It’s been 10 years since the first Call of Duty (2003, Infinity Ward) came out and redefined what action, immersion and FPS meant. Dozens of sequels, spin-offs and metamorphoses later, the series has become both a model of success, and a mascot of repetition for all those who think gaming is dead. Still, millions buy every game, every year and this installment starts a new sub-series. We’ve been given a new setting, a new tone, and new modes — but is it enough to get so many hooked for the 10th year running?
Following Treyarch’s successful trip into the future in Black Ops 2, IW have given us a post-apocalyptic setting. South America had united as The Federation and attacked the US with WMDs, crippling the country and invading its territory. After 10 years of fighting, the US find themselves at a stalemate with Feds and decide it’s time to take the fight to the enemy. The rest is your typical Modern Warfare-like story with a few expected revelations, plot twists you’ve seen times before and the now-usual climactic ending. This is Call of Duty by Infinity Ward, where story isn’t the main part of the experience. The writing is same military jargon and bravado we’ve had since COD4. In short, if you liked any Modern Warfare plot, you’ll enjoy Ghosts too.
However, Black Ops 2‘s choices and multiple endings are nowhere to be found. The great premise is also largely wasted here; instead of a post-apocalyptic desert and ruined cities, you visit lots of locations with cutting edge tech, while the supposedly crippled US forces still fight out in the open with ships, aircraft and drones. In a game called Ghosts, set in a world where America is longer the dominant superpower this contradicts everything players have been promised.
CoD: G’s campaign takes you around 18 levels, with the clock hitting the standard 5 hours of play by the time credits roll. You can do another run for collectible intel, which is now actually useful in that it provides additional story snippets. If you don’t play online, your time with Ghosts is most likely to end there. Like with the first COD, the second time you play, you won’t feel anything.
The first time, however, Ghosts is very much enjoyable, especially for newcomers to the series. There are usual bits of small- and large-scale battles, stealth missions and defense sections, all you might expect from a Call of Duty. It’s the new stuff, which shines, though. You get to fight in outer space, at the bottom of the sea, and while rappelling down a wall. Cover is scarce throughout these sections and you have to adjust to a slightly new mechanic each time (ballistics, movement, etc.). The game’s difficulty spikes up at these points, even though the enemy AI hasn’t changed one bit since last year and you can still comfortably mow them down without any fear for your life on Regular difficulty. These sequences are fresh and rewarding, but too few and far between.
And, of course, there’s the Dog. You get to play with him early on, both controlling him directly and ordering him to attack. He’s smart and knows when to take cover and how to flank the enemy, and it’s a pity you don’t get to use him more. He’s also probably the most lifelike and emotion-provoking character. If you like dogs, of course. The sore spot is that all the advancements made by Black Ops 2 are gone, just like the branching story. You can’t adjust your loadout prior to a mission, you don’t get to use perks, the hidden bonus equipment is absent. You have to work with what you’re given.
More disappointments lie in the Multiplayer component. There are new modes: Search and Rescue (a cross between Search and Destroy and Kill Confirmed), Cranked (you have 30 seconds to live, chain kills to survive), Blitz (quick attacks on control points) and Grind (KC, but you have to get the dog tags to a location). Gone are Team Defender, Capture the Flag, Headquarters (which has been around since COD1) and Sabotage, along with most of Hardcore and Private Match modes, nearly half of what MW3 had in total. And new ones aren’t exactly worthy of taking their place: Cranked is too chaotic to enjoy, Grind is exactly that – a grind, S&R is almost completely the same and S&D and Blitz is too short. Matches are also 6v6 at the maximum for reasons unknown.
Black Ops 2‘s 10 points system is still here, but unlocks have now been tied to Squad Points you get from leveling up. The better the equipment, the more SP you need to get it. It’s confusing and takes a lot of getting used to. Same goes for Strike Packages that have taken place of Killstreak rewards. Perks are now more plentiful and complex, but are also overwhelmingly confusing.
All this wouldn’t have been a concern to those who play nothing but KC and TDM, if only the MP wasn’t plagued by really bad netcode. Lag is constant: you see an enemy, you aim, you fire… and then you’re dead. Then the Killcam shows you were shot from behind by that same guy 3 seconds before you aimed. Add frequent disconnects and bugs to that, and you end up with a really bad MP not many people will want to play.
Ghosts also introduces a new co-op mode called Extinction. In it you have to move in a group of 4 from one alien hive to another and defend it until it’s destroyed. Enemies come in all shapes and sizes and it can get pretty hairy by the end. Luckily, you get cash for every kill or assist and can spend it on activating traps or buying new guns. Complete enough rounds and you can spend skill points to upgrade your character. Overall, it feels at first like Zombies with aliens and ends up being a lot more fun than the former, especially when played with friends. However, with only one map currently available, it’s going to get old quickly and many will not reach the top of Extinction’s separate leveling ladder.
Finally, there’s Squads mode, which is a glorified bot match option with a few twists. You get to unlock and customize up to 10 soldiers for use both here and in regular MP and play 1V1 matches with bots filling the vacant spots. There’s also 6vsAI mode, Safeguard (variation of Survival from MW3) and Wargame – new version of Combat Training from Black Ops. They’re fun to try but ultimately they’re nothing but bot matches. Unless you have a COD Account, which will notify you of your AI soldiers battling an enemy player’s squad, when you’re offline. But that’s just a gimmick.
The biggest disappointment, however, is Ghosts‘ presentation. This game does not look next-gen. It’s beautiful and impressive, but not mind-blowing, just a little bit above Black Ops 2 and Modern Warfare 3. Given the colossal system requirements, you’d at least expect it to run at a decent framerate. But it doesn’t. Even people with 8 core CPUs, 12 gigs of RAM and 2 Gb GPUs are barely getting the 60 FPS on medium or medium-high settings at 1080p right now.
As for voice acting, the characters are not only a typical gung-ho bunch of commandos, but they sound exactly like every other character in every IW-made COD that came before. It makes it difficult to care for them. So much in fact, that you’ll likely end up caring more for the dog than the main characters. Music is typical epic tunes, but there’s nothing memorable.
After a decent Modern Warfare 3 and a brilliant Black Ops 2, Ghosts is looking to be the worst Call of Duty ever. Infinity Ward tried, but seem to have been too afraid of taking it a step further. Ghosts is beautiful, but the amount of power it requires is unjustified. It’s fun to play, but 90% of its great moments you’ve already seen before. It’s performance is uneven at best. Its multiplayer is laggy, castrated and gimmicky. The netcode is broken. Ghosts made a mess. And you’ve been asked to clean it up. Don’t. Better go into Treyarch’s version of the future one more time.
Reviewed on: AMD FX 6300 3.5 GHz, 8Gb Kingston DDR3, Palit GeForce GTS 450 512 Mb, Acer S235HLbii 1080p Monitor, 12 Mbps Internet connection.
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