generation of consoles one of their focal points will be how the Call of Duty (COD) franchise was able to transcend the industry. What started as a World War II first person shooter has become a sales juggernaut surpassing its own sales records year after year. Infinity Ward released three Modern Warfare titles this generation and found that it was time to branch off into it a new series with Call of Duty: Ghosts. Not only is Ghosts the first non-Modern Warfare title for Infinity Ward since 2007, but it’s also the first game they are releasing on next generation consoles.
With a new series comes the introduction of a new storyline. The campaign opens up in beautiful San Diego, CA with two brothers (Logan and Hesh) out for a walk with their Dad before everything turns to rubble as missiles drop all around them. This very brief moment of introduction to the game’s core characters does little if anything to give insight into these people. From there, you immediately board the Call of Duty campaign train on a ride we have all ridden before.
There is very little in Call of Duty: Ghosts that comes as a surprise. Everything is definitely competent and even at times exhilarating but there was never a moment that said this is how Call of Duty: Ghosts is different from past games. Missions are still very linear even if there are times where you can take slightly variable paths to get to the next objective. The one positive is that the game is always very clear on your objective and what you need to do. Throughout the campaign, the player is fed small snippets on what it means to be a Ghost, and why we should care, but none of it does anything to progress the story.
The big story after E3 this year was Riley the German Shepard who plays a significant role in a handful of the campaign chapters. There are a few occasions where you take direct control of Riley, and the rest of the time he follows close by your side, waiting for you to command him to take out enemies. Riley becomes a very useful resource who can take out nearby enemies while you attack those further out. I actually got so connected to having Riley as part of the gameplay that when they took him out of the middle chapters of the game I was let down. Did Riley deserve all of the hype and internet notoriety that he received post reveal? Probably not, but Riley does end up being one of the only unique parts of the campaign.
In the end we are left with a very middle of the road campaign that has some nice moments but does nothing to progress the Call of Duty campaign formula. Infinity Ward had a real opportunity here to develop a set of characters that could carry a franchise forward, but unfortunately for Ghosts these characters are just as monotone as those before them. The story is a typical early 1990’s action flick that’s light on plot and heavy on explosions, head shots, and over the top sequences. It’s enjoyable, but paper thin.
After I got done with the five or so hour campaign, I was off to the real meat and potatoes of any Call of Duty experience – the multiplayer. In short the good news is Call of Duty: Ghosts continues the stellar multiplayer of past experiences. There are a slew of maps (fifteen at launch) and almost equally as many modes to choose from. The majority of my time playing the multiplayer was in the typical COD staples of Deathmatch and Team Deathmatch. Although for the review I made sure to go through each of the new modes and reach out of my normal comfort zone.
In terms of new modes the highlights for me included Search and Rescue, which is almost identical to the old fan favorite Search and Destroy mode except now you can be revived by your team. You would think that this would take away from the experience but instead this mode can be even more intense than the original if you get a good team together. The other new mode I enjoyed was Blitz. Even though I’ve never been a big Capture the Flag fan this mode is a slight variation on that game type. Instead of capturing a flag you’re hitting a certain area of the map to rack in points. It’s one of the most frantic and depending on the map you choose can have everyone running crazily to try and hit the zones on the map.
Along the multiplayer front comes even more customization for your soldier and new gameplay perks. Without going into a great amount of detail on either area I will say that both compliment the multiplayer quite well. The game does bring the K9 companions into the fray but unfortunately they are nowhere near as satisfying to use as Riley is in the single player. Overall the multiplayer is still the staple of the franchise and although there isn’t anything revolutionary there is nothing quite like it out there. It’s still a great time and can provide countless hours of enjoyment.
You’ve probably heard by now that Call of Duty: Ghosts introduces a new mode in place of the old Spec Ops mode called Extinction. The mode is more in the vein of the Zombies modes from the Treyarch Call of Duty games where you battle hordes of aliens while completing objectives. It’s nice to take a break from the craziness of multiplayer to enjoy a little cooperative fun but its value doesn’t last long.
This is the first Call of Duty game to hit the PlayStation 4 and although there is no mistaking that this is a Call of Duty title, it’s still an incredible game to look at. Everything from the environments, to player models, to lighting and particle effects take a solid step forward from the current gen version. For me, the single player experience was a better showcase of what to expect from Call of Duty on the PlayStation 4. There is a sequence early in the single player campaign where you’re going through the remains of a city and there are sheets being used for doors. Your character in the PlayStation 3 version just walks through it like it’s not there but on the PlayStation 4 version the cloth moves with your body and it’s a far more natural experience walking through it. It’s a small example but one that resonates throughout the PlayStation 4 experience.
If you have seen the trailers for Call of Duty Ghosts you also know that there are some sequences in space. If any piece of the game called for the PlayStation 4’s graphical capabilities it’s the sequence in the single player that takes place in space. I ended up failing the mission just to float in space and take in the spectacle of floating above Earth. Call of Duty: Ghosts is an extremely good looking game while still maintaining a consistency with past games.
Going into a new generation of consoles this was the opportunity for Infinity Ward to really push the series forward. From a pure visual standpoint they do a pretty good job of that. However from a mechanics standpoint this is a very competent Call of Duty game that plays things safe. Everything about this game is solid, but does nothing from a narrative or gameplay standpoint to move the franchise forward. I’m sure the game will sell gangbusters again but for me the franchise is going to need to take bolder steps in future releases to maintain its firm lead on the rest of the industry.
Call of Duty: Ghosts was reviewed on a Playstation 4 debug unit at an event held by Activision and Infinity Ward in Dana Point, CA.