Maybe it’s Infinity Ward. Maybe it’s the exciting buzz of the ‘next generation’. Or maybe it’s the fact I’m actually good at this one… Yet to me, Call of Duty: Ghosts is as fresh and entertaining as the COD franchise has ever been – offering a well earned place as the next ‘true’ successor to the glorious Modern Warfare.
This review is based primarily off the Xbox 360 version, however it has since been played on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One and resultantly those comparative opinions will be factored into this criticism as and when they can.
For those gamers that still take notice of Call of Duty’s 6-hour-or-so campaigns, it’s your usual fare this time around (albeit slightly more ludicrous than you’re probably used to). Infinity Ward and Oscar-winning writer Stephen Gaghan pair up to deliver a story that drops the usual shenanigans regarding covert operative strike teams and instead focuses on a tale of two guerrilla brothers, working behind enemy lines for the ‘Ghost’ squad (don’t worry, it’s not another Army of Two…) There’s an engaging personal battle that develops throughout the course of the game (akin to COD 4) and it’s one that I hadn’t expected – however as an overall ‘threat’ I found this years’ narrative to be particularly Bond-esque in its scale. The baddies you’ll be blowing to bits this time round are South-American (which makes a change) and are known as The Federation, a group of angry semi-terrorists who hijack a US Orbital equivalent to the Hammer of Dawn and turn it into a hellfire weapon of mass destruction. Chaos ensues and it’s up to the brothers to set things straight!
The single player campaign visually sports a similar look to that of its predecessors (and as someone on YouTube aptly spotted – some moments are literally carbon-copy lifted from previous Call of Duty games, the cheek of it!) That said, when each mission reaches its pinnacle Ghosts looks absolutely gorgeous, particularly if you’re playing on a PlayStation 4. The jump in quality from last-gen to next-gen is noticeable here with a smooth frame rate and vibrancy in colour as you move from set-piece to set-piece. It holds a candle to Killzone Shadow Fall (a game which I believe was just created to show off how good games could look for the next decade), which is a massive compliment for a franchise like Call of Duty. There is suddenly new ground for Infinity Ward to tread, if not in its trademark format then especially in its graphics department – we may eventually end up with a photorealistic war simulator (now wouldn’t that be something?) Sadly though there was little-to-no difference between the Xbox One and the Xbox 360 – it was literally the same experience for me (if not slightly worse due to the smaller volume of players currently playing on the Xbox One when it comes to the online functionality). I’m not sure if this has something to do with the reported 720p running of the game vs. the 1080i on the PS4 (I’m not particularly great with all the technical aspects of consoles) I just go by what I can see and undoubtedly there is a clear, noticeable difference in quality between the consoles.
Gameplay is as varied as it can be, with the infamous Riley the dog showing up for a brief cameo in certain missions to relieve you of the pressures of firing bullets at a myriad of spongy South-Americans. There’s also a fantastic underwater section and a trip to outer space, all of which look fanciful and feel distinct to play in – despite the sheer fictitiousness of it all. Playing on a suped-up PC or a PlayStation 4 offers you the illusion of more freedom as you embark on your skillful quest to save the world. The draw distance seems greater, the speed is enhanced – all factors which influence the overall enjoyment of COD’s proven gameplay format. While each level crumbles and explodes in good measure, completely negating the entire aspect of ‘Ghost’ stealth gameplay, it feels good to be unleashed in new environments killing new enemies – now of which finally include women! Controversial or what?
The trademark online mode here returns with a fresh lick of paint and a distinct absence of some of the Treyarch fan-favourite models. For this it’s best to play on the last generation of consoles as there’s a significantly larger group playing on those – and as a result their skills are more dubious and exploitable than that of the hardcore gamers that have shelled out for new systems.
There are 14 new maps (15 if you count the exclusive Free Fall) and they’re a mixed bag in all honesty. Strikezone (as many of you may know) is unmistakably similar to Modern Warfare 3’s Dome map, and while it’s not uncommon for developers to kitbash (i.e – recycle old content rather than produce new content) I can’t help but feel if an underfunded DLC package like BioShock’s ‘Burial At Sea’ can afford to start from scratch, why not Call of Duty? A Call of Duty game set in Rapture, now there’s something I’d like to see! Like with all Call of Duty games though there’ll be maps you connect with (i.e – Wetwork, Nuketown, Rust & arguably Outskirts) and ones that you don’t – for me this year, my favourite is Free Fall and my least is Stonehaven (due to its ridiculous size).
Online seems to be more refined in Ghosts with a quality over quantity approach; there are significantly less modes available than previous games but the modes that are there offer a nice variety to the gamer. Search & Rescue is essentially Search & Destroy, Kill Confirmed has now been named Grind – where you need to kill and collect dog tags before the enemy team can (banking them in the process). There’s a bizarre mode called Blitz that I’d implore you to check out before anything else, it’s not fun but it’s a creative replacement for capture the flag whereby the first team to 16 ‘runs’ wins. There’s also Infected (for those who like a zombie fix) however the most talked about mode seems to be Cranked – a competitive game type whereby a kill gives you a 30 second speed and damage boost, however you need to top up that timer with more kills or else your head explodes. Gooey! It’s certainly manic but it’s hella fun.
There’s a nicely in-depth Create a Character feature making a debut for the Call of Duty franchise in Ghosts, making sure your online avatar is more of a personal statement than an average Joe – with a reported 22,000 customisable combinations available. There’s also a new Squad mode which puts you in charge of your own team, initially fighting bots and then eventually fighting other online teams if you so wish. These guys can be unlocked and upgraded until you have a mighty force of a Squad, with their own distinct perks and personalities. It’s advisable to give this game type a bash, if not for me – then for the game itself, which recommends you get some offline practice beforehand with Squad mode.
All in all, it may just be the next generation talking (particularly in the case of the PS4), but Call of Duty: Ghosts feels like a surprisingly refined entry to the franchise. It adds little new to the formula, and the prospect of guerrilla warfare is completely redundant – so don’t get your hopes up for that, but what it does it does well with polish, finesse and a whole host of entertaining competitive game types. The narrative is definitely worth playing through this time around, particularly on the next generation of consoles where it’s allowed to dazzle and flourish as a spectacle, although in the case of the Xbox One I couldn’t tell a significant enough difference between that version and that of the 360. While Call of Duty: Ghosts is a must-own COD game for high-end PC owners and PS4 owners alike, I’d recommend the majority of gamers stick to their current generation of consoles for this one – there’s a better pool of players to pit yourselves against and the Ghosts experience is as solid as you can expect without much of a dip in framerate or texture popping. A swangsong shooter for one generation, and a beautiful kick-starter for the next – I’ll see you guys on the battlefield!